Bathingsuit Blues not just for Women
I love that the NY Times printed an article about a man having drama with picking a bathing suit. I think sometimes we women forget (or don't realize) we're not the only one's out there with body issues struggling to find the perfect fit.
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Does This Swimsuit Make Me Look Fat?
By Henry Alford
IN its Platonic ideal, a bathing suit removes you momentarily from yourself, and perhaps unleashes heretofore dormant aspects of your personality. Wriggle into a great-looking suit that’s black and snug and tailored, and suddenly you’re ready for an underwater cocktail party; rock a pair of floral Hawaiian board shorts and suddenly you’re convinced that the only way to spell “dude” is with two o’s.
My annual quest for such a garment got its kick-start in late May when a friend e-mailed me a link to a site called Socialite Life, which featured a folio of 23 photos breathlessly headlined “Jude Law: Shirtless in Cannes!” Squinting rakishly in the brilliant Mediterranean light, Jude looked worldly, post-coital, regnant.
When you clicked on the upper left hand of the first photo, you learned (incorrectly, I found out too late) that Jude’s fetching canary-yellow bathing suit was from Dsquared2 and cost $268. I downloaded the image, and hied myself to Bergdorf Goodman on Fifth Avenue, where I showed it to a smiley salesman in his 20s named Beau.
I told Beau, “I want to be mistaken for Jude Law.”
I explained, “My looks are kind of preppy and innocent, so I need a suit that will take me to ‘wayward English schoolboy’ rather than ‘toffee-nosed prat.’ ” Beau said, “I understand.”
I did not tell Beau about how I recently dropped my Scrabble board and tiles onto the sidewalk in the middle of Sheridan Square, creating a clattering hailstorm of nerddom; I did not tell Beau that I recently had a heated discussion about the use of the semicolon.
The store, alas, could not find the fetching canary yellow suit, but Beau whisked me through the men’s department, showing me other options. We hit Etro, Michael Bastian, Thom Browne. When we saw six black, slinky suits coiled like snakes in the Dolce & Gabbana section, I said, “Ooh, these might be too Jude Law.”
Once in the dressing room with Beau’s and my three picks, I came face to face with a thorny verity: It is the curse of the middle-aged male body simultaneously to shrink and enlarge. Your belly pooches out, ever more parabolic, while your legs dwindle down to mere sticks, two knobby rods with the surface tension of plucked poultry. One day you look down at your half-sphere atop its two spindly rods and realize, “I’ve turned into a Weber grill.”
The suit most flattering to my Weber grill was a pair of belted, snug-fitting, mid-thigh $230 Orlebar Brown trunks. “These are Jude-like,” I told Beau as we gazed into the fitting rooms’ mirror. “Jude would accessorize them with designer shades, a shirt unbuttoned to the navel, and a whisper of Drakkar Noir masking a base of animal ripeness.” Beau’s eyes widened, and I sensed that he wanted to introduce me to a licensed professional who could tell me all about lithium.
Alas, the color of the Orlebar Brown trunks (fiery tomato) was too bracing for my Pepperidge Farm brand of wholesome. I headed on to Saks, where I showed my Jude photo to three salesmen. But they also couldn’t find the yellow trunks. A thin, expressionless young Michael York look-alike showed me other possibilities, but I demurred. I apologized and said, “I think I’m hung up on looking like ...”
“... Yeah, yeah, yeah: Jude Law.”
Eager not to beat a dead horse, I left my photo of Jude at home for my next two bouts of shopping. During the course of two days, I would visit eight more stores and try on 26 more suits. I loved the festive, Lilly Pulitzer-esque prints at Vilebrequin (which, as I now know, made the Jude Law swimsuit), but the suits’ puffy, bustle-like silhouettes vaulted my pear shape from Bosc to Bartlett; I loved the contained but non-packagey look of one pair of Marc Jacobs’s trunks, but wondered if I wanted to pay $345 for something that would be riding shotgun with a lot of cocoa butter and PABA.
A perfect fit kept eluding me, and kept me from being the best Jude I could be. A pair of knee-length board shorts in a floral print at Osklen in SoHo looked great except for a strange gap they created between their waistband and my spine.
