Editor’s Note: Big thanks to our man Jason for being up for this review. For a fit perspective, he’s 5’7″, 175lbs, very broad chested, and his arms are shorter than average, which when combined with his chest, can make finding suiting a bit tough. We asked if he’d be up for an online custom suit review. He said yes.
As we crawl out of our caves, dusty eyed and disheveled, we would do well to put on our finest threads for social and work events this summer. But, given the considerable mental and physical strain of the past 14 months, many of us may have become shapeshifters in certain parts of our physique, and find our best suits no longer fit us as well as we once knew. Buying a new suit is likely on the minds of many of you dear readers, regardless of whether you’ve gained or lost weight during this strange, strange time. However, this is an expensive venture, and getting the best bang for your buck is crucial. Many online retailers offer gorgeous yet (relative to quality) affordable options, with SuitSupply and Spier & Mackay being the kings of the hill.
An option for those that don’t fit into standard “drop” zones = online made to measure.
But, a third horse in the race hangs their hat on offering made-to-measure suiting entirely online: Black Lapel. Depending how a suit fits you off the rack, tailoring costs can get pricey very quickly. Especially if your proportions don’t fit into standard “drop zones” (most suit makers usually have a six inch drop, meaning a 40R jacket will come with 34 waist pants.) Any adjustments more than an inch to an inch and a half and things start to get weird. And expensive.
Black Lapel aims to mitigate that risk through a detailed set of buyer-provided measurements, tailor follow-up, and a $75 alteration credit after the suit arrives. Read on to get a first hand review of the end-to-end experience, from order to first wear of the suit.
Editor’s Note: We bought this. Since Dappered has a strict “no freebies” policy, it’s not like we were gonna order a custom suit only to send it back to be trashed. So we spent the money for this review. Yes, we return stuff/press samples (again, can’t keep anything). But since this is a made-to-measure job, just for Jason’s frame, it seemed unethical to order and then return.
The first step, of course, is to select the suit. For purposes of this review, we selected something foundational, A true navy blue formal suit. This is very much so a formal suit. 100% S110 wool speaks to quality fabric, while a 100% Bemberg lining will offer traditional smooth, structured comfort. Black Lapel calls this a four season suit, but the full-lining (albeit in more breathable Bemberg) and dark shade leads me to recommend this as a three season suit. Opting for an unlined, unstructured suit for the summer would bring more breathability. Dark brown bull horn buttons keep with the traditional theme. Don’t worry, you’ll have an opportunity to add some spice during customization, should you choose.
After selecting the basic suit, Black Lapel takes you through customization options for each of the major stylistic points of the suit – lapels (obviously), pockets, vents, lining color and customization, and stitching – and that’s just the jacket. On the pants, you can customize number of back pockets, pleating, and cuffs. I ordered my suit as follows.
- Slim notched lapel (I like slim, you do you)
- Straight flapped pockets with matching ticket pocket (ditto on the ticket pocket!)
- Double side vents
- Sea Blue Bemberg lining
- White script signature
- No pick stitching or accent stitching
- Flat front
- No cuffs
- Two back pockets
You pick lapels, vents, ticket pocket, pleats, cuffs, and more.
I opted for these customizations to keep the suit formal, while offering just a touch of personality. Specifically, the ticket pocket is a nod to traditional British custom tailoring, while the slimmer notch lapels adds a more modern style note.
After making your selections, the next step is to add to cart, and then input your measurements.
The measurement process is robust, and one in which you should set aside plenty of time to ensure you are double checking your measurements. Even still, if your measurements stray from typical, Black Lapel will reach out to confirm your measurements. What you need is a partner, a 60″ measuring tape, and a camera.
Be honest here. Your fit depends on it.
During this step, you’ll take measurements for your chest, shoulders, arm length and circumference, jacket length, seat, thigh circumference, and pant length. If you were ever interested, or looking for an excuse to measure your biceps – here’s your chance. This is all done in an effort to ensure you get the closest thing to a custom fit without ever leaving your house. Black Lapel will walk you through each measurement step by step and allow you to enter the data as you go.
You will be taking lots of measurements. Get someone to help you out.
When finished you can view your measurements in your account and make any necessary tweaks when double checking all your measurements. You can also upload front, rear, and profile photos of yourself to allow the tailors to compare your measurements to your build. Kinda creepy? Maybe, but when you think about it, seeing the human they’re making the suit for really is a nice data point. Say you think your shoulders are pretty normal, but in fact they roll forward or back a touch. That’s important to know when making a suit. The entire process inspires great confidence that the tailors at Black Lapel will take every effort to create a one of a kind piece for you.
Detailed video how-tos to hopefully help you get your measurements right.
So we selected the suit, did the custom options, made the measurements and hit “buy”. And then? We wait. Five weeks. Which seems pretty standard in the online custom world.
When the suit arrived 5 weeks later, I was expecting to be greeted by a grandiose package, a la SuitSupply and their strong, durable box packaging containing your new suit on a wide-shouldered hangar in a slick garment bag.
