| Family First Feature |

The Suit Lady

I know I’m not the only one who complains that getting my husband to buy a new suit is a miserable drag — the endless trying on, the decisions, the time it takes… not to mention the price tag. Can a basement in Teaneck really be my source of salvation?

There are times when moving into a cave seems like a very sound option. My husband needing a new suit is one of those times. Last time this happened was before my brother’s wedding. My husband finally agreed to look for a new suit, but even with the yagata, there was no matzasa. We went everywhere, tried on almost everything, but nothing fit, nothing was the right style, nothing was in our price range. He ended up wearing his old suit and swore off suit shopping for eternity.

Okay, fine, that’s not entirely accurate. Just a few weeks after the wedding, he succumbed and bought a custom-made suit. He’s still wearing it two years later, and he intends to wear it until the fabric disintegrates from overuse.

They tell me it doesn’t have to be this way. Guess if I believe them. They also all tell me to go to Naomi Klinger.

They say she makes buying a suit an enjoyable experience. Well, I’m the biggest skeptic I know, so I had to check out Naomi myself. I headed north on the Garden State Parkway to spend an evening observing her process — and maybe even walk away with new hope for my husband’s wardrobe.

First thing I notice is the sign: “Only Park in the Driveway,” in the familiar style of the “Don’t Block Driveway upon Penalty of Death” signs you usually see. Naomi welcomes me with a warm but not overwhelming hello and handshake.

The showroom, located in the basement of Naomi’s Teaneck home, has a modern feel — white walls, moldings, clean lines, and a black-and-white diamond pattern on one wall for accent. There’s a wall of tie cubbyholes lined with hundreds of perfectly rolled ties. There are two viewing tables as well, each inlaid with a jewelry box set up for cufflinks. A one-stop-shop for all things men.

I’d heard of The Suit Lady from my brother, who heard of her from our first cousin, who got to her from… not even sure, but with no advertising, her name gets around. As do her purple logoed garment bags. Yes, the men all sport them proudly.

Naomi says her best referrals come from the tailors who do alterations on her suits. That’s how she broke into the larger mainstream market — the tailors buy from her themselves and tell their friends about her, too.

Naomi shows me a text she received that day from a client: I’m at a conference and the COO likes my jacket. He asked where he can order. Do you have a 44 reg or short? A picture of the blazer was included. I ask no more questions about her zero-marketing budget.

Naomi Nachman, Family Table columnist, came across The Suit Lady after asking for recommendations for her husband. “But you live in the Five Towns,” I interrupt. Yes, she confirms. Everyone treks to Teaneck? “Yes,” she says. “We make a day of it, make an appointment online, and go out to eat after.” I confirmed this with The Suit Lady. Many young couples make a night of it: get a babysitter, go to NoBo or Etc, then come buy a suit.

But Naomi Klinger scoffed at the thought that the Five Towns is a trek. “I’ve had someone drive in from Cleveland, buy a suit, then turn around and drive eight hours back.” She has clients from Baltimore, Montreal, Toronto, even South Africa. There’s also the client from Australia who calls ahead to confirm that Naomi will be in town before he books his tickets.

But suits are sold everywhere. Why the schlep? Naomi shares how it all started.

Her story is one of a slow evolution, with a few bold choices along the way. It’s the trajectory of a successful woman in corporate America becoming a stay-at-home mom, loving it, but needing a bit more stimulation. And Naomi’s stimulation came in the form of doing favors for friends.

Her family is in the suit manufacturing business — they manufacture suits of their own design and of high-end designers and sell them to department stores and upscale boutiques. Naomi would often visit the family warehouses with whichever kid was home at the time. Knowing this, friends asked her to bring back suits for them, specifying type, color, size, etc. Naomi would select a few suits, her friend would choose, pay for them, and Naomi would return the rest the next time she went to the warehouse.

Her friends were appreciative, and friends referred friends and Naomi became a sort of go-between, and started charging a fee for her service. At that point people came to her because they loved the deal they were getting: top quality suits at a fraction of the cost. They weren’t yet coming to her in her own right. She had yet to become The Suit Lady.

Naomi loves mixing and matching and trying new things, so she used her family connections to buy a box of ties from a tie manufacturer and sell those as well. Slowly over the years, the business grew, mushrooming a few years back into almost a lifestyle with devoted shoppers.

To create a “Suit Lady” suit, Naomi has to work way in advance. Naomi designs and manufactures her own suits and it takes six months from design conception to delivery of goods, ergo she needs to keep her ear to the ground predicting styles for the coming season. Looking to European trends is a good indicator of American taste, she points out, as Europe tends to be ahead of the curve.

