21 August 2010

Breaking the Chain

I sometimes find myself of two minds on a given topic, but not often. Usually, I'm a gut-thinking reactionary sort, with a head full of concrete, a situation that is equal parts blessing and curse. So when my opinion is split, it's something of an occasion. Such is the case with the following.

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.


Unknown said...

Let me preface this by saying that I will never buy anything from MW again, and if I were I fashion blogger, I wouldn't hesitate to refuse to speak with MW.

Yet I find it ironic that you said that you "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." If you aspire to "roll with the journalists", you have failed. Journalists should thoroughly investigate what they report on, and I am far from convinced you have done that. I am wholly uninspired by MW's cheap, flimsy offerings, but a quick visit to their website or many of their stores will reveal a vast offering of fused, third-world produced, two button, notched 3.5in lapel, navy and grey suits.

FWIW, I've purchased half-canvassed, 2 button, notched lapel, Hart Schaffner Marx and Hickey Freeman sport coats from MW for between $170-$300 that I had tailored offsite.

I can't believe I had to write this defending company I would never patronize again, but it sickens me that you suggest that you are conducting the same level of diligence done by the best professional journalists.

Jay B. said...

Giuseppe, I think it's kind of crappy that a company offered you a chance of free merchandise to review their store and instead you rejected it and decided to post a negative review about their store.

They didn't bribe you.
They didn't harass you.
They didn't do anything wrong.

This store clearly isn't for you. Why do you need to slam them, unprovoked? Is it just that you feel guilty for almost taking the suit?

This post was really disappointing. It doesn't go with the positive vibe of your blog.

Thomas said...

Interesting read. Your blog has motivated me to take a closer look at the stuff I buy. I even shop for used clothing now and bought a few excellent vintage Burberry jackets on Ebay. Where I live (in Germany) I do not see many thrift stores that sell men's clothes. But maybe I have to do more research. You have certainly managed to instill in me a dogged reluctance to buy new garments in department stores.

Silk Regimental said...

Honesty and character - So, do you think you could run for Congress? You'd BE a refreshing change.

cammie said...

good for you; I went in that store once to buy a bow tie (it was an emergency) only to be told I didn't want a bow tie. I was too fat to wear one. I AM fat, but I did want a bow tie. Plus, I didn't need some cologne saturated guy wearing pleated pants and a gold dress shirt telling me I'm fat; I knew that already.

The Red Velvet Shoe said...

I'm surprised you even labored over the decision...and even more surprised at the advice Tin Tin shelled out, shame on him.
Selling your soul for something free is not a good deal, even for a thrift store junkie.
Didn't know they're the creeps who took the downtown Filene's Basement away, my grandmother would turn over in her grave...

Anonymous said...

This, right here, is why I love your blog. While it's obvious ethical considerations played a part, in the end it was aesthetics that saved your soul.
"Beauty is truth, truth beauty."

Giuseppe said...


I would never purport to be a journalist. I'm sorry if you read it that way. But I won't be bought either.

Jay B.,

My slam was far from unprovoked. The way these kinds of chains do business, the people they shove out of the way, and the increasingly poor quality of the products they offer has been making me mad for some time. Most of my adult life, in fact. True, it may have been a little mis-directed to throw this all on them, but what can I say. You can't be positive all of the time.

Red Velvet,

In the end, Tin Tin was pretty pleased with my final decision. I think he was just egging me on to see where this would go.

Anonymous said...

Great read. Just last week visited MW with daughters & her boyfriend to pickup a Navy Blazer for him. That didn't happen. Walked away thinking, it is what it is, and for some guys it works - we're just not one of those guys. Again great read.


Anonymous said...

You are the man...I guarantee it.
Stay real.

Vashon Is.

Anonymous said...

Excelent read! This is why I check out your blog every single day.

Brian said...

Thank you for the article, very good read.

