Just For You
How Custom Tailoring Is Your Secret Weapon
If you think you’re ready to go beyond off-the-rack suits, you need to know a few things, like the difference between made to measure and bespoke. And that’s just the start.
I’m really not a half-bad lawyer, but all anybody ever seems to want to talk to me about is clothes. I guess I have myself to blame, really, as I do spend a lot of time talking about clothes. Plus, when you dress stylishly, you inevitably attract that sort of attention, as people will then want your advice or your opinion. Today I want to talk about an important element of my style, which I feel is sadly underrated: tailoring.
When I say tailoring, you are probably imagining the person at the corner dry cleaner who hems your pants, but this is incorrect. What I’m talking about is two other forms of tailoring: made to measure and bespoke.
Using a suit as an example, made-to-measure tailoring involves taking a client’s measurements, then cutting (usually by machine) a suit from an existing pattern and adjusting it to the client’s measurements, with an already specified range of options and customizations to choose from.
Bespoke tailoring is much more intricate, with the suit being fully handmade, the pattern made just for the client and cut from scratch, requiring several fittings as each part is adjusted and fitted along the way. The customization options are endless.
I first got into tailoring when I was 28 and going into private practice for the first time. Until then I mostly wore suits that were off the rack, from places like Brooks Brothers. I had a rich friend at the time whose taste I greatly admired, and when I inquired, it turned out that he had his suits tailored. The differences between his suits and mine were instantly recognizable: His had interesting details, lasted a lifetime, were made of better material, were softer, fit better, and most important, they were completely unique to him. Although my accent has softened now that I’m older, I have always had a very thick New York accent, which was particularly prominent at that time, and I was worried that it made me seem like a thug. I knew that if I was dressed in the same kind of elegant suits as my friend’s, it would offset that image, as well as make me appealing to my clientele, as gangsters always admire guys with great style.
If you’re just starting your journey into tailoring, I recommend taking a friend whose style you admire to help you. Don’t be afraid to ask for direction from the tailor, either—they are always more than happy to help. I think it’s best to start with a full suit, but if you can’t swing that economically at the moment, a jacket or sports coat is an acceptable start.
An example of made-to-measure tailoring is Ralph Lauren Polo. An iconic American brand, Polo often lives up to its reputation and offers special made-to-measure orders. This allows for a lot of special details like ticket pockets, working buttonholes (I’ve never used them, but people think they’re a mark of a good suit), extra pockets inside the jacket, and pleats or flat-front pants. The shoulders are traditional soft and natural American style. They also make clothes under their pricier Purple Label, which are of custom quality with a lot of handwork.
An example of a bespoke tailor is Beckenstein’s on West 39th Street in New York City. The man who runs their tailoring operation is an eighth-generation tailor, Steven Tabak. He is so skilled at taking measurements (he has all kinds of strange tools to help him) that the clothes often fit with just one try on. Many custom tailors use a basted fitting, which is held together with loose stitches so it’s easy to take off and alter. Since Steve doesn’t need the extra steps, it saves his clients a lot of time and a lot of money. Beckenstein’s also sells men’s fabrics, which are mostly end pieces from the product lines of the best quality manufacturers in Italy and England. They sell cloth in bolts, which is a length of cloth that you can fold over your body so you can get a much better idea of how it will look on you. It is also a lot cheaper, as they buy it for less and pass the savings on to the customer. I love the buying experience there. The owner, John Boyarsky, and Steve have great senses of humor.
Another bespoke tailor is Leonard Logsdail, a top London tailor who got lost and ended up on East 53rd Street in Manhattan. The cloth for a top-quality suit is cut from a paper pattern with shears—a kind of giant scissor. Logsdail is a great cutter because he can translate the particulars of a body to a pattern. His shoulders are a little stiffer than the American look but softer than the English. His suit fronts are soft because the canvas is shaped to each individual’s body. He also uses slanted pockets on both suits and sports coats. The atmosphere is like an elite and expensive men’s club, which is sort of what it is.
There are also some terrific English tailors who mostly see customers in hotels on trans-Atlantic visits three or four times year. Since I like almost anything that happens in a hotel, it’s natural for me to use one. The one I patronize is Steven Hitchcock, whose father also made clothes for me. The son makes a style I like very much. It has a soft front, which has a little bit of a fold. The shoulder extends just past my real shoulder. The pants are cut loosely with a high waist. That emphasizes my shoulders and chest, which are good, and lessens my stomach, which is not so good. He will put cuffs on the sleeves and lapels on the vest (others will too, but not as well), and he is young and not afraid to take a risk.
Custom clothes are my hobby. It’s fun, makes you look good, and is a lot cheaper than cars, gambling, or divorces.