Black Lapel Suit Review

Black Lapel Suit Review

Recently, we started our series on “custom” suits with a review of Indochino. In our second installment today, I will focus on a 3-piece suit by Black Lapel, which begins at $549 and falls in the same price range as Indochino. In the coming weeks, we will also look at other suits from $1000 to $3000, so there is something for every budget.

Black Lapel History

Several months ago, I was contacted by Black Lapel co-owner Derek Tian, and fortunately I had a chance to meet him at his office in New York. He wore a brown faux tweed  herringbone sport coat that fit him very well, and so I was eager to learn more. Together with Warren Liao, Christopher O’Young founded Black Lapel in 2011 with the goal of offering affordable, yet customizable men’s clothes. All three are Chinese-American, and they produce their garments in China. In fact, at least one of them is always in China at any given point in time to ensure everything works the way it should.

Derek from Black Lapel

Derek Tian – co-founder of Black Lapel

After talking a bit, we decided that it would be a good idea to do a review of one of their suits. Although I could have been measured right then and there, we both thought it would be more valuable to order a suit on the website like a regular customer.

Review of an online Made-to-Measure suit, made by Black Lapel
3 Piece Suit
Date Published: 01/07/2014
Great customization options, good fit, limited fabric selection, quick delivery with excellent service
4 / 5 stars

Black Lapel pattern matching on the side seam & double breasted vest

Black Lapel pattern matching on the side seam & double breasted vest

Fabric Choice

While I was at the office, I had a chance to look at all of the fabrics, which was definitely an advantage. Black Lapel sources its cloth from Filarte, a large weaver based out of Biella, Italy that produces many of its fabrics directly in China. That way, supply chains are short and efficient. Most of the fabrics I saw were fine worsted wool in light weights, while only very few sport coat fabrics were heavier than 12 oz /360 grams. As you know, heavier fabrics simply drape better.

Interestingly, the cloth selection on the website is rather limited. Black Lapel deliberately does this in order to guarantee the best prices, and to keep website logistics economical. If you are an existing customer who lives in NYC, you may stop by at their office and take a look at their fabric swatch books in person.

On the website, you are currently limited to 35 suit fabrics and 17 sport coat fabrics. Personally, I chose the brown / blue Bedford plaid fabric which is a worsted of 100% Super 110′s wool in 9 oz /275 grams. Although listed as blazer fabric only I requested it to be made up as a suit, despite the warnings of Black Lapel. Blazer fabrics are usually woven differently than suiting fabrics and more prone to wear or sometimes piling. If you are looking for a workhorse business suit then this material is not recommended for pants because chances are you will see some wear in the crotch area early on. However, I do have a lot of suits and I never had any issues with trousers showing wear prematurely, which is why I never buy a second pair of trousers and I opted to go with this fabric.

Style Options

By default, Black Lapel offers similar style options as Indochino.

It starts with a selection of slim fit, tailored fit or standard fit (I chose standard), different button styles (double breasted is $50 extra due to the extra fabric needed). I opted for a one button notched lapel jacket with side vents, just like with Indochino. Once I decided on the slanted, flapped pockets and a solid, sky blue viscose lining, I had the chance to pick embroidered text. Generally, I don’t have my suits monogrammed but as this is a review piece I chose a script in silver with my name. Advanced options allow for boutonniere loops, working buttonholes, ticket pockets and pick stitching.

For trousers, you can choose from the same 3 fit options, flat front, single or double pleats and cuffs. While that seems rather limited, the process is designed not to deter inexperienced customers with too many options.

Open cuffs, Fort Belvedere shadow stripe socks & Meermin Cordovan tassel loafers

Open cuffs, Fort Belvedere shadow stripe socks & Meermin Cordovan tassel loafers

The Black Lapel Difference

What sets Black Lapel apart from Indochino and most other online Made-to-Measure providers of suits, sport coats and pants is the fact that they are willing to work with you on the styles to a degree that is very close to bespoke. Of course, the garment itself is still made to measure, but you can really choose all kinds of details the way you like them.

In my case, I requested slightly longer side vents, a specific lapel width and just 3 cuff buttons with a longer distance in between to create a different look. However, that was just the beginning. For the vest, I requested a completely new model which they had never made before. I submitted pictures of a 8×4 double breasted vest  with specific lapels, and they delivered. The only thing that was not there was a vest tab that makes sure your vest always covers your waistband, but that’s easily added after the fact. Moreover, the balance of the jacket closing button and the vest lapels is not perfect, but this is such an intricate detail that not many people know, unless they have read the double breasted vest section of our vest guide.

