Black Lapel Custom Clothiers was one of the earlier and more refined entrants in a now crowded field of digital custom suiting. As you refresh your 2021 back-to-work and wedding wardrobes, consider this review of Black Lapel’s made-to-measure suits based on my experience wearing 6 of their custom garments over more than 8 years.
I first met Black Lapel co-founders Derek Tian and Warren Liao way back in 2012.
Since then, I’ve had the chance to road test a number of Black Lapel’s MTM suits, from a brown and blue plaid suit for winter to a light gray fresco suit for summer, plus a couple of all-season greys and a fantastic light charcoal blue suit that has become one of my favorites.
This post explores Black Lapel’s mission, reviews my experiences over the years with the brand and assesses how their made-to-measure suits have held up over, in some cases, more than 6 years of wear.
Before I begin, in full disclosure, Black Lapel has provided 2 suits at no cost to Modern Fellows over the years for the purposes of reviews. As noted below, I have bought others with my own money.
If you would like to try a suit yourself, follow this link for an exclusive discount of $50 off your first custom suit from Black Lapel using code FTOMODERN.
This post was first written in 2013 and was last updated in January 2021.
This aims to be a comprehensive article, so use the guide below to navigate your way to find the information you need.
What is Black Lapel?
Black Lapel is a made-to-measure tailor headquartered in New York that sells custom suits, apparel and accessories for men online.
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 $499.
(When I first reviewed the company in 2013, their suits started at $450. After six years and a series of tariffs imposed by President Trump, it’s no surprise their entry price-point has risen slightly. I’m impressed they have been able to keep costs down in light of global supply chain challenges.)
Along with other men’s clothing companies like Alton Lane, Hall Madden, Indochino, Lanieri, and Proper Cloth, Black Lapel helped make made-to-measure accessible to a new generation of men, adding to the increasingly wide spectrum of bespoke suit options.
When I first met Derek and Warren back in 2012, I had just launched Modern Fellows.
My interview with Warren was one of the first serious pieces I wrote profiling an entrepreneur who I saw developing a new, innovative brand helping men dress sharp.
He described Black Lapel’s mission to me at the time:
From the beginning, and what we stand by now, is that we are making suits that are designer brand quality at half-to-a-third of the price. Our fabrics are just as good as anyone’s – say a Brooks Brothers 1818. It’s the same quality of fabric, and our construction is a standard half-canvas suit. These are things we are never going to sacrifice on.https://www.modernfellows.com/black-lapel-interview/
I was also struck by what Warren told me about his startup journey:
For me, I could never find clothing that fitted me the way I liked. I have an athletic build and could never find anything off the rack that fit me the way that I wanted. At the time, there weren’t any good options that fulfilled three criteria – fit, accessibility and quality. No one company fulfilled all three things. This was back in 2008 and 2009. It’s crazy how fast men’s clothing and blogging has taken off since then. There were very few companies out there doing this. I started getting together with my business partner to think about how we could make this work.https://www.modernfellows.com/black-lapel-interview/
Black Lapel was one of the early innovators engaged in the direct to consumer men’s apparel space, which has since blossomed to include dozens (and dozens) of exciting menswear startups that can transform a man’s wardrobe.
Fast forward to today and the company has tailored clothing for men across more than sixty countries.
One attribute I really admire about Warren and Derek is their commitment to keep innovating and testing to improve the customer experience and deliver value.
I had a chance to visit with Derek at Black Lapel’s showroom in 2018. He talked about finding ways to serve their customers in a more comprehensive way, including through partnerships with other innovative brands like Quero, which makes stunning handmade-in-Spain dress shoes including the ones pictured below.
Their focus on iterative innovation to serve customers also led them to develop small batch summer cotton suiting and blazers for fall and winter and to test out and improve upon new product lines like winter topcoats.
In addition to made-to-measure suits, Black Lapel is a great option for affordable online custom dress shirts.
Black Lapel, like many other small businesses, has faced significant challenges because of the COVID-19 pandemic. I had a chance to catch up with Derek, who described the “significant headwinds” that Black Lapel is facing given that weddings and office work have been curtailed dramatically since March 2020.
How much do Black Lapel suits cost?
Black Lapel suits cost between $499 and $1,099 depending on the fabric and features.
Does Black Lapel ever have sales?
Black Lapel emphasizes that its prices are always low and does not regularly hold sales, though the company occasionally provides incentives. For example, during Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales in 2018, Black Lapel offered a free shirt and accessory with the purchase of qualifying suits.
In addition, in October 2019 and September 2018, Black Lapel held an annual “3for2” shirt sale, offering “buy two get one free” shirts.
