By Andrew Rudansky
Walk into Back to Basics, the newest shop in Sag Harbor, located at 8 Main Street, and store owner ”Johnny Pants” — real name Johnny Pawlukojc — will size you up for a tuxedo just by looking at you.
“I can see the sizes in my head as I’m speaking to the person,” he said.
He’s accurate too, guessing the exact suit size of anyone, usually to the inch. This talent comes from his 20 years experience of fitting, tailoring and renting tuxedos to people on the East End of Long Island.
Back to Basics officially opened its doors on May 1, right in time for wedding, prom and the Hamptons black tie event seasons. This is the time of the year when Johnny Pants gets the most requests for tuxedo rentals.
With the “summer season” officially kicked off this past weekend and the proms of the local high schools just around the corner, gentlemen are lining up for rentals and advice.
“Vests are in, cummerbunds are out,” Johnny Pants said authoritatively. He has a lot of helpful tips like this to prevent his customers from committing any number of unforgivable fashion blunders.
Notched lapels are more popular than shawl lapels these days, and it would be a serious mistake to leave your house without a handkerchief. He also suggests forgoing a top hat during your wedding. The colored tuxedos of the 1970’s, like the powder blue one that Johnny Pants wore to his high school prom in 1973, are relics of the past.
“Ninety percent of the tuxes I rent are black, the rest are white…one or two people rent a lavender or powder blue. There is always a kid who stands out, who’s a real individual.”
Although he acts and talks like a master tailor, tuxedo rentals only make up about “10 percent” of Johnny Pants’ overall business. Back to Basics also offers a number of other products including casual wear, outdoor clothing and swim suits. He even does onsite adjustments on any clothing brought into the store. It is a store that as Johnny Pants put it, “Gives people value on basic daily necessities.”
Despite his words, it seems that his real passion is in formal wear. Johnny Pants recommends that whatever the style, the most important thing is that it fits, “if a customer gets fitted properly the measurements come in exactly and everyone is happy. And that’s where the 20 years of experience comes in.”
Before moving to Sag Harbor, Johnny Pants owned a store in East Hampton with the same name. The sign from the original store, designed by his wife Kerri, now hangs in front of his new location. Johnny Pants is optimistic on his latest move.
“Sag Harbor was someplace I wanted to be for many years,” he said, “it was just a matter of finding a location on Main Street.”
As for the name Johnny Pants, his old friend Cliff Follenius thought it up because, as Johnny Pants said, his real last name was just too “hard to pronounce.”
The name fits, Johnny Pants is a tailor loaded with charisma, cracking jokes and conversing with his customers.
“I know most of my customers by name,” he said, “and people come in all the time and say ‘Johnny Pants how are ya?’” More than a name, it is becoming a trademark.
Johnny Pants believes this connection to the community will help him gain a loyal following in Sag Harbor, similar to the one he already has in the village of East Hampton. Knowing the importance of year-round clients in a seasonal business like tuxedo rentals is a lesson that Johnny Pants already knows.
“The local people could keep a place like this open,” he said.
For Sag Harbor’s newest tailor, it is a source of pride to give a client a custom well-fitted tuxedo. So if you happen to walk through the door of Back to Basics and mention that you are looking for a tuxedo, do not be alarmed when you come under the expert gaze of Johnny Pants as he measures each dimension. Then he’ll pull out his measuring tape, “just to be on the safe side.”