By Charles Vining, February 18, 1928.
“This,” Gregory said, “is my new suit.”
“Oh, yes,” I said.
“Is that all you’re going to say?”
“Where did you get it?”
“Look here, Charles. I don’t think you understand about this suit. I planned this suit myself.”
“I see,” I said.
“And furthermore, that mousy thing you’re wearing is all wrong. You nearly look like an editor. Men’s clothes this year aren’t going to be drab and dull. The master tailors say so.”
“This is an English suit. What master tailors?”
“You don’t even know that. There are five hundred master tailors here in the King Edward. They meet somewhere every winter and decide the styles for the next year. You ought to go over and learn something.”
“I’ll go over and look at the styles,” I said, “but let’s not be conspicuous.”
“All right,” Gregory said, “I’ll keep on my overcoat.”
We found the tailors on the second floor of the hotel. They seemed to have all of it. There were groups of distinguished looking gentlemen standing about in attitudes of careless grace. There were more morning coats than at a Government House garden party and nearly as many walking sticks. I became acutely conscious that my trousers were baggy and Gregory seemed to need a hair cut.
We approached one of the distinguished looking gentlemen.
“We would like,” Gregory said to him, “to learn something about the new styles.”
“Styles are now being considered by the styles committee,” the distinguished looking gentleman replied. “They are in conference at present, but they might be able to give you a minute. This way.”
We entered a large room. It was filled with rows of tailors’ dummies. Upon each dummy was a coat and waistcoat. Three gentlemen, in morning coats, were passing slowly down the rows of dummies. They were eyeing the coats the way you look at pictures in an art gallery.
These three were the styles committee: L. C. Tyler of Columbus, Ohio; W. J. Levy of Toronto, and Frederick Anderson of Memphis, Tennessee. The coats were models submitted by master designers from all over the continent. The styles committee were picking from each the features they liked best and the composite creation would be the style they would presently recommend for gentlemen to wear.
The thing was happening right under our eyes.
“This is a great moment,” Gregory said.
“Yes,” I said.
In the Style Committee’s Hands
The triumvirate looked up and their eyes gleamed.
“Say you,” one said. “Come here.”
I pushed Gregory forward.
“Take off your coat,” ordered the triumvirate. We want to see how this thing looks walking.”
Gregory took off his overcoat and revealed his new suit. It was a rich brown color with a double breasted coat. There was about him an air of pride and expectancy. But the triumvirate said nothing. He took off the coat slowly and laid it tenderly on a dummy.
“Take off your vest, too.”
“Well,” Gregory said, “all right then.”
I understood his reluctance for I know the superstition which makes Gregory cling to the identification discs he had in the army. Without his vest these now dangled by a bit of worn cord from his suspenders. Moreover the scarlet and black knitted tie which perhaps had been all right shrouded by his vest now stood forth nakedly against a white soft collar and a green shirt which grew greener every moment. The shirt, too, had been victim of a savage attack at the laundry and bore upon its back a distressing wound which Gregory had neither expected nor intended should be disclosed to public observation.
The triumvirate eyed these features in silence. There was upon their faces the expression of Lady Vere de Vere finding a fly in her consomme.
They thrust upon Gregory a waistcoat and a coat, gray, double breasted. They buttoned it firmly.
“Suck in your stomach,” said one, poking him there.
Gregory walked. He would have been better without his goloshes.
“There, you see what happens when he walks.”
“Well, he doesn’t walk right.”
“I know. But we ought to have a coat that’s all right no matter how bad they walk. Now walk back here.”
Gregory strode back. The way he used to stride in front of his platoon. I thought he did it very well.
“He ought to be taller.”
“Perhaps Charles –” Gregory began nastily.
“No,” I said, pulling in my neck to look shorter. “No. That coat really suits you very well, Gregory.”
I was determined about this because I was wearing a waistcoat which had become a little tight for me.
It had been enlarged by inserting a pie shaped piece in the back seam, but in doing so the tailor had been unable to match the goods properly and the effect was somewhat disconcerting. Moreover, I remembered that a missing trouser button which I had intended to speak about the night before but had forgotten was for the moment, replaced by a large brass safety pin. I was not equipped to serve as a mannequin.
