My fiancée, Deanne, and I had a fun agreement: if she could be adorned in a lovely, custom wedding gown, then I, too, could have the same unique experience and order a custom wedding suit perfectly designed to me.
Choosing My First Tailor
I always knew I wanted to wear a suit on my wedding day, but I dreaded the thought of shopping the cluttered aisles of shoulder-pad laden, one-type-fits-most women’s suits at the mall. Custom suit shops are generally geared to the guys, and even well known menswear stores aren’t keen on custom fitting for female clients. To say I was dreading the experience of searching for a unisex-friendly tailor was putting it lightly.
It wasn’t until I discovered a growing movement of #dapper hashtags on Instagram highlighting uniquely-styled, authentically dapper women and gender-nonconforming people of all shapes and sizes decked out in custom menswear. One Brooklyn-based bespoke shop kept popping up in my feed, Bindle & Keep. And after a bit of research, I discovered that business partners Daniel Friedman and Rae Tutera had worked hard to create a safe space for people like me to experience bespoke suiting, specializing in what they call men and womenswear.
The motto on Bindle and Keep’s website really resonated with me. “A bespoke suit is a self-portrait in fabric, a studied collaboration between client and tailor that results in a singularly personal garment calibrated for life’s momentous occasions.”
10 Months Out: Style Search
I immediately booked my appointment, about 10 months out from our selected wedding date. As an androgynous woman, I knew I wanted a suit that fit more like it would on a man’s body than it would on a woman, deemphasizing curves—think more like Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and less Diane Keaton. I scoured the internet for suiting styles that felt like me, and saved my favorites in a folder to show the tailor.
There’s a ton of variation in lapel style, pocket style, buttons, trim, fabric, and thread colors—and it’s all part of the grand decision to curate the greatest garment for yourself. Knowing my own personal style, and the color palette of our wedding, I decided on a navy, three-piece suit.
Six Months Out: Face-to-Face With Fabric
About halfway to our wedding day, I journeyed to Brooklyn, NY, with my best friend Tamara in tow, for my first in-person tailor meeting, where we talked style, design, timeline and measurements. We arrived about 10 minutes early and were immediately greeted by Rae Tutera, advocate, partner and tailor at Bindle & Keep, in the cozy, brick-walled urban space, lined with freshly-made suits hanging from rolling garment racks. We all sat down at a long, rustic wooden table in front of large pane windows that let in all the natural light.
Stacked and strewn across the table were about a dozen book-bound fabric swatches. Lucky for me, I came prepared with pictures from my research and knew exactly what I wanted—a navy, three-piece suit. We pushed aside more than half the fabric books, narrowing the navy down by worsted wool. There are so many different types of wool, with worsted wool being stronger, finer and smoother, and typically associated with nice suits. A good rule of thumb is typically the higher the number, the narrower the fiber of wool, ranging from luxury super 100s and Italian two-ply wool, to premium super 160s, cashmere or tweed. I selected the premium super 160s for a softer, nicer sheen.
I flipped through dozens of different navy fabrics, and it just so happened that one of my top five fabrics was actually being worn in-person by one of the tailors that day. He casually popped over and told me to take his jacket to the mirror and slip it on. It was one of those touches that made the experience feel even more special, and a little bit like fate. The color was perfect.
For folks like me, who prefer clothing to fit a little more gender-neutral, button-down shirts can be a real challenge, as most women’s button-downs aren’t offered in fine cotton, don’t have appropriate collar lengths to fit the neck properly, and tend to be one-size-fits all. Men’s shirts usually have no room for hips, even little ones, and tend to be very long in overall length and collar size. Surprisingly, choosing the color, collar style, cuff type, and buttons for my custom button-down shirt was one of the most fulfilling, and one might argue validating, parts of this whole experience.
The Measurements: Don’t Suck In
Perhaps the most important part of the appointment is being measured. Instructed in advance to wear a pair of pants and shirt that I felt fit me just the way I like had already made me feel more comfortable. Rae took out a clothing tape measure and began to precisely measure and re-measure my arm-length, leg-length, torso, mid-section, and so on, marking down the numbers on a piece of paper. The best part was when they asked me to “make a muscle” and they literally measured the diameters of my biceps. They did this with my calves and thighs, too. And even if you’re scrawny, the experience kind of makes you feel like The Incredible Hulk for a moment.
The measurements are gathered again by another tailor to ensure accuracy and listed on the same paper with all the other selections made. It can take around three-to-five months for a custom suit to be created, from trimming fabric to sewing on the buttons. My next appointment for the fitting wouldn’t be until about three months before the wedding.
Workouts and Wingtips
If you’re several months out from the big day, remember that working out can slightly alter your measurements. Depending on the types of exercises and dieting you are doing, six months of a regular workout routine can really make a difference in overall fit. So, give your tailor the heads up while being measured so they can plan accordingly and you can plan ahead for alteration timing if needed.
Bring along the shoes you plan to wear on your big day. This will help to ensure the pant length measurements are correct, so they don’t “high water” or bunch excessively at the top of your shoes. It also helps to place the shoe by the chosen color swatch to ensure they pair well together. This works for guys and gals alike.
Three Months Out: The Fitting
I received an email that read, “Your Suit is Ready!” so I booked a trip back to Brooklyn for my fitting, but this time with my core group: my sister, Rebecca, my best friend, Tamara, and other pal, Lindsay. Across the room, perfectly draped on a fancy, wooden hanger was my bespoke, navy-blue, three-piece suit with white button-down shirt. A little handwritten tag dangled from one of the buttons that read Rachael 5676. That number signified how many suits were custom-made by Bindle & Keep, and my suit was the 5,676th.
Instructed to try on the pants, shirt and waistcoat first, I stepped into the dressing area and slipped on the pants leg-by-leg, then the button-down shirt, and then the waistcoat. I made sure to leave the last button on the waistcoat unbuttoned, as that’s a vest fashion rule. Then I slipped my hand through the silk-lined sleeve opening of my navy jacket. It was magical.
I stepped out and heard, “It looks just like you.” And I totally agreed.
With only a few minor tweaks needed to the pants and the jacket, my suit alterations were made and it arrived perfectly via mail about three weeks before our wedding date.
Having a custom suit made is truly a charming experience. It really helped me to reflect my unique diversity through fashion, and to materialize a dream into reality. The more the dapper womenswear movement becomes a norm, the more economical and attainable these options will become for all types of people, all kinds of bodies, and all kinds of occasions.