As the title may imply, I’ve had some measure of frustration today involving suits. Let’s get a brief history about what happened before we go any further:
I wake up and remember I have to go suit shopping for my cousin’s wedding. Not bad in and of itself, but annoying that my old suit no longer fits due to what I will retrospectively describe as an optimistic purchase. So I travel to Crawley with my girlfriend for her expert opinion on what looks good on me. It’s not a shopping Mecca but given a day we can usually find a gem or too that meets the spec. I decide to eat once we get to our destination, combining two meals into a brunch with the aim of cutting down on total daily calories. So I leave mildly hungry.
On the way half a brick falls off a Highways Agency lorry and onto my windscreen. By some miracle neither my windscreen or Becky suffer irreparable damage but there’s definitely a crack in the former. Cue a sequence of words from me that I will politely describe as pretty blue, and a break in our journey which is spent in a petrol station car park. After I call down I call the AA who put me on hold to transfer me to the glass repair and replacement service. After waiting twenty minutes Becky spends two on google and finds out they just use Autoglass, so I hang up and we try to use their app.
They don’t have any appointments until Saturday. It’s Thursday on the day of this event. I phone them to see if talking to someone helps the issue. I work in customer service and do a pretty good job of dancing within the rules to get the most for customers, and make the supposition that I can convince or persuade a fellow customer service agent to do the same for me.
This was optimistic. Autoglass are represented by Elise, who has a jaded call centre veteran’s distain for anyone who does not immediate understand all the technical and company language, or the specific way Autoglass deal with calls and systems. After an unnecessarily long DPA session, since I know I answered two questions correctly so shouldn’t have had to answer five, she tells me that I can use the app. I acknowledge this and explain that I had but was hoping to arrange an earlier appointment by talking to someone who would be able to help me more than a machine.
Elise takes offense to the idea that I should want more for myself as a customer than a piece of technology offers. After I describe the crack very briefly and inexpertly she says I need to replace my windscreen. I said the app said differently, and she tells me the app is wrong – I do not re-raise the point that I called based on the fear this may be the case. After some debate I get her to tell me exactly what she needs to know about the crack to diagnose its severity, which she reluctantly does. It turns out that apparently she was correct and the windscreen needs replacing.
She says it’ll cost £75, and I quickly interject to point out the app said £25. Elise impatiently explains that’s because the app was wrong about what work needed to be done. I still do not re-raise the point that the fear of this led me to calling. For a replacement I have to wait seven days. I don’t challenge this – as that would be stupid, since I now require a whole windscreen rather than some glue and gel – but Elise interrupts me half way through “| understand” to testily explain this anyway. I say fine and ask for a morning appointment, which I appreciate will be between time A and time B due to the mechanics of travelling mechanics. Elise takes my name as it appears on my card, then says she’s actually going to put me through to a payment line. I say fine and tell her to have a nice day.
Elise terminates the call.
After another blue language sequence, during which Becky gets out of the car ostensibly to check the damage, I call back and get through to Riad and explain what happened. I drop all the key words to get a complaint raised – these are, for reference: Dissatisfaction, stress, frustration, anger or fury and the phrase formal complaint. Riad raises one and confirms that despite her attacking the keyboard in a passive-aggressive tantrum Elise did manage to book my appointment. He also says that if I want I can pay at a later date rather than stay on the line while he raises the complaint. I accept this and we end the call amiably without me paying Autoglass a penny just yet.
As you can tell, I was very slightly homicidal after this experience and Becky said she would by me brunch at Chopstix despite the fact she didn’t really want to go there. After eating I’m in a better mood, and the mile walk from where I parked helped as well. So I was just about down to a manageable stress level by the time we actually started suit shopping.
Below is the suit I ended up buying:
[Shirt model’s own, not for wedding purposes. Unprofessional cameraman, poor lighting fault of venue.]
I think it’s pretty flash, and I am happy with it. It took roughly three and a half hours to find, during which I descended into pits of twisted emotional states I had previously only visited when dealing with the very worst kind of human effluence.
We started in TK Maxx – TJ Maxx to anyone across the pond in the good old US of A. There was nothing here that really fit the bill, but this wasn’t too surprising as it is basically a giant jumble sale with delusions of grandeur when it comes to pricing. So when we left there empty handed I wasn’t too put out.
We moved on to Marks & Spencer, since I had been gifted with a aptly named Gift Card containing £100. This would make an M&S purchase ideal as it would essentially be free. Fate and fortune were not smiling on us. While there were plenty of suits I dismissed each and every one in turn, getting more and more depressed, although not annoyed. I dismissed them because they all lacked winged or peaked lapels. See below for an example:
[Left: Notched Lapel. Right: Peaked Lapel]
In my opinion, winged or peaked lapels separate a suit from the run of the mill I-need-a-smart-suit suits and show a little bit of flair or style. I also personally think that clipped lapel jackets look like business suits the owner has repurposed as event-wear because they have nothing else and can’t be bothered or can’t afford to buy anything new. Is this unfair and subjective? Possibly to the first and definitely to the second. But this is fashion and style: I can wear what I want, and will do because that’s what I want to wear! I suppose I would have settled on clipped lapels if I found a suit that had a fancy or impressive enough design, pattern or material, but none of these were in evidence in M&S. I put this down to M&S being a department store and we moved on, my mood muted but not despairing.
Please note that if you disagree with me that’s fine – I am not going to tell you what to buy or what to wear. That’s not my right, my job or my wish. I’m only stating what I wanted to buy, and what I want to wear.
