Suit up! Exploring women’s custom tailoring

Custom tailoring
Custom tailoring
Tony C French—Getty Images

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Greece chooses its first female head of state, Tulsi Gabbard sues Hillary Clinton, and we dig into the world of women’s custom suits. Have a terrific Thursday. 

– Suit up! A couple months back, I was rifling through my bedroom closet when I was struck by a realization: While my husband’s side includes a tidy collection of custom-made suits and shirts, every single blazer or button-down on my section of the central rack had been bought, well, off the rack.

As it turns out, that’s pretty standard. There are dozens of companies (and countless individual tailors) that make custom suiting for men, but the market for women, though growing, remains relatively small. So, what compelled the custom industry to spend so many decades giving women the cold—if impeccably tailored—shoulder? And why is that state of affairs finally beginning to shift?

In this story, new on this morning, I attempt to get to the bottom of those questions, spending time with some of the  enterprising tailors and designers who specialize in women’s suiting—and even getting my own suit made along the way. My sources shed light on the forces that have held women’s custom back (the Fashion Industrial Complex, tailoring’s fuddy duddy roots, the near infinite variety of women’s physiques) and the women who have the most to gain from having clothing created just for them—including those in the LGBTQ+ community.

Perhaps the most fascinating part of reporting this piece was talking to women about what they believe their suits say to the wider world. For instance, NYC-based women’s bespoke tailor Dara Lamb told me that some of her clients consider how wearing certain high-quality menswear fabrics might help them communicate with the men in their professional orbits. “Most of [those men] have gotten their suits custom made, most of them have seen fabrics like that.” Lamb believes this kind of visual familiarity can “take the walls down—it really does allow you a greater level of influence.”

Then there’s Dr. Susan Nicholson, VP of Women’s Health at Johnson & Johnson, who purchased her first suit from London-based bespoke tailor Kathryn Sargent last year. Her reason for suiting up is hard to argue with: “For me, co-opting that male symbol of power and influence says, ‘Hey, I’m influential too.’ ”

You can read the full story here.

Kristen Bellstrom

Today’s Broadsheet was produced by Emma Hinchliffe


- Greece lightning. Greek lawmakers elected Aikaterini Sakellaropoulou president on Wednesday, making her the country's first female head of state. The role is largely ceremonial and "honors both justice and the modern Greek woman," Sakellaropoulu said. Bloomberg

- Candidate vs. former candidate. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a candidate for president, filed a $50 million defamation lawsuit against Hillary Clinton alleging that Clinton said Gabbard was a "favorite of the Russians." Clinton made the comments in question during a podcast interview without mentioning Gabbard by name. Gabbard's lawyer writes that the former secretary of state's "personal hostility toward Rep. Gabbard apparently clouded [her] reason." A Clinton spokesman called the lawsuit "ridiculous." ABC News

- On trial. The prosecution and defense read their opening statements in Harvey Weinstein's sexual assault and rape trial yesterday. The prosecution argued that Weinstein is "not a harmless old man" and is a serial sexual abuser; it also revealed new witnesses who will testify to Weinstein's history of alleged sexual predation. The defense denies that Weinstein engaged in any "nonconsensual sexual activity" and cited "friendly" text messages between Weinstein and one of the women whose allegations are part of the trial. Fortune

- Focus on the fund. Fortune's Jeremy Kahn interviews Ophelia Brown, the 33-year founder of London-based Blossom Capital. Brown is sick of talking about being a woman in the field. "It really annoys me because I don't think this should be part of the discussion anymore. People should be assessing us on our performance, the same way they do with any manager," she says. Her firm raised a $185 million fund to back European early-stage startups. Fortune

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: Gap CMO Alegra O’Hare left after 11 months in the position amid news that Gap Inc. will abandon a planned spinoff of Old Navy and a redefinition of her role. The Paris Review named novelist Mona Simpson publisher. FIG promoted Jill Landaker to head of production. Manju Agarwal, a longtime banking executive in India, joins the board of StorCentric as an advisor. 


- Anniversary report. Yesterday was the 47th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. To mark the occasion, read this Guardian interview with Planned Parenthood president Alexis McGill Johnson, who says she feels "good about going into this year" despite states' efforts to restrict abortion in 2019. For another perspective, this Vox explainer breaks down June Medical Services v. Gee, the upcoming Supreme Court case that could gut abortion rights.  

- Directing progress. Fifty members of the Directors' Guild of America signed a letter urging the guild to change a minimum earnings policy to allow directors more time off after becoming parents—not quite paid leave, but an effort to at least allow new parents to keep their DGA healthcare. Documentary filmmaker Jessica Dimmock wrote the letter, signed by directors including Greta Gerwig and Ava DuVernay, ahead of the DGA Awards on Sunday. LA Times

- Election results. With 2020 primaries less than two weeks away and the general election fast approaching, Shelby Pierson is tasked with keeping elections secure. She says in this interview that other nations could attempt more types of interference this year after learning from Russia's efforts in 2016. NPR


Meet the woman building the ‘backbone’ of the cannabis industry Fortune

Anne Brontë is the least famous Brontë sister. But she might have been the most radical Vox

Why restaurants still can't shake their sexist service etiquette MEL Magazine

Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens team: Asian-American representation is not a ‘fad’ Fortune


"When you’re a young woman in government—or in general, in life—and you decide to tackle a topic like fashion, everybody goes after you. ... If I were really a politician, I would have taken nuclear energy or something."

-Brune Poirson, a secretary of state to France's minister for the ecological and inclusive transition. Unofficially, she's France's minister for fashion, working on issues ranging from tariffs to sustainability. 

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