“I have a dream,” Barney Dorcus once said. “I dream I take off my shirt at the end of the day and the armpits ain’t hanging out in smokin’ strings from my BO, that’s what I dream.”
Barney Dorcus was one of New York’s most colorful and influential clothiers, and his career had one unvarying motivation: his persistent, corrosive body odor. “I don’t know what it is,” he told an interviewer. “I don’t eat garlic. I wash up. Even in the places you’re not supposed to spend a lot of time touching. Okay, cigars now and then, what guy doesn’t. But that don’t explain why I smell like a hippo’s ass ten minutes after I get outta the bathtub. It ain’t the soap. I tried switching to Cameo. F--kin’ nothin’.”
In a way, Dorcus’ affliction - coupled, it must be noted, with halitosis so severe it often wilted the eyelashes of people to whom he spoke - was his boon. The retailing world in New York was crowded in the 20s; it was a dense, jostling, cutthroat world populated by energetic individual merchants on the bottom end, mass-market retailers in the middle and white-shoe stores serving the carriage trade. A man needed to stand out. A man needed a gimmick.