Nowhere has the internet-driven democratization of men’s fashion been more apparent than in custom tailoring. Once reserved for Wall Street bankers, c-suite businessmen or those willing to put up with a great deal of effort and uncertainty to navigate international transactions with foreign tailors, it is now possible to find reasonable-quality made-to-measure shirting for $100 or less and suiting from around $500.
Between New York and DC alone, Alexander West, Alton Lane, The Tailored Man, and VM Clothiers are just a few of the options available. Around the country, sites such as Black Lapel, Indochino, mytailor.com, Proper Cloth and Ratio Clothing allow you to take your own measurements and design a shirt or suit online without visiting a shop. For those with slightly deeper pockets, startups such as Michael Andrews Bespoke and established retailers such as Brooks Brothers, Geoffrey Lewis Ltd., Hickey Freeman and Nordstrom variously offer made-to-measure and fully bespoke options that are competitively-priced.
Modern Fellows’ Affordable Custom project is an effort to highlight a range of online and in-person options for affordable custom clothing and to get to know the entrepreneurs behind the brands. Periodically, MF will report on experiences with custom clothing retailers.
Modern Fellows maintains a directory of where to buy custom suits and dress shirts online.
You don’t think much about a tailor until you need one. When that moment comes, it can be a little anxiety-inducing. Can the dry cleaner down the street do it? Would it be better to search Yelp reviews and blog posts for a dedicated tailor? How do I know if they are ripping me off? At least, these are some of the concerns that have swirled around my head from time to time as I thought about where to take that custom suit jacket whose sleeves were too long, that tie that needed to be shortened, or those pants that needed to be let out. I have never frequented the tailor as much as I have in the three years that Modern Fellows has existed. For most of that time, those trips to the tailor produced some anxiety — about craftsmanship, knowledge of the garments they were hacking up, their bedside manner, their proximity to home or work and turnaround time. Here’s what I’ve learned along the way — 1. Don’t trust the local dry cleaner: While dry cleaners are capable of sewing buttons or raising or lowering a hem, most are not experts in men’s suiting. If you need a jacket’s sleeves raised or lowered, the seat of your pants taken out, or anything more complicated like reconstructing the shoulders or length of a jacket, find a dedicated tailor who has experience with men’s clothing. 2. Think convenience: This took me a long time to appreciate. I identified a great tailor — Stephen the Tailor — in Foggy Bottom in downtown Washington, DC. I’m a creature of habit, and they did a good job, so I went with what I knew. Trouble was their location is just far enough from work and home to be inconvenient. The lack of proximity made me less likely to use the tailor and persist with slightly ill-fitting clothing. 3. Get comfortable with one: Try a few, but stick with one. There is scale to sticking with one tailor. He or she gets to know you, so you don’t have to constantly repeat your preferences. You may earn a loyalty discount. So who do I use? Last year, a new shop opened in Tenleytown in Northwest Washington, DC. Tucked between high-end restaurant Matisse and Pete’s Apizza on Wisconsin Avenue, Louice Custom Tailors, run by Master Tailor James Jang, has been a welcome addition to the neighborhood. (See Louice Custom Tailors Yelp reviews here.) James has been in the business for four decades and sells his own line of custom suits and shirts, which are tailored in South Korea. Is he the cheapest? No, but you get what you pay for. Also, while his prices may not be rock bottom, he occasionally handles small jobs — a pants hem here, shortening a tie there — for free (and, in some cases, while you wait). He also has the expertise to...read more
Information overload is a constant challenge in the digital age. Blogs — including this one — review product after product, store after store, and the posts just keep coming. So who are our favorites? Here’s a list of 13 of the best sites we’ve found to shop for menswear. 1. Ledbury Richmond-based Ledbury offers an amazing selection of off-the-rack dress and business casual shirts. While their basic whites and blues are terrific, their bolder patterns and colors — oranges, yellows, greens and purples in glen plaids, checks and stripes — really stand out and help men stand out from the everyday. 