Clothes make the man
Tadpole is participating in a program at his high school called We The People. In this program, students compete against teams from other schools in matters of Constitutional law, in a format that combines elements of academic quizzes and debate and a few other skills. Students are presented with an issue of current interest and are then required to apply Constitutional principles in discussing the issue, followed by a grilling by the judges on the issue; the idea is to present arguments as if to a congressional committee.
For this competition, Tadpole needed a black suit. The one black suit that he had in his closet was one he had probably last worn when he was about 12, and there was no way it would fit him now. So two weeks ago, we set out to buy a suit.
I have a cousin who works for a cell phone company; we chose that company, and we have been immensely satisfied with the service, in a world where cell phone companies are almost universally mediocre. I have another cousin who works for an airline, and we have been pleased enough with the airline that it is our first choice when we fly. So when it came time to buy a suit, it was a no-brainer to go to the upscale department store chain for whom another cousin works. Besides, the advertisements that this chain runs use apostrophes correctly.
It was an interesting experience. Upon entering the store, we were in a very hip, with-it, or whatever the current term is, area. As we gradually wended our way through the store, things got quieter and more refined, until we got to the end where the suits were, an area with rich red wood paneling and muted music.
We were greeted by a salesperson who led us to the suits in Tadpole’s size range. First, he tried on the jacket for the store brand suit. It did look nice; it was what was called an “athletic cut” that made Tadpole look taller and slimmer. Then he tried the major name brand. It was stunning – the feel of the fabric, and the way that it draped, and the way it caught the light were amazing. The salesperson led Tadpole back to the fitting rooms, where he tried on the pants for both suits. All the while, the salesperson was assessing how the suits fit, and giving a tutorial in “Suit 101” – how to wear the suit, how to move while wearing it, how to take care of it.
We ended up opting for the more expensive suit, and we also got a shirt and tie to match. The whole package added up to about a hundred bucks more than the paycheck I had received that day, but I figured this suit is an investment – Tadpole will be able to wear it for years, and not just for We The People competitions. It will be good for the orchestra, and for dates (there’s a girl whom he’s promised to take to the prom this coming spring), and various other occasions. Plus we can legitimately justify raiding the college fund, since the We The People program is most enriching educationally, and an excellent plus on college applications.
The suit fit nearly perfectly; ordinarily, alterations need to be made to make the seat of the pants and the back of the jacket fit exactly right, but aside from hemming the trousers, this suit needed only a tiny adjustment to the length of one sleeve – right handed people’s right arms tend to be slightly longer than their left, so the left sleeve of this suit needed to be shortened by just a quarter of an inch, a difference I would never have noticed. But this salesperson was a perfectionist of the very best sort, and he made sure that Tadpole’s suit would fit him perfectly.
The salesperson arranged a rush order on the alterations for the suit, so Tadpole would be able to pick it up in time for the dress rehearsal the following Tuesday. When he picked it up, he got a refresher course in Suit 101, a valet bag to put the suit into for travel, and a polished hardwood hanger with a special clamp to keep the trousers in place without wrinkling them.
So Saturday was the big We The People state competition in Santa Fe. The competition took place in hearing rooms in the State Capitol, and the grilling by the judges was tough. But Tadpole’s team was tough, too. The team members had been meeting since the beginning of summer to work on their program, giving up valuable vacation time, and after school started, valuable weekend time, to prepare and practice. They won the state competition, and now they will be going to Washington to the national competition. The State Legislature made the deal sweeter by appropriating $15,000 toward the team’s expenses – that will cover about half the cost.
Now, maybe the team would still have won the state competition even if Tadpole hadn’t had such a nice suit, but the suit and the deportment that comes with wearing a suit, especially guided by Suit 101, couldn’t have hurt.
Tadpole’s high school does not have a reputation for academic excellence. Rather, much of the news about it is negative – the principal who was caught with drugs and had to resign in disgrace, some incidents of racial tension that, unfortunately, got blown way out of proportion in the press, and the like. But the school’s We The People team consistently wins the state championship, and when they go to Washington for the national championship, they typically do well, in the top 15 or so states. It’s unfortunate that positive news like that doesn’t get as big of headlines as the negative stuff. These kids have worked really, really hard, and they deserve recognition.
Of course, there’s an interesting twist to the story … the cousin who now works for the department store chain would really appreciate the We The People program. He’s been politically active, and he has served a term or two in his state’s legislature. He should understand the importance of our young people being aware of issues and principles of politics and government.
Edit: If you want to learn more about the We The People program, here is a link: Center for Civic Education