“These make me look like I have a little storage area,” I said to the salesclerk, a sly brunette in her 20s. “A place for pencils or filberts.” (Her: “Yeah.”)
In another instance, it was equally the fit and the fit’s attendant implications that slowed me in my tracks. “I can’t tell what the look is,” I said to an H & M salesclerk referring to a pair of $17.95 tight navy square-cut nylon trunks with a red, white and blue rope belt. I asked, “Is it randy French sailor, or is it Fourth of July picnic on the town green?” Harried, she told me: “They’re Swedish, that’s all I know. They’re from Sweden.”
My favorite salesclerk was a middle-aged woman who was eating a salad when I walked into her tiny, messy boutique, Pesca, on East 60th.
“I like the elastic waistband,” I said of one of her suits, all made by a company called Sauvage; she explained, “they use a very good Lycra.” She left her desk to come look at me standing in front of the mirror in a sky-blue mid-thigh number. “I’m 49 years old,” I told her, “but in these I look 48.” She said I looked sexy. I thought of my Jude fixation and confessed to her, “I probably want the world to think I’m sauvage, but in reality I’m more domestique. In reality, I’m more médecin de campagne.” She asked if I was a doctor.
I finally hit pay dirt at Parke & Ronen, a Chelsea boutique that sells many scanty men’s clothes hammered in the forge of brazen confidence. The store’s fitting mirror, unlike the ones at all the other stores I visited, faces out onto the street. The mirror’s daunting amount of requisite exhibitionism rattled me when I skittishly looked at myself in the first suit, but by suit No. 5, calmed by the store’s friendly staff, I was shirtless, unfazed and furtively bopping to the Lady Gaga throbbing over the sound system.
I loved a pair of fitted $95 Parke & Ronen four-inch trunks in a blue, green and purple floral paisley on a white background; they had a two-grommet tie waist that cinched away all Weber-based impurity. The suit’s overall effect was slightly ... swinging London. Slightly ... Jude Law dirty weekend. Kuh-ching.
I first wore the suit to the N.Y.U. pool, where its comparative jauntiness, against a backdrop of collegiate Speedos and board shorts, was galvanizing. I can’t say I swam any faster, but I certainly swam with more verve.
I wore it one sunny afternoon on my building’s roof deck, where I didn’t need to sip at a Pimm’s Cup or a Campari; both were implied. I wore it to my office one hot day. Indeed, so comfortable and unbosomed was I in it that I decided to wear it for a trip I’ve happily made four times before: out to Amagansett, where I like to spend the night on the beach.
I made a reservation on the jitney. Doubting that any changing room would be open by the time I reached the beach at 7 p.m., I wore the suit under my pants to make the trip out to Long Island; as I boarded the bus, I found myself smiling slightly, and thought, “I am wearing very exciting underpants!”
I spent a lovely, contemplative evening picnicking and walking around a deserted beach in the suit (though it was, alas, too cold to swim); I crawled into my sleeping bag at 10 p.m. The suit’s smoothness felt satiny and delightful against the sleeping bag’s slippery insides: a hot dog in a bun. The surf raged, the stars twinkled. I felt new and brimming. Jude at last.
But then, just after midnight: blindingly bright car headlights aimed at my head. “Hey! Hey!” yelled a male voice from inside an East Hampton Marine Patrol vehicle. The officer then asked, with some irritation, “Why are you sleeping on the beach?” Groggily, I explained, “I just bought a new bathing suit.” He snorted and said: “You just bought a new bathing suit! What kind of reason is that?” I mumbled an incoherent answer. He wrote me a summons.
It was too late to call anyone. Back up in Amagansett, I sat on a bench on Route 27 and waited for a 4:20 a.m. jitney back home. “Jude, Jude, Jude,” I thought, “Where have you taken me?” Many inebriated 20-something revelers sauntered by, including a young woman skittering in high heels who, on hearing that I was waiting for a 4:20 bus, gushed: “Oh my God. Oh my God.”
Moments later, I took my summons out of my pocket and gazed at it. I contemplated the embarrassment of a forthcoming appearance at the East Hampton Town Justice Court. I thought, I’ll definitely need to be at my most confident and cool for that. I thought, I’ll definitely need to be at the top of my game. I thought, I’ll definitely need to wear the suit.