There is a clothing store in Salt Lake City that specializes in outfitting newly minted missionaries. I was nearly 19, had received my “call”, and with more than a little hesitation my mother and I paid Mr. Mac a visit.
Up till this point I had never owned a suit my mother did not make herself, owned one tie since I was 12, and had worn the same Payless “Sunday” shoes since I was 15. The paperwork in my call included a required clothing list that would take a considerable investment, as I owned nearly nothing on said list. Mr. Mac offered a “new missionary discount.”
Two dark suits, two pairs black/brown dress shoes with matching laces and no contrasting stitching (the Dr. Marten clause), 5-7 white dress shirts long and short sleeve, dark socks, conservative ties, belt. It seemed an understandable and easy list but looking from the paper to the racks of jackets and back, I was lost.
An old gentleman approached and asked where I was called. “Atlanta” was my reply. He nodded and got to work stacking items on a table, not even glimpsing the list I brought for reference. “You will want light weight because it’s hot. One suit navy, that is a must, and the other you can play with a little. I suggest a charcoal with some sort of color stripe; you can pick a color you like so you don’t get bored. This one looks nice, what color do you like? Do you know your size? Step up here and we’ll measure. Now what color do you want?”
Not really understanding anything I was looking at, why this man had just ran a string up the inside of my leg, or having previously considered what color of pinstripe I liked in a charcoal suit, I said, “Can I get double breasted?” This was the only suit lingo I knew. I believe I had heard the term in a mob movie once and while not knowing what it meant, I knew I liked how the characters looked. That was when I was 13. I had been holding that term since then for just this instance. The man looked at me sideways, told me he would grant the request for the navy and might he suggest a green for my pinstripes in the charcoal? I shrugged a yes.
We placed two, two pant suits on the table and an assistant began stacking plastic wrapped white shirts next to the suits; four oxford button downs, four broadcloth point collars. Five short sleeve, four long. I paid no attention; to me they were just a bunch of white shirts. I do not know what brand wingtips were grabbed. They had thick foamy soles and I learned a new word “cordovan.” I had been told by returning missionaries to get “Docs” (Dr. Marten’s), but ever the one to keep a rule, I was afraid of contrast stitching.
I drew the line at ties. I knew a girl who worked at the outlet mall who was sure she could beat the discount. I figured suits were all the same; because to me they all looked the same, so what really mattered was the tie. I did not trust this guy. He was old and because of this deficiency he could never know what was cool. I didn’t either but I was sure this teenage girl at the outlet was the expert.
We moved my new wardrobe past the checkout and into the car. There was no excitement over the new clothes, they were a technicality. There was neither anticipation nor appreciation for the wardrobe or the man who had assembled it, I simply did not care.
As my mother and I drove home I think she was talking about luggage. I’m not sure, I wasn’t listening. With stacks of new shirts and suits, I was looking at the example photo my call included of what an appropriate haircut looked like. Since the day I was old and brave enough to voice an opinion, I had never sported such a look. I knew the trip to the barber was coming, I had been anticipating that haircut for years.
I looked down the list again.
It was as if an eraser had been dragged across everything I had ever known of style.
It was a long list. It was a list of clothing more expensive than anything I had previously owned. Yet at the end of it all, all I could see, was nothing.
Then there was that haircut…