2. Proper Cloth Proper Cloth offers made-to-measure shirting online and via a showroom in New York. Their photos pull you in, and the fabrics, customer service and enthusiasm and execution should make you stick around. The photos, descriptions, and online community that the company has built up help to convey a ton of useful information about Proper Cloth’s shirts and help diminish the uncertainty of buying online. Most importantly, it’s easy to perfect the fit, the fabrics are amazing, and their customer service guarantee is solid. 3. Black Lapel 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. Online custom tailor Black Lapel produces suits that feel complete, personal, and like a suit ought to fit — much more than the sum of its parts. For $500, these suits are a tremendous value. 4. Knot Standard Knot Standard feels like a classic tailor updated for the digital age. While you’d have to pay multiple thousands of dollars for a bespoke experience on Savile Row, the style consultants at Knot Standard’s showrooms around the United States make you feel like million bucks while translating your measurements into an online digital profile that offers as close to a true bespoke experience as is possible at a price point that begins well below $1,000. 5. Proper Suit PROPERSUIT offers an impressive combination of fabrics, finishes and customization via their showrooms in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Portland and San Francisco, and their fully-canvassed, soft-shoulder suit feels and looks remarkable and fit extremely well following a couple of minor touch ups. At $850 and up, these aren’t entry-level prices, but if you have the means, these suits compete with off-the-rack offerings that can run much higher. 6. Sam Hober In an era where U.S. consumers have been spoiled by free shipping and unconditional satisfaction guaranteed promises on e-commerce purchases, Sam Hober’s policies and approach are old-school, but their ties are amazing. Their grenadine ties — in a variety of weaves and colors — are particularly impressive, and it’s nice to be able to custom order a tie in your preferred width and length. 7. Unsimply Stitched LA-based Unsimply Stitched offers customers a...read more
Online custom tailors are everywhere, but how many can boast a pure Italian pedigree and the backing of a centuries-old fabric mill? Menswear startup Lanieri delivers made-to-measure suits and shirts crafted by Italian tailors using high-end Made-in-Italy fabrics. Modern Fellows caught up with Lanieri co-founder Riccardo Schiavotto to go behind the brand. Schiavotto, who used to work as a consultant, had to wear a suit everyday to work. As he started looking at next steps, he saw potential to disrupt the tailoring industry. The technology involved in the manufacturing tailor-made suits had evolved — automatic cutters and more developed sewing machines — but the industry hadn’t, especially in Italy. He began studying the feasibility of selling a made to measure suits online and discovered that, while other companies were doing it, no one was manufacturing their garments in Italy. “There are so many world-class tailoring districts in Italy,” notes Schiavotto, “that find some good suppliers wasn’t difficult. All of them where enthusiastic about our idea.” So began Lanieri, which recently launched a 2015 fall/winter fabric collection. Their suit fabrics come from top Italian wool mills including Loro Piana, Vitale Barberis Canonico, Tallia di Delfino and Reda. The latter is also an investor in Lanieri, giving some tradition and corporate heft to the new venture. Reda, Schiavotto says, “shares our vision to export Italian excellence using the innovation we have developed since the foundation of the company.” Modern Fellows talked with Schiavotto to discuss the role of technology in tailoring, Italian craftsmanship and integrating online and offline experiences. Modern Fellows readers receive a discount of 20% off their first time purchase from Lanieri using code MODERNFELLOWS-20 (expires October 15, 2015). How do you differentiate yourself from the variety of other tailors out there? Simply put, we are the only company that has its entire manufacturing process in Italy. We use only the finest Italian fabric (Loro Piana, Zegna, Vitale Barberis Canonico, Reda, Ormezzano, Cerruti) and all our garments are sewn by skilled Italian artisan. Most, if not all, our suppliers are family business with several decades of experience. Some of them even centuries. (Vitale Barberis Canonico is probably the oldest wool-maker in the world, with 350 years of experience). What role does technology play in your business? It’s one of our main areas of focus. Technology is what makes this business possible, so we invest a lot of time, energy and money to create a “2.0 tailoring” experience. The main parts of our technology equation are — First, the website: We built it entirely in house, to provide the best online shopping experience. You can’t really use anything pre-made (like Magento or Prestashop), and if you rely to an external programmer he would not be able to do it, as most probably he won’t understand the product and the business (how many programmers do you know that wear tailor made suits?) Second, pictures and content: A tailor made suit,...read more
