I’ve fallen in love. Some people may say that such a feeling is a delusion. A romantic notion. A sick ideal from a dead world. Impossible at the best of times. And during these times?
Surely love is a mistake. Love? In this economy?
More likely, it’s not love. Nothing so romantic. It’s probably just the desperate barnyard rutting of gasping animals. But love? There’s no way. Love is not real. Love is just a free hit of domestically produced drugs from some benevolent dealer lurking in our monkey brains. A plot to chemically trick mammals into rearing children rather than eating them. Or maybe it’s just a mind infection. A pattern of possession, property, and ownership. A reproduction of power in the personal. These giddy heights and slobbering feelings? These are only the joys felt on a Wednesday afternoon by a middle manager cutting hours and maximizing efficiency. The slow caress of fingers across the revised schedule. Nothing to see here. God is dead. There is no love. There is only economy and chemicals. Stop acting like a child. I understand. Yet, I cannot deny my heart. Love. I’ve fallen in love.
Of course, it’s with a fabric. I’m no saint. I’ve fallen in love with corduroy.
I’ve known corduroy for a long time. I’ve always liked it. Of course, like many teenagers, in high-school, I experimented with blue denim pants (“blue jeans”) and the like but I was never fond of denim. As a fabric, denim is only really suitable for California – where, like a lot of California fashions that caught on worldwide –Chuck Taylors and the like– it feels great, works well, and is completely fit for purpose. But in Canada, a country that will eat your converse sneakers for breakfast? Denim is too cold when it is cold and too hot when it is hot. A cold wind cuts right through denim and humidity suffocates the legs. It’s terrible.
Now, I would not say I was lucky to grow up in the last century but there were some benefits. In the 90s, used clothing had not yet been repacked as “vintage.” Used clothing was called “second-hand” and it was sold cheap out of thrift shops rather than curated boutiques. True, you were shopping in a sort of semi-organized dump, but outside of the cities, you could get a whole used suit of decent quality for 3-5 dollars. That was cheap even then. It was about the price of a pack of cigarettes. If someone who shared your size and style, taste in collectibles or books, had recently died, you basically hit the jackpot. It was enough to make one think that measurements should be included in obituaries. We should have been reading death notices like the SEARS catalog. Oh well, missed opportunities.
The racks had not yet been picked clean by boutique owners buying every semi-stylish item and marking it up for resale in trendy districts. Even when that started to happen, the thrift shops took a while to notice. Of course, they did eventually notice and respond by raising their own prices. I remember seeing the prices skyrocket as the selection collapsed. I remember the first time I saw a used suit selling for three figures in Value Village — a second hand shop at Bloor and Lansdowne in Toronto. Shocking and absurd. Twenty was overpriced. But once you’re paying a hundred? You might as well not buy it. You might as well keep your money and start saving for a tailor. The difference between seven dollars and a hundred is a lot bigger than the difference between a hundred and a thousand.
In the nineties, there was also an influx of corduroy into these shops. This fabric had been popular during the 1970s and either the people who wore corduroy had decided it was dated and donated it, or the people who wore it had finally succumbed to their numerous vices, and had their clothing donated by their grieving (though, if we’re being totally honest, probably relieved) spouses. The styles of the seventies reappeared at cheap prices.
Time and space operated differently during that era. These days, there’s fast fashion and every era is instantly available and expertly curated. But back in the day? Fashion more or less cycled through death. It even used to be said that you were old when you saw your old styles come back into fashion. Basically, the best and most durable items from any era survived into thrift stores, where they could be cheaply acquired by hot teens in your neighborhood who had never seen them before, and being hot local teens in your area, they made it stylish again. And that’s the context I met corduroy in. A corpse’s old clothes.
By the time I left high-school, I had totally given up on blue denim pants in favor of corduroy trousers. They were comfortable, durable, and cute. Very easy to smoke ____ in the woods in corduroy pants. So what if they made a strange noise while you were walking? They also came in colors –largely earth tones, to be sure– but colors all the same. Blue jeans did not look blue to most people. I suspect they still don’t. Just as FUTURE HUMANS probably don’t see the silver in the silver jumpsuits they all wear, late 20th century humans did not see the blue in the blue denim pants they all wore. Blue jeans were colorless. An absence.
And since then, corduroy has been a staple in my wardrobe. An old and loyal friend but not one I thought much about. Over the years, I’ve had two blazers purchased second hand and made from corduroy –one which, a forest green three button, was my pride and joy for years– and a few different trousers. Whatever else was going on in my life, I needed a pair of corduroy trousers somewhere in the closet. Cooking, cleaning, painting. Needed them.