Sleeves are a bit too long but that's normal

For trousers, I wanted 2 inch cuffs,  inward facing pleats, suspender buttons, waistband adjusters and a fishtail back. I got it all with the exception of the fishtail back – maybe something got lost in the email process but overall, I think for the price you won’t find many other companies who are willing to provide such a high degree of customization.

For example , if you want a specific period suit from the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s or 1960s I am pretty confident Black Lapel can deliver, if you provide them with the right pictures and descriptions. Also, I provided them with several pictures of my posture before the suit was made so they could see what difficulties they may face.

Delivery & Fit

I received my suit 4 weeks after I ordered it, which is in line with the 4-6 week window they specify on their website. Out of the box, the suit did not look great. It was folded up tightly and had a lot of wrinkles. Fortunately, a little bit of steam was enough to loosen all the wrinkles in a few seconds. If you don’t have a steamer (it is a good investment), just hang it in your bathroom and turn on the shower on hot, let it hang there for a few minutes and the result should be similar.

While not perfect, the fit was much better out of the box than Indochino. The buttoning point was at the right height, the vest was great, the pants fit. I am sure with a fishtail back the trousers would have shown fewer wrinkles. The sleeves were too wrinkly especially in the back and a bit too long, but even a bespoke tailor adjusts the sleeve length only on the finished garment. My sloping shoulders (right more so than left) were not accommodated perfectly, hence you can see the wrinkles on my back and front sides. However, bear in mind that a lightweight fabric like this will show wrinkles much more easily than heavier fabrics, which is one of the reasons I prefer the latter with more drape.

Generally, Black Lapel has a fit guarantee, which means that they want to make you happy. As such they pay for $75 in alterations or a remake the suit if need be. Always bear in mind that the first suit will never be perfect.  In my case, the armhole on the right would have to be cut a little deeper, and fabric needs to be taken out. Also, the sleeve would have to be set in again and likely even cut differently. I doubt all this could be done properly for $75 but I am sure a second suit would be much closer to perfection if I provided pictures.

I like that the collar lays flat against my neck. I do have some freedom of movement, although I can’t move my arms as freely as in other suits I own, therefore I’d rate ease of movement at somewhere above average. Overall, I think this is what you can expect from an online MTM suit after your first order. It is not perfect but with a few alterations it is wearable.

Construction & Details

The jackets feature a half canvas and are mostly machine made with hand detailing. The collar is sewn on by machine, but the sleeve lining shows some handwork. The buttonholes are machine made but very nice. The lining is flexible and moves with you, and the pattern is matched where possible and ironed and cut properly. The lapels were a little flat but with an iron it is no problem to add a bit of lapel curl back in For the price, I think the workmanship is decent. I think it is possible to get a full canvas jacket for an upcharge but I just went with the standard options that would be available to you as well should you want to order a suit now.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, I think I would chose Black Lapel over Indochino every time because they provide more customization options and the fit was better. At the same time, there is room for improvement. A larger fabric choice would be welcome, as would a full canvas option. In terms of fit, my suit is good but wrinkly, a selection of heavier fabrics would not show all of them so blatantly but it is a general trend to offer these kind of lightweight fabrics. I wonder how a second suit would turn out and if the fit issues could be remedied. Overall, I think for the price you receive a good value: the suit will likely fit better of the rack, especially if you have an asymmetrical body, the choice of details and customization is top notch for the price category, and delivery times and customer service are excellent. The website is perfectly functional but not as a sleek and modern as the ones you see from other online MTM providers in the market.

Overall, I would rate it at 4 out of 5 stars.

PROs
CONs
Bespoke-like, industry leading customization optionsDated website interface
Good fit for the first online MTM suitLimited fabric selection, mostly lightweight, no fabric kit available
Delivery as promisedNo full canvas option for new customers
Great service
Freedom of movement: above average
Boutonniere Loop
Can accommodate different arm lengths

12 replies
  1. J.A. Shapira
    J.A. Shapira says:

    Fantastic. I’ve been hesitant to order from Black Lapel but I might now give them a try. Thank you.

  2. JKL
    JKL says:

    Your sloping shoulder seems to create a lot of trouble. My shoulders are straight, but i don’t have as much meat further in, by the neck. That is why in my suits my tailor can sew pads into the lining of the shoulders, and make it all fit perfectly. I do not see why you would not be able to do this? Have you considered just adding padding between the lining by the shoulder?

