January 23, 2020
– 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 Fortune.com, 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...
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.
Today, the universe of women’s custom attire echoes the options available to men, though on a far more modest scale. There’s the traditional bespoke, an elite strata that includes tailors like Kathryn Sargent, the first woman to rise to the title of head cutter on London’s Savile Row, and New York’s Dara Lamb, who’s dressed some of the most recognizable female chiefs of the Fortune 500.
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 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.’ ”
Today’s Broadsheet was produced by Emma Hinchliffe.