I hate clothes shopping. In eighth grade my father wanted to buy me a suit. We went to a men’s shop on University Place in Greenwich Village. We picked out a wool three-piece herringbone that was a dark ochre with traces of so many embedded colors. I liked it. The salesman handed me off to Mr. Miller, a short, bald and pudgy man with a heavy Eastern European accent and a yellow tape measure dangling around his neck. Stepping up onto the platform surrounded by three mirrors, Mr. Miller gathered the cuff material around my ankles and put in his pins. Couple of weeks later we were back. I put the suit on in the changing room, stepped up onto the platform and from three angles I saw how the baggy-fitting pants were overflowing onto my shoe tops like the Ganges in monsoon season; the huge water-catching cuffs deep enough to have guppies swimming in there. I was a deer in the headlights about this pant/shoe debacle. But I didn’t know what to say, being only 14, getting fitted for a suit for the first time. I looked at my father for some help; none was forthcoming. Then I looked at Mr. Miller in the mirrors — all three Mr. Millers — and noticed that Mr. Miller’s pants were exactly like mine; baggy, billowing, ridiculous. Mr. Miller and I both looked like circus immigrants getting off the train on a dank night in Prague. My introduction to suits, fittings, and this “a man’s world” club was less than stellar.
Continuing the tradition many moons later, I took my stepson Matt, maybe 15 at the time, to buy a suit –- a tuxedo actually. We made the pilgrimage to Mecca, yes, to Moe Ginsburg, my old standby down on Fifth Avenue in the Flatiron. As soon as we step out of the elevator onto the creaky old wood floor an old-timey Moe Ginsburg salesman sizes me up and the first thing he says is, “What happened, you quit smoking?” Translation: “You’re overweight and you look like a potato latke.” Young Mattie registered a “whoa!” on his face, not believing this guy just hurled such an insult right into my grill. But I was unfazed, having spent college summers and winter vacations working as a waiter in a hotel in the Catskills where one learns to absorb verbal frontal assaults and then return the favor. This guy was thick enough in his own middle, his tie resting horizontally on his belly like you could rest an ashtray on it. Made me want to light up. Mattie watching me, anticipating my rejoinder… “Yeah, how’d you know?” I said, “How ‘bout you? You quit going to the gym?” Now we were friends, buddies even.
Men are funny beasts. For many of us, insults are essential elements of the male lexicon; nasty yet creative greetings are a time-honored test of a man’s mental mettle and wit. After the insults, friendship is born and renewed.
At Moe G’s, Mattie and I purchase tuxedos. Matt’s looked great, this kid looks good in a dog hair toga. Mine was an impermeable polyester beast made out of recycled soup containers. It fit and felt like wearing a plywood box from a moving supply company. I’m still taking heat from that visit to Moe Ginsburg 500 years ago.
My Mattie, now at 32, is now the sharpest dresser I know, an A++ clotheshorse supremo with major thread cred. This kid knows how to shop and looks great in anything. If Matt shows up wearing dirty coveralls like he just bled your brakes, you would say, “Wow, Mattie’s into coveralls, he looks great!” And then you’d go out and get a pair, but when you put yours on, you look like the Elephant Man.
This Christmas, Matt gave me a gift certificate to a place called, Suit Supply. Never heard of it. I needed a new suit and away we went to the store at 59th & Madison. An open, airy and brightly designed store up on the second floor, it was, beautiful, actually. The perfect place for a shopping-averse guy like myself. With racks and racks of suits, it was staffed with very well dressed, intelligent and helpful salesmen. And before the North Koreans could hack Jiffey Lube, Mattie had already bagged three suits that fit him perfectly — right off the rack.
The suits are fabulous. If you want a top quality, moderately priced suit, I’m talking $400-$600, Suit Supply is for you. And they’ve got all the fixin’s to go along with your purchase: beautiful shirts, sweaters, socks, even shoes. These are slim cut suits. I don’t eat kale, am not gluten-free, and probably have a high carbon footprint, and the 46’s and 48’s fit me beautifully. I had a great experience.
So, here’s the I-hate-shopping 411 on Suit Supply. It’s a Dutch company, started in 2000 by law student Fokke de Jong. Try pronouncing that. Mr. de Jong figured out what he calls his, “verticalization.” Mr. de Jong buys fine fabrics in, where else? Italy! Then ships to China for manufacturing. I have no problem with that even though I don’t buy dog food from China. Right now there are 46 Suit Supply stores worldwide, 12 in the US — two in Manhattan — plus four more on the way stateside. In a blind test, industry experts sampled suits from many of the fine men’s suit manufacturers. Winner? Suit Supply, besting a runner-up Armani suit that retails for $3600. And Suit Supply is online. Click, click, my man!’’
Back on the ground at the 59th & Madison store Kyle slips a beautiful gray suit on me that obviously was made only for me, and I look as sharp as Mr. Putin at a Putin-Obama chess match. Meanwhile, Mattie is out of control snatching one suit off the rack after another, the way a hungry Osprey swoops up fish out of the water creating a tornado-like vortex in the store, sweeping sweaters and shirts off the counters into the air while I’m making conversation with the gorgeous Turkish seamstress working in the open in the middle of the store. What a scene! I LOVE Suit Supply!!!
Weeks later, I’m back at Suit Supply. I snagged this very demure grey-green suit plus a classic navy blue number with the superb help from Aaron, a nice Yeshiva U grad from Brooklyn, who added perfect shirts and sweaters to go with both suits. The Turkish seamstress was not working that day, but the equally attractive Equadorean seamstress was just as friendly. On the walk home, I stepped into Paul Stuart just to see what was happening in there while I had my shopping mojo on. To the young nattily attired sales guy helping me I said in low tones, “Hey, I know I shouldn’t be saying this to you here in the Holy Grail Paul Stuart, but have you ever heard of, Suit Supply?” He had not. “What??? You gotta get over there, man, and supply yourself with a suit from (trumpet fanfare)…Suit Supply!”
Suit Supply has captured a brand new experience in selling men’s clothing. I don’t feel the dull thud oppression of being in a store filled with a lot of stuff. Suit Supply has a certain atmosphere about it; everything about the experience is positive, and welcoming. It’s bright, it’s open, the furniture is comfortable and colorful. The sales staff is all attractive, attentive and totally knowledgeable about the suits and everything else in the store. It feels like the Apple store concept of men’s clothing where everybody is helpful, well informed and operates as part of a team. The sales guys were enthusiastic, really wanting to get the right fitting suit for me. I think that may be the biggest factor that won me over — the enthusiasm. It’s infectious and makes the time spent there so pleasant. By far I think I was the oldest guy in the store, but that was cool too. I loved being there and because of, guess what? Right-o retail geniuses, I bought way more than I had planned to when I walked in. That in itself is the mark of a huge success.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a shopping convert in general. I still hate shopping, but I do love Suit Supply! So do yourself a favor Gents, get yourself on over there and suit up! And, a favor please, I know The Robin Report is a proprietary publication, but if you can get this piece in front of Mr. Fokke de Jong, maybe he can hook me with my next purchase. And maybe you can tell me how to pronounce his name.