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The wedding invitation said: "black tie encouraged." Which was better than "black tie mandatory," but black tie anything sends me into a funk of overwhelmed inertia, and by the time I stockpiled enough willpower to act I was almost out of time. Two of my best friends were marrying each other in eight days. I had to find a tux — quick.
Armed with nothing more than a Yelp link from my patient plus one, I took the F Train to Delancey Street to fulfill my sartorial destiny. My destination? The New Era Factory Outlet, where unloved tuxedos go to take their last, best shot at fulfilling their intended purpose: encasing a dude at a formal occasion.
As the Yelp reviews had warned me, the place was cluttered. Between the front desk (cluttered) and the changing room (somehow simultaneously cluttered and spartan,) hung rack upon rack of menswear, black and almost black and kind-of-black, multiple tiers high. The vibe would have been intimidating in a "wait-is-this-actually-just-a-warehouse?" way, were it not for an immediate and warm reception from Vivienne and Robert, the super-chill married couple running this show.
Would it look like I had obtained my tux on the border of Chinatown and the Lower East Side, in a warehouse crammed with boxes and festooned with orphaned pants?
They correctly ID’d me as a guy who needed compassionate, non-judgmental help. Within minutes, Vivienne had happily piled my arms high with jackets, pants, and white shirts; Robert directed me rearward. I squeezed through a long corridor of unpacked boxes and plastic-sheathed suits, lugging potential tuxedo components. I swept awkwardly through a heavy curtain and into the tiny, lopsided changing closet.
My only companions: a mirror with vague ambitions to someday maybe be floor-length, a mysterious red wall-mounted kill switch, and my thoughts. In the tight space, I organized the various articles of white and black clothing they'd foisted on me, and tried them on, item by item.
The mirror made it tough to get the full picture, but I thought I looked okay. Better than okay, even! I looked like a guy who knew how to wear a tux. Someone who had read "black tie, encouraged" on a wedding invitation and had actually been encouraged.
Most importantly, I looked like someone who would blend in with the other tux-wearing humans at a formal event. This was truly the most important thing: Would it look like I had obtained my tux on the border of Chinatown and the Lower East Side, in a warehouse crammed with boxes and festooned with orphaned pants?
I am pleased to report that the answer was no. Seemed to be no. According to the weirdly short mirror. Either way: I was ready to put this baby to the test.
I looked like a guy who knew how to wear a tux.
I changed back into street clothes, wondering if it could really be this easy. I strode to the front desk, warm with the confidence of a man who knows that if he embarrasses himself at a wedding it won't be because of what he's wearing, and told Vivienne and Robert that I was ready to rent the tux.
"Oh, we don't do rentals here," the couple informed me, something in their very niceness making it clear that I probably should have known this going in. "You'll be buying that tux."
In the end, it was $99. Plus $5 to get the pants hemmed at a friendly tailor's around the corner. On my way out, one final order of business. "You own black shoes?" Robert asked me.
"Then you'll be fine."
And I was! The wedding was wonderful. No one called me out for insufficient finery, I danced up a storm, and nothing ripped. In the photos I look like exactly what I am: an old, good friend who heard the call of black tie and rose to the occasion.
My $104 tailored tuxedo now hangs in my closet, awaiting its next adventure. And I look forward to rocking it again.
To all my fellow wedding invitees out there, stymied with trepidation, staring bug-eyed at their filigreed invites, lacking tuxedos and knowledge of same: Fear not! There are more surplus tuxes out there than the universe knows what to do with. Why keep all that formal-wear-related insecurity bottled up inside? Find yourself an outlet.