Everything is done remotely — Naomi never has to leave her home — but that doesn’t make the process any less intense. It starts with bags and bags of material swatches. Naomi selects the material first on quality — “Italian and British wool are usually the best,” she says. Only after selecting for quality will she whittle her samples down based on needs, like ensuring a good variety of blues, blacks, grays, and patterns.

After swatch collection, it’s ordering sizes and quantities. She’s always changing it up a bit pattern-wise. “Bigger lapels are in,” she says.

“Which means wider ties too,” I add. (Lapel width should match tie width.)

“Yup, skinny ties are going out.” Naomi confirms.

I know, I know, you need to process this news.

Because production takes so long, and reordering is nearly as long, Naomi needs to be very savvy in calculating what she expects will sell best, to order higher quantities, and which styles will be less popular, so she should only order a few pieces. I got overwhelmed thinking of the logistics, but Naomi was chilled. Good for her, I couldn’t handle the stress.

Naomi is careful to use material without shatnez and also ensures that linen isn’t put in during the manufacturing process — in suits, linen is usually added in the jacket collar or pant waistband. However, she recommends her clients check just in case. “It’s a mitzvah to check for shatnez,” she tells them.

But why “The Suit Lady”? “My clients named it,” she says. When she called her accountant to set up the corporation, the accountant requested the company name. “I didn’t have one, and I didn’t care what it was,” Naomi laughs. “I told him to name it.”

The accountant named it the uninspired NKOriginals, using her initials. But as she became more known, people would call her, or see her on the street and ask, “Are you the suit lady?” You know how there’s a cake lady and a sheitel lady in every town? Naomi took people at their word and changed the legal company name to “The Suit Lady.”

Still, what’s with the cult-like obsession?

“Everyone gets my personal undivided attention, that’s the secret,” Naomi shares. Attention, huh? Who knew that’s what men wanted. To shop at The Suit Lady, you need to make an appointment, either by phone or online.

“I love the appointment. I want your undivided attention and I’ll pay more for it every time,” Naomi Nachman says.

While the personal attention is a huge selling point, it’s The Suit Lady herself who is the real added value.

Everyone talks of Naomi, her eye for style and her laidback, no-pressure approach. And then there’s her uncanny ability to know your size without ever taking out a measuring tape.

“She just looks at you and knows your size,” says Naomi Nachman, whose husband and son-in-law have purchased suits from Naomi. Others have said the same. It’s no magic trick, just years of experience and a blessed eye.

Another benefit? “I’m efficient when I go shopping, no dragging it out for me,” says Mr. Kasper, my friend’s husband. “When I go to The Suit Lady, it takes my efficiency up a notch. I know I’m gonna come out with something, and fast.”

Yaakov, who just bought suits for himself and his bar mitzvah bachur, tells me, “You go to these fancy department stores and you have the sales people trailing you, ‘dreing you a kup’ and it’s annoying. A lot of pressure and not a geshmake experience.” He prefers the service and quality of The Suit Lady.

“People think men don’t care about looking good. They do,” says Yaakov. “They just don’t have patience for it.”

I still have doubts. My youngest brother is quite the dresser, to the point that Naomi had to convince him not to buy a blue suit for his wedding. “The Suit Lady’s suits are the ‘popping’ ones,’” he says. He might get excited by popping suits, but what about the rest of the male population?

I asked Naomi about that reputation. She responds that yes, she carries a lot of trendy stuff, and those are the people you notice and think, “That’s The Suit Lady.” But the guy standing right next to the snazzy dresser wearing a quiet, well-fitted suit is her customer too. He wants to blend in, and he does, so you don’t know his suit is just as much The Suit Lady as the loud one.

But even with tamer suits, people tend to stick with what they know. “People are terrified of change,” Naomi says. True fact. So when advising a customer, Naomi is very gentle about introducing new styles.

She uses a simple, “Try it — see how you feel. Maybe you’ll like it.”

Trying on is the biggest hurdle. Once men see themselves in different cuts and silhouettes, they usually embrace it. And often there’s a wife hoping her husband will make a shift.

“First she brings out something my wife likes, then she’ll bring out something a little tamer that I’ll wear,” Mr. Kasper says.

Naomi says that dynamic of conservative-husband, trendy-wife is the majority. There was a young couple shopping the night I visited, and they definitely were Exhibit A. The husband insisted he needed a black suit, while the wife gently nudged for color, pattern, texture … something!

My big challenge was coming: Can she dress my old-school older brother, who insists on his double-breasted suits?