New York entrepreneurs Gage Mersereau and Matt Harpalani set out to create an online experience that removed the biggest hassles that inhibited guys from buying custom shirts online. Meet ShirtCycle, which delivers a package of three curated custom shirts monthly along with an innovative and mostly painless onboarding process for new customers. From corporate finance to custom shirting Gage and Matt met while working at Deutsche Bank, clicked, and realized that there was more to life than high finance. Matt already had one foot in the clothing industry running the well-regarded Imparali.com, a custom tailoring business he took over from his father in 2007. The two helped grow Imparali significantly, overhauling the web platform and scaling operations to reach a more geographically diverse set of customers online. (They note that global markets are important, but “New York is the market we want to own.”) In developing ShirtCycle, Gage says, “we took everything we learned about the pain points with online custom tailors – like getting alterations done locally and waiting for reimbursement, like have to measure yourself or go to a popup – and fixed it.” A hassle-free intake process Onboarding for new customers is refreshingly easy. Create an account, input a couple of off-the-rack markers such as sleeve length and neck circumference, answer a few basic questions about your personality and lifestyle, upload a photo of yourself, and ShirtCycle generates a measurement profile that is surprisingly accurate. Technology is eliminating the need for customers to take their own measurements at home, which removes a significant hurdle to ordering custom clothing online. After a customer uploads a photograph, “we use algorithms that calibrate for off-the-rack sizes, height, weight and distance” to create an initial reference point, says Gage. “Matt looks at each picture to set the measurements, so there is also a human element. He’s measured over 10,000 guys and has tons of experience to infer the sizes.” Once ShirtCycle sets the profile, Gage and Matt send out a free basic shirt to verify the fit before confirming a subscription. Curated subscription shirting The main ShirtCycle offering is a monthly subscription of three dress shirts for $250. “We hand pick each shirt and fabric to match our clients look and lifestyle,” says Gage. The company also recently launched a premium line using Thomas Mason fabrics, which runs $450 for three shirts monthly, and has also developed “sets” that include curated ties and socks. Returns and customer service Their website claims to get the fit exactly right two-thirds of the time, but Gage says that is trending towards three-quarters of the time as they learn and tweak the system. “If it’s not correct,” he adds, “there is a prepaid label in the box and we personally handle the alterations in less than 48 hours and send it back. So there’s no need to...read more
While Knot Standard has already earned a solid reputation as an online custom tailor, the company is building out a network of premium in-person showrooms around the United States. These showrooms, including one in the U Street corridor in Washington, DC, offer an expanded range of men’s suiting options, where staff excel at making you feel comfortable while still helping you branch out. Read on to find out why we think their showrooms provide the quintessential tailoring experience for the digital age. Modern Fellows’ readers receive a 15% discount online for first time customers via this link and code MODERNFELLOWS at checkout. First-time customers can also receive $250 off a blazer or suit in-store by mentioning code MODERNFELLOWS when making an appointment. Showroom versus online As Modern Fellows noted in a prior article profiling Knot Standard, The company offers two entry points for customers. Online, the company offers made-to-measure suiting via processes similar to competitors such as Black Lapel and Indochino at prices that begin at around $500. In person, where suit prices begin at just under $800, personal stylists offer a more in-depth custom experience, guiding men through measurements, a broader range of fabrics and impressive bespoke details. The goal is the same – to translate your measurements, whether input via a tailor, yourself or an impressive and surprisingly accurate 3D webcam scanner, to a digital pattern – but the experiences are somewhat different. The