A first-person account from off the beaten track, as told to Anne Ford.
“My father didn’t own a pair of jeans. He was in a sport coat or a suit every day. He came here from Italy when he was 26. He worked for tailor shops throughout the city, and then he and my mother opened up their own, and then they migrated into formalwear: Emanuele Tuxedo. He came to this country on a Sunday, and he started working on Monday, and he never stopped.
“I was working here when I was seven, eight years old, picking up pins off the ground. He had me do it by hand. I think about it now: ‘Man, you could have just given me a magnet.’ I shined shoes. I put cuff links in shirts. They probably broke a few child labor laws.
“I have four sisters, but it was always kind of understood that I would be taking over. My father ended up having a stroke when I was 16. I took off a couple months of school ’cause my mother had to stay at the hospital with my father, and someone had to run the store. I had my friends bring my homework home. I did graduate, but then I went straight to work.
“As soon as my father was stable—he lost the use of his arm, and he walked with a limp—he came to work every day. He did all the bill keeping and talking to customers. And with one arm, he taught me how to sew. My mother is still very involved. In the beginning, she pressed the shirts by hand and washed everything, and she also sews. Now we have a tailor, and we have part-time help as well. But I’m here seven days a week.
“Everyone says, ‘You are your father.’ We’re very soft-spoken people. And the work ethic, obviously. If I’m not here, I’m always doing something related to work. Reading industry magazines, things like that.
“We deal with more the bride than the groom. The bride knows the color schemes better, the style. The most popular is probably the James Bond tux, a two-button notch lapel. The notch lapel is an industry standard. The shawl lapel goes in and out. Years ago, used to be you’d do a white dinner jacket with black pants. We’re starting to see that die off.
“We’re the only tux shop in the area that does pickup and delivery. It’s kind of funny, the way it started. Obviously when anyone in my family gets married, they’re gonna come to us, but they’re scattered all over Chicago and the suburbs. It’s a pain. So I’d bring my tape measure to a family party, and then I’d bring the tuxes to the rehearsal dinner, because typically I’d be standing up in those weddings anyway. I just kept doing that with cousins, and then the cousins referred their friends, and it kind of snowballed.
“I’ve never counted how many hours a week I work. Probably about 70. I can’t find a woman to accept this. Of course I want to get married, eventually.”