THE BLOG
12/20/2014 09:06 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Men's Tailoring: Your Expensive But Outdated Suits And Coats Resurrected


Let's talk men's tailoring, shall we?

Don't dismiss those hand picked pieces of couture-quality clothing jewels in your closet just yet! Are your high-end, trophy clothes of seasons past completely irrelevant in today's male fashion market? Women have complained for years about seasonal clothes becoming un-wearable. Hemlines go up three inches while pant legs go from flared to pegged in the span of one runway show.

Historically, men's clothes never really changed that rapidly in regard to fit. Noticing my "over there" closet section was getting bigger, I knew something had to be done. Those one-of-a-kind Giorgio Armani rare linen jean slacks with the wide legs screamed money, money, money. Or at least finger-on-the-pulse at one time in fashion history. And the snappy blue blazer that once seem "tailored" at crotch-length now felt four inches too long, never to be worn again.

What about that purple label Prince of Wales check shirt with rare plum hue? It also was considered "fitted" half a decade ago. Now? It has two inches of fabric on both sides of my ribcage and rests inches above my knees. Each year thereafter, a fitted shirt design may not only fit great, designers continue to size down in inches at every possible point on the body--every year. The length hovers below the waistline and has little to no extra fabric at the lower back. The sleeve length is shorter and more tapered to the arms. The side tapers are more hourglass and hug the body. I thought boys turned into men. It appears our clothes are we're headed for the reverse!

Don't get me wrong -- I'm not complaining at all. In fact, I love the updated, compact clothing craze. Although I haven't polled much taller, broader men, I've noticed the XL sizes on the rack are still rather small (short and fitted). Because I've accidentally picked them up, thinking they could fit. Now you can wear many of today's "regular cut" shirts and jackets without looking like you're wearing your older brother's clothes, having much less excess fabric to contend with. But you're probably not trying to hide it like Houdini; the fabric.

What I like about new fashion (or sizing) is that I no longer have to tuck what seems like a roll of paper towels into my underwear to keep my shirt from ballooning. Nor do I have to exercise origami with do-it-yourself darts on the lower back of my shirts. I can now wear my (new petite) shirt out and still look "not disrespectful".

The real question is, what do we do with those $2,000 overcoats that look like refrigerator covers? Well, even if you acquired it at a Barney's clearance sale, chances are you still want to wear it. Or what about that jacket that fits amazing in the arms, armpits and chest--but it's just seven inches too long and three inches too wide (on both sides)? Alter it! Men's coats and jackets are quite fitted now. More hourglass shaped and much shorter, often above the knee.

Not all pieces are worth reconstructing (tailors really vary in pricing), but a good tailor will help you through this if they have an eye for fashion. Or fit. Or rare fabrics. If you're like me, this may have been on the backburner for some time. I also counted nearly 40 really nice shirts in my closet's Siberia that could all use darts, they were so big. Or is it the "skinny" cut khakis that aren't allowing the extra handfuls of fabric? Both, really.

I've used tailors for many articles of clothing. But if you're like me, you don't just take your high-end pieces anywhere. So I'm walking up Fifth Avenue in New York City when I look up to see a very tasteful tailoring boutique in a beautiful building. Big windows. Private. This is when I love an iPhone. "Wilfred's Tailors". Snapped a picture of the signage. Google'd them and found lots of "best of" accolades including from several national men's fashion magazines.

Months go by. After all, it's spring and I have to haul all these misfit clothes. So when I arrive after Labor Day, not only was I welcomed, Wilfred and his staff were excited about the challenge. Here was the task: A camel color opera coat with red satin lining--a real "mogul coat" as my friends like to say. It was a cherished gift from an Austrian royal, handmade by Turnbull & Asser in England. Also in dire need was an Armani Collezione silk summer suit. Beautiful? Yes. But shabby chic in Miami Beach, circa 2006, meant you were not only swimming in pools, but also surfing in your suits. I was a little embarrassed. But how many true "summer suits" do most of us have? Exactly.

This many cuts in a garment is more like a transformative surgery. My thought bubble: The tailor's staff must be having an eye-roll, belly-laughing hey-day! Instead, they were very courteous. Upon meeting Wilfred, I knew immediately I was in good hands. Check that--great hands. He's kind, respectful and confident in his craft and abilities. When he pulled up the shoulders of my Armani jacket four inches like a doorman behind the velvet rope, I knew he knew what to do. "See how well this is already fitting?" says Wilfred with a smile. I'm thinking, "How did I ever wear this suit?" A Valentino version of Edward Scissorhands came to mind. For starters, my summer suit was too wide and too long with a droopy crotch. The lapels, the shoulder padding and the pleats in the pants--all of it, was just so wrong. By 2015 runway standards, this was a stodgy nightmare. And it really aged me, to boot.

