The Measure of a Man

JJ Lee was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award for nonfiction for this memoir about his relationship with his late father.

JJ Lee

For years, journalist and amateur tailor JJ Lee tried to ignore the navy suit that hung at the back of his closet — his late father's last suit. When he decides to finally make the suit his own, little does he know he is about to embark on a journey into his own past.

As JJ moves across the surface of the suit, he reveals the heartbreaking tale of his father, a charismatic but luckless restaurateur whose demons brought tumult upon his family. He also recounts the year he spent as an apprentice tailor at Modernize Tailors, the last of Vancouver's legendary Chinatown tailors, where he learns invaluable lessons about life from his octogenarian master tailor. Woven throughout these two personal strands are entertaining stories from the social history of the man's suit, the surprising battleground where the war between generations has long been fought. (From McClelland & Stewart)

The Measure of a Man was shortlisted for the 2011 Governor General's Literary Award for nonfiction and the 2012 RBC Taylor Prize.

From the book

Whenever I [knot a tie], it's like I'm 10 years old again. I am standing in front of the bathroom mirror. My father is behind me and guiding my hands, his hands clasped over mine. To tie a half-Windsor, you loop the tie once around, crossing it through the neck hole, and then you loop it again. The cross and extra loop thicken the knot but not as much as it would on the full Windsor. I suppose an instructional diagram would be very helpful here, but it would fail to convey the heat and thickness of my father's hands and how I stood up on tiptoe so I could feel the rasp of his chin stubble against the back of my neck. A diagram would say nothing of the crisp frictions of woven silk, or the firm final tug — drawn with a violent mixture of humour and malevolence only fathers can offer — that rocked me onto the balls of my feet. A tie never felt so solid and lush and full and fundamental. It may have been the last moment of close physical contact I had with my father without any self-consciousness.

From The Measure of a Man by JJ Lee ©2011. Published by McClelland & Stewart.

Author interviews

Shelagh's full length conversation recorded at Modernize Tailors in Vancouver's Chinatown. 27:56