Does Black Lapel offer coupons or discount codes?
Modern Fellows’ readers can get a discount of $50 off their first custom suit from Black Lapel Custom Clothiers using code FTOMODERN.
Where are Black Lapel’s suits made?
Black Lapel’s suits are made in Shanghai, China. Founder Warren Liao told me in 2012 that, “there is a huge range of quality that comes out of China, but we can get really good quality.”
How to Order a Black Lapel Suit
There are two ways to order a Black Lapel suit. The overwhelming majority of customers will discover the brand online and order via Black Lapel’s website. However, if you live in or visit New York, you can also visit the Black Lapel showroom in Manhattan.
Ordering a suit from Black Lapel Online
In my experience, ordering a suit from Black Lapel online is pleasant and not particularly difficult; but, it requires setting aside some time and care to make sure your measurements and details are correct.
- Choose a suit first. You can browse from a number of different fabrics and colors. Black Lapel does a good job showing closeups of the fabric and describing its weight and seasonality.
- Once you’ve chosen a suit, Black Lapel’s online customization tool 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.
- Finally, get measured up. For this step, customers need a friend, to wear a well-fitting suit and shirt, measuring tape and about 15 minutes of time. You and your friend start by taking around 14 different self-measurements (neck, jacket length, chest, stomach, shoulders, bicep, wrist, rise, etc.) and enter the results to build an online profile.
Visit the Black Lapel Showroom in New York City
Alternately, those who live in or plan to visit New York can visit Black Lapel’s showroom located at 10 E 38th St, New York, NY 10016.
The nice thing about going to the showroom is you have a chance to meet the team, see and touch their fabrics up close, and communicate clearly your fit and style preferences.
If you would prefer to visit Black Lapel in person, head over to their website to schedule an appointment. During your visit, a member of their team will take measurements and provide fabric samples. (This is the route I took during a long-ago trip to New York City.)
I had a chance to snap some photographs as Black Lapel began tricking out their showroom during a visit to New York City. Take a look inside at the showroom’s setup for more pictures.
Understanding Black Lapel’s suit construction and details
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), for my first Black Lapel suit, I opted for a tailored fit charcoal herringbone two-button model with flat front pants without cuffs.
Reviewing how my Black Lapel suits have held up over the years
I own five suits from Black Lapel: a charcoal herringbone suit obtained in 2012, a charcoal blue suit (2013), a brown-and-blue grid wool suit (2014), a cool gray suit (2016), and a light gray fresco suit (2017).
Reviewing my first Black Lapel suit (2012)
When I obtained that first black herringbone suit, these were my initial reactions at the time to the experience:
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 felt 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. (I’ll go into more detail below about my experience with the Black Lapel concierge, who helped me things right.)
Over the years, Black Lapel’s charcoal suit hasn’t been part of my heavy rotation. I wind up wearing it about once a month. I still love the way it fits and feels (and am thankful that I can still fit into it). I’ve realized, though, that I reach for suits in a lighter grey or shade of blue more regularly. As a result, it’s held up exceptionally well over the years. The suit jacket and pants show no signs of wear or fading, and I can count on it when I need a darker shade for serious meetings or special occasions.
Reviewing Black Lapel’s charcoal brown suit with blue overcheck (2014)
In 2014, Black Lapel invited me to review a suit out of their then-new fall collection. I appreciate that Black Lapel experiments with new suiting fabrics and other clothing options multiple times a year, which helps keep the brand fresh. In 2014, Black Lapel’s fall line featured an interesting gray suit with a great purple windowpane and a blue-gray suit in a birdseye weave.
Black Lapel also debuted an outstanding charcoal brown suit with blue over-check, which is still available as of this writing.
At the time, in my review of my new Black Lapel charcoal brown suit, I wrote about my initial impressions of the suit:
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.https://www.modernfellows.com/black-lapel-suit-review-2014/
Having had a couple of years of experience, I’ve found that the fabric is noticeably heavier than the traditional, lightweight, all-weather suits that I tend to prefer. But when fall starts knocking, I pull this suit out from the back of my closet.
The heavier fabric gives the suit more structure, and it falls well on my frame. I love being able to break this suit out for fall and winter.
It’s not a workhorse in the same way as my cool gray suit or charcoal light blue suit (see more on those below), but it’s a great 3rd or 4th suit to purchase to start diversifying into different colors and into winter weather suits.
Reviewing Black Lapel’s cool gray suit (2016)
At a conference in 2015, my favorite grey suit from Hugo Boss ripped badly. I wore that thing everywhere and needed a new one, so I turned to Black Lapel. I was so impressed with my first suit (which, remember, I got for free) that I paid for this one out of my own pocket.