showroom experience offers several significant benefits that help Knot Standard shine. The first is a professional who can help get your measurements correct, talk to you about your fit and style preferences and introduce you to new wardrobe ideas. Miriam, who heads their Washington, DC effort, is a wiz at explaining the differences between full and half canvas and the interest an Italian shoulder brings to an unstructured blazer. She and her colleagues can also help you branch out from your basic greys and navys, and suggest and explain touches such as a hand-stitched working boutonniere. Second, the showroom offers a significantly expanded selection of fabrics, including a wealth of high-end material. Since they opened the showrooms in the United States, Knot Standard has become one of the biggest consumers of high-end wools from the likes of Loro Piana and Zegna, and the company carries reams of fabrics spanning a variety of price points. At the showroom, style consultants like Miriam are a significant asset. She asked about my workplace, current wardrobe and what I was looking for. But then she pushed me – gently – towards slightly edgier designs on the margins of my comfort zone. Noting that I wear suits almost exclusively, she suggested a blazer, and brought out some plaids and textured solids for me to see. Once I selected the blazer fabric, she offered a range of options for pants from cotton chinos to silvery wool trousers that offset the navy...read more
Menswear styling service Trunk Club has been quietly building out a physical presence across the United States to complement its online subscription offering. Their expansion includes a clubhouse in Washington, DC, where Modern Fellows recently caught up with their team. Founded in 2009 by Bonobos co-founder Brian Spaly and acquired by Nordstrom in the summer of 2014, the company began opening studios with their home base in Chicago. Trunk Club arrived in DC in March 2014, taking up residence on the seventh floor of an unassuming office building at 525 9th Street NW next door to a Shake Shack in Gallery Place. The studio is part office, part warehouse and part fitting room. It houses a small army of Trunk Club’s DC-based stylists while rows of high-end menswear are stacked in a dedicated space in back. For customers, though, the main feature of the studio is a series of fitting and lounge areas designed by select Trunk Club partners. In DC that includes spaces from Billy Reid and Gladson. Allison Smith, director of sales for Trunk Club’s Washington, D.C. Studio, provided a tour and some background on its operations. The process? Make an appointment online via Trunk Club’s website and come in to meet your stylist, who will have hand-picked a series of pieces — everything from button downs, knits and jeans to watches, shoes and off the rack suits — depending on the preferences and price points you convey to your stylist. In addition, the company maintains their own made-to-measure service. Fittings are taken in-house via the same appointment process, and stylists help clients comb through reams of fabric from mills in Italy and the United States. The clothing is then manufacured in Asia and delivered back to the customer in about 6 weeks. Custom shirts begin at $240, jackets at $960 and suits at $1290. On a daily basis, Trunk Club averages about 25 fittings and consulting sessions with guys. The studio also serves as a gathering place for happy hours, wedding fittings and a slew of assorted characters, including local ball players. (Washington Capitals and Redskins players, Allison said, will come in and reserve these spaces for fittings with teammates and friends.) Trunk Club’s pitch is — essentially — curated quality for busy professionals, and they are willing to bet that busy professionals will pay full retail for the experience. The clothes themselves are more STAG Austin than Nordstrom Rack, and the company takes pride at having a minimal amount of overlapping SKUs with their larger, more mainstream parent. Their website lists brands such as AG, Ben Sherman, Bespoken, Billy Reid, Bonobos, Fidelity, Life/After/Denim, Maximum Henry, Oak Street Bootmakers and Theory as examples of those that you might find in your trunk or at a clubhouse. Others, like Richmond-based Ledbury in DC and To Boot New York were in-stock at the DC clubhouse. Those brands come at a cost....read more
