Pastry Post: The Lead Weights of the Suit Industry

It’s been a little while since I made my first post about suits, and I decided I would have a follow-up for that one in regards to the experience of trying to find my sartorial glory prior to posting the update to my previous post.

But before I begin, I’d like to talk a little bit about power supplies.

Stay with me. I used to work for a computer manufacturer, and one day, we were meeting with a new chassis manufacturer that would, in theory, provide us with our computer cases and the internal power supplies to go with them.

Now power supplies were (and are) an oft-overlooked piece of hardware when spec’ing out a computer build. One that can provide a steady stream of power while absorbing the occasional power spike can save your expensive investment from an early, smelly, death.

melted

“If ONLY they had spent an extra $20!”

Now it used to be (and I may be accidentally aging myself here), you could tell the quality of a power supply by how heavy it was. The heavier it was, the more capacitors, resistors, and other groovy electrical components were built in to it and it could signify a good buy.

It didn’t take the cheap, crap manufacturers long to figure this out, as evidenced by our first meeting with one of these said manufacturers.

“How much do you want the power supplies to weigh?” they asked, as if it were an obvious question. We were perplexed, because a power supply’s weight shouldn’t really be variable. It should weigh whatever it weighs.

Turns out, this manufacturer would add weights to the power supply in order to make it heavier than it originally would be, thus giving the impression of quality. We didn’t buy from them.

But as I’ve noticed, items that give the APPEARANCE of quality are rife in the custom clothing industry. And things like functional sleeve buttons are the lead weights of the fashion industry.

When Cucumber and I were suit shopping, we dropped in to a suit store in which you’ve probably heard of. It didn’t take too long to figure out that the off-the-rack section wasn’t going to work for me (as I have mentioned, off-the-rack suits and I just don’t get along), but they had a section in which you could have custom clothing made for you. Not that it was bespoke, just that it was a brick-and-mortar form of made-to-measure. Not a bad thing, as long as you accept what it is.

But the sales rep was desperate to make a sale.

The sales rep that we had talked to was a nice enough guy, but it was pretty obvious that his commission went up drastically when custom clothing was ordered, as he was fairly well pushing us that direction from the moment we walked into the store. Can’t say I blame the guy, but the tactics in which he tried to push us towards custom were just kinda slimy.

usedcarsalesman

You want a suit? I gotcha suit. Full’a canvas! N’stitching!

N‘Buttholes, aye..aye.. mean button holes!

One of the tactics he used, was in talking about how obviously high-quality the made-to-measure suits were, because they employed the use of pick-stitching in construction. Pick-stitching is (anymore) entirely decorative. It used to be that you only saw it on really high-end clothing. But like our friends who add weights to power supplies, the pick-stitch was quickly adopted by low-cost manufacturers as a way of bringing the appearance of quality to cheaper clothing.

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A stitch in time may save nine, but it ain’t fooling anyone into thinking your suit cost more than it did.

The other item he mentioned: functional button holes. I am not a fan of them. Why? Because I’m not convinced of the utility of buttons on suit sleeves in the first place. There’s some debate about the origin of buttons on suit sleeves. The most obvious (and likely correct) source of buttons on the sleeves are a vestigial form that came from the ability to adjust the garment to better suit the wearer whether it be from the owner gaining or losing weight, or simply because it’s hot or cold.

The other origin story of suit buttons involves snot, and is therefore my preferred version. The story goes that Napoleon (or Alexander the Great, or Admiral Nelson, or Wellington, or whatever historical figure you like) repeatedly saw his men wipe their noses on the section of sleeve in which we now see button holes. So disgusted was he by the lack of professionalism, that he had his men sew buttons onto that spot, making it painful to wipe one’s nose.

Now I don’t know about you, but my nose isn’t such that it can only be wiped on one small section of sleeve. Thus, like at Waterloo, Napoleon’s efforts would be for naught.

24-jacket-sleeve-buttons

“Napoleon (with stereotypical French accent): Ah hah! There is no WAY they will THINK of wiping their noses somewhere else! Now, let’s go invade Russia! There’s plenty of time before winter!”

Functional button-holes on suits, nowadays, are just another attempt at indicating quality. They don’t really offer any real adjustment – buttoning them all doesn’t reduce the size of the sleeve, and unbuttoning them just makes the sleeve split. In short, it looks awful. Worse yet, it’s advised that when you have functional sleeves, you leave 1-2 unbuttoned so that one can tell it was “custom made” (laa dee dah).

Here’s the thing I don’t like about all of this stuff – it’s an attempt to make it seem like your clothing is something that it is not. It’s an attempt to make your suit look fully bespoke (i.e. patterns made specifically for you, fully canvased, etc), and sold for a much higher price than it actually is. After having it tailored to me (which will be discussed in a future post), it looks really great. It fits well, and it will totally serve the purpose for which it is intended, at a price that was acceptable to me.

