I have made several references to custom suits in previous articles. They are not for everyone, both the initial cost and experience can be intimidating. What custom suits are for, are people who cannot buy off the rack and those who live outside the fashion box when it comes to size and style. My suit guy came to town this past week, I thought I would write about the experience and let you decide if that is an avenue you would like to take. This time was a little helpful as my father decided he wanted to pick up another suit.
I should start by telling you about my suit guy. Rick has been doing suits for 40 years now. He is a traveling salesman that works for Glenn’s Custom Tailors. They are a Hong Kong-based firm that has been in the business for almost 50 years. Many of their tailors are British-trained; those in the know will tell you that the Brits do suits the best. Some think it is Italians, but a British styled suit is far more timeless. I hope to someday, have a Bespoke suit from Savel Row. Until then, Glenn’s is where I will go. Rick comes to Chicago twice a year to take orders. He flies around the nation to key cities, spending two days in town taking orders.
I arrived at the hotel at my scheduled time. My dad was already there going through his choices. Numerous fabric samples cover the entire queen-sized bed. My dad was looking for a pair of pants, a blue sport coat and some shirts. In the end he chose a textured navy sport coat with a pink (bubblegum) liner. While he was finalizing his outfit I was going over shirts. I always get 4 shirts, a pair of pants and at least one suit every 6 months. I try to make make a plan of what I want to get ahead of time, this makes the process go a lot easier. Usually the plan is based on what I saw last time that I liked but really couldn’t afford to order then. Sometimes it is influenced by what I see out there. For example I saw a “clay blue” shirt that Colbert wore two weeks ago and I really liked that look. I like to go in with a plan because as you will see from pictures, there are a LOT of options. One can easily get lost in a sea of fabric. This time around I wanted a dark grey 3 piece suit, a jacket to match a pair of pants and vest I got last time. I usually go crazy on pant colors. This time was no different. My process starts with giving him an idea of the kind of fabric I want. I travel a LOT and I have to suit up a lot on the road. Knowing that I make a point to chose fabrics that travel well. I want to be able to pack a suit up, have it travel for 10 hours and be wrinkle free after I hang it up in the bathroom and take a long hot shower. So I go through the books of fabric trying to create a suit in my mind from them. My mother and friends have a hard time imagining how to piece together what suit will look like from 8 inch swaths of fabric. I don’t think it is a gift but it is a skill you can hone over time.
I narrow the suit and pant fabrics down to 5 candidates, I set them aside and start looking at shirts. I will go through a bunch of shirts. I usually imagine doing 3 professional shirts and one casual funky one. That line gets more blurred every time I visit though. After I narrow down the shirts, which is usually a far easier process, I go back to the suits. Keeping the shirts I picked in mind I look at the suits and imagine how they would look with the shirts. From there I wear them down to the final candidates. I chose to have the vest of the 3 piece to be all fabric. Many people often get vests that have a liner color in the back. I personally go for a uniform fabric though with my purple liner, that would look kind of bad ass to have in the back. I think I may try that next time. That said, at the point of going over options they may ask what kind of liner you want in the suit. If they don’t you will likely get a liner that matches the color of the suit and they are usually silk. You can pick almost any color. I have even asked for a silver or green paisley and they got something close. Don’t be afraid to go a little crazy. A liner should have a little flash to it, to catch their eye.
Options options options too many damn options! When you start to go over the options for your suit, shit gets real. Lesser men go cross-eyed thinking about what is available. Your first time you should stick with the traditional. Feel free to ask your tailor what others are doing these days or what the most common choice is. I like subtle suits, ones that draw attention to me but not from me. I want to be the well dressed man not the man who is the suit. I go with traditional 3 pockets (two hip one left pocket) with flaps on the hip. You can add pockets depending on what you are going for or how much storage capacity you expect to need. I normally go for an athletic cut on the jacket and more of a straight leg on the pant. The hip thing right now is the skinny suit. That is all well and good but look at me. At my fittest, there is nothing skinny about me. Here is also where you would pick lapel size, breasting, etc. The tailor will have a book with examples of what the options will look like. Don’t be distracted or disappointed that the book looks like it is from the 70s. Suits aren’t supposed to be too progressive, though I have been contemplating a jacket pocket for my iPad.
You will be measured next. This is very important as proper measurement will ensure that the suit hangs well on you. Be sure to have a relaxed posture, standing how you normally stand. Don’t suck in anything. If they are good, they will take several measurements, some even take photos of you to send to so the tailor can see you as more than just numbers. They will measure your neck, shoulders, arm length, chest, belly, waist, hips, seat, inseam and torso length. It also helps if you already have a suit you like to wear, to bring it with you. They will be able to ask you how you feel about cuff length, cut and feel.
The final and most painful part is paying. Usually I walk out $1500 lighter. That does sound like a lot but keep in mind I am leaving with an order for 2 suits, a pair of pants and 5 shirts. It is very comparable to what you would spend at a Men’s Warehouse but the difference is, better fabrics and the suit is made just for you. Four to five weeks later your suits arrive. Hang them up and/or steam them, leave them hanging for a day, and then let the compliments from your wife roll in. I have had a few married friends whom, after their first suit, the wife suggested upping the budget the next time the suit man came back.
If you have any other questions or would like to get into contact with my tailor please feel free to contact me.
About the Author: Tom is a director of IT for a financial start-up. He spends his days designing infrastructure and supporting high net worth advisers and their clients. Traveling much for work affords him a great perspective on life and what is important. The high travel has ensured that he goes on a lot of first and second dates. Mel Brooks honed his humor. Johnny Carson, Cee-lo, and Groucho Marx are some of his inspirations.