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The Heat? Suits Them
While Some of Us Just Pant, These Guys Wear Them -- With a Jacket and Tie, Yet

By Wil Haygood
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 5, 2005

How crazy and cool to see them waltzing about yesterday -- men in suits, in lovely pinstripe, in herringbone, in seersucker, starchy shirts and ties tied tight. Whole city blocks felt like grandma's kitchen after the pots had simmered all day. The high was 96, but something strangely called the comfort index -- a combination of temperature and humidity -- made it feel like it was 100 degrees.

Most people were wilting right along with the flowers in the front yard, but those men in suits yesterday were standing their sartorial ground.

"I just feel more whole and complete wearing a suit," said David Moses, 44, strolling on L Street NW. He works in international relations for a nonprofit. "I wear three-button suits, the kind Jack Kennedy wore. And single-vent only."

He turned around, as if he were in a Manhattan showroom. Then he went on: "And no pleats. I do it with cuffs. Never a break." He meant the pants, the way they didn't touch the tip of his shoes. They fell straight as a ruler. In his sunglasses, he looked a little Rat Packish, Sinatra, but minus the summer wind. "It's classic and clean and simple," he said, speaking of the suit. "That's the key to the heat. Simple is always better."

The suit was J. Press. The rest of his ensemble was Brooks Brothers. "You'll be able to wear this suit 30 years from now," he bragged, and said he didn't give a wit about the heat. Sweat beads began forming on his forehead, but he was way too cool to swipe at them. "Off to get my shoes shined," he said, and off he went.

There were plenty of men who walked about yesterday holding their suit jacket as if it was a piece of wet laundry. But we were interested in only those willing to don the full ensemble.

Such as the older gentleman who was nearly gliding along K Street. He was in a brown suit and had a lovely tie clasp. He works at the Womble Carlyle law firm. "I'm old enough to get Social Security," Vincent Pepper said, holding back his age while acknowledging that he graduated from Georgetown Law School in 1951. He was on his way to a luncheon. "It's actually nice out," he said with a straight face. "My body likes the heat."

Some suited men are steady souls in the world of business. John Tyson, 33, is president of a holding company. He was in a dark suit, clutching his cell phone like a baseball. "It's the simple support for my business," he said about donning a suit. "It's the credibility factor. It's about professionalism."

Bryan Smith, 51, who works for the Office of Management and Budget, rose yesterday and put on a light brown seersucker suit, blue starched shirt and peach-colored tie. He looked for his white socks, but his wife, he said, had misplaced them. So he wore dark socks with his tan suede bucks. He looked like an extra out of one of those old Noel Coward movies. ("Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun," Coward famously said.) "I do take some ribbing about it," Smith said of his dress. "My friends ask me if I'm working on an ice cream truck."

The heat doesn't worry him one bit. He simply reaches for the seersucker. "It's like wearing your pajamas to work," he said. "You ever have a dream where you can wear your pajamas to work?"

We shook our head no.

He went on: "In a seersucker, you can live that dream!"

There were stretches of pavement downtown where a man wasn't spotted in a suit. Shirtless men in shorts, yes. Men in short sleeves, yes. Men in smart shirts and ties.

And then along would come someone such as Alphonso Maldon, 50, in a beautiful pinstriped suit. Three-buttoned. The handkerchief rose from the breast pocket in a geometrical design. "I'm a very traditional person," said Maldon, a lobbyist who used to work in the Clinton administration. "I've never been one to be comfortable in casual dress." His attire seemed so severe, it was as if he were mocking the heat itself. "I'm retired from the military. My father was in the military. That's where some of my formal foundation came from. It takes discipline to stay in a coat and tie in this heat and not feel bothered by it."

We were sweating profusely and Maldon looked at us as if we were an alien life form.

Mac Dunaway was languidly strolling along 19th Street NW, a 62-year-old lawyer in a light-colored straw hat and beige suit and tie. "This is the way I was raised, to always dress," said Dunaway, who hails from Florida. "The heat's not an issue with me. One should always dress appropriately. Even in the heat." He said that if someone were to tell his wife he was seen downtown without suit and tie, "she just wouldn't believe it."

From across the street we spotted the bow tie, a big, red thing butterflying at the man's neck. "I go to work every day -- rain or shine -- with a tie on," said Alan Goldhammer, 57, who works for a local trade association. "Maybe it goes back to what my father always told me: You go to work, dress appropriately." He, too, was in a seersucker suit and hauling an oversize briefcase. "In the wintertime, I wear a regular tie," he said. "It gives a little more warmth around the neck area."

Goldhammer grew up in Southern California. "I didn't experience air conditioning till graduate school in Indiana." When he moved to Washington and was introduced to the city's summer heat, he bought himself a seersucker.

A woman walked by and stared at the bow-tied and suited Goldhammer standing in the 96-degree heat. Her double take -- which Goldhammer ignored -- would have made Buster Keaton proud. "I'm a slave to fashion," Goldhammer said. "We all must have standards."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company