There are men who love to shop. I just don’t know any.
The fellas I’m related to, the guys I work with and the ones I see when I’m out shopping would rather have a tooth yanked (without Novocain) than pick out a suit, choose a shirt, or, for that matter, shop for sweat socks. A good example of this mind set is Peter Bentler, a 27-year-old financial adviser at Smith Barney, who told me that shopping “is really torture.” “Going into stores, looking at multiple things? … I hate it.”
It’s this kind of negative attitude that Daniel Wiebracht thrives on. Wiebracht is a “professional clothier” who counts Bentler among his devoted clients.
Wiebracht’s job is to keep you out of stores. He is the store. Wiebracht comes to your office, assesses your needs, shows you the stuff, takes your measurements, orders the clothes — down to the socks and boxer shorts if that’s what you want — and then delivers it all, waits for you to try it on and will take it back for further alterations if you don’t like the fit. “It’s the best deal ever,” said Bentler.
I’d always assumed that this was the kind of service that Michael Jordan, Donald Trump and Tom Cruise employ to outfit themselves for their busy lives as zillionaires. Many menswear shops will offer personal service if you spend a great deal of money at their stores.
But I’ve recently learned that the same thing is available to regular people with less astronomical incomes, retailphobics who just want to avoid shopping in stores but either don’t trust their own judgment or want the personal attention you can’t get shopping online.
“Our ready-made suits start at $359 and you get the same service as someone who is spending $4,000 on a suit,” said Wiebracht, a personable, well-dressed 23-year-old salesman. He works for a company called Tom James, a privately owned firm founded in Nashville in 1966 that does not advertise and relies on word of mouth to acquire its clients. (The company also does women’s business suits, but the vast majority of its clients are male.)
With 23 sales employees, the Tom James Chicago office is the largest of the firm’s 182 worldwide offices, a strong indicator that Chicago men are busier, lazier, more store averse — or all three — than their counterparts in other big cities.
The company makes many of its own fabrics and manufactures suits for its label as well as for many department store labels, claiming the title of “the world’s largest manufacturer and retailer of custom clothing.”
I met Dan Wiebracht and his supervisor, Eric Kean, 29, in the lobby of the Loop office building at 70 W. Madison St. where they were about to deliver a charcoal suit to Bentler — his first custom-made garment. When we arrived at the front desk of Smith Barney on the 51st floor, Wiebracht seemed to know everyone, even though he has only worked for the company since January. “Hi Emma,” he greeted the receptionist. “How you doing?”
Tom James sales territory is divvied up by building, which is why so many of the Smith Barney guys are Wiebracht clients. “Ryan, looking great!” Wiebracht greeted one man in shirt sleeves. “That’s one of my shirts,” Wiebracht boasted. “And my ties.”
“The idea is to keep our client out of the stores,” explained Kean. This is why Tom James will even alter old suits bought somewhere else, just to prevent a client from the temptation of spending money in a store.
“If he goes to Brooks Brothers to tailor a suit, he might pick up a couple shirts — and we don’t want that,” said Kean. “The idea is to be a full-service clothier.”
In fact, that’s almost — but not entirely — true. You can’t buy exercise clothing or gym shoes from Tom James, and if you want underwear, it will cost you: boxers start at $19.75; T-shirts are $48 and boxer-briefs go for $42.
But custom-made suits start at $599 (and can cost as much as $13,999) with more than 500 fabrics to chose from. Custom shirts (250 fabrics) start at $79 (minimum of four) with ready-made starting at $59. Various sales can lower those prices.
“It’s really easy,” said Bentler. “They helped me catalog what I have and what I needed and basically fill holes in my wardrobe.”
On this visit, Bentler first tried on an old Brooks Brothers suit. Wiebracht charged $75 to alter it after Bentler lost 60 pounds (“I rediscovered exercise”) and dropped 10 inches off his waist. Then came the custom suit. “Great, great job,” said Bentler, buttoning up his new jacket.
That settled, Wiebracht pulled out a handful of handsome ties to go with the new suit. Bentler chose two (at $65 per) and declined the pitch for some custom shirts although he did seek some shirt advice. “What’s the deal with striping?” he asked.
Answer: Kean said striped suits are fine with both a striped shirt and a striped tie as long as the stripes in all three are different widths.
After a first visit that can last an hour (wardrobe evaluation is free and they’ll even come to your house if you want), most subsequent meetings take less than 15 minutes. “I’ve got clients who are, ‘All right, you’ve got two minutes!'” said Kean.
Before they part company, Wiebracht made a plan to contact Bentler again in a few months. The agenda: a navy blue suit.