A Congressman’s Uniform: Fashion Interview with Ambassador Andrew Young

Last month, I was personally invited to attend The HOPE Global Forum in Atlanta, Georgia. It was quite the business affair, the rooms overflowed with everyone from CEOs of multi-billion dollar corporations to bootstrapping entrepreneurs. There was ample opportunity for connections and nearly all attendees seemed to be in good spirits. It was here that I found myself informally chatting it up with the great Andrew Young. A leader, a trailblazer, a reverend, a congressman, a mayor, and ambassador… Young has lived quite a full life and seems to have no plans of stopping. 

What I thought would only be a small polite conversation, quickly turned into a full-scale reveal of his view on men's style and fashion. By the end of the conversation a crowd of smiling, well-engaged faces had gathered around us. So I figured I’d sum up what I learned first-hand about the style of this historical figure, and share it with The Urban Gentleman family. 
Civil Rights icon Andrew Young, Jr. 

“You have to be cheap when you want to look good, but don’t have money.” This statement easily exudes the overall tone of the conversation. He explained to me that when a man is lacking money, you simply have to go the inexpensive route— that’s the only option. And while he may have casually mentioned other brands here and there, there was only one that stayed in steady rotation – K&G. Yep, good ole K&G, I couldn’t help but smirk when he said this.

In Atlanta, both K&G and D&K are large warehouses filled with lots suits. Growing up, I remember anytime a guy needed a suit for church or an event that’s where he went. However, once I finished my retail management program at Nordstrom, my standards and mindset of what was considered an acceptable suit evolved. After selling $2,000 suits daily$100 or even $200 just seemed completely unreasonable for a good suit. Over the years I learned that you can, of course, find quality items at any price point… if you have the right eye for such things. And talking to Andrew Young, helped soften my view even more on the need for places like K&G. He went on to tell me a story involving a suit his wife bought him. 

"One day, my wife told me, 'Baby, you’re going to stop wearing these cheap suits. I’m going to go buy a real suit, a luxurious suit fitting for a man like you.'” So she headed to Parisians (an upscaled retail store similar to Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom, but is now closed) and purchased him a very nice suit for about $1200. It was on sale from about $1600 so she figured that would make him happy. “She was so proud when she gave it to me, but I told her, babe I already have this suit.” He promptly went into his closest and pulled out the identical suit, with the only difference being the price tag… he paid $300 for it. Everyone around us chuckled as he concluded, “She's never bothered me about getting expensive suits since."

So clearly he has a good eye, and I can personally attest to those hidden diamonds one can discover at a warehouse type suit store. Years ago when my brother started his job interview process in college, he asked me to help him get a suit. I told him that he should just wait for the half-yearly sales at the high-end retailers, but time was of the essence and I reluctantly found myself at K&G. I mozied down rows and rows and rows of suits, until two finally popped out. One was a clear winner, it had the texture, weight, and sheen of the Italian suits I love. “This is the only real option,” I staunchly told my brother. After getting the navy blue fitted to my detailed specifications (which is key when using a new tailor) it easily passed for one 5x its cost. 

Navy Blue Suits: Tom Ford, Canali, Hickey Freeman, DKNY, and more.
From  $150 – $5,000

Andrew Young continued to tell me that he takes many of the kids he mentors to the store as well. Then he firmed up a bit, looked me square in the eyes, and talked about those beginning days of working hard to make it, “Poor but proud, is what you have to be.” To me, this felt like a stark contrast to some of the “poor” men of today. The hustlers and go-getters of yesterday seemed to understand that you have to look put together to get a certain level of respect (with few exceptions). So it still baffles me when I see men walking around with their butts and undergarments fully exposed… it’s a strange, weird, off-putting peculiar thing.

Our conversation switched directions as he told me about his casual attire and winter/fall wardrobe. The classic linen suit (a southern man’s staple) is his faithful choice of casual wear. “There’s an African tailor in my neighborhood that makes my outfits. I go to the fabric store, choose my own cloth, then he makes me a shirt and pants.” Ambassador Young made the process seem so simple, so straightforward, so cost efficient that I found myself wondering why everyone doesn’t have an African tailor to make their clothes, lol. 

His 85 years-young eyes, lit up as carefully spoke of what he wears during the cold seasons, “In the winter I like to wear sport coats… with a sweater underneath.” For formal occasions he prefers a bow-tie.  The conversation ended with Andrew Young essentially telling me that what’s more important that the clothes, is the man himself. He jokingly exclaimed, “I don’t need a suit, to make me look good."

 Andrew Young Jr. was the first American of color to serve as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

See more information on the The HOPE Global Forum, Here
Read Andrew Young’s new book, The Making of Modern Atlanta, Here.
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