Text and photos by Ryan Burwinkel, except where noted otherwise.
This is one of 4 parts, click here to get to Part 2 and Part 3 (tbd)
Here’s the thing: I’m a big guy. I’m also… how to put this… not ideally shaped. I’ve got hips. I’ve also got this gut I keep telling myself I’m going to do something about, but never live up to that promise as much as I should. At the same time, I pride myself on trying to be well dressed, and aim to have a closet one day that’d make Gatsby blush.
When it comes to suits, I’m usually stuck straddling somewhere between the Regular and Portly sections at BigNameSuitDepots. As a result, I don’t invest heavily in suits that won’t fit right, and end up wearing a sub-par suit that looks off just enough to annoy, but not quite enough to return. In short, I don’t quite like the way I look - no matter how many times the scruffy looking guy on the TV might guarantee it.
Given this background, I was intrigued by Indochino’s Traveling Tailor here in DC. Really, I wanted to test out their “customers come in all shapes, sizes, and ages” claim in person. Indochino’s website is full of sculpted Adonises in perfectly tailored slim-fitting suits. What about round, pudgy, oddly shaped me? Could Indochino really make a perfect suit for the portly crowd, too?
I signed up for an appointment at 1:30 on Sunday, the last day they were in town. I figured that, even if I didn’t buy a suit, it’d be a fun experience to get fitted. They’re set up in LivingSocial’s space on F Street, which is a great venue for pop-ups like this.
There are plenty of other posts, including on this site, that have some pretty all-encompassing shots of the interior, so I didn’t worry too much about snapping pictures. For those who haven’t seen the space, I’d describe the look and feel of the place as being in the Genius Bar for men’s fashion. I’m sure the giant LCD screen and plethora of Apple products didn’t hurt that impression, either.
Traveling Tailor: the Genius Bar for men’s fashion nerds.
After about 20 minutes of sipping coffee in an Indochino-branded cup while I listened to a mix of what sounded like Glee covers and the latest Mumford albums, a stylist came down the stairs to meet me.
I was brought upstairs into the fitting areas, and that was where both the fun and pain began. I paired up with Cas, both my tailor and my stylist for the day who seemed like a local consultant they hired instead of a company man.
He took my age, weight, and height, and after a couple measurements, came back with a size 16 suit. It’s worth noting the brilliance of Indochino’s sizing here, because if the size had read anywhere in my usual 48-54 range, I’d be second-guessing him from the start.
The size 16 suit’s shoulders were almost comically too large – I’d guess the equivalent of somewhere around 56 for other retailers. This was my first real concern. The sleeves were long and would need to be taken in, too. The jacket length was ok - just needed to be shortened a bit. The armholes were far too low, as well. My main concern coming into the fitting was that Indochino’s waist suppression would simply be too much to handle (or, rather, that I’d be too much for it to handle). Surprisingly, it was a bit snug, but not nearly the corset-like fit I had expected.
Basically what I think of when I see the words “waist suppression”. Thankfully, the reality didn’t quite match. (Image via WolfBlog)
The pants were the real problem. The actual waistline was only a bit tight, but the rise was much too low. I was almost afraid to go back out at first, for fear of visible plumber’s crack. (Let me be clear: I have textbook chicken legs.) The thighs were too tight, the pockets billowed out from my hips, and the lower half of the pant leg was almost near bell-bottom territory. Sheepishly, I drew back the curtain and let him go to work.
Right away, he started bunching up the shoulders and taking notes on the iPhone hanging around his neck. I started to feel better. I’ve always been told that tailors can’t do a thing about oversized shoulders (thus, my hesitation with tailoring OTR suits to match me more perfectly). Maybe Indochino (and, by extension, M2M) was different?
I fought back a bit on how high the jacket was brought up, remembering reviews I read about the jackets being cut short (not a great look for me, either). The sleeves were taken in and shortened. He noted the watch on my left wrist, then we talked about the waist.
Cas’ solution caught me off-guard: do nothing. Raising the armholes up to fit more closely, he explained, would create enough room to make it breathable. I took him at his word, making a mental note to pay special attention to the final product. The back was adjusted for wrinkling and that always-annoying collar roll.
The pants were next, and Cas shared my concerns. His solution was to drop the crotch down an inch to give me a higher rise. I was willing to give it a shot, seeing as otherwise it would be an unworkable suit. We brought the hips in a touch to try to let the pockets lie flat, and let the thighs out to give more breathing room when I sat down. We also brought the pant leg in either an inch or an inch and a half (I can’t remember which) at the bottom. I asked for a medium break, and we were done with the pants.
I came into the session having done my homework, and knowing that I was in the market for a three-piece navy suit, from probably either their Essentials or the new Premium Italian line. The only navy suit I own, originally bought back in college, is on its way out the door. A slick, three piece navy suit seemed perfect for dressing up for big occasions and meetings at work or dressing down for happy-hour networking.
When Cas confirmed that we didn’t need to take additional measurements for a vest, I was ready to start making my choices. As we walked, Timberlake’s new single, “Suit and Tie” came on. For a brief moment, everything felt right in the world.