The calendar says spring and it is finally starting to feel like it. Time to trade heavy winter jackets and functional snow boots for new shoes and clothes. Here is what Modern Fellows is looking forward to as the weather brightens. The thing about winter is the weather often necessitates function over form. Who in their right mind would put on an unlined, patch pocket blazer (above) courtesy of Knot Standard’s new DC showroom when the thermometer is hovering around the freezing mark? Who wants to wear this amazing new pair of oxfords from the Left Shoe Company when the ground is caked with salt and pocked with slushy puddles? Now that spring has sprung, it’s easy to warm to new collections from the likes of Black Lapel, which just published a new lookbook to coincide with the release of a dapper spring/summer 2015 line that includes the blue windowpane suit with shadow check pictured above. And to Unsimply Stitched, whose President Alex Hendeles recently released a bright and cheery new line of socks for the season, including a series of interesting layered polka dot selections pictured below, which he sent along to Modern Fellows to try. Forget New Year’s resolutions. My spring resolution is to turn out some new clothes and kicks that prize form as much as function — and to write about the experiences. This post is part of a series in collaboration with Details’ new social media hub, #Mydetails. Disclosure: Modern Fellows has received merchandise at no cost from Black Lapel, Knot Standard, the Left Shoe Company and Unsimply...read more
Knot Standard feels like a classic tailor updated for the digital age. After evolving several times since it began five years ago, founders John Ballay and Matt Mueller seem to have found their groove, offering a seamless experience and quality product online and across an expanding series of showrooms scattered throughout the United States and Dubai. Modern Fellows’ readers receive a 15% discount online for first time customers via this link and code MODERNFELLOWS at checkout. First-time customers can also receive $250 off a blazer or suit in-store by mentioning code MODERN FELLOWS when making an appointment. The company offers two entry points for customers. Online, the company offers made-to-measure suiting via processes similar to competitors such as Black Lapel and Indochino at prices that begin at around $500. In person, where suit prices begin at just under $800, personal stylists offer a more in-depth custom experience, guiding men through measurements, a broader range of fabrics and impressive bespoke details. Given their recent journey, Knot Standard seems poised to take up the mantle dropped by Astor and Black when it went under – a reputation for quality fabrics and great fit stylists at a reasonable though by no means rock bottom prices. About Knot Standard Co-founded by entrepreneurs John and Matt, pictured above during an interview on ABC News’ Real Biz, Knot Standard began in Dubai, where both men were living at the time. John was selling custom cowboy boots while Matt was running a medical technology operation for a major U.S. university. The two took their made-to-measure suiting concept internationally in 2012, and went through several iterations before settling on their current model. Those early years resulted in some growing pains, which are still evident today on customer review sites like Yelp. The two have since changed their approach – now offering a simplified online custom ordering experience and a more comprehensive in-person option for those living near their network of showrooms while prioritizing stellar customer service for both – and their tailoring process. Knot Standard also offers what it calls Knot Standard Private – a business-to-business play that makes dapper uniforms that coordinate that looks similar but where each piece isn’t exactly the same. They’re outfitting sports teams, hotels and private clubs with suits, belts, ties and cufllinks. “It’s wildly successful,” Matt offered, “It’s the new letter jacket” for colleges. Ordering online at Knotstandard.com The website is the introduction to the company for most of Knot Standard’s customers. “We take a guy who is used to buying Brooks Brothers and show him the same or better fabrics and something that fits way better,” says Matt. Online, the process is straightforward for the customer but is souped up under the hood with unique technology that aims to help get the fit as close as possible to perfect. You can enter your measurements manually or via their unique...read more
