Patrick McCausland readily admits that sometimes his customers confuse reality and make-believe.
But that’s all right, says McCausland, wardrobe mentor for 45 years to the “papier mâché monarchy” of Rex, Proteus, Hermes and Zulu.
“The line is often crossed this time of year,” McCausland says.
McCausland loves it.
He’s been working at Perlis Men’s Wear on Magazine Street for the past 45 years, advising, measuring and listening to the tall tales of kings and dukes and captains of every ball and just about every parade that hits the streets of New Orleans.
And, that’s not counting the stories generated by weddings, funerals, debuts and every other fiesta that pops up around the city.
“When I was in college, at Tulane, I used to shop here,” McCausland says. “I was going to get married in the fall and I needed a part-time job. I came to work here. I was also working at a bank. I’d get off there (at the bank) at 2 o’clock then came to work here at Perlis in the afternoon and on Saturday.” McCausland’s hustle and drive paid off. Tailoring turned into a full-time job, and that was nearly half a century ago.
What McCausland doesn’t say (because his clothes say it for him) is that his sense of style sold him to the owners as a man of exquisite taste: tailored black suit, red Robert Talbot tie, and custom tailored pinstriped shirt with “schoolboy collar.”
“I have very good clothes,” McCausland says. “Classic clothes. I always have. This is probably an $1,800 suit that I did not have to buy because we have a policy here at Perlis: If somebody sells 50 suits a year, they get a free custom suit. Also, I have all my shirts made. I don’t buy anything off the rack. I dress like this every day.”
McCausland looks down at his shoes. The glare is blinding.
But at 69 years of age, McCausland knows that his 155-pound body could easily turn to mush and all the tailoring in the world would be for nothing.
“I work out every day at the Elmwood Fitness Center in One Shell Square,” he says. “I’ve been doing that for the last 30 years.” He adds, helpfully, “I wear a 42 regular.”
But it is Carnival time, and with an entire city gearing up for its annual foray into Bacchanalia, Patrick McCausland must feel like the center of the universe.
The main road to Mardi Gras and the attendant balls and parties runs through the shop at Magazine and Webster streets. McCausland walks slowly around the store, nodding to this colleague and smiling at that regular customer. He is like the boxer before a big match, all ganglia and tendons pulsating nervously on behalf of this duke and that captain who will surely come through the door today and tomorrow and tomorrow.
“The most important thing in selling clothes, whether it’s a morning suit or a tuxedo, is never ask about size,” McCausland says. “The most important thing is fit. I don’t care what the size is. It is better to drape than to cling. I don’t want anything to cling on anybody.”
As he walks, McCausland segues into a classic of cling-free comfort: the white linen suit.
“We sell about 300 white linen suits each summer,” he says. “A lot of people buy them just to go to debut parties and weddings. And the Country Day (school) graduations. Graduates at County Day have to wear white linen suits.
“Yes, we rent tuxedoes, tails and morning suits,” he says. “But never white linen. Those, you buy.”
McCausland’s wandering leads him to a cavernous back room where some 1,000 of those tuxedos, tails, dinner jackets, cutaways and morning suits are hanging all the way from floor to two ceiling-high levels row after row.
Without naming names — to do so would be a mortal sin in New Orleans — McCausland tells tales of regal mishaps and faux pas. His grin becomes a shining beacon when he tells how he “cracked the Rex” code one year.
“I used to figure out who was king of Carnival,” McCausland says. “A man I knew, who was prominent in Rex and in the community, came in and asked to purchase two pairs of white kid gloves.
“Only Rex himself would do that: one pair of kid gloves for the parade and another pair for the ball. This is how it was always done. That’s how I could always tell who the king would be, by the man who came in to buy two pairs of white kid gloves.
“After a while they figured out how I had broken their code. So they would send in the real Rex to buy one pair for the ball. Then they’d send in a decoy to get the second pair. The last few I haven’t be able to figure out. But for the longest time I had ’em.”
What is reality? What is make-believe?
Only the slight, white-haired well-manicured man in the tailored-everything attire at the Uptown menswear shop can say for sure.