Monday, December 19, 2005

“A Favorite English Sentence” by G.Bruce Boyer

A Favorite English Sentence
By
G. Bruce Boyer

 

“If you will kindly step through, sir?”

 

The first time I heard those words was on my second trip to London. I’d been there once before, when I was a student and had no money to speak of. None to even whisper about. There was a chain of shops called Burton’s selling good English-quality ready-made clothes, and I’d bought a wonderful checked Harris Tweed sports jacket off-the-rack. It was almost bullet-proof, and served me well for years.

 

But this time I was determined to have a real Savile Row suit, handmade with all the trimmings: working buttonholes on the sleeve, step-lapelled waistcoat, silk-lined trousers, boutonnière loop behind the lapel, the works!

 

So, on a wonderfully crisp Spring morning, a resolute young man briskly walked across Piccadilly and through the Burlington Arcade, marched down the Row and, bringing his courage to the sticking point, pushed through the heavy Victorian oak and beveled glass front door of one of the most reputable bespoke tailoring firms in the world — all the while thinking of the kings and presidents, film stars and international diplomats, Greek shipping magnates, English dukes, Texas oil millionaires, and Continental boulevardiers who had preceded him.

 

I was also wondering what I should do once the door silently but firmly closed behind me and left me standing inside the entrance of this august, intimidating establishment.

 

Not to worry, as the English say. Standing outwardly calm, but inwardly shaking like a wet dog, I was quietly approached by an elderly gentleman in impeccably-cut pin-stripes, who very properly and politely asked me if he might be of assistance. “Oh, I want a suit,” I brightly said. Trust me to say the right thing.

 

“Of course, sir,” he calmly replied, taking me gently by the elbow and ushering me down the worn and faded Persian carpet, between the long oak refectory tables groaning under rolled bolts of worsted and tweed. And did I prefer town or country suiting, he inquired.

 

I spent the next forty-five minutes or so going through the cloth swatch books, dozens and dozens of them – there must have been a hundred different patterns of district checks in tweed alone – some containing squares of cloth I thought I’d seen twenty minutes before in another book. My elderly guide stood demurely at my side, offering a word or two of encouragement or advice if I turned to him with a swatch between my fingers.

 

“Very serviceable piece of worsted, that is, sir. Perhaps a bit too heavy, though, for your climate at home, would you think, sir?

 

In one book I spied a handsome plaid of rusty brown with a lavender and Kelly green over pane. Did he think it was a bit loud?

 

“Well, I wouldn’t necessarily say loud, sir. But perhaps it does tend to mutter a bit.” Scratch that one.

 

Finally, I settled on a mid-weight, grey cheviot cloth in a miniature herringbone pattern.

 

“An excellent choice, sir, if I may say so,” my well-upholstered counselor intoned. “You may be interested to know that this particularly cloth has been woven for us for almost a hundred years now. Had a suit of it myself when I was younger.” And then the magic request.

 

“And now, sir, if you will kindly step through?”. His outstretched arm directed me toward the muted elegance of that burnished wood cubicle with the beveled triplex full-length mirror and malt-colored flannel curtain: THE FITTING ROOM.

 

I’ll save the operations of the fitting room for another time. Suffice it to say here that it is a place of both magic and mystery, as well as considerable consolation and gratification denied even to prayer. And so the words, “And now, sir, if you will kindly step through,” have always had a spiritually transforming effect on me, as well as the slightly more prosaic literal one.

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16 comments

  1. Anonymous

    December 19, 2005 at 6:10 am

    Thanks for that wonderful entry. I think all who are sartorially minded can relate!-KJW

  2. Jeff

    December 19, 2005 at 12:01 pm

    Beautiful!

  3. Anonymous

    December 19, 2005 at 4:31 pm

    Well, that’s brightened my day.

  4. M. Bonca

    December 19, 2005 at 9:04 pm

    Wonderful piece. Anyone interested in men’s clothing and the art of dressing well ought to pick up Bruce Boyer’s books “Elegance: A Guide to Quality in Menswear” and “Eminently Suitable,” two of the best books ever written on these subjects. I highly recommend both.

  5. Anonymous

    December 19, 2005 at 10:50 pm

    Wonderful piece! Magic and Mystery… Hmm. One can only imagine what exactly goes on behind the scenes.

  6. RP

    December 20, 2005 at 9:50 am

    That was a beautifully written piece about a process that fascinates me. A total winner. Thanks for posting it and thanks for putting up this lovely website. I will certainly link to it from mine when I get a chance over the weekend (no need to link back, I don’t work that way, I just link to what I like).

  7. PB

    December 21, 2005 at 8:33 am

    A beautiful piece of writing. The language alone makes me want to go to Saville Row to be fitted.

  8. Holly

    December 21, 2005 at 9:06 am

    Everything G. Bruce Boyer writes is delicious. He makes reading about menswear as satisfying as reading a great novel. And he totally knows his field. Has everyone seen his new book–”Fred Astaire Style”? Wonderful.

  9. rnssnc

    April 15, 2006 at 6:14 pm

    i think i saw G. Bruce Boyer today in London, i didn’t confirm with the guy, but i’m 80% sure… just thought i’ll get that off my chest.

    btw, anyone know what the G stands for?

  10. Julia

    July 3, 2007 at 6:58 pm

    I’ve read this post many times now, and I think it’s time to say it’s a wonderful piece of writing, and I’d love to see more writing and less images nowadays (4/7/07).

    Just a written thought, of course.

  11. jollyadobo

    February 7, 2008 at 2:40 am

    it’s kind of comforting to hear that even the sartorialist himself gets a bit intimidated sometimes

  12. Nic

    May 30, 2009 at 5:13 am

    If only life was more like a tailor’s shop… where people took their time over decisions, had to wait patiently for the results instead of being instantly gratified, where quality products were skillfully crafted and lasted for many years instead of being disposable, where politeness was an essential part of every experience… the world would be a better place.

  13. Barbie

    November 19, 2009 at 5:02 am

    I got goosebumps reading this! I am a girl who is still learning about menswear. you make it sound magical.

  14. Kelly

    November 11, 2011 at 9:59 pm

    “it does tend to mutter a bit…”

    What a perfect line.

  15. scott murison

    January 2, 2012 at 5:02 am

    sartorial thought – dressing your mind in such a manner – a beautiful thing

  16. Name*

    May 15, 2013 at 4:55 pm

    Sublime.

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