Illustration by Grady McFerrin

“WELL, IF YOU CAN KEEP SUCKING it in,” says the salesclerk, “you might be able to wear that jacket two seasons.” All righty. Allow me to add a little context to the aforementioned snipe. I have decided that at my stage of still-employed life, it is pitiful to show up at fancy events in sample-sale remnants or hand-me-downs. (I can wear plastic bags to work if I want to, so I don't need office drag.) And I am now willing to buy a suit for the sheer joy of it all. At full retail. (Ooh, how I love saying that.) At no less than Prada, the pinnacle of fashio-nay, before my lithe rock-star build goes all Hasselhoffian on me. But I've hit a snag: the proverbial pissy clerk who's modeled his sales technique on Saturday Night Live's Jeffrey skit.

In low-fashion days gone by, I would've turned tail and run, thinking, “Okay, maybe I am not worthy after all,” but in this case I know that I want to invest in a two- or three-button Prada suit, for its mod cut, topnotch fabric and timeless style. I know there is more than one store in town to get it at, and I am willing to accept that maybe the poor guy has been subjected to one mean rich shopper too many and is taking it out on someone who is neither. Besides, I've had nothing but good experiences at Prada's other stores. So I play it off with a friendly “Careful, you'll have me bulimic by the end of this,” which prompts a Richard Simmons­esque wail of “There are already too many people in the world like that!”

While I feel his pain of social awareness, and Woody Harrelson's for that matter, I've got a job to do. I ask about the fabric of a Prada suit I saw at another boutique. (Tropical wool is my guideline here, as it is durable and of a weight that can be worn year-round.) “That suit is from last season — besides, that look is tired,” he snaps, steering me toward a rack of vaguely conservative black suits while unleashing a torrent of intricate details on wool weights that sounds like something Tesla might've sputtered if he'd had Tourette's syndrome. I'd feel a little neutered by now if it weren't for the knowledge that a suit with a notched collar of solid width and flat-front pants is not about to go out of style anytime soon (unlike, say, au courant Alexander McQueen numbers with just slivers of a collar); dark blue is going to be way more versatile than black, which is too formal to wear by day anyway; and the clerk is totally not getting me or my aesthetic.

I also know that I am the one spending the money here, and that Barneys New York, where my odyssey is about to end with the discovery of a slightly funkified deep-blue wool-and-cotton Prada pinstripe suit for $1,760 (not to mention a low-key and effective salesperson), is just two blocks away. So what if I have to embrace the label from outside the temple — I will be able to find exactly what I'm looking for, plus compare it directly against Helmut Lang and Jil Sander right then and there. As well as deal with salespeople who see the clothes as . . . clothes. I head to the door, asking if an elegant if wee-bit-thin moccasin happens to come in an E. “Maybe if we bought New Balance,” he shudders. I wish him well with the label's oft-delayed IPO and hightail it outta there.

Barneys New York, 9570 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills; (310) 276-4400.

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