Tom Noll and José Alberto Uclés are people people. They typically spend up to five nights a week out on the town, working the room at various philanthropic and cultural events. Their larger-than-life personalities are hard to miss—but their suits, even harder.
The pair are known for their bright, colorful outfits. In fact, they’re behind a long-running inside joke among their friends, who they say refer to them as “artsy fashion peacocks.”
So when the couple transformed a spare bedroom in their Bloomingdale townhouse into a walk-in closet for their nearly 500 suit jackets, they named it “the Peacock Closet” and hosted not one but three parties to show off the space.
Their entire home is as vibrant and whimsical as the closet. A brightly decorated walkway leading to the front door is peppered with—you guessed it—peacocks. Inside, floor-to-ceiling arrangements of items they’ve collected over the years are on display, sometimes organized by theme (“beautiful women” and “faces” are arranged together on one wall, for example), and more peacocks peer through the collections at every turn. Two adorable peacock figurines displayed in a glass cabinet once topped the pair’s wedding cake.
The closet is where they meet to discuss their weekly social schedule. Uclés—a spokesperson for the US Department of Transportation and a former commissioner on the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities—says he’s the “social coordinator.” He’ll decide on the color palette, general style, and level of formality—starting with the jacket—for each event. The priority, he says, is to honor the hosts or featured artists. Noll—an artist and children’s book author—is the “stylist” who selects the shirts, vests, ascots, hankies, jewelry, and shoes.
The jackets, Uclés says, range from “glam, brocaded, grand evening wear to seasonal casual jackets.” If they don’t have something Uclés thinks will match the vibe, Noll will take existing jackets and embellish them with whatever inspires him: puff paint, Sharpie pen—anything required to dress the part.
Recently, they coordinated “glam steampunk” looks (hats included) for the VIP opening of Kurios—Cabinet of Curiosities by Cirque du Soleil. For the Hirshhorn Museum’s opening night of Sam Gilliam’s “Full Circle” exhibit, jackets celebrated the artist’s abstract paintings; for the National Cherry Blossom Festival parade’s VIP review stand, they coordinated cherry-blossom-embossed brocade jackets; and for the National Theatre Foundation’s preview of Six: The Musical, they say their jeweled purple-and-emerald-lace jackets complemented the costumes of some of the actresses.
The walk-in closet, the pair say, has made wardrobe planning easier. The pièce de résistance is the double-decker rack that holds their suit jackets—Noll’s across the top, Uclés’s below. (There were 466 at last count—but that doesn’t include any of Uclés’s regular business suits.)
Flanking those are about 250 shirts on one side and 115 pairs of shoes on the other. Opposite the jackets are some 160 vests, plus dress pants and jeans. Accessories, also on display, include 84 ascots, dozens of bow ties, 90 sets of cufflinks, plus handkerchiefs, brooches, and lapel pins.
It’s up to Uclés to make sure they don’t repeat outfits too quickly or to the same recurring event. Inside some of the pockets is a notecard that lists dates along with occasions, locations, and styling details such as paired accessories. It’s an idea Uclés borrowed from former First Lady Nancy Reagan, who he says kept index cards in the pockets of clear garment bags. For jackets that haven’t been thoroughly documented, Uclés refers back to Facebook and Instagram posts.
Some jackets predate the pair’s 16-year relationship. “Even before Tom and I became a couple, we’d independently enjoyed fashion, and we find that creative and unique fabrics and combinations of fashion are an art,” Uclés says. In the early ’90s, he notes, Noll was a window-display designer, while Uclés designed women’s wear and had a boutique on Connecticut Avenue.
We’d rather have a big, fun collection than a couple of designer labels.
But together, their wardrobe has grown. Says Uclés: “As we are not label or big designer-name followers, our collection has been curated over the years from many sources—travel internationally and in the US, local designers like Ean Williams and Larritus Jackson, and unique boutiques, stores, and online sources. I am a good and patient shopper. As you can see, we’d rather have a big, fun, and unique collection than a couple of very expensive designer labels.”
Variety, Uclés says, is the spice of life—yet, he agrees, the closet “is indeed getting full.” When events were paused during the past couple of years, they shopped to support some of their favorite outlets. As a result, they have nearly two dozen jackets yet to be worn. So for now, Uclés explains, they’ll acquire more only when it’s something they both love. In the meantime, they love giving and lending jackets to friends—a way to make space in the closet, and “spread the joy of fashion.”
This article appears in the October 2022 issue of Washingtonian.