Last week when I launched my new weekly menswear column, I did it with a sense of panic. Do I know enough about what men (and the women who dress them) want in their closets to be informative to my readers? With that spirit in mind, I turn my blog over this week to my dad, to let him detail a wardrobe encounter I haven’t and probably won’t ever have: ordering custom-made suits.
My Custom Suit Fitting
by Bruce Henderson
Hong Kong tailors have long been famous for their custom-made suits. And now it turns out you don’t have to travel halfway around the world to have one made.
A recent article in the New York Times about a Hong Kong tailor who barnstorms the U.S. thrice a year conducting fittings and taking orders for custom suits reminded me how much I have always wanted one. I went on Empire International Tailors website (empiretailors.com) and booked a fitting in late April in San Francisco.
I knew I would take my wife with me, as Laura is the classiest dresser I know and a connoisseur of fabrics. However, a few days before my fitting, I addressed a concern. “Honey, I want your help picking out fabrics, but I don’t want you there for my fitting. A man and his tailor, well, it’s kinda like a woman and her gynecologist.”
“I understand,” said my understanding wife. “I’ll bring my Kindle.”
When we arrived for the fitting, the living room of the penthouse at the Marriott Marquis had been transformed into a large fitting room with long tables displaying hundreds of small swatches of fabric.
The fabric selection came first. There were four priced tiers of fabric in various colors and patterns. We went from lowest-to-highest cost. The first two suits I ordered were easy. A black suit (highest tier) made of the finest Italian wool that I’ll keep in my closet “a lifetime,” said the tailor’s twenty-something son, Mark Asaf, dressed in his own smart suit. “Yes,” I agreed, “and maybe beyond.” Next came a Loro Piana navy (2nd highest tier). Both these jackets can be worn as blazers, so I picked out fabric for extra trousers (deep tan and darkish gray). For my third suit, we settled on a gray with subtle, narrow white pinstripes (2nd highest tier). All are to be two-button, ventless, with cuffed pants. Then I ordered nine custom shirts, including two tuxedo shirts (in white and black, lay-down collar, nonpleated); a couple with band collars and the rest classic straight collars, with a mix of French and button cuffs.
Now it was time for the head tailor and the face of Empire International since it opened in 1983, Anthony Asaf, and his assistant to have their way with me. For the next hour I stood as still as a Rodin as copious measurements were taken and retaken. Eventually, a crudely-sewn cotton suit form was placed around me, and it was pinned and tweaked to fit. As the tailors pawed me in a most ethical manner, I occasionally tried to fill in awkward lulls in the conversation. Given all this intimacy, it seemed we should at least be talking.
“Do you know the first U.S. president to wear a brown suit?” I asked.
The head tailor did not know.
“Ronald Reagan. Started a whole new trend in Washington, a town filled mostly with grays and blues.”
I actually had a second presidential-suit trivia question.
“Know the first president to wear a two-button suit?”
My tailor shook his head as he deftly brought his measuring strap down my zipper from my belt buckle, under my crotch, and up to my belt line in the back.
“JFK,” I announced brightly. “Before that, all three-button.”
A word about prices: Empire International does not sell the least-expensive suits or make them from the cheapest fabric. Prices for a custom-made suit from a Hong Kong tailor are similar to prices for an off-the-rack suit from a U.S. department store, ranging from $250 to $2,500. Only they will fit much better.
A DHL package from Hong Kong will soon hit my porch. Inside it will be one of my custom suits and one shirt. I am to try them on, and email final approval for the rest to be completed. If any adjustments are necessary, Empire International assures me it will taken care of.
My only nagging regret is that I didn’t order a brown suit for my next trip to Washington.
My father is the author of many bestselling books, including his latest, HERO FOUND: The Greatest POW Escape of the Vietnam War, for which he appeared on
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.