The Measure of a Man

The story of a father, a son, and a suit.

J.J. Lee

I was completely captivated by this book. Lee’s descriptions of cutting fabric and sewing on a Singer treadle machine took me back to when I learned to sew, under my mother’s guidance, also on a Singer treadle. I loved that treadle; it was so forgiving, allowing you to control the speed so you never ran into problems at corners or when putting in zippers. My mother made all our good clothes and to this day I cannot fathom how she managed, with 11 children undertow. But I remember them vividly and they were beautiful.
So many memories are tied to clothing, especially if they’re made just for you, and J.J. Lee explores this aspect of clothing in his memoir. In examining and dissecting and eventually remodeling his father’s suit, he evokes strong memories of his father. It takes Lee a long time to prepare, before he is ready to do anything to the suit. He knows that once he makes a cut, it is irrevocable. When he finally does cut into the fabric, he opens up the suit to expose unexpected material that had been used for padding; so too do unexpected images surface of his childhood and his troubled parent. It is a brave journey that Lee takes us on as he explores both the suit and his father’s life.
Along the way, we learn some fascinating history about men’s clothing and how the suit became the mainstay of a man’s wardrobe. To Lee, a suit is not just a piece of clothing; it has history, it has meaning, it can express a mood or one’s stature, it can communicate to others in unexpected ways. He compares it to poetry “… the suit becomes a haiku… (p.3) and other more sensual things: “… the lapel … will roll out like a blooming flower petal … all fullness and sensuality … wool labia opening out with an irresistible lushness.” (p.42) I guarantee, once you read this book you will never think about a suit in quite the same way again.
I enjoyed this book immensely. It is a warm, loving, open look at Lee’s father and his influence on Lee’s own life and goals, using the metaphor of the suit to help in this exploration. Eventually, Lee is able to come to terms with what he uncovers, and to accept the fit that he can achieve.

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