When Ralph J. Perk was elected the 51st mayor of Cleveland just six months ago, he rushed out to his favorite wholesale clothing factory and bought himself six brand new reject suits.
This bit of extravagance is not typical of the man who says he thinks “some people may consider me to be a square,” but he simply hadn’t had the opportunity to shop for himself, what with his county auditor duties and running for mayor three times.
“I’ve bought more clothes now. The reason why I didn’t shop more often before is that I haven’t had the time. I haven’t even had a vacation since 1967,” the Mayor says in way of explanation.
Leaning back in his tan leather chair behind a desk cluttered with the affairs of his city, he talks about his fashion image: “The mayor does represent the city, and Cleveland is a fashion city.
“There are lots of clothing factories here, and over the years Cleveland has been one of the largest manufacturers of men’s and women’s clothing outside New York,” the Mayor says, putting in his plug.
Though he wants to keep it a secret where he has bought his clothes for the last two decades, he does offer a few hints.
“I’ve bought rejects from the same factory for the last 22 years. You know there are a good many men’s clothing factories here that set aside clothes that have flaws in them and these are the suits I buy. You see, I can’t even remember where the flaw in this suit is. It was marked with white chalk and a red tag; but now I forget where it was.”
The Mayor says he has about 30 suits, including a tuxedo, and a couple of sportcoats that he says he really “can’t get accustomed to wearing.” “I feel better when I’m in style,” he says, as he fingers the moderately wide lapel of his blue, tweedy, $32 double knit suit. “This suit that I have on is a little more colorful than most of the suits I wear,” he explains.
The Mayor wears a 41 regular or a 40 long — “right off the rack.”
“I can walk into the basement of this factory and the only adjustment the suits ever need is finishing the pant legs.” (But he doesn’t wear cuffs: two years ago his tailor told him that cuffed pants were out.)
Last Christmas the Mayor’s relatives, friends and start bought him a healthy supply of bright, contemporary shirts and ties, in an effort to liven up his fashion image. He also attributes many of his new, stylish shirts and wide ties to an elderly saleslady at one of the department stores here. “I go into her department, tell her I need five shirts and five ties and what color the suits are I want to wear them with. She chooses them and I buy them. I’ve been doing this for about a year. Prior to that 1 was buying mostly white shirts.”
He sits back, wearing a white shirt with red floral stripes and about a four-inch crimson tie emblazoned with eagles from the great seal. Though some might think the Mayor has a tough act to follow after the stylishly attired Carl Stokes, he pooh poohs this challenge without concern. Ralph J. Perk is his own fashion man.
The Mayor denies becoming more mod with his new position, though several of his recent purchases indicate a new turn in his fashion direction. Not long ago he spotted a pair of boots he liked in a wholesale catalog.
He has never worn boots.
“I saw a picture of these oxblood-colored boots and thought they looked good, so I bought them. I’ll need to get up my courage to wear them though.”
The Mayor has an up-to-the-minute fashion vocabulary, which includes references to his new white shirts as strictly of the “white on white” variety and his conservatively wide pant legs as “flares.”
Even the last detail of his look — his socks — is not forgotten. His socks cover his leg all the way up to his knee. Nary a glimpse of calf will Clevelanders catch when their Mayor crosses his legs.
His favorite colors, however, run to the conservative side: blue and gray — “blue to match my eyes, and gray to match my hair from this job.” Tish Jett is a correspondent for Women’s Wear Daily.