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Menswear books: The Measure of a Man by JJ Lee

imageThe Measure of a Man: The Story of a Father, a Son, and a Suit presents us with an unusual form: the menswear memoir. It offers not the story of a life in the male garment trade, nor of a long career spent cutting and sewing. Nevertheless, it does contain a fair bit of material — pun only faintly intended — about developing a discerning sartorial eye, and about learning how to stitch a proper seam. Chinese-Canadian author JJ Lee made his name as a style writer and radio broadcaster, and only then, in his late thirties, did he begin studying at the feet of a master tailor. This in itself could make for a knocked-off entertainment freighted with a deadening subtitle like How a Mid-Life Apprenticeship Taught Me Everything I Needed to Know About Life, Love, and Lapels. But Lee elevates his work beyond such fluff by braiding in two other narratives: a history of the modern tailored suit, and the quick rise and prolonged, agonizing fall of his once well-turned out, aspirational, driven young father.

I don’t emphasize Lee’s Canadianness trivially, and certainly not to trivialize his work. He every so often appears on CBC Radio, an institution that, as an internet listener south of the border, I’ve long admired. Citizens of smaller countries may not realize that living in the vast, liberty-obsessed United States also means living under the oppression of national media that, even in its public forms, strains constantly and desperately to impress 300 million people. The CBC, which doesn’t even seem to sweat appealing to all of its 33 million, therefore offers listeners a paradoxically greater freedom, at least from the very worst insults to their discernment. Maybe you can regularly hear as unadorned, information-rich, and audience-respectingly mild a broadcast as Lee’s radio documentary The Measure of a Man on the American airwaves, but I haven’t managed to. Have a listen, Put This On readers, and you’ll get a sense of where Lee comes from, not to mention where the suit itself comes from.

Read the whole thing at Put This On.

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