Buying Custom Clothes03.23.11
A few years ago, I started buying custom clothes (suits and shirts). This was partly because I wanted to dress a little more sharply but also because buying well-fitting clothes can be a little difficult for me. Because of my build, I'm not a great fit for most U.S. stores / brands. Gap, Brooks Brothers, etc. are all definitely out. Their clothes are swimming on me. The best brand I've found is Theory and for more mass market stuff, Banana Republic. In general, brands that have a European cut / Italian cut are generally pretty good on me.
If you've never gone to a custom clothes maker -- it's quite an interesting experience. I've only gone to a few, but here's how it's worked for me. You get there, and there are hundreds, if not thousands of fabrics. Some are gigantic rolls of fabric whereas others are books upon books upon books of swatches. The owner then comes by and greets you and the first thing you notice is that he himself is not dressed particularly well (more on why this is important in a second.) You broadly tell him what you're looking for and he dumps off a few gigantic books of clothing swatches and you aimlessly peruse them as if that very act will somehow give you information in terms of what you should purchase. I personally found this exercise incredibly pointless. How in the world am I going to be able to determine what a suit looks like, let alone if it'll look good on me, from a 4"x6" swatch of cloth? Rather than risk having an entire suit made and flubbing this critical decision, I started dragging my female friends with me to help me pick out a "good" swatch.
I would assume that if anyone would know what I should buy, it would be the owner, right? Wrong. The response to, "What do you think I should get?" is "Whatever you'd like." Great. 4,000 choices and I can pick whatever I like? Out of a place I've been to twice in my life? Talk about the uselessness of choice.
Believe it or not, it actually gets worse. It turns out that beyond the color, pattern, and quality of the fabric, there are a whole bunch of options in terms of shirts and suits. Pockets, vents, cuffs, even type of collar -- the list goes on and on. What do I want? I have no idea! I have never spent any time thinking about these questions! And, of course, our friendly suit/shirt maker has no opinion whatsoever on these topics. (I think it's partly because he doesn't want to get blamed if the customer doesn't like what comes out -- but also because I suspect he doesn't really know. I mean, if he himself isn't dressed that nicely, why should I trust his opinion on clothes?)
By the way, prices do range quite a bit on custom clothing -- but the places I was going to typically charged $115-$145 for custom shirts and ~$950 for a custom suit. Pretty solid prices I thought. Not cheap -- definitely cheaper to buy typical off the rack stuff, but not terrible.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago. I was a conference in New York for entrepreneurial undergrads called Kairos. I was waiting with a few new friends to get some food when our friend Ricky comes up and says, "I found this great startup that makes custom suits for $450. I checked out his stuff and it looks great." Ricky himself is a successful lawyer and dresses well so as soon as I heard this, I made a bee-line over to their table. $450 for a custom suit?!
I get there and I was sold within 3 minutes. Warren (who is an ex-banker from Jeffries) started the business with another banker (who is overseeing the manufacturing in China) and his brother (who is an undergrad at Duke) -- it's called AlphaSpoke [link]. I already like where this is going -- bankers know how to dress and these guys left to start their own business.
Unfortunately there's not much to the website right now -- but hopefully soon. He then went on to explain their business philosophy -- sharp but timeless. Options but not too many. High quality. Best of all, they themselves give out advice on what they think might look good on you. (He himself was dressed impeccably.) Oh yeah, their suits are $450 (and their shirts are $75)! Sold!
The purchase process was really straightforward. Warren met my brother and I (my brother needed a suit and was so intrigued he came along). He measured both of us and let us go through their catalog on his iPad. They had an excellent and limited selection. Set number of suits, set number of shirts, set number of ties, set number of cuff links, etc. The price was set too -- so no nickel and dime-ing if you wanted things like cuffs with working buttons. At every juncture where there was a question -- I told him broadly what I wanted my suit to be like / what I wanted to convey and he made a recommendation. It was fast and super simple. (and my brother bought a suit too.)
I just got everything today. 1 suit, 3 shirts, 5 ties, 2 cuff links. I couldn't be happier. Before this, I've owned 3 custom suits (and a number of off the rack suits over the years.) As soon as I put on my new suit, my first thought was, "This is the best suit I own." Every shirt was excellent too -- I would put them against any shirt that I have. Super happy with the ties and cuff links too. One note on the ties -- they're much wider than a typical tie (certainly much wider than the ties I typically buy.) However, I think they look great.
So if you're a guy and interested in custom clothes (or frankly, even saving money in many cases on suits/shirts) -- I can't recommend these guys highly enough. Super professional, I love their stuff, I'm a huge fan of how they run their business (even how my clothes were packed reflected a great deal of care), excellent communication -- and you can't beat the prices. I plan on buying more stuff from them soon enough :) (I noticed on their website that they don't even have contact info up yet, so if you're interested in them, drop me a line and I'll put you in touch.)