I agree with you on all points except MW and other big chains ending the existence of haberdashers - people not giving a damn what they look like or the quality of the goods they purchase over the course of the last few decades have done that. MW is a symptom, not a cause.

KWCooley said...

I used to shop at Men's Warehouse regularly. I haven't been there in years. I don't find them to big big and tall friendly. Their tailoring is also terrible. I used to think the store was great, but at that time I knew very little about men's clothing. Now I put together my own outfits for way cheaper. I think being a man with style is about defining what your style is. MW is OK. I think they're serviceable for a guy who has money and no clue about clothing. But if men took just a little time to learn what our granddads knew, MW wouldn't have any customers.

davidsl said...

a very good read. i have had mixed experiences with the men's warehouse. they really differ from store to store: both what they stock and the quality of their service.

there's a men's warehouse in downtown sf that has great clothes and great staff. there's also one in my town across the bay from sf that carries what might be called "urban" fashion and a staff that wouldn't know classic men's ware if they were beaten with it.

they do tailor their stock to the local demographic.

but i think that they are the antithesis to what you're blog is about. thanks for sharing both your minds about this!

TWJ said...

Interesting, I have been in the store once because my oldest son waited until the last minute to rent a tux. We looked around while we were waiting for him to be fitted. The salesman that waited on us presented me with his card before he did anything else. We then fitted my son and went on our merry way.

The next day we picked up the tux before his event. The same said salesman approached us and asked that my son try on the tux again to make sure it fit. He did and it didn't. The salesman did some quick tacking and taping and then we were off.

When we brought back the tux we were asked by now our repeat salesman how the event went. He looked at my son and me and said, "It would be wrong of me to ask if I could interest either of you in a new suit. I see, based on your dress that we would not have anything to your liking."

I was not only impressed by his service but also his forethought not to try and push any merchandise on us. The other thing I noticed was that he himself was wearing a Brooks Brothers wool suit. I wonder now that I think about it if that was why he went out of his way to service us. Maybe this was his part-time job and his full time job was at the BB store in Williamsburg, VA.


Anonymous said...

Zimmer comes across as a real schmuck. I wouldn't buy a pencil from this guy.

There's a knockoff around the corner from my local Mens Wearhouse. I get a similar feeling in my gut upon stepping into this joint:http://www.davelleclothiers.com/

David V said...

Good decision.

You'll sleep better.

I guarantee it!

Anonymous said...

G. always go with your gut feeling on things. If it don't seem right then it probably isn't. And it seems your more happy with your vintage stuff that new stuff anyhow... that's your style.

I love it when you get a good deal at the thrift store. I can't beat buying name brand ties for about .03 cents at the stores by me. And blazers for$1.50 vs. $150.00.

Since I found your blog 5 months ago I have a new love for clothing and vintage deals. Rarely every go into big fashion stores anymore to shop. Always looking for a deal.

Stay true to yourself and you'll be happy in the long run.
Thanks man.

Young Fogey said...

Excellent post.

This is a post that shows us the innermost workings of your mind, lets us see what you went through in receiving, and ultimately rejecting, this offer.

To the nay-sayers, I have to say that Giuseppe has, as he noted, never presented himself as a journalist. Then again, he has a lot more integrity, and does a lot more investigation, than most of the drones of the ruling ideology who pass as "journalists" these days. Most modern "journalism" consists of little more than using current events as springboards for propaganda, and the creators of such pieces would not have been out-of-place at Pravda (case in point: neither ABC nor NBC identified the party affiliation of the recently-deceased corrupt politian Dan Rostenkowski (D-IL) when announcing his death).

Now, G has received some free swag. Heck, I even sent him a jacket as a subscription fee! But look at the ethic with which he does so.

You made the right decision. And I agree with the assessment that the Men's Whorehouse sells unwearable c®@p, sold by unfashionable, clueless post-teens who are merely keeping time until they get something "better."

Anonymous said...

