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   What Are You, Man?

A pretty-looking, small, effeminate man came into the shop one day.I can usually tell at a glance, but even I wondered for a moment... His name, he told me, was 'Roberto' and he wanted an evening dress made. I was a little doubtful - I'd made dresses for girls, but not for guys! Nowadays, anything goes, but in the Sixties it was all just beginning, and the idea jarred a little. He explained what he wanted - it wasn't going to be difficult - so i advised him how much fabric I would require and he went on his way to buy the cloth. I was happy that my tailor Otis was fairly unshockable and would not mind measuring for, and making, the dress.

We had just finished making some costumes for the girls at the local night club, 'La Valbone'. Their message had been clear - the more cleavage, the bigger the tip, so all our efforts for the last week was geared towards pushing busts together, but only so far as not to show the nipples! I've told you before - I loved my work!

I thought about my other tailors, Phillip, Petros, Simon and, especially, Chris, and wondered how they would react to a man in a dress. I had to laugh to myself - I was sure there'd be bloodshed.....
I designed the dress and Otis, as I had thought, took the measurements, making no fuss at all. Why didn't I take the measurements? Because I didn't want to! No way! There have to be some perks in being the boss, and that is my number one!

A week later our little 'Roberto' returned. Unfortunately for him, he chose to come on a Saturday and we were really busy. 'Ray', one of the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team, was in the next fitting room. These were fine for people up to about 6' but Ray was at least half a foot taller - seriously tall! He looked down at our little 'Roberto' and, in the deepest voice you have ever heard, enquired "What are you, man?" The shop was laughing fit to drop. There was no malice - he just wasn't sure! He'd seen this little man enter the fitting room and watched closely as he put on his pantie girdle and white stockings. He loved the high heels and was utterly taken with the long black wig. And now, a padded white bra over his hairy black chest (maybe his next job was to shave the chest?).

He repeated the question "What are you, man?". By now, there was no business being conducted in the shop whatsoever. 'Roberto' was ignoring the question and was getting ready for his fitting. He now had the dress on and was ready for the fitter. Ray was quick to realise that he had a rapt, captive audience and, ever the showman, was giving a running commentary on the events unfolding below him, finishing every line with 'What are you man'. True, it was my job to enter the room and carry out the fitting, but that 'little devil' can come to any of us and it came upon me in spades! I rushed down to Chris ...

"Oh, Chris - there's a young lady in fitting room three who's a bit embarrassed and wants a fitting in the cubicle".
Chris - an original of the 'groping, dirty old man' brigade, grabbed his pins and, with his tape measure around his neck, was upstairs in a flash! Ray was still commentating but paused as Chris entered the cubicle.
He was soon on his knees, and how he didn't hear the turmoil, the laughter, I'll never know, but he continued with his 'work of love'.
I was shaking with laughter, waiting for the explosion that I knew must come, but everything remained quiet. Maybe I was wrong. Chris had obviously accepted the high heels, the white stockings, even the suspenders and was, no doubt, getting 'turned on' by it all.

Then 'Ray' ruined it - he just had to come out with another "What are you, Man?". With 'Chris' now standing up and finally seeing the hairy chest... the padded bra... all went quiet for a moment, then Chris exploded in Greek! It was very long, very loud, venomous in the extreme and certainly not repeatable! I recall him actually spitting at poor little 'Roberto', who responded with "Oh, my God", while dear 'Ray' finally intoned the magical question "What are you, man?"

We did continue to make dresses for men, but there can only ever be one 'Roberto' - he was special. It is rather sad in a way that one man should have been the butt of our humour, and I do know that it was wrong, but it was funny! So very funny .....

Danny Benjamin 2007