Monday, January 23, 2006


My winter coat had surpassed "old" and "out of style" and was on its way to "vintage" last Fall when I finally found a suitable replacement. It was perfect in every way except for the Mandarin collar, which looked as if it were scaled for a giraffe. Wearing it gave me that "Master Peter Cratchit" look.

A couple of weeks ago, I brought it to my regular dry cleaner, who's a magician with a hemline. I put the coat on and she stared at the collar, perplexed. Then she folded it down. It's not the kind of collar that's supposed to be folded down, so I spent the rest of my grocery shopping and errand-mongering waiting for it to pop back up again, and feeling as if I were being strangled.

I went back to the cleaner, who said, "You need pattern-making. We don't do that here."

She referred me to Hong Kong Tailor Jack, whose shop I've passed for years on the way to the subway. The window of this shop always looks clean and spare, with a mannequin wearing a half-finished marked-up suit jacket. My instincts have always said "Expensive. Not for you."

But my new coat had the potential to look perfect, so I took a chance. I rang the doorbell, thinking, Oh man, a shop where you need to ring a doorbell. Definitely out of your league. An elderly Chinese man answered and before I could finish saying, "How much do you charge for..." he drew an imaginary line across my collar and said, "Forty, forty-five dollar."

That sounded about like what I'd expected. Tailor Jack measured and marked, and I left the coat there. I reflected that even after more than two and a half decades, you can't take Archie Bunker-land out of the girl: Forty, forty-five dollars is what my parents would say you should spend on the entire coat!

But for me, it works. I tend to get a lot of classic pieces that I wear until they fall apart. It makes sense to spend a little extra to have it fit the way I want it to. If I had not gotten the collar shortened, I would have started looking for excuses not to wear the coat, or felt ridiculous when I wore it. And eventually, assuming I hadn't thrown out the receipt (okay, just looked and I haven't), the coat and I would have shown up at Macy's sometime in March, with me pleading to a salesclerk, "Look, I know I bought this four months ago, but..."

The alterations were ready a week later, and the coat is now proportioned for a human female and not a giraffe. And it's occurred to me that my league may be somewhere above Archie Bunker, or my incarnation as a starving artist, which was one degree above street urchin. I no longer have to feel like Tiny Tim, and am no longer a Master Peter.

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