Abraham Lee, who claims to be Portland’s only true bespoke tailor because he makes custom suits by hand using patterns based on the client’s own measurements, says his Northeast Portland business has been improving as well. But he pegs the beginning of his turndown to an earlier date, Sept. 11, 2001.
Now, says the native of Seoul, “I feel things are picking up.” He’s back to making a few hundred suits per year for customers as far away as New York and Alaska, although, he says, “It was much better before 9/11.”
Lee charges $1,000 to $4,000 for a custom suit that is hand-basted by his two assistants and mostly sewn by machine after at least two customer fittings. Certain details, such as buttonholes, are always sewn by hand.
It takes as long as eight weeks to complete a suit, dating from when Lee takes 18 measurements on a customer’s body. Lee has another income stream, however. He also operates the dry-cleaning shop next door.
Hanover points out that for the discerning gentleman, bespoke suits and made-to-measure suits have their own merits. Mario’s specializes in made-to-measure suits from prestigious designer labels. The difference is that made-to-measure begins with a try-on garment, rather than a unique pattern. But custom details for a made-to-measure suit are “close to limitless,” he says.
That goes for the price, as well, particularly for top Italian brands, such as Brioni and Kiton. “You basically can spend as much as you want,” says Hanover. “You can spend a down payment on a house in their upper register of options.”
Spear says Este’s offers high quality, sans the designer labels. Prices for suits, made to order at a Baltimore factory, range from $1,295 to $3,500.
Helmer says custom suits account for only 10% of his business, which is known for its hats. “But we’re kind of a wooly-tweedy type store,” he says. “And we carry some labels no one else in town does.” Suit prices range from $695 to $2,200.
Helmer says what his customers are mainly looking for in a nice suit is the confident feeling that wearing it brings.
“Confidence is huge,” he says. “That may well be the driving engine that the economy needs.”