“Well, that’s enough,” said one of the triumvirate. “I’m against that coat.”
“Let’s get out of here,” I said to Gregory.
“Just a minute,” Gregory said. “Did you notice that coat I had on? Double breasted. Just like my new suit.”
He turned to the triumvirate, clad again in his new brown suit. A gentleman once more. Confident. Poised.
“We would like,” he said, “to learn something about the new styles. This suit I’m wearing, for example, is new. Is there any little detail about it that isn’t quite in keeping with your ideas?”
There was a painful silence.
“Please be quite frank,” Gregory said, with an easy smile.
“Well,” said one of the three, a very tall gentleman who looked the way a cabinet minister should but doesn’t. “In the first place a short man should never wear a double breasted coat.”
“But you just put one on me.”
“Yes, but it wasn’t for you. It didn’t fit you. That suit doesn’t fit you either.”
“What? This suit?”
“No. Look at those trousers. We’re trying to make men look tall and slim and athletic. Wide shoulders, slim waist, narrow hips. Those trousers of yours have hips like a peg top. Room to put a ham down each side.”
“The fellow that made those must have thought you were going to grow a German goitre,” number two said. “And the color of that suit’s wrong anyway. That’s a bad color for spring.”
“Well,” said number three, “he can’t expect the suit to look like anything with all that stuff bulging his pockets. What in the world have you got in there?”
“I have to carry things, don’t I?” Gregory said. “Don’t you carry things?”
“You ought to clear your pockets every morning. A handkerchief, a slim wallet for bills and a thin cigaret case is enough.”
“Not for me,” Gregory said. “I work.”
“Of course,” number two said, “there’s no use trying to look smart with a collar and shirt like that. And that tie. No gentleman ever wears a soft collar in the winter. Soft collars are for summer and for sport. You ought to wear a hard collar.”
“Say,” Gregory said, “Is there anything about me that is all right? Look here, Charles. Let them take a look at you?”
“No,” I said. “I haven’t got a new suit.”
“What do you think of his overcoat?” Gregory said.
I smiled confidently. It was a new overcoat and I had been extravagant. A long blue ulster, guards model, English, an object of compliments from my friends.
“Well,” said number one, “there’s one nice thing about it. You don’t have to wear gloves with that coat.”
“What do you mean?”
“The sleeves. They shouldn’t come down over your hands like that.”
“What else?” Gregory said.
“Well, the whole proportions of the coat are wrong, you know. The lapels are too low. The waist is too high.”
The Wardrobe of a Gentleman
“Yes. That’s what makes you meet people with your stomach first.”
“I’ve lost eight pounds since Christmas,” I said.
“That’s got nothing to do with it. The cut of a coat can make a thin man fat and a fat man thin.”
“Take a look at his suit,” Gregory said. “Take off your coat, Charles.”
“No,” I said, “I’ve got an appointment. I must get back to the office.”
“All right, then,” Gregory said. “Well, thanks, gentlemen.”
“Yes. Thanks,” I said.
Outside the door I looked at Gregory and he looked at me.
“Those fellows don’t know everything.” I said. “I think that’s as nice a suit as you could wear, Greg.”
“Oh, they make mistakes,” Gregory said. “You couldn’t look better in that overcoat, Charles.”
“Maybe they were just joking. What do you want to do now?”
“Let’s go in here.”
There was a door with a sign over it: The Wardrobe of a Gentleman. Inside was a vast array of suits, overcoats, shirts, dressing gowns and whatnot.
“This room,” the man in charge explained, “contains the things every gentleman should have in his wardrobe. Everything a gentleman needs.”
We walked around the room.
“Very nice,” Gregory said.
“Awfully,” I said. “And quite complete, don’t you think?”
“I’d like to check it up.” Gregory said. “Would you mind,” to the man, “giving us a list of the things in here that a gentleman ought to have?”
“Not at all,” the man said. “Take business suits first. A man ought to have three single breasted suits, and two double breasted.”
“A morning cost and striped trousers and a director’s coat. That’s a short coat, you know, black or steel gray, to wear like a morning coat only less formally.”