Now, the mogul coat: A total redesign! We went from a huge, floor-length, tied-at-the-waist overcoat (that looked more like a DVF wrap-blanket) to a centered, three-button, cinched at the waist masterpiece. The lapels were minimalized, while the new sewn-in belt gave substance and shape to the back and sides. The length was shortened from below the ankles to just below the knee, making it more practical and comfortable--less of an occasional, formal coat and more of a sophisticated, every day executive image. Honestly, he must have removed more than a square yard-and-a-half of fabric. Finally, my museum piece morphed into an elegant coat I could actually use--frequently.

Was I happy? Yes. Elated! In short, certain pieces require a couple fittings and you must have patience if you want to salvage your expensive clothing. In this case, $7,000 worth of patience -- as my budget didn't include clothes shopping. Ultimately, I was walking tall in garments that were resurrected beautifully. They fit my body perfectly, looked current and appeared even more expensive. So, next time you're editing your wardrobe be thoughtful when deciding what goes in the trash, what gets donated and what gets recycled. There may be more life left in your well-made clothing items from seasons (or decades) past. Thank you, Wilfred's Tailors.

Now, if "custom tailoring," "made-to-measure" or "bespoke" send you in the opposite direction, I urge you to think again. With personalized, made-to-order clothing becoming more commonplace, the pricing has subsequently become much more affordable. Perhaps you'll have to shop it out a bit or take advantage of introductory pricing with an emerging designer or brand, but the truth is, sometimes buying off the rack is more expensive -- often, much more. And the fit will likely require tailoring of the sides, cuffs and length. Yes, having your forms, patterns and sizing already pre-formatted means you can adjust your wardrobe (and add to it) at a moment's notice while keeping up with seasonal shapes and colors. Collaborating on the same floor as Wilfred's Tailor is Kamaal Kadri. Aside from being a gifted clothing designer, he's globally fluent in men's fashion. A brief conversation with Kamaal and you'll realize he could quote every tidbit of shape, length or seasonal "it" color from every menswear collection dating to the last century. Beginning his career in his father's bespoke menswear shop in Bombay, India, Kamaal's passion for custom clothing runs in his veins and family heritage. After graduating from the prestigious Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in Manhattan and stints with Kenneth Cole and Michael Kors, Kamaal revels in shaping signature styles -- your bespoke style.

Initially, my mind was closed to the idea (the cost) of opting in to bespoke shirts, shoes, jackets and suits. While many are still coming out of the financial crisis of the past decade, I too spend nowhere near what I used to on signature garments. But even today a good suit on clearance can cost $400 to $1,000 or more. I know, because I perpetually keep an eye out. Then Kamaal explained the pricing and I was pleasantly surprised. With custom shirts using top-shelf cottons starting at $135 and entry-level suits from $850-$1,250, I felt I was at or below the upscale department store price range, considering the time and costs further alterations and the running around from store to store or online retailer entails. Plus, once you see what a bespoke designer can do for you and your image, you'll suddenly understand the value of clothes that fit great and stand out -- even if you wear less outfits. This is where your shoes, belts, ties and cufflinks help the several looks pop. Suit jackets can morph with jeans when you remove a tie and go hipster with shoes.

Details such as sewn-in pocket squares (which can also tuck away), collar linings, notched lapels (special button holes), special linings and colored contrast holes on sleeves are the options that make your fitted clothing say made-to-order. Or go hi-tech with an additional media pocket that fits your mobile device. What I can say about fitted clothes is you simply feel good, can move freely and just evoke an inner confidence. I wore three custom shirts for two years before I said "enough of this..." So maybe your entire wardrobe won't be fitted to your body, but having your form measurements on file gives you that extra edge. If price is a concern, convey your wishes and talk to your bespoke tailor about the big picture of your wardrobe. They'll probably work with you on packaging pieces and price schedules if you're mapping out your custom collection. Even if it's a few custom garments at a time. Mark my words, the day will come when you will see your tailor and say "make me a suit." And that'll be a very good day indeed.

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