Caveat Emptor: A Treatise on Buying Custom or Bespoke Clothing

For those of you who don’t know him, Alexander Kabbaz is very possibly the finest shirtmaker in the world (and his selection of hosiery is marvelous. Yes, I’m an infrequent but dedicated customer.) You’ve seen his work if you’ve ever seen a picture of author (and Richmond native) Tom Wolfe. Or Leonard Berstein at work. Or Dan Rather behind a news desk. Or…. well, you get the idea. He is also exceedingly well-versed in matters sartorial as befits a haberdasher.

Recently Mr. Kabbaz has been writing a series of articles that have to do with quality clothing — making it, identifying it and buying it. They are available by email subscription to his newsletter “Sartorial Excellence News.” Mr. Kabbaz is obssessive, compulsive about quality manufacturing and phenomenal customer service — I mean that in the best possible way. He has graciously given Easy and Elegant Life permission to link to the full series of articles for your edification and enjoyment. The first article “Caveat Emptor: A Treatise on Custom-Made Clothing” can be found here.

There is much to be learned and sometimes it is a bit hard to hear. But stick with it, and you will be rewarded. Mr. Kabbaz is very opinionated because he is very, very good at what he does. If I had the wherewithal, he would be making both my shirts and Mrs. E.’s.

This should give you an idea of what you can expect from Mr. Kabbaz and certainly what you should demand of those making your clothing.

“Manifestation of the Second Philosophy:

Attire speaks before you utter a single word. Your appearance is the window through which your (sic) are first viewed. The most important result of our initial consultation lies not in the extensive series of measures we place in your file, but in what we garner about your personality, your profession, your taste, and your station in life. Important is not that particular fabric which offers us the greatest profit. Important is the suitability of your wardrobe. This can be considered only if we gain a comprehensive understanding of who you are. Important lies not only in our complimenting your wiser selections and in offering you others from which to choose, but also in having the temerity to suggest that something you might want would be entirely inappropriate for you.

In short, the image you should portray is the responsibility we wish to accept.”

Amen.

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5 Responses to Caveat Emptor: A Treatise on Buying Custom or Bespoke Clothing

  1. initials CG says:

    Now I don’t wince in pain when I’m in front of bespoke shoes, suits, shirts, pajamas…hell, even bespoke boxers, but as I read his article I almost choked when he mentions “the greatest profit”. I hope his cloths are something spectacular. I’ve spent a fortune on bespoke shirts, and they are worth it, because they fit like nothing else, and it’s the best way to stay in shape…after all that money, you iron your own shirts for fear of them being ruined by anyone else.

    All well and good…I agree, but $6,000 for a first order of a few shirts…!

    Don’t we want more elegance in the world? Does it have to cost your spleen?

    I can understand his point about a serious customer, but the nouveau riche wouldn’t understand the true artisan quality and spend the money just because they can, and “old money” is old money because it’s far more careful. Shirts wear out. Your tastes changes. Your coloring changes as you age, so those shirts don’t look as good on you as, say 10 years ago. Worse than wearing out the collars, which are usually replaced by spares made with the exact same cloths, are the underarm stains! It really irritates me staining a $1,000 shirt with antiperspirant!

    Hope he has a solution for that one.

  2. It’s something, agreed… I have no real experience with exceptional shirtmakers .. mine have all come from Gitman Bros., Talbott, and Creery here in town. But they are really MTM, not true bespoke. I’d like to try Charvet before I’m buried in an off-the-rack white number as I doubt that I’ll ever be able to afford Mr. Kabbaz. I will say that my dealings with him as a small retail customer have been exceptional in the customer-service area.

    By the way, I’ve switched to using deodorant (Tom’s) and then dusting with with Talcum powder or Shower-to-Shower. No more yellow stains in two years!

  3. tintin says:

    Alex is well known for his price points. And with the clients he has — who can blame him. Back in August of 1999, I purchased a minumum order of four shirts from Frank at Riddle McIntyre in Chicago. I still have two that are wearable and two (frayed double cuffs) I wear with jeans. They were $300 a pop or $1,200 for the order. I had sold a large deal and was feeling flush so the need to blow some dough on myself before the then wife took the rest of the dough seemed like a good idea.

    The ex wife loved the shirts although I never told her how much they were. I may have even lied and told her they were $100 or so a shirt. For my birthday, she called Frank and asked to have one made up. Frank said it wouldn’t be a problem and told her the price.

    When I came home from work that day… I was greeted with, “You’re the most selfish s.o.b. I’ve ever known.” Things swirl through your head at a comment like that. I can be selfish about a lot of things. Seeing my confusion and struggle she told me she had called my shirt tailor to order a birthday present. She continued with a long list of items costing $1,200. Custom made shirts can be a very dangerous luxury. Despite the divorrce and my relative freedom…they are no longer a possibility. Instead, I buy most of my dress shirts on sale – – any length sleeve – – Purple Label and Turnbull and Asser are favorites – – and pay $20 to have the sleeves shortened. A considerable savings of $300 and much less guilt. Funny how some things stay with you.

  4. Mrs. E. washed and machine dried one of my shirts causing the sleeves to shrink up. She was devastated. But only after she learned that it was a $225 shirt. As I am part corkscrew the lines that I get, from collar bone across my chest, drive me nuts. The MTM’s eliminate the problem almost entirely. I only have enough for w week’s wear. And I stress out about laundering so much that I wind up doing them myself… . If you can find a brand that fits with minor alterations, wear them with pride.

  5. initials CG says:

    Talcum sounds like a good idea. Will try it out. The problem is that there is very little competition in the bespoke market. There is only the extreme high end in some places. With patience and persistence, I know that quality artisans can be found that make bespoke a bit more reasonable. Next time you take a trip to Europe look around for bespoke shirtmakers and tailors because they’re still out there at a less piratical price point. The difference between these aritisans is esoteric.

    That was funny. Every time my ex-wife saw a new suit in the closet, I’d say that it was an old one she hadn’t seen yet. With these kinds of ex-wives you’re forced to avoid direct pitched battle at all cost. You know you’re in real deep trouble when you can’t be honest about clothes.

    I’d hunt around for quality cloths that cost less because they were odd sizes or the last pieces of a roll. With patience, you can get some great cloths at a deep discount. The same patience with finding the right tailor. In the end, I’d get a bespoke suit at a fraction of the the cost of the Saville Row names. Still, the ex got mad because she wanted her 30 grand vacation! If only I had put half the effort I did in finding the right tailors, cloths, into finding the right wife…!

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