Adding pick-stitching, functional button holes, and whatever other flair you want is, to me, the same as buying a “Limited Edition” badge, and sticking it on your car.

09-1984-toyota-camry-liftback-down-on-the-junkyard-picture-courtesy-of-murilee-martin-550x412

It might be time to discuss just what exactly is “limited” on your car.

The irony of all of this? On my new suit that I ordered made for me (despite the fact that I didn’t order it this way), it came with functional button holes.

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A Pastry Post: Sartorial Suit Adventures

Pastry’s Quest for the Perfect Suit: A Guest Blog by Pastry

When Cucumber and I started our process of planning a wedding, we decided that, rather than a tuxedo, I would wear a suit. I own one already, and (because I am pretty cheap) had hoped that I might be able to skip the expense of one, and wear what I had. So with this in mind, I took it into my tailor, hoping that some minor modifications would make the suit fit me like a glove and look god-like. This was my first reality-check when it came to me and suits. Because in his (very brusque, VERY funny) way, my tailor informed me that my suit was off-the-rack and off-the-rack suits are not for me. Why?

  1. Off-the-rack suits simply look AWFUL on me. I have a very short rise in my pants (queue rimshot). Because of the way that pants sit on my waist, off-the-rack suit pants tend to sit very low and make it look like I have an obsession with an early ‘90s Hip-Hop legend.

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“A sartorial god amongst men? A role-model for today’s fashion-challenged youth? Or a victim of bad tailoring?”

Often times, an off-the-rack jacket will look fine on me, but the pants will need so much work, I might as well go custom. Additionally, in the case of suit-separates, they CAN work really well, in-theory. Calvin Klein pants in their slimmer fits (paradoxically) tend to look pretty damn good on me. Their jackets, however, are a problem, because…

  1.   If anyone were to describe me, “small” is not an adjective that would be chosen. I’m convinced that in a parallel world, I made a pretty solid defensive football player. I played for a bit as a kid, but a unfortunate formation of my ankles that made running extremely difficult and football practice miserable (I was strong as a bear, so I worked well on the line, but during practice I was consistently at the very end of the distance running game).

Plus, who wants to play football outside in the Arizona heat when there’s Nintendo games to be played?

But ultimately, while this shape may have really benefited me on the grid-iron, when it comes to fashion choices…not so much.

titan4

“Do you have anything in a lightweight wool, preferably in a dark-gray sharkskin weave? And the pants should be flattering to the trailer.”

Adulthood left me with a suit-jacket size of 50R but pants in the 36” waist range. Finding a suit that accommodated these factors was NOT going to be easy.

So knowing that I wouldn’t just be able to use my currently owned-suit meant that I would need to purchase a new one. And I now knew that I couldn’t just run down to the local Saks Off-Fifth and pick up a nifty two-piece. Something custom was in order.

Now, most tailors will do custom clothing (or know someone who will), and my tailor was no exception. When I started to inquire about his custom suitmaking practice, however, he shut me down pretty quickly. “I’m not the guy to make your suit,” he told me, in his densely Italian manner. A flash of irritation crossed my mind for a brief second (thinking he was somehow judging me unworthy of his talents), before he followed-up by saying, “my suits start at around $8000.”

Remember that I’m cheap. So imagine what my reaction must have been to that lovely piece of news – that my wedding attire would be many times the price of Cucumber’s wedding dress. We do tend to challenge gender roles, but this wasn’t a statement I was desperate to make.

Fortunately, Phil (my tailor) is nothing if not helpful. He told me to look into online made-to-measure clothing. I had looked into this a while ago, but had found (through reviews) that when they arrived, they were usually non-customized separates that were picked off-the-shelf as close to the measurements as possible and just shipped.

Man wearing oversized suit

Man wearing oversized suit — Image by © CJ Burton/Corbis

Oh yeah. It’s fully custom. Isn’t it obvious this was made just for me?

Phil, however, informed me that online made-to-measure had improved dramatically over the past few years. Apparently suits can arrive on one’s doorstep, with a nearly perfect fit. And if any tailoring is required, the suit-makers will often include a tailoring budget to allow for some small alterations.

With this all in mind, I ordered a suit from www.blacklapel.com. With my obsessive nature at researching all options before ordering, they fit my desire to provide as many customized options as possible, while maintaining the price point that I wanted to hit.

After ordering, they informed me that because of the Chinese New Year, they were running behind schedule and wouldn’t ship for 8-10 weeks. However, when I happened to check it this morning, their website informed me that my suit had already shipped. By coincidence, Cucumber informed me that I had a package waiting for me at home, and that it appeared my suit had been compressed to the rough density of a black hole prior to shipping.

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“Sure, it distorts time and space. But the fabric of reality drapes off the shoulders extremely well.”

I don’t know if I should be delighted or scared about my suit arriving 6 weeks earlier than expected. We’ll see soon I suppose…