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Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2023

Dressing For Success

John Pickens In Store_flipped

John Pickens has helped dress Caddo and Bossier Parish men for more than 30 years. (Photo courtesy John Pickens)

John Pickens proves clothes makes the man

Everyone has a story.

For each issue, 318 Forum’s Tony Taglavore takes to lunch a local person – someone well-known, influential, or successful – and asks, “What’s Your Story?”

I don’t own expensive clothes, but I do take pride in dressing well.

However, I knew this time, I would be the second best-dressed person at a two-person lunch.

Still, I got all gussied up. Ironed jeans.

Collared shirt.

Then HE walked in. His $1,700 Italian suit hung perfectly.

His $165 light-blue Tattersall shirt with a checkered pattern looked rich. His pocket square was the perfect complement. Those $600 suede Alden shoes made in New England looked more comfortable than my Papa Bear house shoes.

John Pickens was dressed just as I expected. After all, he owns John Pickens Custom Clothiers, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary.

“Respect for myself,” John said, as the reason why he puts an emphasis on clothes. “But also respect for whatever atmosphere you’re in. Whether you’re traveling, in church, business or social.”

This atmosphere was “social.” John told me his story at a place of his choosing – Superior’s Steakhouse. John followed my lead and had fried catfish strips with a side of sauteed vegetables. And no, he did not drop any food on his clothes.

Here’s a question for you: Do you know anyone who, at age 14, rode their bicycle to a men’s fine clothing store to buy a Polo shirt?

You do if you know John. “(Pope’s) Polo shirts were only available in three colors: blue, ecru and white. When I started driving at 15, I would go to Pope’s all the time. I saw (a fellow student) wearing one, and they said it was new. I was interested in why it was popular. What was so special about it?”

John’s curiosity as a youngster led to knowledge as an adult. The 57-year-old has been outfitting Shreveport-Bossier City men for some three decades, first at other stores and, for the last two decades, at his store.

“I started from scratch,” John remembers of going solo in 2003. “My wife (Dana) and I did most of the finish out of the (original) building. I had a bookkeeping service, myself and my tailor.”

John has since moved to his current location on Line Avenue in Shreveport but hasn’t forgotten from where he came – both personally and professionally.

Born while his parents were still in high school, the oldest of three siblings spent much of his youth at his grandmother’s house. “She was widowed when she was very young. She had five kids, and her house was like the gathering point for our whole family. It was an unbelievable experience. … I would go over there on the weekends to spend the night. We would travel to California to see my aunts. We went snow skiing in Colorado. You name it. . . . “

John attended Southfield School, First Baptist Church School, Centenary College and LSUS. But he’s not a college graduate. It wasn’t grades that held back John. It was an opportunity to get an early start on his career. While still in school, John was offered a job working at Rosenblath Company, a men’s clothing store in downtown Shreveport.

“I didn’t think I wanted to work in retail because I was maybe a little shy. That job kind of snowballed in a hurry. It got to be a full-time job, and it was hard to do both (work and school). Retail is time-consuming, and school was kind of on the backburner. It was really hard to do both.”

John wanted to choose school over work but was talked out of it by, of all people, an educator.

“I’m so close,” John told his dean at Centenary. “I’m going to go ahead and finish.”

She said, “John, it’s a waste of money.

You’re doing what you love.”

“I do, but I started college, and I want to finish.”

She was like, “You go do your job and come back, and we will have that discussion later.”

That discussion never happened. What did happen was John nurtured his love for clothes.

“I just had the ability and passion not just for the business, but for the actual fabric, which is what drives me. I guess I have the natural ability to merchandise. I went to a school one summer – The Philadelphia School of Textiles and Science – and that wasn’t like going to work or school. That was fun. There was some kind of class or

meeting from 7 or 8 in the morning through dinner at night. They were all about how fabric is made. It was every aspect of retail. Had I known that’s what I wanted to do with my life, I would have gone to a school like that.”

John eventually became a partner in Rosenblath Company and worked there for 14 years until the doors were locked a final time in 2003.

“I remember when (Dana) found out we were closing the store. My youngest child was 1 year old. That’s scary.”

But John had confidence he would make it on his own.

“I knew I wanted to stay in the business.

I knew there was enough business in Shreveport to support us and our family.”

Twenty years later, it’s obvious John was right. He’s dressed no telling how many people, making sure they looked their best for whatever the occasion.

“I’ve helped people, whether it’s someone interviewing for medical school or someone getting out of the Air Force. You would be surprised how many people going to airline interviews will come to us.”

And John feels a sense of pride – and responsibility – helping others look sharp.

“If somebody is asking me to dress them, I want to do that to the best of my ability and make them feel good about themselves. I like to win. You’re asking me to dress you, so I want you to be the absolute best-dressed person there.”

And John has a no-charge tip for you when it comes to looking your best.

“The fit. The way (your clothes) hang.

It can be very flattering, or it can certainly be the opposite. Sometimes there’s too much lycra and spandex going on these days. … I have a customer – a friend and huge supporter – who is a very tall, big guy. He likes to dress, and he looks good in his clothes. He wears double-breasted suits. You have people come in and say they’re either too short, too tall, too thin or too heavy to wear whatever the look. I think if the clothes fit, they can actually be flattering. You can wear whatever within reasoning.”

One look at John, and you can tell he respects clothes and where he wears them.

“Going to church in the summer, there’s a casual dress code. I’m not comfortable that way. I feel I need to have a coat on, maybe even a coat and tie. Just out of respect not only for myself, but for the place.”

After more than an hour together, I was certain John had someone waiting at the store in need of a clothing makeover. So, I asked my final question. As always, what is it about his life story that can be an inspiration to others? John thought for a while about the many people who have helped him along the way.

“Relationships, whether it’s family or friends, are probably the most important thing in my life. Hopefully, I lead by example. … I think (relationships) give people a support system to be successful. Whether it’s physical, financial or emotional, I think knowing you have a support system gives you the ability to reach a little further for your goals.”

John’s goals are the same as his customer’s goals – to dress for success.

Do you know someone who has a story to tell? Contact editor@318forum.com.


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