Helping my friend get suited up for his big day

When my dear friend Daniel asked me to accompany him to a custom menswear atelier to help him choose a suit for his wedding, I was so flattered that I neglected to mention how little I know about menswear.

Recently, Emily, then his bride-to-be, had stunned everyone by encouraging Daniel to grow out his closely cropped hair, unleashing a thick salt-and-pepper mop worthy of a Kennedy, and my status as his style go-to, developed over almost 20 years of knowing each other, had taken a hit.

"Talk about asleep on the job." he had said, joke-accusingly.

Here was a chance to contribute to the art direction of their nuptials.

But en route to the midtown showroom of Alton Lane, I realised I was even less qualified than I had thought.

I did not have a single opinion about suits. I scanned the subway for research. Not a suit in sight.

Suits must take Uber.

Panic set in. When was the last time I had seen Daniel in a suit?

Was he a double-breasted guy or, God forbid, into vests?

I know the dress, bra and shoe sizes of my closest female friends, as well as the features they like to show off and those they try to conceal.

If we cannot decide what to wear to an important event, we start a text consultation via iPhone photos.

We lend one another our bathing suits, jean jackets and belts.

Attending to one another's physical self is the background music of our day-to-day.

But despite one ill-fated roll in the hay, when we were both between romantic partners and had too much wine, I knew so little about Daniel's physical self that it might as well have not existed.

I thought back to the suits of my past.

Growing up, I had felt a frisson of pride when my lawyer father set off in his sober black or beige suit for a rare morning in court, or appeared at my track meet in his workaday blazer and tie, leagues more dapper than all the other dads.

A decade ago, I had helped another man choose a suit for his wedding, a significant ex-boyfriend, who had travelled from Boston for a day visiting the spots I had chosen - Barneys, Bloomingdale's, John Varvatos - though really the help went both ways.

Being included in his milestone made me feel less like I was losing him forever.

More recently, I had taken my current boyfriend to a J. Crew outlet and cobbled together a discount suit. When he stepped out of the fitting room, broad shoulders accentuated, long legs even longer, it was as if his innate confidence, which I find so attractive, had achieved its proper form.

But could I make the mark for Daniel?

Choosing a suit for a wedding - his second - understandably made him nervous. He was 15 minutes late to our private appointment with Mr Ricky Briggs, the manager of the Alton Lane showroom.

Mr Briggs set out two cut-glass tumblers and opened a bottle of bourbon, one of several ways the company lures customers to a physical store rather than staring slack-jawed at a screen.

That day, I learnt a lot about my old friend. According to him, he has "chicken legs".

He already owned one charcoal suit and wanted a navy one this time.

He is an easy upsell. He had come for the US$595 (S$806) option and left with the US$895 one, though there was a 15 per cent welcome discount.

Most surprising, he had a vision: himself wearing a vest.

I bit my tongue. Who was I to stand in the way of one man's dream? And yet, would Emily forgive me?

Daniel tried on a sample suit and Mr Briggs measured him the old-fashioned way, with lots of yellow pins.

We drank two glasses of bourbon apiece and made ribald jokes.

"Shopping is just us hanging out," Daniel said, "But in a store."

Five weeks later, his suit was finished and we returned for his first and final fitting. The trousers were tapered and hemmed to skim the tops of his shoes.

Somewhere along the way, we had vetoed the vest and okayed belt loops.

Just like that, my old friend in his White Stripes T-shirt and slouchy jeans had metamorphosed into a Justin Trudeau look-alike.

As we frequently assure each other, we are both devastatingly attractive, but now I really meant it.

"Wait," I said. "When did you get so good-looking?"

The wedding was in June, at the home of Emily's parents. There was a murmur of voices and I turned to see Daniel set down the grassy aisle with his mother, beaming his toothy smile, simultaneously happier than I had ever seen him.

Yet, he was nearly unrecognisable, with his fabulous new hair and fashionable trim navy suit. I was proud that I had played a small part in helping him move from one chapter to the next and hopeful about all the chapters to come.


• The writer is a book author.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 15, 2017, with the headline 'Helping my friend get suited up for his big day'. Print Edition | Subscribe