Naomi says she has suits for everyone in every style, though she doesn’t have pleated pants or three button suits. “They’ll be coming back,” she says. “Everything comes back.” And then she’ll carry them. Right now, there’s no market for them. Just FYI, two-button suits are way more flattering, the center V is lower and more centered on the body than where a three-button suit would hit, giving a slimmer appearance.

Now, tachlis: Cost? Although Naomi says personal attention is her secret to success, her pricing is genius. Every suit is $299. Every single one.

If you don’t get the brilliance, then you’ve never gone shopping where the only thing you like is the most expensive and you’re left compromising on either budget or taste, regretting whichever you choose. In this case, the money question is irrelevant; you focus solely on the product and not the economics. Told you it was genius.

“I want people to look good and feel good when they leave,” Naomi stresses. And if it’s your first purchase from her, Naomi will say, “Welcome to the club,” and it does feel like one.

For future purchases, Naomi keeps a profile of each client’s size and preferences. People can also purchase new suits from her website knowing their size in her line and that it’s a guaranteed good fit. And West Coast people, good news — The Suit Lady has a warehouse and showroom in LA with the same appointment-based model and pricing.

After we go over her locations, Naomi drops a shocking bombshell. “Never send your suit to the dry cleaner,” she declares.

Come again?

She repeats, explaining that “the chemicals they use break down the fibers and destroy the suit. And often when people have ‘shiny suits’ it’s because of the direct iron heat from pressing.”

“But … but …” I sputter. How do I clean my husband’s suit?!

Calmly she offers instructions. Dab stains with baby wipes. To keep it fresh, hang it behind the bathroom door when you shower; the steam from the water and the soap scent will freshen it. To press, place a handkerchief on top of the pants and iron on top of that; avoid direct contact with the iron. Worst case scenario, with an impenetrable stain, Naomi concedes you may have to employ the dry cleaner, but it should be viewed as a nuclear option.

Wow, now I need to reevaluate all my assumptions in life.

We’ve been talking a while and I wind down with a “What does the future hold?” Naomi shrugs. Her kids are still growing up and they’re her focus and future. Once they’re older and independent, she’ll see where things go. This chilled, yet priority-driven attitude is what drives the service at The Suit Lady.

When I leave Naomi way later than intended because we couldn’t stop talking, we hug. And that’s normal, Naomi’s customers have become her friends; there’s a joy and nachas in it all. Now I just have to convince my husband to give suit shopping one more try.

 

If the Suit Fits…

“Fit is king,” is the first thing Naomi says. It comes before any other consideration; fabric, color, style. If a suit doesn’t fit well, no matter what you love about it, and what alterations you do, it will never look right.

What does “fitting” mean? The first thing to look at are the shoulders: Do the shoulders of the suit end where the natural shoulder does, or are your son’s football fantasies coming true?

If the shoulders aren’t right — stop right there, try the next suit. Altering the shoulders is both the most difficult and expensive type of alteration. Not worth it.

Next, check to see where the jacket ends. The ideal length is at the top of the legs. Once again, changing the length is not worth the effort or cost.

The jacket should not be pulling in the back, but there are those who prefer the stylized x in the front that comes when the jacket tugs just a bit at the center.

Ideally, you don’t want to alter sleeve length because shortening the sleeve messes up the distance from the end of the cuff to the start of the buttons. But if it’s just sleeve length, The Suit Lady says it’s still worth the suit.

When it comes to alterations, the safest place is the pants. They have a simpler construction and are therefore easier to alter. Naomi does admit that it’s better to let pants out a bit than take them in; letting them out maintains the taper, while taking them in risks losing the pant shape.

In general, heavyset men are more difficult to fit, but there are a few pointers to keep in mind to make the process easier. The darker the shade and the more minimal the pattern, the slimmer the person will look. Also counterintuitively, a fuller cut, which provides a looser fit, makes a person look larger. Choosing a slimmer cut and snugger fit gives a slimming impression.

Finally, people often think fabric with higher thread count is more durable, but it’s not; it’s just more comfortable, and expensive.

 

Tie Tips

Less life-altering than fitting a suit, you may wonder what’s the best way to match a tie to a suit. Most people end up with blue suits. And with blue suits, most people end up with blue and yellow ties that they both cling to and loathe. Men are often afraid to break out the color, yet they’re so sick of the same old, same old.

“Try something new,” Naomi says, “maybe a pink/purple? Or if you’re scared, how about green or deep red, like burgundy?”

As for patterns, keep them small. Flowers are in these days and bring a fresh take on an old look.

“Have fun with the tie,” Naomi encourages. “Don’t be afraid to mix squares with stripes or pattern with pattern.”

I feel like we’re talking about something deeper than just ties here.

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 610)

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