The charm of your blog is its celebration of the quality clothing that can be found at thrift stores and through DIY suppliers. Embracing Men's Warehouse would have poisoned the well. Far better to stay true to yourself.

The Glengarry Sporting Club said...

I think the part that amazes me the most is that anyone from that company could read this blog and think for a moment that any sort of cooperation between the two would make sense.

Laguna Beach Fogey said...

I'm surprised you would even consider it. WTF?!

Basseq said...

I've tried MW a couple times a few years ago, with similar results. I won't turn this into a MW rant, though.

More to the point: where does a young man with limited means and sartorial know-how buy a reasonable suit? MW and their ilk are really just low-brow; thrifting is too difficult and time-consuming for most; branded shops (e.g., Brooks) are expensive; department stores are either low-brow or expensive.

Is there anywhere that sells a variety of reasonably-made, relatively inexpensive suit styles in clean, classic styles with a relatively knowledgeable staff? Or is the answer simply, "Suck it up; it's going to cost you $500+"?

W. Hines said...

MW is good place for your first suit during your Clearisil days. Once your face clears up find a real men's clothing store in your area.

initials CG said...

In the very earliest days of MW, it seemed they had stuff for the "clearasil" crowd that might've passed muster in the dark. Now, I'm frightened.

Basseq brings up a good point. "where does a young man with limited means and sartorial know-how buy a reasonable suit?"

First, expand the sartorial know-how. Your father should have beat this into your head, then your mother, then your 5th grade school teacher (you remember your feelings for her? redhead, nice...", then your girlfriend, then...
I mean learn about it! Enjoy the study! Stop asking for simple answers. It's complicated. It requires introspection. It requires stamina, knowledge and determination. Guys, there's nothing better than learning about dressing well. Why do you think women are naturally attracted to well dressed men so much?

AAW is one place to get an idea of how to do it. There are lots of other sites, books, movies, out there that will help you develop it. MW exists, like many other chains, because of an inherent human frailty: laziness. They call it convenience. Think about all the convenience in your life. How much of it is truly elegant?

Second, expand your means. You save up for a nice car. Some guys study Consumer reports until they know the origin of the alloy used in the brake wheel. You make an informed purchase. Do the same for your appearance. Frankly, a good suit will get you laid faster than a Porsche 911. Especially if you’re married….

Young Fogey said...

What initials CG said.

One suggestion: save up, and buy from a quality store during a sale, or at their outlet. You should aim higher than Macy's, like, for example, Nordstrom, if you're looking at a department store.

PFP said...


I agree that a lot of what MW sells is crap and should be taken out and fed to the hogs. That said, I feel obligated to point out that there's precious little decent affordable menswear out there. Young guys with no time for thrifting and less know-how are left with few options. I know the good stuff from the bad, but that's because I worked for S&K the summer before it closed and learned which was which.

That said, if you want good stuff, you can get it: Jos A. Bank sells a decent product for a decent price--at least for suits (they charge an arm and a leg for most other things) and most small cities (at least here in the south) have at least one reputable haberdasher.

The other thing I'll say is that one is perfectly able to shop at MW and look like a million bucks just like one can shop at J. Press and look like a slob. It's all in what you do with your resources, not in what brand name you buy.

Jay C. Howard said...

I shopped for a suit in one of their Indianapolis stores in 2009. I told them what I wanted: gray or navy, flat front pants, etc. The sales clerk stared at me like I had just asked for drugs and a hooker. He showed me the ONLY pair of flat fronts in the entire store: they were dark YELLOW.

I applaud your decision to not take their money and promote their overpriced dreck.

WSTKS-FM Worldwide said...

Agreed. You articulated my sentiments exactly. The first time I visited a Men's Warehouse in downtown Minneapolis, I was, shall we say, more than somewhat underwhelmed. I've really enjoy surfing through your blog by the way. Lots of useful and interesting stuff on dressing stylishly without dropping a bundle. Keep it up.

Best Regards