The Casual Sartorialist

Couture is dead. At least that’s what women with too much time and money are saying about the practice of having often ridiculous-looking high-fashion clothing custom made for them. That’s OK, because bespoke clothing (i.e. handmade garments constructed from a pattern specific to an individual customer) and made-to-measure clothing for men is alive and well. Although most bespoke and made-to-measure tailors such as those on London’s famous Savile Row specialize in business attire or formal wear, a growing number of custom-made casual clothing options exist for men.

Michael Andrews Bespoke is housed in a cute, subterranean, appointment-only shop on a hip street on New York City’s Lower East Side. CEO Michael Mantegna opened the shop in 2006 to fill a gap in the bespoke market. The prices for quality bespoke clothing have traditionally been so high that, by the time anyone could afford to pay them, their chief fashion worries had become hiding excessive paunch and sending reassuring signals to shareholders or high-powered clients. Fashion forward was out of the picture. Michael Andrews specializes in suits and shirts, weaving high-quality Italian fabrics into chic garments for a younger clientele. In addition to more formal offerings, you can also commission the perfect lightweight clothes, such as short sleeve shirts and shorts, to help you look dapper while drinking on a porch in June or meeting with new economy creative types who don’t trust guys in suits. Patterns are made by hand, unlike other bespoke houses that use computer programs. Clothes utilize single-needle stitching. Michael Andrews has a number of fabrics available from mills such as Vitale Barberis and Dormeuil that are great for casual shirts and pants, from traditional seersucker to linen. Mantegna says that Michael Andrews has recently seen a number of orders for corduroy suits—these always look good, and can actually be worn in summer if ordered with light enough fabric. And customers always have the choice of exceptionally light Egyptian cottons. Michael Andrews has three collections, the most expensive of which is entirely hand-stitched in New York (the other two are stitched in Shanghai). Clothes take from five to 12 weeks to complete. 

Would it be ironic to order a custom-made, fitted flannel shirt to wear to a Pearl Jam concert? At 20 Peacocks, a men’s boutique, also on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, it may be possible. The shop specializes in affordable and hip custom-made shirts, with many fun, casual fabrics available. Shirts start at about $100, making it cheap enough for a fun indulgence, especially if you want to order something a little eccentric. All work is done overseas.

For those who want something even more casual, custom-made jeans may be the answer. Major denim purveyors such as Levi’s have offered these at times, but Ernest Sewn, in Chelsea, is one of the better denim stores (Ernest Sewn’s custom denim program has been temporarily discontinued while the store moves some of its operations to Los Angeles, but it will be offered again beginning this summer, with a one-month turnaround for $400-500). 

Custom-made jeans are not exactly bespoke. Denim itself conforms to the body as jeans are worn in; this doesn’t need to be done with stitching. So, ordering custom-made jeans is a little bit more like designing a kitchen or a car interior than it is like buying a bespoke suit—building a pair of jeans from the ground up is all about choosing the details, from the pockets to creative stitching, and, of course, the denim. Japanese denim is currently in fashion, and Ernest Sewn sells a lot of selvedge, which can be hard, rough stuff before it’s broken in, but is rewarding and long-lasting once it is. Of course, light, airy denims are available for those looking for summer-specific jeans. All work is done in the U.S. 

What about the feet? You’ll be glad to know that cobblers still exist. Vogel Boots in SoHo has been making custom-made shoes since 1879. Your first pair may cost a hefty $1,300, but nothing is more comfortable or durable. Although the price dictates that the majority of Vogel’s clientele are middle-aged or older, co-owner Jack Lynch says that the store has seen a spike in younger customers since introducing the option of extremely handsome, Camper-style casual shoes to complement their more formal options. Their quality is unparalleled. How much does Vogel care about your shoes?  For one thing, they only use French calfskin, because, as Lynch explains, “In France, they eat a lot of veal, so the animals are very small and they don’t use barbed wire, which means we are able to get a supple, tighter grain that’s clean, without barbed wire marks.” All work is done in New York with a 12 to 14 week turnaround.

 

 

Phyllis Dooney

Just because most people can’t see them doesn’t mean they’re not important. Women have known this for years. A well dressed man isn’t a well dressed man until he upgrades his unmentionables. After all, what woman wants to remove a man’s elegant bespoke outfit only to find a natty pair of childlike boxers underneath?

 

Bespoke boxers, you say? Yes, even underwear can be custom made to your size and design specifications. Back in the early 20th century when boxer shorts first left the bloody, sweaty ring, most men had them specially made. Today, bespoke boxers are a dying art form but several fashion houses, including Lorenzini, still painstakingly craft them.

 

Lorenzini began making men’s shirts, pajamas and nightshirts in Brianza, Italy, in 1920. Ninety years later, the business is still family run and remains at the forefront of bespoke tailoring, crafting men’s shirts and pajamas as well as boxers, and clothing for women. Like Lorenzini’s other bespoke items, their boxers are meant to fit you like a glove but allow ease of movement. Made of Egyptian or Sea-Island cotton, each boxer has an elastic waistband, a double Australian mother-of-pearl buttoned-front closure, and is artfully tailored to remove excess fabric from the seat. Prices start at $250 a pair with a three-pair minimum. Lorenzini does not have a U.S. showroom but Barneys NY takes care of special orders.

The clothes make the man, and this feels particularly true when a man has made the clothes.

—David Dames