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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
|Bespoke-like, industry leading customization options||Dated website interface|
|Good fit for the first online MTM suit||Limited fabric selection, mostly lightweight, no fabric kit available|
|Delivery as promised||No full canvas option for new customers|
|Freedom of movement: above average|
|Can accommodate different arm lengths|