Review: The Black Lapel Custom Suit
One of earlier and more refined entrants in a now crowded field of digital custom suiting, Black Lapel has tailored clothing for men across more than sixty countries. This review of the company’s charcoal herringbone tailored fit suit is based on Modern Fellows’ experience with the company over the past several months.
Why Black Lapel
While Black Lapel did not originate the digital suit experience, founders Derek Tian and Warren Liao have helped pioneer and shape the online affordable custom tailoring market since their official launch in 2011, offering what they describe as “luxury suits designed by you” that start at around $450.
Black Lapel’s attention to construction, fit and ensuring a positive customer experience has earned them a number of happy customers, including Justin Jeffers of the Fine Young Gentleman, Adam Kornfield and former New York Knick and current Houston Rocket Jeremy Lin, as well as overwhelmingly positive buzz on Styleforum.net, Askandyaboutclothes.com, Yelp and Dappered.com’s threads. The company has also built a reputation for providing useful advice and how-to’s on men’s style and dress through their Compass blog and social media.
Black Lapel provided a suit at no cost to Modern Fellows for the purposes of a review.
The overwhelming majority of customers order via Black Lapel’s website. In the spectrum from “ease of ordering” to “attention to detail,” Black Lapel falls much closer to the latter end. You start by taking around 14 different self-measurements (neck, jacket length, chest, stomach, shoulders, bicep, wrist, rise, etc.) – some of which require the help of a partner – and enter the results into an online profile.
From there, the website portal prompts you to choose from a variety of options and finishes. Black Lapel is proud of its attention to the small details, and shines on customization. Pick stitching, functional boutonniere and working (surgeon) cuffs are all standard options. Customers also have the option of purchasing an extra pair of pants or vest, slimming their lapels, opting for a double-breasted suit, choosing from a variety of jacket and trouser pocket options, and adding a ticket pocket or contrast stitching on the boutonniere or cuff-button.
Ordering is not particularly difficult; but, it requires setting aside some time and care to make sure your measurements and details are correct.
Alternately, those who live in or plan to visit New York can contact Black Lapel to schedule an appointment, as I did, where a member of their team will take measurements and provide fabric samples.
Black Lapel’s founders pride themselves on paying attention to details — bull horn buttons, a hand-stitched boutonniere loop, hidden coin pocket, and finishes — reinforcements around the pockets, hand-stitched armholes, heel guards, pants lined to the knee, that make their suits durable and highly-customizable.
As a default option, Black Lapel’s suits are made of half-canvas construction, with a floating canvas in the most critical areas of the chest and lapels. An upgrade to a fully-canvased suit is available for $200 and adds between 1 to 2 weeks to the delivery time.
The company offers three cuts: slim, tailored and a roomier standard fit. Having seen the ultra-snug slim fit in person on the Black Lapel founders (note: it is really slim), I opted for a tailored fit charcoal herringbone two-button suit with flat front pants without cuffs.
My suit arrived, intact if a little wrinkled, about three weeks after visiting Black Lapel’s New York headquarters to get measured up in person and sort through their fabric selection.
Out of the box, in the aggregate, the suit was impressive. The Super 110 wool feels light, smooth and luxurious. The pants fit exactly how they were meant to fit – hemmed with a slight break, fitted slightly snugger than most off-the-rack slim fits, and tapered in the lower leg towards the ankle.
The jacket featured soft, natural shoulders; low-set buttonholes and appropriately (rather than uncomfortably) high armholes, all of which mostly achieved a slightly-modern-but-still-classic look, with one exception – a jacket that was noticeably, doesn’t-cover-your-rear, short. That short jacket – the result of a transcription error during the measurement process – provided a good opportunity to test out Black Lapel’s customer service.
A note about Black Lapel’s suiting fabrics
Thus far, Black Lapel has forgone name-brand Italian fabrics in favor of Italian-designed Australian wool, which is milled in China. The company tends to avoid geeking out on their website, so I asked co-founder Derek Tian to elaborate on the quality of their wools.
He indicated that fabric colors and patterns are designed in Biella, Italy, which are then milled in China using 100% Australian wool to Black Lapel’s “exacting standards in terms of weave, weight and thickness.” Black Lapel assures product quality by thoroughly vetting suppliers and conducting independent laboratory tests to verify the content and thickness of the wool and fabric content, and contends that “our luxury suiting wools are on par with the very best branded fabrics out there in terms of their quality, just minus their markups.”
Customer service, alterations policy, and reorders
Online or off, the measure of a tailor is its commitment to achieving the perfect fit. In Black Lapel’s case, the company stakes its reputation on being helpful and responsive, emphasizing that it is committed to doing what it takes to create happy customers. Its founders believe that the time and money that it takes to get the first suit right will pay dividends through future orders and positive word-of-mouth.
Their flawless fit promise outlines an industry-leading policy by which the company will provide a credit for alterations, remake the garment if it is deemed unalterable, and accept returns for full refunds on unworn and unaltered clothing. The company also offers free shipping and returns on all orders.
Armed with photos of the first suit that I had already deemed too short, I emailed their concierge – who troubleshoots and doles out advice to just about anyone who asks – to ask their impressions of the fit of the suit while indicating that I wasn’t sure about its length.
Ann, one of Black Lapel’s concierges, sent a detailed and thoughtful response that evaluated the jacket length and torso, shoulders, sleeve length and overall fit. She provided some context on jacket length (“there is certainly a range that is determined by your personal preference. A “traditional” fit jacket is a bit on the longer side – can go 2+ inches past your butt – while more “modern” jackets are a bit on the shorter side – just covering your butt or maybe even a little shorter”) and noted that my jacket appeared to be “on the more modern side of things.”
Black Lapel cut a new suit jacket for me, which they turned around in a couple of weeks. Upon receiving the jacket, I took it to my local tailor to have one additional adjustment made – to lengthen the sleeves by half-an-inch – to correct an imperfection I had overlooked in my concern over the jacket length, but which their concierge impressively flagged in her evaluation of the suit.
The result was a suit that fits extremely well. (Keep reading to the verdict for more on the fit and overall impressions.)
Black Lapel saves your most recent measurements in your password-protected profile, which makes it easy to place subsequent orders. While it would be nice to see added functionality to permit multiple measurement profiles, the company keeps a record of all measurement updates on its backend, which are accessible by emailing its concierge service.
The great danger of online suiting is that your garment winds up feeling like less than the sum of its parts; that tweaks by the company or a local tailor minimize flaws rather than perfecting the fit, leaving you with something that just doesn’t feel quite right. The great promise is that there is a company out there who can nail it, crafting a suit that – with a few adjustments here and there – fits better and is less costly than marked-up off-the-rack fashion labels. Black Lapel fulfilled that promise and produced a suit that, with some effort, feels complete, personal, and like a suit ought to fit — much more than the sum of its parts.
Charcoal herringbone suit, $499; suits from $449, shirts from $99.
How to order
Order online at www.blacklapel.com. If you live in or near Manhattan or plan to visit, you can email Black Lapel’s concierge to inquire about setting up an appointment to get measured in person by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.
White twill shirt by Black Lapel and tie by Hugo Boss