When my roommate, Tom, first joined the Lodge, I’m pretty sure he did not own any dress clothes, I think perhaps simply because he had never needed them before. Unfortunetly, jeans and a t-shirt will not get you far in Masonry. In fact, many levels of dress are needed with the Lodge- some may require you to wear a suit or tuxedo every meeting, where as others are much more lax. Regardless of your Lodge’s dress code, you will eventually attend some Masonic or other function where you will need to know how to care for dress clothes. And so, Tom, this one is for you.
Where to get dress clothes
At the store, obviously, right? Well, the issue here is that nice clothes often come with a not so nice price tag. If you are one of the lucky ones out there for whom money is no object, you can probably skip this section. For the rest of us, read on.
- Thrift stores- Buying clothes at thrift stores takes the most patience, but also gives the highest reward. I have bought $150 dresses for $2 before, but that does not mean that I was lucky enough to just walk in and pull it off the shelf. You best bet is to find out where the thrift stores are near you, and go often, about every 2 weeks or so. Since they get so many donations, what will be on the shelves will change often. Usually you will find khakis and polos here, although many thrift stores will often carry suit jackets. Full suits are harder to come by, while tuxedos are almost unheard of. Don’t forget to look at their ties, belts, and shoes! Watch out for stains, and don’t forget, that if it doesn’t fit you perfectly, if you feel that it’s worth it, you can get it tailored.
- Garage sales– Similar to thrift stores, you will want to shop early and often. Unfortunately, these usually only go on during the summer. You will of course, have less of a selection at a garage sale, but they can be good locations to pick up shoes, hats, and other accessories such as cufflinks.
- eBay/Amazon– As you know, these places sell everything. Be sure to have a measuring tape around, or know your measurements, as you will want to be sure to order the correct size.
- TJMaxx/Kohl’s- These stores carry tend to carry last year’s items that didn’t sell, but lucky for you, nice dress clothes never go out of style. They have large sales often, so be sure and check them out.
- Suit stores/Tuxedo rental shops- Don’t buy “off the rack”. What you are looking for here are the tailored suits that no one picked up, the rentals that they are retiring, last season’s suits that are on sale, or even an item with a small flaw, that you or a tailor could fix. Sometimes you may have to ask if they have anything like this, so call ahead before heading out.
- Other people’s closets– No, I don’t mean wandering into people’s houses looking for dress clothes. Ask your family and friends if they have any unwanted dress clothes in the back of their closets. Chances are, they may have similar tastes to you, and you will have a better idea of who may wear a similar size to yourself.
What you will need:
For a fairly active Mason, attending Lodge or other events 3 or 4 times a month, I would recommend (at least):
- 4 polos
- 3 pairs of khakis
- 3 or 4 dress shirts
- 1 suit, or suit jacket
- 1 tuxedo
- 1 pair of dress shoes (black is your best bet)
- A large variety of ties, belts, bow ties, vests, etc.
You will also need:
- Hangers- preferably wood, with plastic being the nicer, cheaper alternative. Try to stay away from wire. There are a million types out there, but you will be fine with the basic hanger for a while.
- An iron – The more you spend, the better it will work, the nicer your clothes will look
- An ironing board- these come in a variety of shapes and sizes
You may also want:
- A lint brush
- Shoe polish/brushes
- Shoe trees
- A small sewing kit
- A Tide pen
Using the iron
Irons come with instruction manuals. I’m sure that everyone throws it away as soon as the box is opened. However, you should get to know your particular iron. The one thing you will need, is water. There should be a small flap near the top of the iron for the water to go into. Many people recommend using distilled water only, however, I have used tap water for years without issue. The better irons will have the temperature settings for specific fibers. If you are unsure what the garment you are ironing is made up of is made out of, check the tag. The tag will also tell you whether or not you should iron the article of clothing. For more on what all those funny symbols mean, head here.
Caring for polos and khakis
Often, if you are not an officer, or your lodge does not have a strict dress code, you can wear khakis and a polo to most Masonic events, perhaps even your Lodge meetings. Taking care of polos is extremely simple. Think of them simply as fancy t-shirts. You can wash them in the washing machine, and hang them when they come out of the dryer. Usually no ironing is needed, but if it is, simply lay the shirt flat, and press, using the heat indicated on the tag.
Khakis are a little bit trickier. While you can wash and dry them according to their care tag, they will still need to be ironed. While I could go step by step on how to iron the pants, I think a video will work a bit better:
Be sure and hang the pants up after ironing if you are not wearing them right away. You will want to fold them in half length wise, and have this fold be what is hanging on the hanger, like so:
Caring for a suit
For the most part, dress shirts, that is, long-sleeved button up shirt that you wear with khakis or a suit, can be washed in the washing machine. As always, check the label on the shirt, as many specialty fabrics such as silk must be hand washed or dry cleaned only. Much like khakis, they will need to be ironed once you take them out of the dryer. Shirts are a bit trickier than pants, so be sure to watch the ironing video below:
The suit itself, on the other hand, that is, the jacket and the matching pants, CANNOT be washed in the washing machine. Please, do not even try. You will ruin it. It will need to be dry cleaned. You don’t need to take it to the cleaners every time that you wear it, in fact, you shouldn’t. Instead, you can care for it in between cleans by going over with it with a lint brush. You can also usually use a tide pen if necessary. If it gets some wrinkles, you can lightly press it, but as always, be sure to check the tag.
Caring for a tuxedo
You lodge may require that all officers or members wear a tuxedo, or you may only wear one for Grand Lodge. However, if you find yourself wearing one more than twice a year, it is probably worth it to buy a tuxedo instead of renting one. If you are unsure where to purchase one, ask the company that you usually rent from. They may sell there, and if not, they can point you in the right direction.
Usually you are able to wash and dry the tuxedo shirt in the washing machine. It is simply just a dress shirt with more fabric. While ironing, you will want to press the front folds away from the button holes, so that they lay flat.
The tuxedo itself will need to be dry cleaned, however, like a suit, there are ways that you can care for it in between cleanings. If you do not wear it more than a few times a year, I recommend that you store it within a garment bag, to help keep the dust and other nasty things off of it.
What to do in case of emergency
Unfortunately, things do not always go the way that we want them do, even with clothing. I recommend that you get a tide pen that you keep on you at all Masonic events, especially those that serve dinner. The other thing I can recommend to you is to get a small sewing kit, so that you can sew back on buttons and repair small holes.
Of course, you may not have the time, or be comfortable with doing this. If this is the case, I recommend that you find a good tailor in your area. Small wear and tears are usually inexpensive to fix. Having a good tailor is also recommended for altering clothing, which is nice to have in case of weight gain or loss. It is also great to buy a suit “off the rack”, and have it tailored to you, which is much cheaper than buying a tailored suit.
Unfortunately, sometimes we get distracted while ironing, or may not get to a stain as quickly as we would like to. More often than not, the best case is to donate the clothes. Usually things like this cannot be repaired, or if they can, the clothing may not look “right” again. Lucky for you, you know where to get new ones inexpensively!
This last video is for Tom: