The altered state of tailoring 

An old-school tailor faces down corporate casual

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"The third week, he didn't pay me at all," he says, adjusting the espresso maker in his shop as it whirs and hisses over a small darkening cup. His assistant takes a phone call, his accent fumbling a bit as he repeats a word here and there. Bosco hesitates for a moment, listening in, then continues.

He left this third job and went to work for a tailor who paid him the seemingly princely sum of $225 a week -- if Bosco would also deal with the shop's customers.

"He wanted to be left alone to drink," Bosco says. "He was drinking Manhattans at 10 in the morning."

Six months later, he had $2,000 saved up to open a shop, a partnership this time, with another tailor at 48th and Madison Avenue. But things were far from perfect. He had married a Brazilian woman during his tenure in the sweatshops and she died after a long illness. ("There was something wrong with her stomach," he says, looks away and shrugs. "I don't want to talk about it no more.") He was left to build a business and raise his daughter, who was just 7 years old.

One day, he met an actor who told him about the up-and-coming city of Atlanta -- how Ted Turner was putting the place on the map and there were no real tailors there yet.

"Then, one day, I was tired of New York. The temperature was too cold," he says. "It was depressing being there. And I remembered what he said."

In 1975, he and his daughter moved to Atlanta. He leased a shop at 68 Peachtree St. with only $75 to his name.

"It turned out that there were at least nine other tailors like me," he says. "And when I talked to them, they all told me, 'You can't make it here.' "

But he did. He sewed right through the 1970s, with the shiny shirts and wide lapels right up into the 1980s, with the boxy shoulders and the double-breasted suits. Business was good.

Then, in the mid-90s, something changed. Bosco is OK with cosmic oddities. There once was a time when, for no apparent reason, he simply forgot how to speak Italian. He had to buy books and relearn it. Then he lost his sense of direction. It's terrible. He doesn't drive much to unfamiliar places. But this, this strange thing with the business, this was a mystery. Bit by bit, he found he wasn't signing up new young clients. While he had been busy measuring and stitching, keeping up with each season's new lines and cuts like generations of tailors before him, a generation had grown up in front of keyboards and computer screens, adept at a technology that eluded their elders. They were not caught up in keeping up with the Joneses. They wanted security and comfort and freedom.

Their potential employers knew it and told them they could wear what they liked at work.

Sure, there may come a time when sloppiness falls out of fashion altogether, considering the wrinkles and stains it's collecting: crashing markets, flash-in-the-pan companies, things reminiscent of the junk bonds and cocaine chaos of the '80s.

But people like Allan Schoenberg aren't so sure. "I think it's here to stay," says Schoen-berg, spokesman for Internet Security Systems, a company founded by a 28-year-old, casually-dressed wunderkind named Chris Klauss with an estimated personal worth of about a half billion. Klauss, like his spokesman, doesn't get his suits tailor-made. Instead, he buys them off the rack and takes them to a tailor to be altered, if they need it. He wears suits only for social occasions and unusually important business functions. Mostly, he wears khakis and button-downs.

"Being able to dress casually at work is just expected," Schoenberg says. "It's like stock options. I think it would be a hard sell to work for a tech company that required you to wear a suit."

For Mario Bosco, however, there's a kind of magic to wearing a suit. When they really want to dominate, he says, young businessmen need to fasten their cuff links, pull on a jacket that hangs like a second skin, wear trousers that match the jacket perfectly and that break, just so, with a razor-sharp crease.



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