“I know a lot of people who dress up with great misery. A lot of self-doubt. A lot of voices from the past. They dress a certain way to protect themselves against those denigrating voices. So part of what I like to do is to help people and give them the power and the language, verbally and in the expression of their clothing.” — JJ Lee, interviewed by the Westender
Did you read The Measure of a Man: the Story of a Father, a Son, and a Suit by JJ Lee?
I was excited to share this book with you because Modernize Tailors is located in my city of Vancouver, BC. I took this photo of the shop’s exterior to show you:
As you know, Modernize Tailors is the tailoring shop where Lee buys his first made-to-measure suit. It’s also where he starts apprenticing, even though he’s a 37-year-old journalist who doesn’t actually know how to sew.
Working on suits—the quintessential male outfit of the West—leads Lee to really think about fashion, masculinity, and the men in his life. As he tries to remake an old blue suit, Lee must reckon with his own uncertain sense of manhood and his memories of his destructive, alcoholic father.
I found Measure of a Man really moving. I cried a little at the end, even though I was eating dinner in a burrito shop! JJ Lee makes himself very vulnerable in the book, and I felt so sad for Lee and his dad. Lee can’t really explain the exact reasons why his family fell apart, but he captures the helplessness everyone felt and the lingering effects of living through a trauma that you haven’t acknowledged.
So here are my questions:
- Did you like the book?
What part captured your attention more: the social history of the suit and the story of Lee’s apprenticeship, or the family history?
If Lee was to write another book about a garment or style, what would you want him to write about? — I think I’d like to read a social history of the miniskirt, myself.
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This month, the Colette Book Club gets to know iconic fashion designer Coco Chanel with Mademoiselle Chanel, a novel by CW Gortner.
You can read an excerpt of Mademoiselle Chanel on the author’s Facebook page or the publisher’s website. You can find the book at bookstores or at your local library. It’s also available for Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and as an Overdrive library ebook (in some regions).
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