If I timed it just right, I could make every light between my house and the television station without stopping. Even though my well-thought-out and well-practiced traffic maneuvering got me to work a few hours early, it didn’t matter; it was totally worth it just to avoid the relentless Texas Summer heat. Besides…
My faded purple car, which my friends aptly nicknamed “The Desert Rose,”didn’t have air conditioning. Matter-of-fact, you didn’t even need a key to start the thing. It was a hand-me-down from my parents’ ranch in Santa Fe and they rigged all their vehicles so they could move them between barns with ease.
The back windshield of the car was the real highlight, though. It was a graveyard of unidentifiably dead, dried-out bugs. I tried to clean them out, but somehow they managed to fall between the separation of the glass and the shelf behind the back seat of the car. It looked like a full-on moth menagerie; which would have been great if I was an aspiring actor trying out for a remake of “Silence Of The Lambs,” but I was a young, hungry reporter who’d just landed her first job in the Lone Star State and well…
Looks and image mattered and if I didn’t time my work drive just right, I’d be stuck at a stop light, sweating bullets in one of only two suits that I owned, with all of my inherited dead bugs on display. It also meant I’d have to suffer through my 14 hour, minimum wage shift: damp, stinky and completely self conscious. Usually, I’d be game, but the week before, I got a rude ‘welcome to television’ awakening.
I was at a press conference, when a reporter from a competing station came up to me and said: “Wow, you look miserable in that wool suit. You realize it is June, don’t you?” I was so innocent and new to the business that I was actually flabbergasted by her comment and for the life of me, I couldn’t come up with a witty response.
?As sweat beaded, no piled, onto my upper lip, I stared at her with my best “Mean Girls look,” and quipped: “It’s my first reporting job. I only had money to buy two suits: wool and linen. What do you want from me?” She made some gesture with her hand and laughed out loud. When I looked at her, puzzled, she replied: “It’s the smallest violin in the world playing ‘My Heart Bleeds for You.'” It was the first time I’d ever heard that saying and I had to admit, it was a good one.
That same night, I timed out three possible routes to get me to work as sweatlessly as possible. I settled on the one, if timed right, had no stops. Don’t get me wrong, I would still sweat like a banshee in heat, but at least I was making an effort and that made me feel better. I had lied anyway…
The second suit wasn’t really linen. I just said that because I was embarrassed. It was wool, too, but more of a blended version. I bought both ensembles because they were pretty and more importantly, they were on sale. I thought they’d tide me over and be more than adequate for my first few months on the job or at least, until I could save up some money to add to my wardrobe.
The Texas Summer months were hard on me, but I think more so, it was the job. I was a small town reporter trying to find my voice (my writing style and on-air cadence/delivery) without being nervous. I worked tirelessly, around the clock. I picked up as many extra shifts as possible and I even volunteered for stories that no one else wanted.
For almost a year, I literally ran around the High Plains of Texas reporting on brush fires, tornadoes and the politics of our local school board; all while wearing itchy, non breathable, unforgiving wool. After wiping out the armpits of my suit each night, I would dine on crock-pot creations and fall asleep in my ratty, studio apartment.
Despite the constant light-hearted teasing from my colleagues in the newsroom (about my lack of wardrobe) and the weekly snarl-slash-verbal attacks from my arch nemesis (the “my heart bleeds for you,” reporter) at school board press conferences, I toughed it out. Mainly, because I didn’t have a choice. My paycheck was barely enough to cover my rent and my car insurance. I even struggled to buy groceries. Hence, the Slow Cooker. I was flat broke, but my luck was about to change.
After working an early morning shift one Saturday, I wandered into a health food store that was in a strip mall by my apartment. I knew I couldn’t afford anything, but I was feeling sorry for myself and I needed to soak up some free air conditioning. After I cooled off, I decided to splurge on a Blue Sky soda and an expensive bag of gourmet nuts. My feast started as soon as I hit the exit door.
I stood on the side walk outside the strip mall and gulped, chewed, slurped and swallowed like I’d never eaten before. Just as I was about to finish, a man who was just a few yards away from me called out: “Hey, aren’t you the new reporter from KVII?” I wiped my mouth, turned to look at him and said: “Yes sir, I am.”
We politely introduced ourselves. He said he’d remember me anywhere because I was the only reporter who always wore the same thing. I smiled tersely. He handed me his card and said: “I own a clothing store a few blocks away. You should visit me.” I took the card and tucked it into the pocket of my worn-out suit and said: “Yeah, sure, sounds good.” As I turned to walk away, I thanked him for watching. Then, I went home and cried.
About a week later, I was in the newsroom when I got a phone call. I didn’t have a desk or an extension because I was a low man on the totem pole. So, it was a bit odd. Usually, I worked my own leads and pestered my own contacts to get stories. It was always me calling someone, not someone calling me.
“Sandoval! Hello, did you hear me? YOU HAVE A CALL!” The desk manager (a person who assigns stories) shrieked. I picked up the line immediately. “Sandoval here,” I said in my best reporter voice. It was the guy from the clothing store.