But even as the selection in thrift shops was generally decreasing, the selection of corduroy was specifically decreasing. Unlike, say, plaid, there was no rush to make new corduroy. There was no new influx of corduroy into second hand shops. Even as old GAP plaid shirts filled the racks, as last season’s FUBU hit the shelves, corduroy only vanished. Unable t breed, hunted to extinction by vintage shops, the fabric vanished. The carcass of the 1970s was chewed down to bare bones. I bought it where I could find it. I could not find it often.
It was always a pleasure to stumble into corduroy. When I used to shop second-hand, even when I got into suiting, I used to shop with my fingers first. I did not look at the clothes. I travelled down the aisle, touching them. You can feel quality in a cloth. My eyes might mislead me, but my fingers were honest. (In suits, fit and quality is more important than color or pattern — both of which are, in my view, a function of fit and quality. By all means, get a pink suit. I have one. But, if you do, that motherfucker better fit right. Otherwise, aim for gray.) When feeling something good, I’d make a mental note, look down, check its appearance and size, see if it could be altered or if it had to be, and move from there. That was my method. It served me well for a long time. Though one wonders if thrift stores can survive fast fashion — not just because of the cheapness of new items but because of their lack of quality. I suspect not. Stereo repair did not survive GoldStar. How can thrift shops survive clothes that dissolve on the skin? Who would pay for alterations?
But I lose the plot.
Corduroy always felt good. It’s a cheap fabric but it feels rich. It feels quality. Whenever my fingers bumped into it, my eyes would open. It’s something like velvet.
Now, I like velvet. But I have feelings about velvet. To my mind, velvet is louche. The amount of velvet in your wardrobe should be a measurement of the amount of opiates in your bloodstream. If you plan on wearing a velvet suit, I approve, but you should accessorize with bruised arms, collapsed veins, a syringe in your pocket, and an antique settee to nod out on. Corduroy makes no such demands. It is sensual without suicide. A rare quality.
Of course, you can die in corduroy. It’s just not a requirement.
Until late last winter, I had never owned a new piece of corduroy clothing. They had always been second-hand. When I first started having suits made, I did think about getting a corduroy suit but it always remained my second choice. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride. There were reasons for this. Price was a problem. I’m not actually made of money.
Bespoke seemed expensive for corduroy. Like seersucker, bespoke corduroy seemed a bit much. A process totally out of step with the fabric. Overdoing it. And, I suppose in some sense, I was still holding out hope that I would, one day, against all odds, find a second hand corduroy suit that fit. It just never happened. Quite possibly, those are totally extinct.
The other measure of price is value. I feel like spending $20 on a suit I didn’t like, didn’t wear, and fell apart was a bigger waste of money than $2000 on a suit I loved and would last me decades — if I could only keep my body disciplined. But this sort of valuation meant that I often aimed at all season weights. Something I could wear in winter and summer. Corduroy is a lot of things but it’s not something you can wear in the heat. Therefore, bad value.
And, back then, if I was to err, it would often be on the side of fine cloth. I think, my most fragile suit is a Holland and Sherry Super 150 Worsted. I love that suit, take good care of it, and have had it for over ten years, but it does make me nervous. It feels like wearing glass. It’s a cloth for people who can throw something like that out without a second thought and have another one made without looking at the bill. A bit rich for my blood.
Busan has changed my calculations. For starters, bespoke tailoring is cheaper than it is in North America, and tailoring is much more common. It does not seem like the same insane luxury purchase it is in Toronto. Now, it’s still high end but it’s probably below brand names. Altogether, it feels less luxury, more thrifty, and much more in reach. Clothing repair is also very common. And corduroy is a cheap option in bespoke suits. Korean corduroy, cheaper still. And Korean corduroy is really good. My fingers like it just as much as the Italian options.
As far as corduroy being too hot for summer here, it is. But so are all my other suits. The humidity is unbelievable. All my suits are winter suits. I’m not even going to try to fuck around with summer suits. In the summer, I’m just going to let the heat melt me back into some sort of glamor punk, deal with that as it comes, and wait for fall. That’s just how shit will be now. I’ll live. It might get ugly but I will adapt. I have to.
So, with all that in mind, I bought my first corduroy suit late last winter.
This might have had something to do with the general pandemic driven societal shift away from what some people were calling “hard pants.” For me, this meant something soft and comfortable like corduroy more than sweatpants. Though, help me Satan, I have nothing against sweatpants. I hate having to say that sort of thing but I do.
