Amateur Tuxedo Renters Abound for Obama Inauguration

By Monica Hesse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 17, 2009

They've got the big sign slapped on the front window -- "INAUGURAL TUXEDOS" -- and the stars 'n' stripes cummerbunds, and the extended hours, and what they say are the lowest prices in town. But the biggest thing that Scogna Formal Wear on L Street NW has going for it is how owner Israel Sheinbein defuses the fears and concerns of a delicate Washington species: the amateur tuxedo renter.

"It will be a normal-size lapel, right?" Matthew Solomon, a federal prosecutor who's in the shop during his Thursday lunch hour, is concerned. He hasn't worn a tux since prom. His prom tux, some 20 years ago, came from Scogna. Like a homing pigeon with a very long memory, he returned when he learned that his wife had acquired two tickets to the Illinois ball.

It will be a normal-size lapel, says Sheinbein. He's a small, slumpy man with graying hair, wearing a cardigan and a tape measure around his shoulders. He is a very reassuring figure. He pulls out a jacket from the cluttered back room to try on for size.

"Is it going to be a clip-on tie?!" Solomon asks.

"It will be a band tie, like this one," Sheinbein says, benevolently. He demonstrates the easy-peasy loosening and tightening of the band tie. "Unless you would prefer to tie your own."

God, no.

No, no, no.

This inauguration, with its 10 official balls and its 42 kazillion unofficial ones, is turning into penguins scores of men who otherwise never would have gone there, and who hope they never will again.

Let's be clear about one thing, Solomon says: "I just want to make sure it's not cheesy in any way. I don't want to stand out at all."

The rare renters do not stand in front of the full-length mirror in Scogna and ask if their thighs look too big. They do not arrive in clusters of three or four to pore over the catalogues in the front of the tiny shop. They do not want to know what something is made of, or how it "drapes," which fashionistas know is code for "does it drape over my butt in such a way that I look like I'm wearing Australia?"

These men have only one concern, which goes something like this: You know you can wear a tux and look like Cary Grant or you can wear a tux and look like Joe Pesci in "My Cousin Vinny"? All I want to know is, do I look like a jerk?

Of course, there is a different breed of man. That breed shops at Brooks Brothers, with its holy tuxedo annex set up just for the inauguration. At the Connecticut Avenue location, pictures of JFK in Brooks Brothers, FDR in Brooks Brothers, Lincoln in Brooks Brothers (he wore it for his inauguration) festoon the walls. You want easy tradition? You want a sheep suspended from a ribbon? This is where you go.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2009 The Washington Post Company