There was a time when a man's pants-leg break said something about him. Now it's hard to remember just what it said. Was it a statement of self-respect? Respect for others? Attention to detail? A brittle facade to hide an arrogant neurosis? Or is it a quaint remnant of an earlier time, a different world?
Mario Bosco, a tailor, knows better.
The world, he will say, his brown eyes peering mournfully through thick glasses, hasn't changed. People are still conscious of class and as concerned with income as ever. It's the status symbols that have changed. A tailored suit is not on the wish list of conspicuous consumers because it is not a conspicuous luxury. It's a subtle clue to one's lifestyle. That kind of subtlety doesn't do a thing for conspicuous consumers. They like labels like Hugo Boss, the interlocked Gs of Gucci and much farther down the rack, the blaring patriotic oom-pah-pah of Tommy Hilfiger.
The tech economy is synonymous with another kind of status symbol -- sartorial sloppiness. Look at Bill Gates, who brings frumpy to a whole new level.
And even as the New Economy beings to sputter, the fashion revolution -- or devolution -- still claims casualties.
"It was this corporate casual that did it," says Bosco, the accent of his native Sicily making it sound as though he's going to swear out a vendetta on Corporata Casualle. "It was the end for tailors."
Bosco believes himself to be the last real tailor in Atlanta. He's not. There are still some determined artisans clinging to the corpse of the trade, but Bosco's feeling of impending extinction says something about yet another part of our culture being left behind in an increasingly impatient world.
Ouside his shop at 2959 Piedmont Road, traffic is a blur of cars and SUVs. Inside is a cramped reception area. On the wall hangs a poster of a woman getting dressed next to a tailor's dummy -- she and the dummy have identical contours.
Photographs of famous clients also adorn the gray walls. There's an autographed glossy of Elton John ("He sent in a piece for a little alteration, nothing big, just something simple. He has short arms."), and another of former Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson ("I did one suit for him. He's a good dresser. I had to let the torso out. And take in the shoulders."). The smell of starch rises from an ironing board, where Bosco's Korean-born assistant pushes a heavy iron. Bosco's business is mostly alterations. This time of year he's busy taking in and letting out tuxedos and evening gowns to be worn at holiday galas. He rarely makes suits from scratch anymore. Not enough people request them. He'll send the measurements for his clients' suits to New York City, where shops are set up like assembly lines. When the suit comes back, Bosco makes alterations and adjustments of style.
If you want a suit from Bosco, you can expect to pay between $4,000 and $6,000. People pay that kind of money only for weddings and funerals. Plus, it's time consuming; it takes Bosco about 40 hours to make a suit. Figure in the time he must devote to working on other things, alterations and the like, and a customer may have to wait a few weeks for a suit. Most people don't want to take the time.
It used to be different.
Bosco left his native Italy in 1957 at the age of 18 to move to Brazil. He lived in Brazil for more than 11 years. He made friends in high places. He was doing well. But there was a girl problem, a heartbreak and then restlessness for what would come next. Brazil had not been the answer to all his worries.
"I was looking for a change in my life," he says. "I came to the U.S. illegally."
He went to work in New York City for a tailor on the Lower East Side. He earned $119 per week. After two weeks, another tailor promised he would "make (him) legal" if he came to work for him for $68 a week. He took the pay cut. He worked from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. and after months, his new boss admitted he couldn't get Bosco his papers. So he left, going to work for a tailor from the Middle East who paid him $106 a week. That lasted two weeks.
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