The scenario is familiar: in the coldest, most desolate months a slip arrives requesting the preservation of some distant date. Weeks pass and a fatter effort fills the mail slot. The recipient admires its creamy heft and chiseled lettering, as dignified as a sanskrit tablet. Somewhere near the bottom is a more enigmatic phrase—a scrap of code dressed in tradition but fractured through a modern prism. Black Tie, it reads with particular gravitas, licked by italics. Or: Formal, jauntily punctuated by a fleur-de-lis. A veteran guest might make assumptions, but he might as well be reading tea leaves. Or entrails.
I even have inside information on our next wedding. The groom is a close friend. The location, New Orleans, is familiar. He and his brother will be in tuxedoes; I know this because I was consulted on the configuration of the groom’s. Experience tells me that several men outside of the wedding party will also wear tuxedoes while the majority will wear suits. Barring climatic anomaly, it will be hot, and knowing several of the guests, the party will stretch to dawn. But I also am certain of this: no intelligence, no matter the quality of its supplier, can prepare the conscientious man for the reality on the ground. And the stakes are particularly high for those that must plan many months in advance.
Having clothing made requires a bald prediction of the future. It might sound silly, or morbid, but in the broadest sense, believing that a tailored garment will still be needed in four-to-six months is itself an act of faith. (Tailor’s basements are haunted by scores of host-less suits, I'm told). A man must assume he will still have all his limbs, or be roughly the same size. He must contend with the less important (and more pragmatic) as well; will his ideas of cut and style stand up? And will the cloth he has selected meet expectations? I can vouch for that last one; swatches range from unhelpful to misleading. A bolt of cloth is better, but is still alarmingly unlike a finished garment of the same. And then there is color, which is like an abyss with a million false bottoms. A suit, even a light-weight navy one, is a leap.*
As accurately predicting the future is at the moment impossible, I operate instead by a fairly dry series of questions—an algorithmic gauntlet that determines whether a project begins or not. Admittedly, it sounds joyless. But I have weighed the misery of paying for something that hangs unused against whatever romance might be missing from my equation and determined the former a worser fate. Besides, what’s wrong with identifying the philosophical underpinnings of one’s motivation? Mine is as follows:
Does the proposal meet constraints of time and budget?
Does the proposal satisfy both need and want?
Does the proposal make me happy?
Is the proposal practical?
Am I being honest?
*At the moment I am testing the idea of a tropical weight navy suit, something that would be worn to my friend’s New Orleans wedding but would still neatly fit in the broader context of an evolving wardrobe.