J. Crew Bonfire: My Brother Meets Agnès B.

Josh had not bought any clothes since, we think, high

school. There was a blitz back in 1991 when we were shipping my older brother

off to college-during which he accumulated lots of flannel shirts, Levis and

woolly sweaters-but that was like completing a checklist for summer camp. It

wasn’t what I would call shopping. After graduating, he moved to Moscow where

he worked as a banker for a few years. That time, he packed some Brooks

Brothers standard-issue suits, the type my father wears, and actually pilfered

ties from Dad and our younger, more sartorially interested brother, Michael.

Over the last few years, so far as I could tell, Josh spent

the bulk of his time doing his best to look, well, Soviet. When he moved back

to New York in 1997 to go to law school it was obvious that all the clothes

he’d bought in three years were souvenirs.

There is a Mao suit from a trip to Vietnam, some strange

caftan-with-pointy-hat set picked up during a trip to Uzbekistan (“It’s a

khalat!” said Josh), a shiny disco shirt for exploring new Russian night life

and a pair of large, black, very Communist shoes.

Mostly, I noticed that

his wardrobe didn’t fit him. He’s much smaller now than he was when he swam in

high school and then rowed in college. His broad, athletic shoulders are gone,

and the waistbands of his khakis have become bunchy under his belt. We were

glad, my family told him, that he had not gone the ex-jock-gets-fat route. But

we were all getting sick of his Charles University in Prague sweatshirt and

purple Black Dog T-shirt, which seemed to be the only things left that fit.

Ever since I was 5, I’ve

been dressing my brothers. When my mother brought Michael home from the

hospital, I was distraught that I didn’t have a sister. I had been filling a

baby-wear trousseau in my head for months. At first I thought Michael would

just have to be a cross-dressing baby (a plan that didn’t go far). As I got

older, though, I realized that boys are even easier to dress. And I had two who

needed my help. Josh has sometimes been a little reluctant-he’s usually giving

advice-but at least he always asked my opinion of how to manage his enviably

thick and curly hair. (Japanese hair gel!)

At 26, Josh is afraid of

buying designer clothes in New York. “The thing is, I don’t want to be That

Guy,” he’d tell me when I begged him to let me make him over. Josh dreaded the

costumes of his banker friends who agonize over whether or not they are too

junior to warrant French cuffs.

You don’t have to be That Guy, I told him, or That Other Guy

in clinging rayon garments or plunging V-necks. Somewhere between expensively

and  uncomfortably overdressed and

dandied up and cologne-heavy was a stylish type that Josh could pull off. Or,

at the very least, he could buy something in his size.

We started slowly: Banana

Republic, the middle of the road of copycat design chain stores. We

acknowledged that, well, he might be a medium now-instead of an XL-and that’s

O.K. And we figured out that Josh hates every shade of green, which is O.K.,

too.

Purchasing two oxford

cloth shirts was so time consuming and exhilarating that we next had to spring

for sandwiches. Over lunch we were unanimous: No J. Crew! We could do more than

relive what had been done eight years ago. In the back of my mind was a pair of

Nova USA pants, but I hesitated to bring it up-was Josh ready for drawstrings?

Looking across the table at his Patagonia top, I realized we were a long way

from drawstrings. We would ease into this.

We tried APC, but the neon orange and quirky camouflage

scared him off. I racked my brain. “We’re going to Agnès B.”

Hanging on the wall in Agnès B. Homme on Greene Street was a

shiny outfit with purple polka dots, punctuated by a fedora. My brother wheeled

around, heading for the door. “Look, you’re not getting a fedora. Just please

look around,” I begged him and set about filling my arms with knit tops and

well-cut pants. I shooed him into the dressing room and told him first to try a

pair of deep-gray, plain-front pants in a heavy twill with slit pockets-at $90

on sale, they were much more expensive than any other piece of clothing Josh

had ever bought. “I think these pants will be a bit small,” he complained

holding up the little waistband.

They weren’t. He looked in the mirror. He looked again. He

whirled around. He shook his butt around. He loved them. Breakthrough! Sure,

they were nice pants, but basically they fit him.

He became totally unstoppable. A black knit polo shirt, a

maroon V-neck sweater. He danced around the dressing room. My arms filled up

again.

“O.K.?” I said when I could barely see over the stack.

“O.K.,” he agreed, coming out of the dressing room in his

old clothes, looking like a clown.

We paid, headed to the door, and Josh looked back.

“Do you think I got enough?” he asked, and then he was at it

again.

After round two, I packed Josh, who was looking quite

pleased, onto the uptown train.

A few nights later we were having dinner with his friend, a

quiet midwestern guy. “Amy took me to this place,” Josh told him. “Agnès B.

Turns out”-and here he paused to look around-“I’m built like a Frenchman.”

“Really?” his friend said. Then he asked for directions.

The next time I saw Josh, he reported that his friend had

bought an Agnès B. shirt. I haven’t seen it, but Josh says it’s not dissimilar

to most of his friend’s other shirts. But it was the new designer shirt.

Now, his friend’s shirt is practically a legend. He met a

girl one night when he went out wearing it. The girl turned out to be a

dominatrix. Once a week she whips an old Brit while he wears his public school

knickers. It had to be the shirt.

I told my friend Rebecca about the phenomenon, and the next

weekend she packed her boyfriend, Marko, off to Agnès B.

“He did this dance in the

dressing room!” Rebecca said. I saw Marko at a party, wearing his new pants.

They were only slightly unlike the pants I’d seen Marko wear for four years

during college. But Marko lifted his arms and shook his butt. He swiveled

around. Marko loved these pants.

I don’t know if Josh will

ever buy clothes again, at least for another decade or so. He did buy a pair of

shoes, he said- without me -during a

trip to London with his girlfriend. I have yet to see the evidence.

He’s psyched about his

new clothes. He still wears his big, old khakis six days out of seven-or maybe

that’s just when he’s slumming with his little sister. But on that seventh day,

when he slips into the pants that fit-he’s not College Guy, or Banking Guy, or

Synthetics Guy. He’s just a guy whose pants fit.