Of Going Out of Fashion
The thought of this, our fashion issue, took me right to our archives to dig up the little piece I wrote for greenwich magazine in 1995 — just after Richards told me they no longer carried garter socks.
I figured an era had ended. My husband would just have to get modern, get with it and buy socks that stayed up all by themselves. But in early December, Mr. Hickey somehow unearthed a batch in their basement—just the right kind. Imported from England, 100 percent cotton. Never mind there was no black left; charcoal gray would be fine. In fact, that’s the way black socks look after you run them through the washing machine a few times. What a wonderful surprise Christmas morning!
Then, since my husband’s garters were looking tired, God moved me to order a new pair. I used to get them at the Princeton Club—with little tigers on them; but he doesn’t belong there any more, so I called Brooks Brothers in New York. On December 5. Certainly, Madame, said Hosiery. Black or burgundy? Burgundy. I mean even garters have to have a little pizzazz, right? They were $25, plus $6 UPS. I charged them to my MasterCard and waited for them to show up at my house.
For almost two weeks. I tried calling Customer Service, but either the lines were busy or, on a Friday afternoon, December 19, a machine told me they were closed for the weekend. Every call was, of course, long-distance. Once a very nice operator took my number for them to call me, but I never heard back. Finally, a giant package arrived—two feet square. Inside was a hat box and inside that, a lush velvet hat and inside that, gold initials—all belonging to a Mr. Bates in Virginia. I knew it was
Mr. Bates because his packing slip was in there, too. I also suspected Mr. Bates had received my husband’s garters and wasn’t quite sure what to do with them.
This time I lucked out and got through to Customer Service. Oh, they said thoughtfully, we see what happened here. UPS will pick it up in ten days. Ten days? Poor Mrs. Bates, if this was a Christmas present. Would you like me to bring it to my office? I offered, since UPS stops by there every day. Well, you’d have to put the pickup on your UPS account, said Brooks Brothers. No way, said I. Then it’s too complicated, they said. Just leave it in your garage. Poor Mrs. Bates.
So I waited. And waited. Christmas came and went. I’d had it. On Friday, January 13 (a better day than most for what I had in mind) I decided to find my garters, no matter what. I called New York. Another nice operator apologized. A lot of people are having trouble getting Customer Service, she volunteered. Then I’d write the president of the company, for heaven’s sake. What’s his name and address? She checked and came back on. It’s a Mr. Hanley. He’s our acting president. Acting president? Well, she explained, he’s acting like a president until we find a real one. Why don’t I give you our toll-free number in Omaha? Omaha? I gasped. You mean I’ve been calling New York all this time, and sitting around with the meter running while you’re forwarding my call to Omaha?
So I called Omaha—and got a robot. Dial one for this, two for that … but in order to get a live person I had to punch in my Brooks Brothers account number. Except I don’t have an account, so I don’t have a number. Three times the robot insisted I enter my number; three times I couldn’t. Finally the robot got impatient and hung up on me. A real first. I’d never had a robot hang up on me before.
I called back New York. Look, I said to the same nice operator, just put me through to Hosiery. So Hosiery listened as I told my tale for the tenth time, put me through to Paul in the management office, who put me through to Rosemary, head of credit services, who put me through to Dennis in customer credit. By now I was flushed from the heat of battle. Dennis, I said, I’ve got to tell you, as we speak I’m taking off my jacket because this whole thing has gotten me so overheated. But Paul and Rosemary were very understanding, and I bet you and I have a swell talk, too. I’m glad to hear that, said Dennis, because Paul is new and I’m glad he’s doing so well.
Now Dennis, I continued, I want you to know that I publish a magazine, and I’ve just decided to write up this little garter chase. I mean it’s taken hours out of my life and I might as well get a story out of it. What’s with Brooks Brothers, anyway?
So we talked. And philosophized. And laughed. And finally got back to business. Yes, I’d settle for either credit or garters. Who cares which anymore? But in order to credit my MasterCard, he said, I’d have to call Citibank and get them to write a letter to Brooks Brothers. You’ve got to be kidding, Dennis, I stammered in amazement. I’m not about to do that.
So garters it was. OK, said Dennis, now I’m going to turn you over to Diane in Hosiery. Don’t lose me, Dennis, I pleaded. Promise? He promised—and gave me his extension. You just tell her how many pairs you want, he said. How many? It was obvious they were buying me off. And we’ll send ’em right out today. But first, he added, I gotta tell you something: We’ve had such a good time. I think I’d like to work for you!
Well, Diane in Hosiery was all business and I got the garters the following Monday. One pair. Burgundy. My husband was appreciative, but wondered why I’d bothered since his old pair wasn’t really in too bad shape.
Incidentally, in case you noticed, he wouldn’t let me use his name in this piece. He finds his garters an embarrassment, ever since he climbed onstage in a little nightclub in Athens to be taught the belly dance a few years ago. The three gents who volunteered were asked to roll up their shirts, which was fine; but when they were asked to roll up their trouser legs, my husband knew he was in trouble. I think the audience is still laughing.