I pretty quickly came to the conclusion that the Premium Italian fabric was the way to go. It felt higher quality, and the color was more obviously navy. The Essentials navy fabric really is almost black. I thought sharkskin too Vegas-y, and just didn’t like the look of the Nanotech fabric. The only remaining choice -Premium Italian- was going to hurt my wallet, but I hoped it would be worth it.
The Premium Italian Navy suit. Will it look as good on me? Only one way to find out… (Image from Indochino.)
After looking at the suits on the models, I remembered the other question I had about Indochino’s customization: lapel widths.
While most of the modern men’s fashion world might think that those 90’s-era 3.5 inch lapels are atrocious, they actually work pretty well for someone with my frame. I’d certainly never opt for the slip lapel befitting a fictional ‘60’s ad-man, or all his hyper-obsessed modern day followers. At the same time, I worry that Indochino’s standard 3-inch lapel might still be a tad too slim for me, and make the suit look off.
So, I asked if we could alter the lapel width, bringing it to proportions that were a little more me-sized. Cas wasn’t sure, so he asked one of his coworkers (who I assumed was a company guy). He said it was a possibility - we’d just have to make a note of the special request downstairs when we checked out. Feeling better, I continued on with the process.
The rest of the choices went pretty smoothly. I knew upfront that I was looking for a ticket pocket, functioning buttonholes and boutonnière on the coat. I opted out of pick stitching for the first suit, since I’ve read middling reviews of their execution elsewhere. I also opted for a smart pocket (“literally, they’re discontinuing them tomorrow – I’m telling everyone to grab it while you can!”) and pen pocket on the coat, as well.
For the vest, a straight v seemed the best way to go. I chose the beige lining after a little waffling and some gentle prodding: “This is where we figure out who you are, my man,” Cas told me, “It’s a chance to make a statement.”
Beige Bemberg lining. (Photo from Indochino)
To better compliment my more conservative taste and heavier frame, I chose pleats and cuffs for the pants, with belt loops but no suspender buttons, or side-tabs. After getting “this suit custom tailored for Ryan Burwinkel” monogrammed, my suit choices were complete.
Bonus Shirt Round!
I’ve never had much luck with French cuff dress shirts (the sleeve openings are too wide, and the cufflinks end up pulling the cuff too far down my thumb). So, I took the free shirt that came with my new suit as an opportunity to give them another shot. Besides, I feel like the brassiness of a three-piece suit kind of calls for a smart pair of cufflinks.
I chose a plain white shirt in their higher thread count with a spread collar. I like to wear a half-windsor knot, a holdover from my days on the Hill, surrounded by big-knot, big-ego staffers. After getting my initials monogrammed on the cuff, I was almost done with the first leg of my inaugural M2M experience.
Paying, and some complications.
Cas brought me back down to the front office for what I was openly calling the “painful” part. Before I paid up, I had to ask about the lapels getting widened first. To my surprise, contrary to what I had been told, lapel widths were one of the things that weren’t customizable.
“You’re certainly not the first one to ask this”, the woman at the front desk told me. I don’t suspect I’ll be the last, either. She said she’d make a note of the request, and that maybe in future suits they could make wider lapel widths an option company-wide. After a moment’s thought, I decided to move forward anyway with the order and give it a shot.
My credit card company initially declined the order. This didn’t come as a surprise, given that I had read elsewhere that this might happen since they’re based out of Canada. After a quick call, the transaction went through, and I got a Utility Kit to boot! The extra gift was given as an apology for the “inconvenience”, which hardly felt like one. Still, I’m not one to look a gift horse in the mouth.
Custom is king, but does it come king-sized?
$700 poorer, but five weeks away from being a pair of shoes shy from a head-to-toe custom-made outfit, I left to bask in the gorgeous weather of DC on an early Spring afternoon for a little while before meeting back up with some friends who were in town for the weekend. All in all, the experience took about an hour from start to finish.
On the whole, I can certainly see what all of you guys are so crazy about. The M2M experience has me hooked. Given just how much tailoring was required (and some of the strategic choices behind those alterations) I’m convinced that the final product will be infinitely better than what I’d have gotten had I simply taken my own measurements at home.
This is where the genius of the Traveling Tailor really shines through. If these pop-up shops are actually a pilot for true brick and mortar stores (in the vein of, say, SuitSupply, which has a DC location), I’d highly encourage Indochino to consider placing one in DC. There’s certainly a great client base to be had in a city that maintains an almost comically bad reputation for men in ill-fitting suits.
All of that being said, I’m still heavily skeptical of how the final product will turn out. After some research, I see that Indochino says their lapels vary slightly depending on the width of the customer. How much is “slightly”, exactly? Will the tailoring decisions that Cas made pay off in the final product? I know that for a lot of guys, the execution of the final product can vary significantly from what they first thought they were getting.
On the whole, the greater question behind all of this also still remains open: can Indochino actually make suits for bigger guys like me? My confirmation e-mail says I should get the first shot at answering that question by mid-April. I’ll let you know what I find out.
To be continued…