It seems like because I have opinions on what I wear, people love to assume that I have opinions on what other people wear. Even worse, they assume they know what those opinions are — often believing I want a world where everyone is dressed like me. Even more bizarre, people often assume that I must be a big fan of the latest show or movie featuring someone in a suit –that has been going on since Sick Boy in Trainspotting– and people also assume that must like music by people who also wear suits. I like some music by some people in suits. I also like music by people in DEVO hats and metal masks. Mainly, I don’t like music. I don’t care. And my basic opinion on all this is some of you need to get a lot more comfortable with difference. Not everyone wants everything to be them.
I’m not one of those people who goes around judging people by their clothes –if some asshole like me can wear a bespoke suit, all bets are off– and I have virtually no opinion on anything other people wear. I can’t be bothered to develop opinions about areas that have nothing to do with me and relate to the comfort and happiness of strangers. I’m not paying for your clothes, I don’t mind what you wear. If I am paying, you’re getting something cheap and durable. Dickies, probably. I only say or even think about other people’s clothes when I want to steal something, am asked or have something nice to say. Even compliments often feel presumptuous. I only ask that other people show me the same basic respect. You don’t pay me enough to make requests. If you want to compliment me, that’s fine. Who doesn’t like a compliment? Mainly, I like to be left alone.
So now that that’s out the fucking way, for the umpteenth time, and probably not the last, Satan help me, this is part of the reason why I quit this shit DEEP BREATH
But, not only was last winter my first corduroy suit, it was also my first piece of new corduroy. I have never felt new corduroy before. I had no idea how pleasantly stiff it was. I mean, I’d heard the rumors and I have some sense –not much– but this came as a surprise.
More surprising to me was how much I loved wearing it. It felt like I could put my feet up, wear it around the house, go out, roll up my sleeves, whatever. And one thing I like about suits is their flexibility. I like that they are kind of semiotically blank. You can wear the same suit in a lot of different spaces, blend in and stand out to the same degree, and have people draw totally different and wildly inaccurate conclusions about you. Their meaning is often their context and a corduroy suit does this well. It never quite fits. A stranger everywhere.
I want to live in this suit.
I know some people are concerned with outfit repeaters. That idea is the exact opposite of my feeling about clothes. I want to repeat outfits. My ideal is not a new outfit everyday – it is the same outfit every day. If I could find that outfit, if any outfit was that good, I would be very happy. For me, changing clothes is failure. It is a failure of my clothes and of my character. I would love to have just one outfit. From here to the grave. The impossible dream. I have had to settle for variations on a theme. Pobody is nerfect.
Having been so happy with my first foray into corduroy suits, I decided to try again. This time instead of blue, I wanted a dark purple. I did think about a forest green but it seemed too rural. I have not ruled the color out for future purchases and, as much as I like meeting deer and owls and cryptids in the woods, I’m not trying to shoot a quail in the face. I can wear deep purple into the woods. I’m not sure I can wear green downtown.
I am ridiculously happy with this suit. Not just the color and fit of the thing but also the feel. It’s stiff and tough. For now. But corduroy breaks in. And I love breaking in clothes. Too often, a new suit feels more like it is going to break down. The first time you wear it, is the best. That’s when it fits the best and is in its best shape. All that follows is decay.
I don’t mind decay. The custodians of the world do not get near enough credit. Of all the concepts we’ve seen perverted and lost over the years while people chase a buck, the loss of custodianship may hurt us the most. We’ve lost this concept not only in big things but in small. I enjoy being the custodian of my clothes. Of taking care of them. Of knowing decay is coming but these are not things to be thrown away and replaced but things to be looked after, even as I look after my body so that I can keep using them. They will decay. They started decaying the moment I had them made. But until then, I will look after them.
Custodianship is old and familiar to me. But breaking in? This is new.
Though I have never liked denim, I have known people who love it. And those who like it, even casually, often prize this breaking in. How the fabric changes over time, directed by the body. Certain Japanese denims are prized for what happens as they break in. A new beauty emerges from wear. The breaking in of clothes has been a pleasure denied to me. I suspect that it’s denied to many people these days, for many different reasons. Things too often break down before they break in. Boots and shoes even. It’s fucking tragic.
But I can feel this suit, almost like a living thing, adjusting to my movements, my heat, and my contacts with the world. It feels like it will age well. Show its marks. Not as damage but as character. And I am thrilled. This is a quality I’ve craved without knowing it. More even than the color, the fit, or anything else, I have fallen for the collapse. For the ways this suit will change and soften, and stain, and wear. For patches not yet put on.
I know it’s too romantic. I know I should concern myself more with matters of chemicals and economy. But I cannot help myself. I have fallen in love. With corduroy and with collapse.