The Black Lapel tagline is “A Flawless Fit Awaits.” Let’s see if they walk the walk.
Online made-to-measure (MTM) custom suiting companies are similar in many ways, so if you’re interested in learning more about the overall process from start to finish, this article is for you.
In this article, I’ll cover everything from the showroom experience in NYC, to the online ordering process, to the finished product (fit & details), what I liked most, and where I see room for improvement.
My relationship with Black Lapel began over a year ago when I sent them a tweet. They replied saying that they’d like to send me over some pattern swatches and tape measure. A small, but nice gesture.
It wasn’t till over a year later that I decided to finally order my first Black Lapel suit. During their Black Friday promotion, it was buy any custom suit, get a dress shirt and pocket square or tie for free. Not a bad deal considering Black Lapel rarely ever has promos. I ended up going all in on a 3-piece suit.
Order date: November 28th, 2016
Date received: December 22nd, 2016
Fairly quick turnaround for MTM. With many other online MTM companies, you’ll be waiting for at least a month.
THE BLACK LAPEL SHOWROOM EXPERIENCE
The Black Lapel NYC office is located at 10 E 38th St on the 3rd floor. As I arrived on the 3rd floor, I was greeted by a friendly clerk at the front desk and was told to take a seat and they’d be with me in a moment. While I was waiting, I saw a belt company vendor set up in the middle of the showroom and so I checked them out.
A few minutes later, Justin Song, Black Lapel’s Director of Customer Service greeted me with a friendly smile and asked about my style preferences and all that good stuff. He said I’m in good hands as he’s measured hundreds of men during his time at Black Lapel.
FUN FACT: Justin is also the founding editor of the men’s style blog Kinowear which used to be big on the pick up scene in the 2000s. A few years back he sold it and began work full-time at Black Lapel, writing for their in house style blog The Compass which has some of the most informative and useful articles about men’s style on the web.
And in case you were wondering, Black Lapel was founded in 2012 by Derek Tian & Warren Liao. Black Lapel conveniently takes appointments online through their website or on the phone.
First they had me try on a sample jacket to determine my overall build. Then they took all of my measurements. It was the most detailed measuring process I’ve ever been through which is a great thing. They also took photos from the front, side and back which helps their tailors understand my natural posture. I have a shoulder that slopes more than the other, so the pictures definitely help.
All of this was done on a tablet and uploaded to the account I created that day at the showroom, all in real-time. So I could log in and see my measurements as soon as I got home. It’s little details like this that sets Black Lapel apart.
All in all, it was a pleasurable experience visiting the showroom. They’re very friendly and know what they’re talking about. If you’re near the office, I highly recommend stopping by. It’s always best to get measured in person by a knowledgable stylist.
Showroom Experience Rating: 5/5 Stars
Before any customization can begin, you must first complete a measurement profile. Whether you were measured at a showroom like I was or choose to measure yourself, you must have a profile in order to proceed. In the image below, all of these details were filled in at the showroom, working with my stylist. You can access the measurements dashboard by creating an account on their website.
The measurement dashboard has 3 simple tabs, the first being photos, second being the basics of height, weight, and posture. And third, your actual measurements. Below you can see all of the most important body measurements that the tailors will need to know before crafting your custom made suit.
You’re also given the option to customize a suit to your liking if you know all of the specific details that you want. If you’re unsure, there’s the option for a Black Lapel Stylists’ recommendation. Here’s what the interface looks like when you select the stylist recommendation.
All of the options you see from the fit type to the cuffs and all the way to monogramming, you have the option to customize to your liking down to the fine details. Like many of the other MTM companies, you get control over what you want and that’s always a good thing. The more options the better, especially for the sartorially inclined gentleman. But for MTM newbies, the stylists recommendation is a great option.
After you make all of your customizations or select the pre-set option, you’re ready to add to bag and proceed with your purchase. Easy peasy.
Ordering Process Rating: 5/5 Stars
The packaging left much to be desired and was an immediate negative first impression, but I give Black Lapel the benefit of the doubt and say the postal service really fudged this one. The suit was nicely folded and had no wrinkles. Included was an envelope containing suit care instructions and their always reliable How to Fold a Suit Jacket infographic. It also came with a quality garment bag which is standard among MTM companies.
It’s worth noting that there was no hanger included which is disappointing considering a brand like Knot Standard (similar price point) includes a premium wooden hanger. In fact Knot Standard’s packaging was significantly better than Black Lapel’s as they package their box within another sturdy box to ensure a non-damaged package. But of course unboxing is only a small part in the overall experience.
Packaging Rating: 3.5/5 Stars
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Alright, let’s get to what really matters and talk about the fit. Right off the bat, I knew Justin wasn’t joking when he told me that I was in good hands. The suit fit like a glove on the first pass which is extremely rare when it comes to MTM.
The jacket’s shoulders lay flat against my shoulders and end exactly where they should. The arm holes and sleeve are cut in proportion to my body and arms preventing any type of shoulder divot. There’s just enough waist suppression to accentuate my natural “v” shape without being restricting. There’s no dreaded ‘x’ either.
The arms fit not too snug, not too loose and the sleeve pitch is on point. The sleeves look like there may be some excess fabric per the wrinkling from the back view. Or maybe I just need to hit the gym and work on those biceps.
