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Washington Lawyer

Legal Spectator: Louie’s

From Washington Lawyer, September 2005

By Jacob A. Stein

Legal Spectator The need to inflate a résumé in order to meet the competition tempts me to include in my own résumé the words connected with the FBI. That statement, when read quickly, could mislead the reader to believe that I at one time was an FBI agent—an impressive credential, almost as good as saying I was a Golden Glove boxing champion.

If pressed to explain those words connected with the FBI, I would submit that I went to the same high school as J. Edgar Hoover, Central High (now Cardozo), located at 13th and Clifton streets NW. But more importantly, I would add that I bought my clothes at Louie’s, where J. Edgar Hoover and all the FBI agents bought theirs.

Louie’s was located a few blocks west of the courthouse on the north side of D Street between 6th and 7th. Louie was Louie Goldstein. He specialized in good conservative men’s suits of a style a little to the left of Brooks Brothers and J. Press. He sold for less because his suits were factory seconds, suits with an insignificant manufacturing defect. It might be the repair of a torn lining or a misweave in the cloth. Louie was quick to point out the defect.

Louie did his work in rolled-up shirt sleeves with a tape measure around his neck and a piece of tailor’s chalk in his upper shirt pocket to be used to mark up the cuffs (take up or let down), the waist (take in or let out), and the length of the pants. Louie quickly calculated a customer’s size just by looking. “You look like a 39 regular. Come over to this rack and we will see what we have in your size.”

J. Edgar Hoover insisted on well-dressed agents. He was a young man when he found his way to Louie’s, as many young lawyers did. After he became director and he could get clothes anywhere he wished, he stayed loyal to Louie’s. He referred the agents to Louie, who put them in the FBI uniform, either a dark grey flannel or a dark worsted single-breasted two-button suit.

Louie’s became the lawyer’s clothing store of choice for a number of reasons in addition to J. Edgar Hoover’s recommendation. Louie’s was near the courts and the 5th Street office buildings where solo practitioners and two- or three-man partnerships had their offices.

If, when Louie announced the price to a young lawyer, he detected pain in the lawyer’s expression, Louie would put $10 in the pants pocket of the suit when he delivered it.

When someone would say to Louie, “There is no label in the suit. Who made it?” Louie’s answer was, “This is a Hart Schaffner suit. Marx wouldn’t have anything to do with it.” Louie then said, “Look here. If you want labels, you should go up to Fred Pelzman’s high-class, high-rent store on F Street. You’ll get a label and you will pay double. Don’t tell Fred I said that.”

There was another men’s clothing store on D Street that sold new and used clothing. It was named simply Best Clothes. The proprietor stood in front of the store looking for people who were looking for Louie’s. He could spot them right away and he would invite them into his store. If a customer asked if this was Louie’s, he would say “Louie’s West.”

Louie knew what was going on. He had customers who were lawyers at the Federal Trade Commission, located close by at 6th and Pennsylvania Avenue. He enjoyed taking an FTC lawyer outside on the sidewalk and pointing out Best Clothes’ unfair and deceptive trade practices going on within three blocks of the FTC.

“Isn’t there something called the Sherman Act that makes what you see going on here a criminal offense? Why don’t you guys put a stop to it?” The FTC never opened an investigation of this clear Sherman Act violation.

The Gayety Burlesk Theatre was located at 9th and F streets. The Burlesk comedians did a sketch that was a knockoff of the Best Clothes operation. The scene was a men’s clothing store. The customer was played by a Burlesk comic. The salesman was played by the straight man. The salesman puts a suit on the customer. The suit is too big, too small, too long, and too short. Each time the customer complains the salesman corrects the problem by pinning it up or pulling it down or putting in some stuffing. When the salesman completes his work, the customer is bent over and can hardly walk. The customer steps out of the store on to the sidewalk. A passerby says to another, “Look how well dressed that poor crippled fellow is.”

I took a walk last week along D Street between 6th and 7th to see how it compares with its 1950s golden age. Everything is changed. New buildings on both sides of the street of no particular character. The six small shops that were there are gone. The men on D Street are not dressed like 1950s FBI agents. If Louie were here, he would feel compelled to mark the sleeves (take them up an inch) and the waist (let them out three inches). It takes a real prodding of the memory to identify the spot where Louie’s was. I think I located it and I put on the front of the new building occupying the space where Louie’s was a mental plaque bearing the words Louie’s–Good Suits for Good Lawyers.

This would not be the only plaque on D Street. At the northwest corner of 5th and D is a restored small office building bearing a plaque reminding the passersby that Daniel Webster had his office right there on D Street only a block away from Louie’s.

When I see an old-timer like Murdaugh Madden at a bar dinner, I ask if the tux he is wearing came from Louie’s. He looks on the inside of the jacket and reports there is no label, so it must have come from Louie’s, followed by the proud statement, “This tux must be 50 years old.”

Jacob A. Stein can be reached by e-mail at jstein@steinmitchell.com.