    In my opinion, the suit has way to long legs and sleeves must be shortened too. I also think the vest would have looked a lot better if it was much shorter and tighter.

    For being a china-suit i think it turned out quite well though!

  3. Thomas Guice
    Thomas Guice says:

    Dear Sven,
    I enjoyed reading your reviews on Indochino and Black Label, it’s refreshing to read about this new type of the custom M-T-M sector from someone who knows style, it’s plain to see you know how attire should be timeless from the details you mention and your knowledge of structure. I myself do custom made-to-measure and bespoke attire. We have battled over the subject of doing this type of offering, and tried to determine if it’s a sector we truly want to pursue, I personally think, as for a bespoke garment the client and anyone working on the piece should be present for all fittings. On the other hand M-T-M is different, all though with the amount of detail we put in our suits and shirts, we prefer the client be present,but not imperative, the options we offer are endless, and because we do business in the Asian arena we can keep our price point in the ball park as the two companies you reviewed with more options on fabrics, cuts, and with that, we have our quality control personnel in the factories abroad.
    Not only can other clients sit in front of a our TV, computer or iPad with our new innovative robust software platform, we give them the ability to view life-like 3D images of fabric swatches as finished garments. If you’ve ever had custom made-to-measure clothing made before one of the most frequently asked questions: “It looks great as a swatch, but how will it look as a garment?” our software will answer that question.
    The process involves flat-bed scanning two-dimensional fabric swatches, then rendering or ‘texture mapping” the digital fabric images onto a three-dimensional model to realistically portray a virtual garment. The results are a dynamic life-like image of the garment-viewable either as a stand-alone garment or paired with a suit, jacket, shirt, vest trousers, tie, buttons or buttons thread all viewable for your choosing.
    They can see the swatches first hand, from mills like Dormeuil, Zenga, Barberis, Reda, Holland and Sherry which are keep in stock at the factories, if not we can order CMT.
    We challenge anyone to find a ready-to-wear suit at any store and compare details and price on our custom made-to-measure products, if you find one better at a better price we’ll buy it for you.
    Thanks for your time and keep up the great work!
    Best Regards,
    Thomas Guice
    Guice for Men American Sartorial
    guiceformen.com
    Check out our FB Fan page https://www.facebook.com/GuiceForMen

  4. Jovan Gauthier
    Jovan Gauthier says:

    Even accounting for the price paid, Black Lapel is still a better value than Indochino in every way in my experience. Pony up the money and upgrade.

    That said, I agree it would be nice to have some heavier fabrics. I’m quite partial to a classic 10 oz. worsted, but sadly that suit no longer fits me and I had to sell it.

    Hope it’s okay if I share my experience here:

    http://nouveauvintage.blogspot.com/2013/05/review-black-lapel-custom-clothiers.html

  5. Ian
    Ian says:

    Sven – could you say a little more about vest tabs, I’ve never heard of them before and as a devotee of the three piece I’m intrigued. Do they connect the back of your vest with your trousers?

    • Sven Raphael Schneider
      Sven Raphael Schneider says:

      It is a little tab on the inside of the vest that is connected to a button on the inside of the trousers’ waistband. IT is supposed to keep the waistcoat always on top of the waistband. Sometimes they are made out of elastic sometimes from the same fabrics but it pays to have them made with at least two buttonholes for flexibility.

      • Ian
        Ian says:

        Thanks Sven. That’s interesting. I might look into having some made up. Can they be retrofitted to an existing suit?

  6. Dale R. Beitler
    Dale R. Beitler says:

    Good Morning Mr.Sven Raphael Schneider:

    I would like to see a waist coat with this detail and trouser button setup required to make it work. Thank you and keep-up the interesting work.
    Sincerely Dale

  7. Park Jacob Weatherby
    Park Jacob Weatherby says:

    A Prosper New Year Mr. Schneider,
    a wonderfully informative article on MTM suits I wish to inquire on the matter of customizing a garment for myself is Black Lapel agreeable to accepting from customers one of their well fitting suits as template to outfit a MTM suit or are customers limited to the online measurements?

    Regards,

    Park Jacob Weatherby

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] easy to see the real shade of each fabric. Compared to online establishments such as Indochino or Black Lapel, the advantage of mytailor is clearly the wealth of fabrics that you can choose from, right then […]

  2. […] resistance, a drawback also noted by my friend Raphael Schneider at Gentleman’s Gazette in his own review of a Black Lapel suit.  The wrinkles are particularly pronounced in the trousers (crotch and back […]

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