Tuesday, September 2, 2008

A Storied Tux

"The thing about a tuxedo is that it is virile and feminine at the same time."

-Catherine Deneuve

For my brother’s first wedding, my Dad rented his first tuxedo. Not one to waste a single opportunity, Dad hired a professional photographer the very next day to come to the farm and photograph him doing daily farm chores--in formalwear. One photo shows Dad bow-tied atop the tractor replete with mud boots. Another shows him, tuxedoed, tossing grain to surrounding cattle. From the church to the feedlot, Dad certainly maximized his rental.

Recently, he asked me where he could get a tuxedo? “What for” I asked.

“Well, see, me and Joe (his septuagenarian ski buddy) want to get some pictures skiing down moguls and playing around in the half-pipe in our tuxes. That’d be real ‘cool’, huh?” he says.

For men in their 70’s, I say “Why not?”

“And why not?” I, too, asked myself when I bought my tuxedo so I could attend the Starlight Theatre gala a few year’s back.

I found it at the vintage shop, Boomerang. This black After-Six tuxedo, previously owned by Gingiss Formalwear, symbolized the store’s name. Just like a boomerang, the tux had presumably gone out to many other galas, proms and weddings before always returning to the rack to await someone else’s usage.

They say that a bride knows her wedding dress when she sees it—“It spoke to me” they say. Likewise, when I tried on my tux, I knew, too.

In the full-length mirror, I examined the glove-like fit and traced my fingers across the black velvet lapels and snapped them across the sateen finish. Standing there I felt both rico AND suave.

Just like Ricardo Montalban.

Muy guapo.

By buying the tux, I celebrated a new male-stone (milestone for men), and entered into an inherent commitment with the tux. Like the tux, I had grown accustomed to a dutiful social itinerary. So it was an understood that it was my duty to keep up appearances for both of us. Like the tux saying, “If you’re going to be out of closet, then so am I!”

And so the tux and I went making our debut to both compliments and flashbulbs at the gala.

From that night on, that tux and I became like best friends, partners in crime and brothers. Inseparably together, we emceed events, we hosted karaoke, we danced with the Marching Cobras, we drank Manhattans up and smoked cigars, we made out, and we awoke in the morning wondering what the hell happened the night before. We laughed together. We even cried for joy. I tell you, my tux and I are tight.


The tux and I even went to weddings--as guests. I know this is kind of like wearing a wedding dress to someone else’s wedding. (“Oh! I thought bridal was just the theme!) And yes, I understand that it can be viewed as presumptuous and as tacky as a groom’s cake to wear a tux to a ceremony that you’re not a part of, but to be fair, I was ‘kind of’ in both weddings.

Now I’m generous with the “air-quotes” when I say I wasn’t “officially” in the bridal party however I did read a Pablo Neruda poem from the outdoor pulpit at one ceremony and I did sing ‘Heroes’ by David Bowie at the other.

I admit that wearing a tux to a wedding you’re not in does push the proverbial envelope. But like wearing leather pants to the office, I simply think it works if you work it.


Like any relationship there are certainly bound to be hurdles to overcome. The tux and I were not immune. The tux and I had our only spat at my childhood friend Caroline’s June wedding in the St. Louis Botanical Garden. Under a chardonnay haze, I thought it would be a great idea to round up the entire groom’s party and myself to make a run for a naked nighttime fountain photo-op. Why not?

Surprisingly, the groomsmen and ushers were all too willing. That’s one great thing about straight guys, call it “male-bonding” and add liquor and they’ll do just about anything. Besides, there really is no other answer than “YES!” when you have an entire botanical garden to yourselves at 11:30 on a warm summer night.

And so we raced to the center of the garden leaving formalwear strewn across the lawn and stood fountain-side in our own Full-Monty. Our naked butts reflected like Narcissus in the Dale Chilhouly glass sculptures in the backdrop. It was magical. The picture depicts as much.

We re-dressed and re-joined the reception inside. After dancing to the now obligatory wedding songs ‘Thriller’ and ‘Jump Around’, we began the exit to the wedding’s after-party. That’s when my tux jacket came up missing.

Not on back of my dinner chair, not at the fountain or any point in-between: my tux jacket had split. Presumably, it left while I jumped around and thrilled.

I felt guilty. But then repeated the mantra "Set it free, if it's meant to be it will return to you.” My kinship with the tux had become a sacred one and I trusted that despite this temporary loss, the jacket would one day find it’s way back to me.

A week later, a groomsman, Frank called to say he picked it up by mistake and would have it sent to me. The jacket and tie returned from a trip from St. Louis to Charleston, and then on to Pittsburgh before making it back home to KC.

It was meant to be.


Since St. Louis, the tux and I continue to attend more events though not always together. In fact, my bus friend, April asked if her boyfriend, Nate could borrow the tux for an event. “Sure” I said. “Which event?”

“Oh, I just won tickets to the Starlight Theatre gala and Nate needs a tux to attend.”

My tux went all too willingly. Like going back to the place from whence it came.

Just like a boomerang.

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