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For the past few years, the American white-collar worker has been anything but white-collar. Trickle-down techie casual, of course, led legions of lawyers and executives to the racks of Banana Republic in search of VC-blue dress shirts and chinos. But with a White House suit-and-tie dress code in place, dot-coms gone from status to stigma, and men more in touch with their sartorial side, custom suitmakers are enjoying a renewed interest in their hand-tailored wares. “I was yesterday in Palo Alto, [Calif.,] and I was never so busy,” says Martin Greenfield, the 72-year-old Brooklyn, N.Y.-based tailor who makes Brooks Brothers bespoke Golden Fleece suits. Greenfield is understandably excited by the brisk sales his hand-sewn clothes enjoyed at the Silicon Valley trunk show. After all, this is ground zero of the office-casual revolution, hardly the kind of place you’d expect to find executives willing to spend thousands of dollars on ritualistic old-economy garb. There’s the possibility that showing up in a suit at a dressed-down event will make the wearer stand out — in a bad way. “I was worried that it would be awkward,” confesses BlackPlanet.com Executive Director Omar Wasow. “But a nice four-button, or even three-button suit is sufficiently stylish that you don’t look stuffy.” A year ago, Wasow added to his apparel arsenal, trading up from his usual off-the-rack Country Road suits to a black, four-button custom number from Tom James, a nationwide tailor that specializes in “updated traditional” wear. The purchase transformed Wasow into something of an evangelist for bespoke menswear. “Not to be too much of a geek about it, but people really notice,” he says enthusiastically of the handmade suit, which features a “subtle, orangey-purple” pinstripe and an interior label reading “hand-tailored exclusively for OTW.” He’s since added three more handmade Tom James suits to his wardrobe. Greenfield, who also makes Donna Karan’s custom suits, has stitched duds for presidents Eisenhower, Johnson and Clinton. He believes the business-casual revolution was nothing more than a historical blip. “Remember,” he points out in a distinctive Czech accent, “I saw leisure suits come and go.” True, none of the big firms that adopted business-casual dress codes in recent years — including CSFB, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley — has reverted to mandatory suits and ties. But elsewhere anecdotal evidence of a backlash is mounting. Anthony Giliberto, whose shop in New York’s garment district manufactures suits for smaller tailors around the country, recently made a dozen suits for Bill Gates. Also among his clients are Marc Andreessen, James Gandolfini — both in and out of character as Tony Soprano — and George W. Bush. Of these, only Gandolfini is likely to know Giliberto Fashions is the real suitmaker; the rest receive their duds with the label of the local tailor who took their measurements. Credit for Bush’s blue wool inauguration-day ensemble, for instance, went to Gassane Tailors of Austin, Texas. Giliberto thinks the return of suits results, fittingly, from trickle-down economics: “Bush instituted a dress code at the White House,” he reasons, adding that top executives will likely follow suit. “The people who report to them will feel they have no choice but to dress up.” You may even be left with something to keep in your custom-made pockets. Both Giliberto and Greenfield say their made-to-measure suits start at $900; Carolyn King, the tailor who designed Wasow’s suits, says Tom James custom suits start at $650. All three say their suits cost $1,500 on average. (By comparison, Armani’s virgin-wool “classic three-button” costs about $800 off the rack.) The price of a custom-made suit is ultimately determined by the fabric; fine, “super 120″ wool is one of the most expensive materials commonly used, but Giliberto half-jokingly offers, “I could make you a $10,000 suit if you wanted it made of pashmina.” Hong Kong, with its famously inexpensive, high-quality tailors, presents a somewhat more affordable alternative, even if you’re not tooling around the former British outpost. Noble House’s Vijay Wadhwani, for instance, makes an annual trunk-show tour of U.S. cities, setting up for a few days at a time in hotel rooms. With deals like the Affordable Elegance package (three suits for $1,299), the Hong Kong tailors are an excellent fit for new-new economy budgets. Copyright � 2001 The Industry Standard

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