He apologized for calling and said: “It’s been almost a week and I didn’t hear from you. Plus, you never came by the store.” I, of course, lied and said I’d been busy. We exchanged pleasantries about the weather and talked about last night’s town hall meeting. As the conversation started to lull, I put on my big girl pants and said: “Listen, I really appreciate the invite, but I just can’t afford to shop right now.” He replied: “Well, I knew that! I mean why else would you be wearing the same suit over and over again?”
The next day, I drove “The Desert Rose,” along with my moth menagerie, to the poshest part of the High Plains town where my new friend was waiting for me at his store, which was an old, beautifully restored Victorian house. He instructed me to park in the back and use the private entrance.
When I walked through the doors, I felt transported to another time and place. It was gorgeous. The store smelled of roses, expensive materials and frothy cappuccinos. My new friend offered me a coffee, which I accepted, then he encouraged me to look around and tell him what I liked.
I felt a little uncomfortable; out of my element really, because I didn’t know what to choose, how much it would cost and how did he think I was going to pay? He could tell I was hesitant. “Look,” he said. “I’m going to give you a thousand dollar store credit. No interest. You’ll just pay me back when you have the money.” I just stared at him. I couldn’t believe this was happening.
He quickly laid out five slim suits that he thought would look good on me. His actions led me to believe that, perhaps, he had been planning my make-over for some time. My new friend explained to me that the new Skinny Suit was chic, cool and comfortable. Besides that, he had just returned from Paris (where he bought the majority of the clothes he sold in his boutique) and that’s what all the fashionable girls were wearing in “The City of Light.”
He explained that the long jacket, wide-legged pantsuits that American girls favored were totally passé. Instead, everything should be sleek and slender. He told me that the new ‘it’ suit should have a short, snug jacket and the pants should be tapered and tighter toward the ankle (like the suit pictured in the blog.) I tried on all five suits and then, together, we narrowed it down to three: black, red and light pink.
He wrote out a credit slip; I signed it, he bagged the suits and handed me a handkerchief. I thanked him and stuffed it in my pocket. “No, no silly girl,” he said. “You’re supposed to tie it around your neck. It’s a necker-chief and can refine any outfit.” I smiled and thanked him. He said the scarf was a gift and sent me on my way.
My new suits were a big hit at work and even that sassy “my heart bleeds for you” reporter complimented me, kind of. “Well, well, well,” she said. “It’s about time you cleaned yourself up.” I smiled and rolled my eyes behind her back.
Even though the Skinny Suit never really caught on in Texas, a few decades later it’s become the must-have professional attire here in Miami for both men and women. I’d even go one step further and say, “The Return of the Skinny Suit,” is perfect for pretty much anything: work, happy hour, dinner and dancing.
I love that it has versatility. It can come across as sexy and sophisticated. If you change up your accessories and shoes, it can even be fun and flirty. The look is always professional and polished. I styled my suit in the blog to resemble what my Texas friend taught me all those years ago.
First, I picked a suit that featured a light, breathable material. Then, I went for a short, snug jacket and a semi-tight, tapered pant. I added my favorite necker-chief, pearl earrings, a hand-ring bracelet, a clutch that I bought in the West End of London and my best pair of vintage cut-out booties.
The best way to wear “The Return of the Skinny Suit” is to jazz it up with your own personal style. If you’re afraid of a slim fit, you can always wear the jacket a little longer to cover up your backside. Some skinny pants make me look wider, not necessarily longer and taller. It’s really all about finding the right brand that gives you the best fit. Meanwhile, back in Texas…
A few months after I got my spiffy suits from my new friend, I got a small promotion and slowly paid him back. Of course, in true Texas hospitality, he left my account open and called it: “Revolving.” Eventually, as I grew more successful, he became my clothing sponsor and a close friend. He taught me a lot about fashion, but he also taught me that sometimes, you have to take a chance on someone to help them fulfill their dreams.
Years later, I asked him: “Why did you help me?” He smiled and said in his lovely Texas accent: “Because I know that someday you’ll pay it forward.” My Texas friend recently retired from the clothing business, but every now and then, he reads my blog and watches my Deco Drive stories on-line.
Every few months, he drops me a hand-written note, just to say hello and tell me how proud he is of me. In all the years that I’ve known him, he’s never once joked about my struggles as a young reporter or publicly patted himself on the back for dressing me.
Instead, throughout the years, he’s quietly supported me, cheered me on when I needed it, told me the truth when I didn’t want to hear it and most importantly, just believed in me, even during a time when it wasn’t the stylish thing to do and that’s why “The Return of the Skinny Suit” is one of my favorite things.
Blog suit and scarf: J.Crew /Aventura Mall
Hand-ring bracelet: Koko & Palenki/Aventura Mall
Earrings: Forever 21/Aventura Mall
Vintage booties: C. Madeleine’s/North Miami Beach
Clutch: purchased at Monsoon/London U.K.
Have a fashionable idea? Contact me:
photography by tod p/t4twophotography
Hair & Make-up by Odette Hernandez
Editor: Matthew Auerbach