There is no bunching of fabric behind the neck, under the collar which can be a problem if the sleeve pitch is off or if there is too much fabric around the collar.
A few issues:
Looking closer, there are noticeable issues. The first being that the jacket is chopped too short. I know shorter jackets have been trendy of late, but it’s a good inch too short for my liking. Though it wasn’t too short to the point I’d require them to remake the jacket. It’s also no surprise then that the jacket sleeves are too short as well.
The waist fits just the way it should without the need for a belt. Not that a belt would be required anyway since I opted for side tabs and suspender buttons. The seat of the pants feel and look good. It’s not skin tight, and it’s not loose. There’s a nice taper going down my leg and zero break which was exactly what I asked for.
I also like that the trousers have a higher rise, meaning the pants sit higher up on my waist. Not only does it feel right, but it balances the proportions of my torso and lower half of my body. For detailed info. on pant rise, check out this Primer Magazine article by Brock of The Modest Man.
As with the jacket and trousers, the vest fits as it should. Not too loose, not too tight. The length is appropriate. Layered under the vest is a light blue striped broadcloth dress shirt which also fits well. The wrinkles are due to me wearing a long sleeved cotton shirt underneath. And of course I’ve skipped the gym for too long now. Time to work on those glamor muscles to fill in my shirts better.
- Fabric: 100% Wool
- Yarn: Super 110s
- Color: Brown
- Pattern: Check
- Seasonality: All Seasonal
- Buttons: Dark Brown Bull Horn
- Lining Fabric: 100% Bemberg
Since I already own a navy and a gray suit, I decided to add a charcoal brown 3-piece suit into the mix. It’s extremely versatile and gives off a classic vibe. I particularly love the subtle overcheck pattern and hint of blue. It makes for an easy pairing with accessories like ties and pocket squares. The dark brown bull horn buttons blend well with the more subdued color of the suit.
For the trousers, I went with side adjusters, forgoing the belt loop completely. Trousers with belt loops should be worn with a belt, especially if it’s a suit. These days, I feel that going beltless is a better look with a suit because helps to create a more streamlined aesthetic. Without a belt, I won’t break up my outfit or cut myself in half. A good thing being a shorter guy.
Also notice the suspender buttons along the inside lining of the pants. I’m so ready for braces.
They say shorter men should avoid cuffs, but I say that’s nonsense. I love the way it adds a bit of weight to the bottom of the pants allowing for them to drape cleanly, just above the shoe.
Finished Product Rating: 4.5/5 Stars
PRICE & ADDITIONAL INFO
The cost of the suit was $529. The waistcoat was $120. The dress shirt was $99 and the pocket square was $55. As a part of the Black Friday deal, the shirt and pocket square were free and so the grand total was $669 with free shipping. Again these are standard prices for MTM.
Under Black Lapel’s flawless fit promise, they will offer up to $75 in alterations credit per suit and $50 in alterations credit on any other MTM items. You have 30 days to redeem your credits. This is very similar to other MTM custom clothiers like Knot Standard and Indochino.
BEST THING ABOUT IT (PROS)
- Second to none ordering process
- Knowledgeable and friendly stylists and staff at the showroom
- Speedy processing and delivery
- Quality made suit with excellent fit on the first pass
If you can, a visit to the showroom is highly recommended. The reason why my suit fit so well the first go-round is because I went there in person, talked to the stylist about my preferences, what I like and don’t like. They listen and they communicate what can and can’t be done.
For me the best thing was visiting the showroom in person, getting that face to face interaction with my stylist. I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention the simple 3 step ordering process. There are many customization options with easy to understand descriptions for a MTM beginner.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT (CONS)
- Place the Black Lapel package inside of a sturdy box to prevent damage
- Include a high-quality hanger in addition to the garment bag
- More fabric options
Packaging is important. Look at products like Apple and Tesla. Whenever I receive an Apple product or Tesla mailing, it feels premium. And in turn makes me feel special. When I saw the damaged Black Lapel box my first thought was WTF, and felt unimportant.
The reality is that made-to-measure is hit or miss. Many men who first get started with custom clothing may try it and end up with an ill-fitting suit the first pass and completely give up on MTM. I understand the logic because when you pay a premium, you expect a flawlessly fitting suit, but that’s rarely the case from my experience.
It depends on so many factors. For example, were you measured at a showroom? Are the stylists doing a good job setting expectations? Are you able to articulate your personal preferences and exactly what you are looking for? If not, then there could be some problems.
It’s extremely rare that a MTM custom clothier nails the fit on the first go round. It just doesn’t happen. There are too many factors in play such as incorrectly measuring yourself or things getting lost in translation. Most of the time MTM companies err on the side of caution, leaving you with a looser fitting suit, because it’s easier to bring a jacket in and shorten the sleeves than to let out.
I’ve written about all the things you should look for when buying a suit off the rack and nailing the fit. But if you want to take it to the next level and leap into the world of custom suiting, Black Lapel is an excellent first choice. A flawless fit, indeed.
Maybe I got lucky or maybe they are that good. You won’t know unless you try for yourself.
If you do, please get in touch, and let me know all about it. Also, please reach out if you have any questions about ordering MTM and I’ll do the best job answering based off my experiences.
A note: These thoughts are my own and I was not compensated or given free product for this review. I will always provide my unbiased and honest opinion whether I am compensated or not.
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