Custom shirting outposts are everywhere these days, but European-headquartered Tailor4Less has been around since 2008. And while many focus on high-end fabrics and finishes with prices to match, Tailor4Less targets the basics at an affordable price point. How does their basic sub-$60 dress shirt stack up? Getting to know Tailor4Less In the summer of 2008, Tailor4Less’ CEO, Andreu Fernández, was traveling in Shanghai, where he found good quality menswear at a very reasonable price. Once back in Europe, he looked for a way to continue to buy those clothes directly. Two months and a couple of trips to China later, Tailor4Less was launched in Barcelona. Today, the company provides custom suiting and shirting for men worldwide to more than 50 countries via operations in Barcelona, Zurich and Shanghai, with prices that start at $59 for dress shirts and $269 for wool suits. Last year, Tailor4Les introduced a female line via www.sumissura.com, which they expect to grow as a percentage of overall sales over the coming year. The Experience The online experience is no-frills. Customers jump right in on the website, selecting shirt options before choosing a shirting fabric. Options are limited — Customers can choose from seven shirt collars (though two of them are the Mandarin and wingtip collars, which leaves only 5 traditional options), back pleats (none, center of side), and a standard, French or hidden placket, and can opt for a two-button collar popular in Europe. The website doesn’t offer much in the way of handholding and some of the options could use further explanation. Not everybody knows what a Kent or a rounded collar is, and even if they do, specific collar lengths can vary depending on the manufacturer. Consumers can also add a couple of customizations – such as embroidery, customizing neck and cuff options, adding elbow patches, or adding colored button holes and threads or chest pleats. Perhaps the most glaring omission in the shirt designer is the ability to choose removable collar stays over their standard sewn-in variety. Tailor4Less confirmed that removable collar stays is not an option, which is maddening. The self-measuring process, which follows the shirt designer, was easy to navigate. Customers can either have Tailor4Less estimate their measurements for them by providing a couple of basic details (height, weight, age), or enter in their own measurements in 8 steps, following detailed and helpful instructions. The Shirt Tailor4Less provided a basic white dress shirt at no cost to Modern Fellows for the purpose of a review. Like the tie? It’s from House of Ties. Importantly, Tailor4Less managed to get the shirt mostly right the first time out of the box, which some of the higher-end outfits aren’t always able to do. For $59, the shirt is decent quality and a good value. The stitching is clean and the shirt has held up to repeated laundering, though...read more
New York-based suit startup Black Lapel recently unveiled their Fall 2014 suiting fabrics and invited Modern Fellows to take a look. An outstanding contender in the world of custom suiting from the start, Black Lapel’s founders Derek Tian and Warren Liao continue to iterate on fit, fabrics, offerings and design in ways that seem deliberate and conscious of a long-term strategy. Black Lapel has been introducing handfuls of new fabrics for suits and blazers each season. Their 2014 collection features several fall-appropriate options including a new gray suit with a lively purple windowpane and a blue gray birdseye suit. The company sent along a charcoal brown suit with blue overcheck from the 2014 collection at no cost for Modern Fellows to review. The Super 110 fabric feels high-end and – though this may be my imagination — a hair weightier than their everyday suit. The overcheck is visible up close but, from far away, mostly adds texture and interest to a brown suit that is a great choice for fall and winter. The team at Black Lapel has also been iterating on the cut of the suit and the finishes. On the cut, the biggest change is improvement in the construction of the shoulder of the suit jacket, though this is something a customer would likely feel rather than see. Derek says that the new construction “has enabled us to ‘get it right’ more often on the first go rather than going through a time-consuming remake.” The shoulder changes are subtle but improve an already impressive offering. The company has also made small adjustments to their patterns based on customer experiences. Black Lapel also added some new standard options – available online during the ordering process – and series of “secret” customization options that are available to those who know to request them. One of those customization options – the barchetta chest pocket (pictured below) – is featured on this suit. If you want to know the rest, you’ll need to poke around the Internet or have a conversation with the team at Black Lapel. To go along with all of those fit, finish and fabric changes, earlier this year, Black Lapel revamped their website, creating a cleaner face for its clients that features more detailed and customer-friendly photos and zoom functions that had been lacking on the old design. Black Lapel consistently impresses with fabrics, finishes and customer service. Their 2014 fabric line — combined with the updated fit and finishes and still-stellar customer support — is no...read more