I bought my first good suit in the spring of 1999, on the way back to school from rock climbing in Joshua Tree National Park. It was a suit by Ermenegildo Zegna, a brand that, as a grad student, planted romantic notions in my brain.
Back then, a few grad school friends and I used to go out to Joshua Tree to rock climb on weekends. Several of them were pretty good, but I remain terrible to this day. So, while the highlight of the weekend for them might have been to finish a few good 5.10 rocks, mine always came after all that climbing, when I’d get back into the car and doze until we hit the stores (yes, we mixed rock climbing with shopping).
During my second year of grad school, I decided that I’d buy a “good suit.” This could have been because I’d gotten the deluded idea that I might become a management consultant, or because a lot of my friends were getting married – but mostly, I wanted an excuse to get a good suit, just so that I could own one. And after one of those rock climbing trips, I walked into the Ermenegildo Zegna store and made that dream a reality.
This was in the days before Styleforum, so while shopping I had to rely on the recommendations of sales associate, how the suit felt, and the shop mirror to make my purchase. The suit I chose looked great on the rack, and it also had a great, cool, supple, hand. I didn’t know much about cloth back in 1999, but it really did feel great to touch. It also made my fairly nondescript frame look sharp and lean, which most young men will tell you is a great feeling.
And there I was, a man with a good suit. First time in my life. And like many of the men in my generation, it was a worsted grey Ermenegildo Zegna beauty. I still remember how it felt to put it on and look at myself. All that romance, all that Italian ineffability – well, I was wearing it.
I never did get into management consulting, but I did wear the suit to many weddings, and then for job interviews after that. It was my first grown up suit. I bought it with money I earned, and it was the one of the first things of value that I’d purchased for myself. It made me feel like an adult.
I wore that suit for an average of three weddings a summer for the next three years, in addition to some New Year’s parties and the occasional awkward reception. I felt more comfortable in it each time. It taught me that you don’t really own a suit until you’ve worn it a half-dozen times, and to this day, whenever I buy a new piece of clothing I wear it around the house for at least a week before I wear it out. That experience is also the basis for the only pivotal piece of advice I give to everyone who asks me about clothing: “If you feel comfortable in your clothes, people can sense that you feel comfortable in your skin, and that is the seed of style.”
Of course, I’m far from the only person who knows this – but I am at least among good company. Robert DeNiro is one of the two faces of Zegna’s new Defining Moments campaign, and his is a face I grew up with and followed from Godfather II and Raging Bull all the way up until the recent The Intern. McCaul Lombardi, a Hollywood newcomer, is DeNiro’s co-star in the new Zegna campaign, the focus of which is to connect with its customers and hear the stories – or the Defining Moments – that we have to share. Because, as you can no doubt guess by now, clothing can operate just as Proust’s madeleines; transporting us back to a defining moment in time. For me, one of the defining moments not just of my young life – but of my adult life, my professional life, my life as a co-owner of Styleforum – came with the purchase of that first Zegna suit.
Clothing is such a personal part of our lives, and I’m looking forward to reading the other stories that Zegna’s customers submit. I’d encourage you to do so as well – not only because it will give you the excuse to relive your own defining moment, but also because once a month you’ll have the chance to win a made-to-measure Zegna experience. If you do, I’m sure you’ll feel the same way I did when I bought my first good suit – and I’m sure it’s a memory that will stay with you.
I brought that suit out of my closet and tried it on again in while I was preparing to write this essay, and it didn’t fit the 42 year old me as well as it had the 24 year old me. But as soon as I put it on, there I was, asleep in the back of the car after a day of rock climbing, dreaming of my first nice suit.
And man, did it still feel nice to the touch.
Share your own Defining Moment on the Ermenegildo Zegna website by clicking the banner below, and be entered to win a Zegna made-to-measure experience.