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I love having a son, but I admit I am a tad envious of my sister, who has twin girls in Grade 12.
They've been dreaming about grad dresses for years. They have scoured the Internet, fashion magazines and shopping malls. They know all about different styles, fabrics and fits.
Sometimes I get a text message with a photo: "Aunty, what do you think of this one?"
Like a dog with a bone, I'm all over it, enthusiastically doling out fashion advice on beaded bodices and flowing chiffon.
My son, also in Grade 12, hasn't given a thought to grad attire until four days before graduation photos are taken. Suddenly, he needs a suit. Off to Moores the Suit People we go.
Sales associate: "Hey man, what can I help you with?"
My son: "Uhh, I need a suit … uhh, for my grad."
Sales associate: "So, what were you thinking … style, colour?"
My son: "Umm, I dunno."
The friendly young associate takes a few measurements and whisks us to the on-sale rack. Suits from $169.99, the poster reads. He hands over a grey jacket.
"It feels kinda tight," my son mumbles. "I won't be able to eat dinner."
"Dude, let me guess, you usually wear hoodies and T's, right? Slim-fit suits are in style! They're meant to be snug and snap your shoulders to attention. You can lose the jacket for dinner."
"Oh, okay, but I think the arms are kinda short."
"No, they're perfect," I chime in like the overbearing mother I am. "About a quarter-inch of shirt cuff should be showing. I like the stylish shorter jacket length and the thin lapels."
"Wow, ma'am, you know a little something about men's suits."
"Just a few pointers I picked up on the GQ Guide to Suits website," I reply a bit smugly. I am determined to embrace the grad suit.
By the time we move on to fitting the pants, the store is flooded with moms (yes, mostly moms) and their pimply faced 17-year-old sons. Each one looks more awkward than the next, modelling suits on their gangly, unfinished frames.
Two frantic sales guys, apparently not having anticipated the rush, move madly from one boy to the next, pinning a sleeve here, nipping a waist there.
My son emerges from the change room with his shirt hanging over his pants.
"Dude, get back in there and tuck in the shirt," the sales guy orders with an "OMG, 9 p.m. can't come soon enough" look. This is a new concept for my son.
"I need a smaller size, they're too long," he announces as he re-emerges with the shirt tucked, albeit bunched. Another mom shares an exasperated chuckle with me.
Next, it's time to select a shirt. Basic white, we are told, is the must-have (sort of like the little black dress for women). Taking advantage of the store's two-for-one shirt offer, my son decides on a deep blue one as well. That was easy! But wait, let's button it up.
"This is way too tight around my neck," he complains.
"It's just right, get used to it. We'll find a nice noose, I mean tie, and you're all set," the associate jokes (is he joking?).
My son is nearing the end of his shopping endurance.
"I'm staaarving," he moans.
"Okay, we're almost done," I say, a little too buoyantly. "Let's look at these great ties! Do you like this striped one? How about this cool purple one?"
He just stands there with a pained expression.
"I don't care. Let's just take the two the sales guy picked out. I wanna go now, I'm dying of hunger."
"Okay, fine," I reply, knowing that we need to wrap this up tout de suite. "But how about the shoes you picked out? Do they fit?"
"Yup, they're fine. Come on, let's go."
I grab the shoes from him (mother's intuition).
"Wait a minute, these aren't your size!" Note to self: Make sure son is fed before shopping.
We finally schlep all our purchases to the checkout: two shirts, two ties, correct-size shoes – all on special. Not bad, until I find out that the fashionably slim-fitting suit is not part of the sale, and that the alterations won't be ready in time for grad photos.
I breathe deeply, remind myself that this is a fun and important rite of passage and bank on being able to push his photo date back by one day (yikes, that will interfere with hockey photos!).
We dump our purchases in the car and race across the plaza to the only eatery that's still open: White Spot. Scarfing down a cheeseburger, my son announces that next time he buys a suit he might like an Armani or a Versace. How does hoodie-boy know these names?
"Sounds great," I reply, "but you better concentrate on passing Grade 12 math so you can get a job to pay for those suits."
He's feeling better now, with food in his teenage belly, and I can tell he's happy about his suit. I must admit he looks pretty dapper in it, and I'm feeling proud of my handsome boy-man. I don't mind so much any more that I missed out on satin and chiffon.
A few weeks later, my nieces visit. They take me grad-dress shopping. I am fulfilled!
Caroline Helbig lives in Vancouver.