Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Style counts, but you're worth more than a suit

Steve Pelman is a tailor whose raison d'être goes beyond creating the perfect suit. Give him an opportunity to wax philosophical about proper dressing and expect to have your perspective altered, never mind your pant legs.

This became obvious soon after I phoned the Vancouverite, who has been in the business for nearly 30 years, and whose Yaletown shop, Steve Samson (his father's name was Sam), is more than a decade old.

I was prepared to ask him about poorly fitting clothes when he said, "It's really a short conversation on sleeve lengths and wrinkle-free suits and crisp collars."

Story continues below advertisement

In other words, elementary advice compared with exploring how clothes function as a personal asset and why caring about our professional image affects the way we interact with others.

This had the potential to become a sartorial sermon mixed with a soupçon of self promotion.

But here's the line that persuaded me to give Mr. Pelman the stage: "The most important thing about clothing," he said, "is that it is just a fulcrum to your people skills.

"For us to actually think of clothing as a person's actual worth is a mistake. No matter how well you dress, the bottom line is you are still more important than your clothes."

This is a truth that Suitable also holds to be self-evident, even more so in the context of a person's skill set having greater value than the contents of his or her closet.

Concerning the perceived value of various wardrobe staples, Mr. Pelman thinks that people are entirely confused. Take custom-made shirts as an example. The typical guy would reject them as unnecessary. But do men even realize that custom-made shirts can cost as little as $60 to $70?

"For someone to have a shirt that's too big in the shoulders and wrinkling beside the tie is really an oversight," the second-generation tailor said. "The convenient truth is that it's too expensive to have a shirt made, but that's old-fashioned thinking."

Story continues below advertisement

The reality is that tailoring itself suffers from old-fashioned associations. Yet Mr. Pelman thinks this works to his advantage. "Tailoring is really the anti-fashion. It's about balancing your wardrobe so that it gives you the credibility to actually be fashionable. People who are strictly fashionable and wear names with pomp and circumstance without having the classics are out of balance," he said.

Most of his customers, who he guesses number between 100 and 200 a year, may not be aware that he has such grand notions, although he admits to having a following.

"I'm not your typical tailor; I'm a bit of a novelty at best," he confessed. "But it's such a prattled industry and there's so much opportunity out there. When you walk the streets, you hardly see a properly fitting suit."

For Mr. Pelman, 56, smart dressing is more about common sense than looking sharp. "I don't think it's smart to spend $3,000 on a suit and not know what you're getting," he said. (For the record, his cost between $1,700 and $2,200.)

He recommends never feeling obligated to spend a disproportionate amount of money on professional attire, but to be always planning for the next purchase. "Just like you have a financial portfolio, your wardrobe always needs to be updated and deleted," he said. "You should have a $50 to $100 monthly budget. It's an interesting conversation because part of success is in the planning, be it investments or your wardrobe.

"And," he continued, "refreshing your wardrobe is an opportunity for you to review who you are and where you're going and your bravado in being able to throw something away. How many people really want to wear things out just like they want to save and save?"

Story continues below advertisement

But those who don't give much thought to what they wear are destined for mediocrity. "Dressing is all about being present. Not about hiding or being neutral. So many people don't think about what they put on because they're not expecting to have a good day, they're not planning on it and they're not creating it. So they just fall into neutrality in jeans and T-shirts," Mr. Pelman said.

If there's a snag in these hypotheses, it's that they may be interpreted as too erudite for issues of daily dress. Of course, that's not how Mr. Pelman sees it and he's able to sew up his thoughts seamlessly.

"Tailoring is simplicity; wrinkles are complicated," he said. "Tailoring is a way of sculpting and simplifying, even if it's complicated to do."

Report an error
As of December 20, 2017, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this resolved by the end of January 2018. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to