I enjoy writing this blog. The connections I've made with so many of you, the friendships that have occurred, are an unexpected and rewarding side effect. So too are the offers of free goods. Occasionally, people want to give me stuff so I can write about it. When this happens, which isn't all that often, I have to assess the situation carefully. The last thing I want to do is sell myself out for some free swag, but I do like getting stuff. Until recently, these offers have come from small time businesses, people trying to bring back a little of what we've lost in the last 20 years or so. In the end, I've accepted their offers comfortable in my own mind that I hadn't sold out, that I really hadn't crossed the evil line. And then I was contacted by the Mens Wearhouse.
You know this guy, George Zimmer. He comes on t.v. and tells you with a voice full of cigarettes "You're gonna like the way you look. I guarantee it." That's all well and good, I suppose, but I already do like the way I look, no thanks to big chains stores effectively ending the existence of the local haberdasher. We'll all live to regret the way we've let this kind of rampant big box thinking take away the more esoteric connotations and emotions that were once attached to purchasing and owning things. I guarantee it. But I'm getting off track...
So a couple weeks ago I was contacted by a p.r. firm representing these guys. I get a lot of these emails where some search just plugs my name into the front of a form letter, but this one actually seemed to be written by someone who had read An Affordable Wardrobe and had some understanding of what goes on around here, so I wrote back. They offered me something they called a "$750 shopping experience", by which they meant that I would visit one of their locations to buy an outfit, a suit and maybe some other stuff, have it altered, and then get on the internet to tell you how nice the clothes are and how good the service is.
My gut reaction was to refuse, but there was a charity component involved. Seems Mens Wearhouse runs an annual thing called the 'National Suit Drive". The idea, ostensibly, is to help guys who are broke and out of work get suitable business clothes for job interviews. O.K., I guess I can get behind that. I'm all for helping out a poor slob. The idea is that you can donate your used business clothes at any Mens Wearhouse location, in return for a $25 coupon good in the store. See, there's the problem. You can also donate your used business clothes directly to the charities, such as Goodwill and Salvation Army, where these things will eventually end up anyway, without being pushed into spending your money at some big ugly chain store that got you by dangling some silly coupon in your face. Instead, you can just feel good for having done a good thing. I guarantee it.
Anyway, I just couldn't make up my mind. I might be the master of the $1 thrift score, but the idea of getting a brand new suit did have it's allure. I figured I could go in there and find the one suit worth owning. I figured I could work the angle that every guy isn't as blessed with thrift stores as I am, and it's useful to know how to work a store like this. I figured a lot of things in order to justify this deal to myself, but something was bugging me. I even called Tin Tin for advice. We talked for an hour, and he was kind enough to tell me something along the lines of "if anyone can pull this off, it's you." But it still felt wrong. I guarantee it.
But I said yes to the deal. As the tentative date of my appointment loomed, the plans suddenly fell through.Mrs. G. had already arranged to take the kids off my hands for the day, so I decided to case the joint instead. I figured they'd be on best behavior if they were expecting me, and I wanted to scope the scene. It turned out to be just as grim as I knew it would be. I walked into that fluorescent lighting, and stood on that ugly carpet. I stared at racks filled with flashy, pimped out suits.I didn't see one solid navy blue suit, they were all striped...and not even with white stripes, it was those shiny ones. The only grey suit I saw had peaked lapels on a single breasted jacket, stylish enough on the right guy, I guess, but it'll be dated in year or two. I guarantee it.
They don't sell navy blazers. They don't sell flat front grey pants. They don't sell argyle socks. They do carry suit by Joseph and Feiss, but they're ugly and made in Mexico. They do sell purple "dress" shirts, square toed "dress" shoes, and lots of Tommy Bahama. The sales staff, in their black triple pleated pants puddling around said square toed shoes shoes, would not be able to offer a man with my tastes much in the way of advice. I think they would have tried to tell me that pleats and wide legs were the only way to go, that the stuff I was looking for was out of date. I think they would have completely ignored the fact that I might have any idea about anything, would have tried to sell me a 42 regular, instead of a 40 short, would have tried to tell me that my pants needed to be three inches longer than I wear them, would have failed completely to assess the customer personally, instead following to the letter some training program written by our boy George Zimmer himself. I guarantee it.
I sat on writing this post for a week, because I wanted to be fair. I poked around a bit and found that the company is based on a business model that puts the employees first and the shareholders last, the idea being that if you take care of your employees, all that goodness will trickle down. Fair enough. But then I read a lot of customer reviews. They were split 50/50 between "eh, could be worse" and "I hate this f*ckin place". The good reviews were blase at best, but the bad ones all spoke at length about the terrible customer service. Taking care of the employees is a great idea, but I guess it only works if you actually do it. I guarantee it.
Then I was reminded that Mens Wearhouse and their ilk are responsible for ridding the city of Boston of the Holy Church of Filene's Basement and giving us a gaping hole in the ground in return, and that made me screaming mad. I guarantee it.
I've taken freebies from Deo Veritas and MTM shirt, both online made to measure outfits. In each case, I was approached by a small company looking to offer a fair service to interested gents, and they wanted my opinion. I let Ellie make me some bow ties, because she's a stay at home mom who sells hand made bow ties online. There was a directness and honesty about these people that I admired, and they turned out a good product to boot. I can get behind people like that with my principles in tact.
In the end I turned down Mens Wearhouse. In their case, I was approached by a young lady at a p.r. firm whose job it is to read blogs and hand out freebies. At first, I felt like hot stuff being approached by a big company. Then I remembered what a friend of mine who is actually a journalist said about bloggers, and how easy it is to buy them off since they don't operate in the same ethical circles, and I felt gross. Besides, all my thick, rolling button down collars and striped ties would have looked pretty silly under that shiny, peak-lapeled, nip waisted, side vented "designer" suit from China.
I guarantee it.