For guys with a discerning fashion sense, custom clothes make the man.
It was many decades ago that doctors made house calls, tending to the ill in the comfort of their own home and beds. Those days are long gone, but there is a spiritual successor thriving today: men like Daniel Morroni, who forsake the stethoscope for a tailor’s tape to cure the sartorially sick of their ill-fitting wardrobes. We speak of the custom clothing maker.
In the 25 years since he founded Morroni Custom Clothing, the Woolwich resident has burned a lot of high-quality shoe leather visiting big shots and A-listers. On a recent afternoon, Morroni—two large bags in tow, three-piece suit crisply accented from the yellow-orange tie on down—stops in to visit Robert “Bob” Barnhardt Jr., a successful local broker-associate for RE/MAX Connection and a long-time client. The two catch up; Morroni inquires about Barnhardt’s recent family trip to Disney, leading to the friends exchanging RV horror stories. Eventually the well-dressed pair (both in paisley ties) get down to “business.” Barnhardt flips through fabric books for dress shirts while Morroni reviews his detailed records that keep track of everything the Mantua-based real estate agent has ever bought through him. The dress may be formal but the atmosphere is decidedly relaxed.
“How Bob and I are right now is typical of most of my clients,” says Morroni. “It’s very relaxing. It’s enjoyable. I know [my client’s] families, I know the kids; I know where they went on vacation.”
Comfort is the operative word for men who try on the custom clothing buying experience. Experienced tailors work closely with clients to create one-of-a-kind garments that perfectly fit and visually pop.
While suits are often the core custom choice, dozens of other items can be created: dress shirts, sport shirts, slacks, jeans, sweaters, cuff links, ties, belts, the list goes on. Fabric choice and patterns are practically unlimited. The smallest details —jacket liners, lapel size, monograms—can be tweaked to a person’s liking, a sharp contrast to the experience of shopping at a big-box store.
“When someone goes into a store, the limit is what the store can show them or what’s hanging on the rack,” says Mark Paul, owner of Cherry Hill-based Mark Paul Custom Clothing, another high-end, custom clothier.
Looking this good isn’t for the faint of heart—or light of wallet. A custom suit can start at $850 and can run all the way up to $4,000. No surprise that the clientele ranges from professional athletes to high-powered executives and VIPs eager to dress the part. In fact, when Charlie Manuel clutched the World Series trophy during the Phillies’ championship parade, he did so in a suit crafted by Morroni.
Despite the potential sticker shock, business is good. It’s a trend reflected in retail, where menswear is predicted to grow nearly 14 percent globally from 2011 to 2016. A confluence of circumstances is driving men to spend: the decline of the casual Friday mindset, the rebound from the recession, and a surge of interest, particularly of millennials, in dressing well. Plus, men are becoming more receptive to formal clothing with a relaxed vibe. “You can still be casual and wear a suit, you just don’t have to do it with a tie,” says Marc Poland, a Winslow resident who launched Stitched Custom Clothing in 2009.
“It’s the George Clooney look, if you will. You very rarely see George Clooney with a tie.”
But beyond merely looking good, custom clothing appeals to the millions of men whose body types don’t fit the conventional norm. “If I try to buy something off-the-rack and find a suit jacket that fits,” says Barnhardt, who is tall in stature, and stays fit by lifting weights often, “nothing else [with the suit] fits.” In their first appointment 12 years ago, Morroni took 33 measurements of Barnhardt. It may seem excessive, but it helps account for everything from posture to shoulder slope (which eliminates visual gaffes like collar roll) to a past injury that caused one of the realtor’s arms to hang down farther than the other. “When we do a pattern, it works in sync with the body,” says Morroni. “[The clothes] last longer because it’s eliminating all the stress points.” Since that first suit, Barnhardt hasn’t gone anywhere else.
While looking like a million bucks is the main draw of custom clothing, there’s an added kick to having a personal expert guide you through every step of the clothing design process—particularly with the thousands of design options. “When I go see my clients, part of the process is discussing what is right for them,” says Paul, who boasts 45 years of experience in the clothing trade. “[We consider] the type of profession they have, the way they wear their clothes, what their needs are for the clothing. If somebody wants to wear it for sportswear and somebody wants to wear it for Wall Street, it can be two different types of fit and look.”
What that means is, for your money, you’re not just getting a “yes man,” but someone who gives an honest assessment about what looks good. “I had a guy who said he wanted a double-breasted suit like Denzel Washington in American Gangster,” says Poland. The client’s protruding gut, however, caused the Stitched Custom Clothing owner to suggest a different path. “That’s a benefit, that our clients trust our opinions,” adds Poland, who counts NFL players from the Eagles and other teams as well as television personalities among his high-profile clientele.
The convenience is unparalleled, too. Barnhardt loves the informality yet dedicated service he receives from Morroni. “You know how I bought my last suit?” Barnhardt asks. “[I] texted him.” Since he only lives a few minutes away from Morroni, he hopped on his bike and cycled over to the clothing maker’s house, where he had a beer and picked out two suits. “It doesn’t get any easier,” says Barnhardt, outfitted in a dark suit with a custom paisley liner, a Morroni staple. “I got to do my bike ride, got to be home for dinner. It’s the convenience that matters most.”
Measure of a Man
Don’t have the budget to spend $1,000 on a custom suit? There’s a comparable alternative that can be more amenable to your bank account: Made to measure. While custom suits are built from scratch, stores that sell made to measure utilize yards of fabric that are made available by the brand names they carry. The patterns are then modified to accommodate the measurements of the customer. Many details are customizable (liner, type of buttons, style of pants), but radical changes aren’t. “By going made to measure, you get to pick the fabric and the elements of the garment you want, but you also get that level of quality,” says David Wilson, the long-time owner of David Wilson Men’s Shop in Haddonfield.
“And if you’re going with a maker like a Hickey Freeman, you’re getting a nice quality garment.”
Like a custom suit, detailed measurements are taken to get the perfect fit and then banked for future purchases. The next time, customers can flip through several hundred fabric swatches to find the item they want. Given that the price difference between off-the-rack suits ($450-$1,500) and made-to-measure ($750-$2,500) at Wilson’s store aren’t drastic, it’s easier for customers to justify the investment. “When a guy wants a suit now,” says Wilson, who counts made-to-measure comprising 40 percent of his business, “he’s thinking, ‘I’m not buying four or five suits a year anymore. Let me buy a good one, let me buy one that’s made for me.”
Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 11, Issue 11 (February, 2015).
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