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Let’s Discuss The Measure of a Man

“I know a lot of people who dress up with great misery. A lot of self-doubt. A lot of voices from the past. They dress a certain way to protect themselves against those denigrating voices. So part of what I like to do is to help people and give them the power and the language, verbally and in the expression of their clothing.” — JJ Lee, interviewed by the Westender

Did you read The Measure of a Man: the Story of a Father, a Son, and a Suit by JJ Lee?

I was excited to share this book with you because Modernize Tailors is located in my city of Vancouver, BC. I took this photo of the shop’s exterior to show you:


As you know, Modernize Tailors is the tailoring shop where Lee buys his first made-to-measure suit. It’s also where he starts apprenticing, even though he’s a 37-year-old journalist who doesn’t actually know how to sew.

Working on suits—the quintessential male outfit of the West—leads Lee to really think about fashion, masculinity, and the men in his life. As he tries to remake an old blue suit, Lee must reckon with his own uncertain sense of manhood and his memories of his destructive, alcoholic father.

I found Measure of a Man really moving. I cried a little at the end, even though I was eating dinner in a burrito shop! JJ Lee makes himself very vulnerable in the book, and I felt so sad for Lee and his dad. Lee can’t really explain the exact reasons why his family fell apart, but he captures the helplessness everyone felt and the lingering effects of living through a trauma that you haven’t acknowledged.

So here are my questions:

  • Did you like the book?
  • What part captured your attention more: the social history of the suit and the story of Lee’s apprenticeship, or the family history?

  • If Lee was to write another book about a garment or style, what would you want him to write about? — I think I’d like to read a social history of the miniskirt, myself.

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Next Up

This month, the Colette Book Club gets to know iconic fashion designer Coco Chanel with Mademoiselle Chanel, a novel by CW Gortner.

You can read an excerpt of Mademoiselle Chanel on the author’s Facebook page or the publisher’s website. You can find the book at bookstores or at your local library. It’s also available for Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and as an Overdrive library ebook (in some regions).

We’ll discuss the book on this blog, six weeks from now, on October 28th. For more info make sure to sign up for the email list above.

The book resources provided in this post are included to help you find a copy of upcoming books. Please note that some of these links—such as to books on Amazon—are affiliate links. When you purchase through them, a small commission goes toward supporting Colette so we can continue to provide fun and unique content.

Kat Siddle

Kat Siddle is a librarian and fashion school dropout from Vancouver, B.C. She blogs about beauty and sewing at



September 15, 2016 #

I really enjoyed lee’s book. While his family and personal history was interesting, I was most caught up in his history of men’s suits . I enjoyed the clarification of buttons and vents. I haven’t looked at suits in the same uncritical way as before I read the book.


September 15, 2016 #

I also enjoyed this book, and I realized that I have probably walked past Modernize Tailors hundreds of times without noticing it. I will definitely pay more attention the next time I’m in that neighbourhood. The social history of suits was very interesting, and I’ve been finding myself looking at men’s suits on the street and the bus. As someone who grew up in an emotionally violent home, I could relate to much of what Lee wrote about his family life, and I found his desire to be an apprentice at a relatively late age fascinating. I liked the way he wove the different parts of the book together, learning about himself and his father as he learned about tailoring.


September 16, 2016 #

I THOROUGHLY enjoyed this book and highly recommend it to anyone who wears a suit, sews a suit, or even THINKS about suits. The context of the content – Lee connecting with his father and his family through the suit – seemed a bit contrived, but that didn’t bother me even a little bit. The tidbits about the social history and current functions of the suit alone were more entertaining and enjoyable than even a good murder mystery with cats as characters. :) I would even call it a real “page turner.” I could hardly stand to put it down when I needed to do actual work. Clothing reflects who we are as individuals, but the history of an item of clothing reflects who we are as a people – our heritage and values, as well as our follies, fantasies, and vanities. This book was immensely satisfying.


September 16, 2016 #

I really enjoyed this book, and how he wove together his research, anecdotes, and observations. There were many points that hit me personally, especially how his childhood environment has impacted him as an adult. In many ways this book was a catharsis for me, dredging up old and suppressed memories. I also appreciated his insights and history into suit-making.


September 17, 2016 #

I loved this book. I share some ethnic and cultural background with J.J. and I have to write my memoirs someday so it was relevant. And there was sewing and tailoring! My Dad was a real estate agent in the ’60s and ’70s and he was a snazzy dresser. I remember going to a hat store with him in downtown San Francisco and being fascinated by the iridescent feathers on each of the mostly gray hats. The family dynamics were unfortunately very familiar to me, especially the not talking about anything and just moving on. I just finished the book last night and I’m still moved by it.

I would read anything else J.J. Lee writes–does he still have a column anywhere? I wasn’t very successful at finding him online. Are Bill, et al still at Modernize, I wonder?


September 17, 2016 #

I loved this book! It was compelling and filled with so many interesting facts, which sent me searching for more information on men’s suits. I hadn’t given any thought to the history of men’s tailoring before reading this book. It also reminded me of my father, who was kind and thoughtful. He always wore a suit, except on Saturdays.


September 17, 2016 #

I love this book – I read it a while ago and reread it when you mentioned it was the book club choice here. I loved how JJ Lee melds the history of the suit (really this was why I picked it up in the first place) with his family history. All so fascinating. I’ve recommended this to a few IRL bookclubs at my own library too.

If he was to write another history, I’d like to hear about the rise and fall of men’s hats as a normal piece of a wardrobe.

Kate G

September 19, 2016 #

Hey, Kat. I loved this book. I was equally drawn to the father-son story and the sartorial tips for men.

JJ Lee’s search for a father through a craft could also have been called “The Measure of Compassion.” Coping with the loss of a parent while they are still very much alive is a trial I wouldn’t wish on anyone at any age, but Mr. Lee provides a strong roadmap for finding worth in himself and his father despite a difficult life together. This is the coming of age book I’ll be recommending to the young men and women around me as well as sewists who appreciate the power of perseverance.

I hope to see more from this author in the future, particular if it’s focused on the world of Men’s fashion. Thank you for picking a book I wouldn’t have come to on my own.

Laurel Kniskern

September 21, 2016 #

Well written and thought provoking on many levels, men’s fashion, fathers and sons, the work of tailors and the making of clothing. I’ll look for more by this author. It is also making me think more critically about how clothes fit.