We made the unexpected discovery that there was a Moss Bros store in Crawley Mall, something we had previously written off as there not being a hope in hell of finding. I had previously bought a suit from here, the aforementioned optimistic purchase, so had high hopes. Triumphant, we crossed the threshold and began to browse.
The manager approached me after a while and we discussed suits and styles in a fairly genial manner, which is a credit to me since what he was explaining was a min-maxed sales system that he tried to excuse as being the only option – unless I wanted to pay £100 to get a suit tailored. Which would be fine, if any of the tailor-able suits were ones I wanted. Which they weren’t. Which I’d explained. And he ignored.
Apparently to get a peaked or winged lapel on a suit it had to be a slim fit suit, because those types of lapels are only added to the fashionable styles. Additionally, to get something that wasn’t matt-black, blue or grey you had to get a slim fit because the patterns and materials for the other suits were limited to the fashionable style – i.e. slim fit – which only went up to a 40” chest. I can only assume Moss Bros made this somewhat ridiculous decision on the basis that people with a 44” chest would never want a suit that wasn’t a plain black, blue or grey colour with clipped lapels. He pointed out that there were dinner jackets available, my response to which was to point out that I was looking for a suit and that none of the dinner jackets had peaked or winged lapels anyway. He said I wouldn’t be able to find anything in the timescale I had – admittedly, shopping for a suit with a week before an event is leaving it fairly late in the day, but his attitude at this point was superior and incredibly unhelpful.
I left Moss Bros without buying anything. As far as budgeting goes, today had been a good day this far. Turning up to my cousin’s wedding without a suit, however, was just not acceptable.
So forlorn and despairing we headed to Debenhams, a chain department store that’s either inoffensive or bland depending on how you look at the world. On the way we passed Primark, and Becky suggested we stop in there just in case they had something. I almost rejected this idea but,contrary to all my expectations Primark has come through for me with a few gems before, and definitely within budget. So in we waltzed.
There was a suit section, small but well stocked. They had winged lapel suits in a light blue that stood out as smart, snappy and clearly wasn’t designed as a business suit. Sure, it was slim fit but they had sizes going all the way up to 52” chest and 46” waist – what Moss Bros called impossible had been done by a budget clothing store not three shops down the same mall, and for roughly £100 less! Or £200, if you included tailoring! After trying on a couple of different jackets and trousers, and swapping out the somewhat boring button-like suit pin for a silver humming bird one, I had by suit for the incredible cost of £45.
According to Moss Bros, that shop would never make money. Primark shares are doing fine, so one of them has a business plan set for an economy recovering from a recession. I’m not sure you can buy Moss Bro shares so I can’t run any kind of financial comparison graph to prove my point, but my suit makes me feel happy enough about the whole thing! Even with the potential additional cost of a new car windscreen, I would still only have spent £120 which was at the lower end of my budget for buying a suit in the first place!
So, victorious, I returned home.
The whole suit shopping experience frustrated me immensely though. Maybe it was because Crawley is not the bustling metropolis and shopping Mecca I needed, or perhaps it was because I had left it a little late, but there just wasn’t anything in the style I wanted for a man my size. I’m not even that fat! I understand that fashion is, unfortunately, a phenomenon that rules what people think they should buy and sell, but to go so far as to be unable to cater to people who don’t fit the fashion seems a terrible business plan. You’re immediately ruling out a significant customer base. Larger men still need suits, and they should have the full range available to them. And when I say ‘larger’, I’m a 44” chest and 36” waist. I am not a blimp by any means – and even if I was, I should be able to buy the suit I want without having to pay more money! Surely these chain stores – because that’s what Moss Bros is, pretty much like Primark – have warehouses they could store small numbers of larger sizes in. That way when a ‘larger’ customer came in ready to drop £150-£200 on a suit they wouldn’t be met with a borderline rude and insulting store manager trying to explain that they were too fat for the suit they wanted. Instead they’d be told they had to wait a few days for the delivery to come in and they’d get what they wanted.
Isn’t that better all round? Doesn’t that make sense? Of course it does. A lot of places operate like that – and, quite frankly, the point that ‘fashion changes’ is moot because maintaining a small like of stock means it requires less to sell it, and it doesn’t magically become unsellable if or when the ‘fashion’ changes. I wanted that black and white hatched dogs-tooth three piece suit because it looked amazing. I didn’t care if someone other person or fashionisto/a critic said it looked amazing during a given three month period; it would always look good to me. I don’t need a suit for every new solstice; I need a suit I want to wear.
So if you’re looking for clothes and there’s nothing in your size, don’t give up. Keep looking. Ignore the sales assistants and retail workers who say that it’s not done in your size – no matter how shiny their badges are or how supposedly prestigious or respectable their stores are, if they don’t respect you then they don’t deserve your custom. £200 from anyone is £200, and businesses should be sale focused. Yeah, people who spend thousands on suit could argue that I’m too poor to be buying real suits but a) if they’re reading this blog and making this comment then they’ve wasted their time, the only truly valuable resource and b) if they spend £2,000 on a suit and I spend £200, then I’m £1,800 up.
Price tags don’t give any extra benefit to what you wear. If you find a cheap suit you like and makes you feel good about yourself, that’s better than dropping ten time the value on an expensive suit that is kind of what you were looking for. So never give up, never surrender, and find what you want to buy whatever size you are.