Three weeks after I placed the order, my new grey suit arrived on my doorstep. The great thing about this suit was that, because I already had perfected my measurements and fit preferences the last time around, ordering this second suit was a breeze.
I wrote in that earlier review of the cool gray suit that,
The thing about a suit is that it should instill in you a confidence that enables you to project your best self. It plays a particularly important role in your wardrobe and no more so than when you have to get up in front of a room full of people you don’t know to present or go on a big job interview.https://www.modernfellows.com/essential-gray-suit-from-black-lapel/
This cool gray suit has been in heavy rotation in my wardrobe since it arrived. Of my 4 Black Lapel suits, it’s also the suit that has seen the heaviest wear.
The suit jacket has held up just fine, showing very few signs of distress. I wore through my first pair of pants, however.
Small tears began to form on the seams of my pockets, caused by the fact that I keep my wallet, phone and keys in my front pockets. The fact that I wore this suit so much meant that the wear was more frequent and became more pronounced than in other suits I own. (This wear along the pocket edges is evident on other suits I own from other brands.)
One nice thing about Black Lapel is that you can order a second pair of trousers with a suit for a reasonable charge. If you are buying a suit that you plan to put into heavy rotation, I suggest you consider investing in a second pair of pants.
Another great thing about Black Lapel is that they keep their everyday suits in stock over long periods of time. That same cool gray suit that I ordered in 2016 is still available on their website as I write this in 2019, and you can order a separate pair of pants if you need it later on.
A note about Black Lapel’s suiting fabrics
Black Lapel has mostly 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 wool.
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.
Other reviews of Black Lapel suits
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 and former New York Knick and Houston Rocket Jeremy Lin, as well as overwhelmingly positive buzz on Styleforum.net, Yelp, Askandyaboutclothes.com, and Dappered.com’s threads.
The company has also worked hard to build a reputation for providing useful advice and how-to’s on men’s style and dress through their Compass blog and social media.
This is the most important factor to consider before buying a custom suit
The most important thing you need to do before throwing down money for your first suit is to commit to put in the time and effort to ensure that the first suit fits exactly right.
Make sure to get measured correctly and then work with Black Lapel to get your measurements and fit preferences exactly right.
These two components are incredibly important and will go a long way in determining whether you are ultimately happy with the finished product.
Don’t guess at your measurements. Take this process seriously. Make sure you get someone to help.
Once you receive the suit, pay careful attention to how it fits and whether you are happy with the final product:
- Are you happy with how form fitting or relaxed the suit jacket and pants are?
- Do the shoulders of the suit jacket line up properly on your shoulders?
- Is the length of the trousers what you had in mind?
You want to invest the time to get that first suit right. Black Lapel also has a tremendous incentive to invest their time in helping you get that first suit fitting perfectly. Ordering the second and third and forth suits is an absolute breeze, but you’re only going to do that if you fall in love with that first one.
If you’re not willing to dedicate that time and effort, you’re probably better off going to a brick-and-mortar store to get measured up for a made-to-measure or off-the-rack suit and have it tailored in the store. Take a look at Modern Fellows’ comprehensive guide to bespoke suiting for a range of in-person bespoke and made-to-measure options including Brooks Brothers, Cad and the Dandy, Knot Standard, and Suit Supply.
Should you buy a Black Lapel suit?
I can’t tell you what to do. But I will say that all of my Black Lapel suits have held up well over the years.
In particular, I have relied on my light charcoal blue suit and cool gray suit heavily over many years.
They have been part of my work uniform, as well as vacations and visits to restaurants, bars and friends’ houses.
When I’m reaching for a suit to pack on a work trip or for an important meeting, at least half the time, I pull a Black Lapel suit out of the closet.
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 has fulfilled that promise several times over and produced suits that feel complete, personal, and like a suit ought to fit — much more than the sum of its parts.
Pin Me Please: Reviewing My Black Lapel Suits after 8 Years
If you’ve enjoyed reading this article, I hope you’ll consider pinning the image below or sharing via your favorite social network. Thanks for your support.
What has your experience been with Black Lapel?
Leave your views in the comments. Thanks for reading!
About JakeJake is passionate about exploring entrepreneurs' global journeys. He founded Modern Fellows in 2012 to get to know the entrepreneurs behind the innovative brands helping men dress sharp in the digital age. Jake has written about entrepreneurship, international business and/or fashion for outlets including Business Week, Forbes, Inc., Details Style Syndicate and Primer Magazine, and has provided analysis on international business for BBC Radio, NBC News, CNN and Time Magazine.
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