Whoa. That’s folded up tight.
Instead, I received a DHL plastic bag, containing another (ziplocked) plastic bag. Inside the second bag was my suit, tightly folded as small as possible. Not a premium experience whatsoever. And frankly, a bit surprising. To their credit, Black Lapel includes an info sheet explaining the decision to use a bag, versus a box. They claim it’s more sustainable by way of a “superior weight-to-strength ratio,” and allows them to package and ship more efficiently with “less wasted jet fuel.” Your guess is as good as mine if that’s true. I love our environment, and sustainability and responsibility are important, but I hope Black Lapel continues to look for an option that balances a premium experience and sustainability. A plastic bag doesn’t fit that bill.
Time to deconstruct a suit burrito.
As such, both the jacket and pants will arrive wrinkled, and you would do well to open the package and hang them ASAP. I recommend steaming them (never iron your suit!) the next day to get out any of the remaining tougher, pesky wrinkles. This will take time, and your patience is certainly needed here, but it is well worth the effort.
There it is!
The moment of truth – is the suit any good?
Not bad for a first crack. Seat/hips need to be come in. And wrinkled from shipping.
Not shrink-wrapped/straining/painted on. I can move.
Overall, yes, with a few caveats. The material quality certainly is nice, and the Bemberg lining is smooth and offers enough structure befitting a formal suit. Overall, I have no complaints about the quality of the materials and construction itself. If that is your number one priority, Black Lapel has you covered. The issue arises when compared against the prior mentioned competition.
This is a very well dressed duel.
Shown on 5’7″/175.
I do wish they disclosed what mills their fabrics come from for this suit, though. Both SuitSupply and Spier & Mackay do this on all their suits, and they do feel and wear bit more premium in my experience. I struggle to put a word to it (ironic, considering this is a space wholly dedicated to just that), but I own multiple SuitSupply suits, and can confidently say the wool used on those suits is superior in fit, feel and construction to the wool here on the Black Lapel suit at the same price point. Black Lapel does provide some fabric origins for their higher priced suits ($800 and up!), whereas SuitSupply ($400, from Zigone in S110 wool and from Reda) and Spier & Mackay ($450, S130 wool from Guabello) both provide mill details and S110 or S130 wools at a significantly lower price point.
Jacket fit from the top down. Fits well, but doesn’t strain.
BUT, how’s the tailoring? After all, that is the primary value proposition for Black Lapel. That’s why you spend $500 on this suit – the promise of getting a dialed in fit without ever leaving your home.
I’m happy to say the tailors at Black Lapel did a wonderful job with the measurements I provided. I’ll admit, I was a bit spooked by this process and added a half inch on a few areas as a “buffer,” knowing Black Lapel promises a $75 alteration credit if your fit isn’t to your liking and the suit can always be taken in at these spots. I built in my buffer at the belt line, waist, chest and hips, as those are my “beefier” sections. Darned weightlifting. As a result, those are the only parts of the suit that don’t have my ideal fit. That said, the suit jacket doesn’t fit poorly, and has more of a classical silhouette, versus the more modern tailored look. This isn’t a bad thing; a timeless classic fit is nothing to be upset about and will please most buyers, and is a more comfortable look versus the slimmer cuts of the past few years.
Let this be a lesson to you, dear reader: trust the walkthrough on the Black Lapel website, and enter your measurements exactly. During this measurement process, Black Lapel instructs you to place two fingers between the measured body part and the measuring tape. I’m not sure this is needed for every measurement. Taking out the half-inch buffer I included, the belt line and hip areas still are about 2″ too large. Without a belt, the pants don’t stay on. But, you can rest easy knowing you can always bring the suit to your tailor for slight further adjustments, with Black Lapel’s alterations credit, should you need.
I may not have painted the rosiest picture, but Black Lapel offers an intriguing option for those who want a decent wool suit with customization options and the convenience to do it all from their computer screen at a fair price. It is a good suit, no question about it, but if you have a go-to tailor who does great work at an affordable price (Hi Vincenzo!), there are higher quality fabrics at better price points. My recommendation is to wander on over to Spier & Mackay or SuitSupply. Not only will you likely find better fabric choices at comparable or better prices, both retailers offer more variety with patterns, cuts, weaves and colors. You will be on the hook to get the suit tailored when it arrives, but the extra effort may be worth it for many.
For those who value convenience above all, or for those with not-average proportions who don’t have access to a great tailor who can work serious magic, then Black Lapel has you covered.
About the Author: Jason P. spends his days working in the creative marketing department of a big telecom company. He also does a bit of real estate investing on the side. He believes in curating a timeless, classic wardrobe with subtle modern touches for today. He and his wife love hiking with their dog and shopping at local small businesses and antique stores when they travel. Jason is a practitioner of muay thai and traditional boxing, and his favorite drink is a hoppy New England IPA.