There’s something really nice about shopping for a suit online, picking your fabric, making your customizations (like pick stitching, jacket lining, functional sleeve buttons, trouser cuffs and such), buying it and having it arrive at your home four weeks later, fitting like it was made for you. Because it was literally made for you.
I’ve been wearing made-to-measure suits for years. Being a man on a budget, the idea was once way beyond my means. About ten years ago, I was delighted to find online custom suit makers who found a way to offer made-to-measure suits, jackets and pants at an affordable price point. In that time, I’ve tried a few options and – in terms of quality, fit and fair price – I’ve found my favorite. It’s Black Lapel.
For those unfamiliar, custom or made-to-measure suiting is neither off-the-rack nor full bespoke. It’s somewhere in between, with less measurement specificity of bespoke but far better fit than ready-to-wear. Made-to-measure is constrained by limited design options and essentially entails a custom cut of an existing design. Another limitation with most made-to-measure companies is the fabric choice. While a true bespoke experience can offer a dizzying array of fabric choices (as well as multiple fittings and 80+ hours of labor), one is limited to the options offered by a given brand in the online custom game. But if the creative heads at a clothing brand know what they’re doing, they will have curated an edited but smart collection of fabrics. Black Lapel covers all the basics (navy, charcoal, gray, pinstripe) with nice wools, cottons, linens, cashmeres and blends thereof, while occasionally offering a color or pattern that catches my eye and aligns with my subdued tastes.
After wearing many suits from many different brands over the years, I’m impressed with Black Lapel’s construction. It falls right in line with the quality and craftsmanship of suits from expensive labels. Their standard line has half-canvas construction on the jackets, with very gentle shoulder padding. I also like the way the jacket’s opening cuts away slightly below the fastening button, creating that subtle “X” at the fastening point.
My personal preferences with the cut of a jacket are more British than Italian. I like a structured shoulder, a high arm hole and a suppressed waist with a bit of a “skirt” around the hips. The fit is trim, conforming to my shape without ever constricting or squeezing it. For pants, I prefer flat-fronts with side adjusters instead of belt loops, no cuffs and a higher waist than the hipster low-rise, lending a bit more shape to the ass. You can’t necessarily drill down that kind of specificity with off-the-peg designer suits.
The tricky thing with online custom is the measurements. With Black Lapel, I had the benefit of getting measured while I was still living in New York City, which is where they’re located. Without being able to go to their Manhattan atelier, one has to get measured using the guided steps on their website, which is best accomplished with the help of a trusted friend or a good local tailor. The good news for non New Yorkers is that Black Lapel works hard to make sure your fit is on point with what they call a “flawless fit promise.” They’ll pay for any necessary alterations or even remake a suit if it’s beyond a tailor’s help. But once your measurements are good, all future orders couldn’t be easier. Pick your suit, make your customizations and purchase. Within four weeks, a new custom suit arrives at your door.
As of this writing, I have five Black Lapel suits: Navy, Midnight Blue, Charcoal, Cool Gray and a Black Tuxedo with Peak Lapels. I’m currently on the waiting list for a Light Gray Glen Plaid because I can’t live without it.
With the exception of the tuxedo, the customizations on my suits are all the same.
- Regular notch lapel (NOT slim. Enough with that.)
- Double vents
- Straight flapped pockets
- Lining that coordinates with the suit color. Nothing crazy, brah.
- White thread monogramming with Bold Script
- Pick stitching
- Ticket pocket
- No accent stitching
- Kissing cuff buttons, not stacked (which I had to specifically request)
- Flat front (no pleats)
- No cuffs
- Two standard back pockets
- No belt loops (side tabs instead)
- No suspender buttons
I’ve written before about my first experience with Black Lapel’s quality. For the price, I’m very pleased. With their standard line of suits, which ranges between $500 and $800, the jackets are half-canvassed, producing a nice drape and shape to the chest with a good lapel roll. With their premium Savoy line, costing between $1,000 and $1,300, the jackets have a full canvas, which gives the jacket fluidity and yields a better fit over time. (One day, baby.)
Does Black Lapel have everything every man would want in a custom suit experience? No. It has limitations. But for my budget, my needs and my personal style preferences, those limitations still offer a custom suiting solution superior to any off-the-rack option within its price range. By far. The finished custom product even outperforms many more expensive brands. The suits fit beautifully and feel good, and the regular compliments I get on how they look never get old.
If one wants unlimited choices or a premium label to flaunt, you’re looking at a very expensive suit or jacket. If you can swing it, go for it by all means. The hand craftsmanship of master tailors is an endangered skillset that is worth the money if you’ve got it. If you’ve got a limited budget like me, there are other custom options that will work well for you. Mine is Black Lapel.