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Tuesday, May 6, 2008

5-0 fashion.

New York City detectives have a long and storied sartorial tradition. Whether chasing a suspect across the rooftop of a Hell’s Kitchen walkup, or standing in front of a bank of microphones to announce that they have cracked a gruesome homicide case, detectives tend to be a tailored lot and to eschew “business casual.”

There was a wonderful article and accompanying video in the Sunday New York Times about this little-examined aspect of life as a detective in New York City. The article describes how the detectives trade tips, share books like Alan Flusser’s “Dressing the Man: Mastering the Art of Permanent Fashion,” and patronize Stewart Altschuler, known as the “Suit Man,” who addresses the detectives’ unique styling challenges. “For their own safety, a lot of our suits are side-vented and big-shouldered,” he says, “in case they have to move around on the ground.” The suits are specially cut to allow room around the waist so that guns, cell phones, radios, and handcuffs don’t show.

NYPD detectives have to deal with the public when they testify at trials, interview witnesses, and notify family members of tragedies. One retired detective commander called his suits “my psychological armor.” Somewhat incongruously, detectives also wear suits when they chase suspects and wrestle them to the ground and handcuff them. “I try to wear my less expensive suits if I am going out to track a bad guy,” another detective said.

One of the things I love about being a criminal defense lawyer is the style. Even when I was a Bronx Legal Aid attorney, I shopped the Barney’s warehouse sale and scoured the racks at Syms for the stray Armani. Now that I’ve reached a certain stage in my professional life, I’m a Paul Stuart guy.

I remember a talk given by Gerry Shargel, one of New York’s best criminal trial lawyers, in which he described entering a courtroom for the first time. He looked at the prosecution table and saw earnest, hardworking young lawyers wearing drab, ill-fitting suits. He looked at the defense table and saw elegance and style. He knew immediately which table he belonged at. I’m with Gerry, and I like that it’s a trait I share with the detectives of the NYPD. CR

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