“Then he ought to have two dinner suits, one black and one gray and of course a full dress suit. For sport he ought to have two golf suits with two or three pair of knickers, blazer coat and about four pair of flannel trousers.”
“How many is that, Charles?” Gregory said.
“Twelve suits. Without the blazer. What about overcoats?”
“Well,” the man said, “he ought to have a light weight overcoat, a shower-proof, a dress coat, a medium weight fancy slip-on coat and a heavy ulster.”
“Five,” Gregory said. “What else?”
“Shirts. A man needs at least one dozen shirts for business, pleats with starch and soft fronts. He also needs half a dozen sport shirts with collars attached, one dozen dress shirts, and half a dozen pleated front shirts to go with morning coat and director’s coat.”
“Half a dozen might do, in batiste and silks. And about one dozen sets of underwear, one dozen assorted hose, one to two dozen cravats and assorted dress neckwear, three to five dozen handkerchiefs and mufflers for dress and business wear.”
Silk Dressing Wrap Essential
“For lounging purposes he needs a silk dressing wrap, a flannel robe for beach wear and a flannel throw-over for the bath. And in hats, a man ought to have a silk hat, an opera hat, a soft black hat for dinner clothes, a derby, two or three fedoras, and two or three caps for motoring and sport. He ought to have shoes for dress, morning coat, business and sport. That’s about everything, except odds and ends like jewelry, walking sticks, gloves, luggage and so on.”
I was watching Gregory closely. He seemed remarkably nonchalant and unimpressed.
When we got outside I said:
“What did you think of that?”
“Not bad,” Gregory said.
“You haven’t got a list like that, have you?”
“No. I’m missing in a few things, but I’ve got some things they haven’t got.”
“How many suits have you got?”
“Well, I’ve got this one and my blue one for funerals and weddings, and that Harris tweed I used to wear. The pants have worn through on it, but the coat’s all right. I use it for fishing. That’s one sport suit.”
“Haven’t you any dress clothes?”
“Yes. I was just thinking about that. I have a dinner coat. I lent it to Bill about two years ago and haven’t seen it since. I must ask him about that. But you could say I have a dinner coat all right.”
“Well, that’s four, with the pants missing in one. Three and a half really. What else hare you got?”
“I’ve got a pair of Scotch waders and wading sandals and a fishing coat.”
“We counted the fishing coat.”
“This is another one. A short canvas jacket. It just has sleeves and a piece across the shoulders to go above the Scotch waders.”
“You shouldn’t count that anyway. The sport clothes on the list were two golf suits. There wasn’t anything about fishing.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Gregory said. “It’s for sport, isn’t it?”
“No,” I said, “for gentlemen.”
“Golfers,” Gregory said bitterly. “Bond salesmen. They aren’t Intelligent enough to be anglers. What does a tailor know about trout, anyway?”
“Never mind,” I said. “We’ll count the jacket and waders as another suit. That makes five, and the list calls for twelve. How do you compare in shirts and sox and things like that?”
“Sox,” Gregory said. “A dozen pair of sox is nothing. I’ve got so many sox I’ve never counted them; the whole bottom drawer full. Some of my sox go right back to Varsity days. They’re the only thing I’ve got left from my education.”
“Have you got a silk dressing wrap for lounging and a flannel robe for the beach? And batiste pyjamas?”
“No. But I’ve got something like that they forgot on the list.”
“What is it”
“Nightshirts. Flannel nightshirts.”
“Somebody’ll hear you, Greg.”
“Listen, Charles,” Gregory said. “If I can’t wear my nightshirts we may as well stop being gentleman right now.”
Editor’s Notes: Though I don’t normally include stories not by Greg, I make an exception if it is about Greg. This is another “proto-Greg-Jim” story from Charles Vining, a fellow reporter at the Star Weekly, who was Greg’s “partner” in occasional stories illustrated by Jim up until 1928.
They went to the King Edward Hotel in Toronto, where Greg would actually live from 1966 until his death in 1977.
Identification discs were earlier versions of “dog-tags” in the army.
A “German goitre” was a slang term for a “beer belly”.