An Elogy for Imbers

The clothes make the man, goes the old saying.  If this is the case, my prospects just got a lot worse. Yesterday I found out that Imber’s Men’s store in Edwardsville is closing up.

It was never much to look at – the wood-panel decor was reminiscent of a classic station wagon, and the suits hanging on the racks were obviously intended for men well past their prime.  Thus it was easy to pass up after a casual glance, especially for someone accustomed to rummaging through sales racks to find the odd sizes that my frame supports.

While I was killing time during one of April’s frequent and lengthy shopping excursions, I wandered in to Imber’s with an interest in finding a suit coat, as well as avoiding the antique store that had drawn April in.  An impeccably dressed man greeted me and introduced himself as Alan Legow, owner of Imber’s.  I didn’t know it until later, but this much more than a polite gesture- it was an opportunity for him to size me up.  I mentioned the suit jacket, and he whipped three coats out without asking me my size or preference.

It’s a bit of an affront to a shopper with modern sensibilities – I was a bit unnerved by such close attention, and itching to slink off to a sales rack.  Alan found me a coat that was good-looking, but a bit wide around the middle.  Part of the problem was the t-shirt I was wearing – it didn’t really fit like a button shirt would.  After a cursory glance at the shirt stock, Alan said he really didn’t have any shirts I could try on that would fit me properly.  Had I ever had a custom tailored shirt?, he inquired.

I haven’t ever really had a custom anything – all my suits and shirts were from the glorious sales rack, and fit me like a garbage bag.

That’s when I was hooked – he pitched, and I swung hard.  I didn’t have time that day for a full detail of measurements, but I promised to come back.

A few weeks later, I was ready.  For 45 minutes, Alan measured every dimension of my torso, asked me what style of cuffs I liked, how long the shirt should taper, what style back, whether or not to have breast pockets, monogram style, etc.  It turns out my right shoulder is a full inch lower than the left – I think it must be a casualty of playing tuba in the marching band for so many years.

While he was writing down my measurements, I was instructed to look through an enormous book of cloth samples.  Each was only about 2″ square, but there were hundreds of them, each with a letter after the name of the cloth.  I started with the A’s and B’s – simple prints, solid colors, smooth fabrics.  C’s and D’s were more intricate pattern, finer cloth, richer colors.  I found a J that was stunning – like no fabric I’d ever seen before.  He asked if I’d made a decision about the cloth, and I didn’t hesitate to whip out the sample of J that caught my eye.  He just smiled, and handed me another sheet of paper- the prices.  A’s and B’s cost about $90 for a whole shirt, C’s and D’s between $100-$200, and so on.  J fabrics were a cool $400 per shirt.

I found a great D fabric that fit the bill.  It would be about a month before the shirt was finished, and when the day came, it was like getting my first car.  The shirt was amazing – nothing has ever fit me so well.  The real magic was the feeling of power it gave me – I felt like a prince, ready to order my servants to bring the car around and grab me a cold beer while I wait.  Compared to retail, the shirts also cost a princely sum, but I tend to think of them as long-term investments. I have several now, I was married in one of Alan’s shirts, and God willing, I’ll be buried in one.

The whole experience is unorthodox, and it leaves me with the distinct impression that if this was the way clothes used to be purchased, then we are considerably worse off than our ancestors.  Maybe not everyone is or was like Alan – a man who was clearly educated and could have chosen any field, and tailored clothes because it is his passion.  Seeing someone derive true pleasure from their work makes you wonder why everyone can’t figure it out.

Imber’s was another one of those surprises that makes life more fun, and I would do well to be as happy and successful in my work as Alan was with his.


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