While back in my old haunts for Christmas, Number One son, on the day he was due to fly back to Colorado, decided to look into buying his first suit. It wouldn’t be the first suit he has owned, but it would be the first one he paid for–a big difference. His grandparents recommended a Broad Street haberdashery called Blakely-Mitchell, a locally owned men’s clothing store. He had some time to kill, so off we went.
I had my doubts about anyone making a sale to this lad. Not so long ago, he used to compete in swing dancing on the national level, and has very distinctive tastes–ones not likely, I thought, to be filled in Kingsport. We walked into the store, and were met by an older gentleman by the name of Rhea. His photo is above, and he is the kind of salesman in the kind of shops that are disappearing from towns in Tennessee and elsewhere.
Truman told Rhea that he knew nothing about suits and was totally putting himself in Rhea’s hands. He told Rhea he was in business school and needed a suit he could wear to a semi-formal and that, at least for a while, would be his only suit. Rhea asked a few more questions–his budget, how many seasons the garments would be worn, et cetera–then turned around, walked over to a rack, and pulled out one suit.
And that was the one Truman bought.
As the transaction took place, Rhea told Truman the art of building a business wardrobe. He said to start with the best suit you can afford, but make it one that isn’t too fancy–that doesn’t stick out too much. If you get a very distinctive suit, he cautioned, people will realize that it’s the only one you have. He advises salesmen who are dispatched from Kingsport to work in far-flung places to spend some time there checking out what people there are wearing, then select their own wardrobe. Never put your hands in your pockets except to extract something there.
I’ve read about men in France who work as waiters all their lives, people who get so good at their work that working with them is as much a pleasure as the food they carry to the table. So it was with Rhea, who has been selling clothes for 40-some years.
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