Atlanta tailor Neil Balani of HKT Custom Clothiers shows off the Democrat and Republican linings customers can choose for their jackets. The linings have proved to be quite the conversation pieces, he said, this year. GRACIE BONDS STAPLES / GSTAPLES@AJC.COM
Photo: GRACIEBONDSSTAPLES/gstaples@ajc
Photo: GRACIEBONDSSTAPLES/gstaples@ajc

Life with Gracie: Who said you couldn’t wear your politics

Del Percilla makes no secret about whom he intends to vote for in this fall’s presidential election, but if he hasn’t told you, check the lining in his suit jacket.

He’s all donkey, folks.

Percilla, a trial lawyer who spent 18 years practicing in Atlanta before moving back home to Albany eight years ago, is a staunch Democrat.

And so when his tailor Neil Balani of HKT Custom Clothiers in Atlanta showed him the donkeys and elephants amid his newest crop of jacket linings late last year, Percilla had to go political.

“It amuses the right people and irritates the right people,” he said.

While it isn’t unusual for college graduates of all ages to sport their colors in all sorts of ways, wearing your politics might seem a bit out of the ordinary.

“In menswear, the college tie has always been used as a secret signal in interview settings or at large business gatherings,” said Michael Londrigan, a menswear expert and dean of academic affairs at LIM College in New York. “It showed that you belonged to the same club. In this instance, with motifs in the lining, it is not as overt, because they can be hidden or shown depending on the audience.”

At 69, Percilla is just old enough that he doesn’t really care who knows his political affiliation.

“If you want to have a social life in South Georgia, you have to lower your standard and have Republican friends,” he quipped recently.

But in all seriousness, the attorney said he’s been politically active since high school, when he first campaigned for our 35th president, John F. Kennedy. He voted Democratic then, and he intends to vote Democratic this time around.

“Maybe because I’m old, but the alternative is appalling,” Percilla said. “It seems the worst of the high school student council is now running for office.”

For now, Londrigan said, flashing your jacket liner could help you decide if perhaps another date is in order. That, of course, would depend on whom you’re dating and which jacket lining you happen to be sporting at the time.

You might never know with Dr. Tom Bat of Atlanta. He liked the linings so much, he bought them both.

“Considering the last year of political commentary, it was easy to add these fun linings to my wardrobe,” Bat said. “The satirical nature adds fun to all the choices we have in our free and open society. The presidential primary season and endless debates, from Trumpisms to socialism, certainly adds color to our daily routines.”

Interesting.

Another fashionista at LIM, Amanda Hallay, seems to think the fact that we have two blonds running for the highest office of the land makes this an election season when the candidates’ personal image is up for both parody and praise.

Yet at the moment, it seems such an unpredictable race that neither the ardent Trump nor Clinton supporter wants to sartorially back a losing horse, so apart from the obligatory elephant and donkey motifs on tees and totes, Hallay doesn’t think we’ll be seeing Hillary supporters donning what is becoming the Democratic candidate’s signature outfit (a prettier version of the iconic Chairman Mao suit), nor many Grand Old Partygoers opting for the bleach blonde backcomb of their party’s leader.

“However, once the race is won, I think we’ll see fashion extremism no matter who the victor,” she said. “Dems will embrace a more natural look, with loose linens, soft palettes, and ethnic touches that speak to the global environment. And for Republicans, the ‘80s might very well ride again, with a focus on wealth, opulence, oversize, and a return to primary colors (no political movie pun intended!).”

Bat said that Balani first suggested a jacket of half donkeys and half elephants.

“His was a great idea I wish I had followed,” Bat said. “He has a great sense of style and reads the upcoming political circus well.”

That may be true, but Balani isn’t picking sides. He’s simply sharing with his customers the latest fashion hits, and according to him, this year is all about politics.

And while not limited to politics, the linings are a good conversation piece.

HKT has sold close to 30 jackets with the party linings — $195 over and above the cost of a custom-made jacket — since they were introduced eight months ago.

Customers, he said, run the gamut — from doctors and attorneys like Bat and Percilla, to company CEOs, CFOs and well-heeled real estate agents.

Both Bat, medical director of North Atlanta Primary Care, and Percilla wear their jackets pretty regularly.

“I find frequent use of the jackets as I advocate for physician and patient rights in our increasing government-controlled health care system,” Bat said. “With a nephew at Georgetown, I’m in D.C. often and find time to interface with our congressional leaders. The jackets help open up political dialogue with those who represent us. The kids love them, too, as do my colleagues.”

Asked which party he supports, Bat said he prefers to vote for individuals rather than a party.

“We are lucky in America to have a free choice, and I will wear my jacket to the polls … be it an elephant or donkey.”

Londrigan said that in today’s competitive fashion industry, retailers, designers and brands are always looking for a marketing opportunity.

“This will play well for the next few months and provide those that want to wear the party colors (literally) a perfect opportunity,” he said. “The interesting aspect is what party is garnering the most sales? Could we use this as a predictor of the next president?”

Nahhhh.

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