Review: Black Lapel Tuxedo

Posted on February 17, 2014

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Overall Rating:

  • Price: very good
  • Style & Options: excellent
  • Ordering & Customer Service: excellent
  • Fit: very good
  • Quality: very good (later downgraded to unsatisfactory – see Postscript below)

Black Lapel is a New York-based China-made online tailor founded in 2011 by, appropriately, two Chinese-American men.  The philosophy of owners Derek Tian and Warren Liao is to go above and beyond in providing customers with the right fit.  They also strive to educate customers so that they can make the best decisions.  Even though my request for an extremely classic tuxedo – a three-piece suit trimmed in grosgrain – pushed them into new territory, they definitely rose to the challenge.

Black Lapel co-owners Warren Liao (left) and Derek Tian (right).

Black Lapel co-owners Warren Liao (left) and Derek Tian (right). (Courtesy of Black Lapel)

Price (US $)

The base price for a Black Lapel tuxedo is $529 which includes satin facing, full lining and half canvas construction.  Grosgrain facing is an extra $20, partial lining is $30 and full canvas is $200.  The matching evening waistcoat is $109.  Shipping is free anywhere in the world.

Since my tuxedo included the grosgrain option and the waistcoat, its total value was $658.  This is far less than the cost of a locally tailored equivalent but still more than a similar quality three-piece tuxedo offered by well-reviewed online tailors Indochino for $519, albeit without the option of a low-cut waistcoat or grosgrain facing.

Style & Options

All Black Lapel suits are offered in either a slim, tailored or standard cut and there are numerous no-charge optional details such as a functional lapel buttonhole and working sleeve cuffs.  Trousers can be flat front or have one or two pleats.  Take note that the optional full canvas construction and partial inner lining jacket options I mentioned are not actually listed on the site and that the former is not available for a customer’s first suit as Black Lapel wants to initially ensure a perfect fit.

Their tuxedos are available in black or a very dark navy blue.  (The site shows the navy option only in the context of a shawl collar tuxedo but it can be specially requested for the peak lapel model.)  Lapels are either peaked or shawl and faced in black satin or grosgrain finish.  Notch lapels are notably absent from their formal offering which is a testament to Black Lapel’s level of sophistication.  Trousers are available with suspender buttons, belt loops, and/or side tabs.

For the waistcoat, I was requested to submit photos or illustrations of my desired style and so I requested a three-button model cut to align with the opening of the accompanying jacket.  Black Lapel had previously adapted their standard full-back vest pattern to make custom evening waistcoats but in my case they decided to try constructing a backless model.  The body and revers were of the same fabric and facing as the jacket.  They were not able to add a waistband tab but I had that done by a local tailor afterwards for a very nominal cost.

Ordering & Customer Service

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The online ordering process is very efficient and consists of what seems to be a common two-stage process: customization and measurement.  The customization procedure provides helpful pop-up descriptions of how the various options impact the look and wearing of the suit.  All it lacked was an accompanying illustration of how the customer’s choices would look in the context of the suit being ordered.  It would also have been helpful to have a free-form field to enter special requests such as the full-canvas construction, partial lining and grosgrain facing.  However, this didn’t prove to be an issue as I submitted custom requests by email instead and they were all filled correctly.

The measurement process includes numerous how-to videos which maximize the customer’s ability to provide accurate information.

Just as impressive was Black Lapel’s follow-up to my order submission, reflecting their genuine desire to ensure a perfect fit.  My experience was just as described by a previous guest post in that Derek took the time to confirm measurements that seemed out of the ordinary, going so far as to provide additional how-to photos so I could double-check the numbers.  (In my case the measurements in question all turned out to be accurate which largely attests to the site’s detailed instructions.)  During this process I took the opportunity to submit photos of myself in my other MTM suits so that they could have a clearer idea of my physique and unique requirements, something I’d recommend to anyone ordering tailored garments online.

The excellent customer service continued after the order was delivered.  Black Lapel will pay $75 towards alterations made by a local tailor or, if necessary, remake the garment.  If that doesn’t work then they will issue a full refund, no questions asked.  My concerns about fit were responded to very quickly and satisfactorily by e-mail (there is no telephone customer service) resulting in both an alteration reimbursement and a jacket remake.  Furthermore, Derek was diligent in updating my measurements on file to ensure such corrections would not be necessary with future orders.

Black Lapel’s turnaround time is normally four weeks although that is extended around Chinese New Year due to lengthy holidays taken by Chinese workers at that time (well-deserved, I’m sure). In my case I actually received my order early and that was despite placing it two weeks before Christmas.

I should note that if you plan to order an evening waistcoat on its own you will need to contact Black Lapel by email for instructions as it is not listed on their site.  Also be aware that customers in New York City have the option of visiting the company’s offices to be measured and fitted as well as to have their alterations done.

Fit

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It turned out that the tailored fit option was a very happy medium between an impractical (for me) slim fit and a more old-fashioned standard fit.  The jacket and trousers fit very comfortably and I was impressed with the high armholes. The only issue I had initially was that the sleeve length measurement had somehow been miscommunicated resulting in an excess of three inches.  This was easily rectified by a local tailor who shortened them at the shoulder and took the opportunity to slightly narrow the shoulders as well.  This cost only $80, $75 of which was reimbursed.

Then, when I later took these photos for my review, I realized that the backs of the sleeves had a lot of bunching.  Upon seeing the pictures Derek immediately identified the problem as being related to sleeve pitch and placed an order for a new jacket.  Due to the aforementioned Chinese holiday it will be some time before that jacket arrives but I decided to go ahead and publish this review anyway as every other aspect of my experience stands on its own. (I will of course post an update once I receive the replacement.)

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As for the custom waistcoat, the results were also very good.   The vest’s opening mimicked that of the jacket just as I requested.  In addition, the centre button of the vest was situated perfectly over the waistband of the accompanying trousers, as it should be.  True, the rear strap has to be at its full length in order to fit me (and thus doesn’t allow room for an expanded waistline) but this is a minor shortcoming considering it was their first time making a backless model and they have already taken steps to correct this in future orders.

Quality

The super 110, 8.1-ounce Merino wool feels nice to the touch and was very comfortable to wear over the course of the evening at a black-tie event I recently attended.  The polyester grosgrain facing was also very elegant  and the overall workmanship seemed quite professional.  The trousers have an anti-slip rubberized band inside the waist and the jacket came with spare front and sleeve buttons which is very smart considering how difficult it would be to find replacement buttons faced in grosgrain.  The placement of a boutonniere holder behind the lapel’s buttonhole is another example of conscious attention to detail.

However, there are two specific concerns I have.

First, the grosgrain lapels rippled and warped substantially over the course of my aforementioned outing.   Fortunately, the problem has been seemingly rectified with a simple pressing by my local tailor as the ripples were virtually eliminated and remained absent during the afternoon I spent taking the photos for this review.  Because this is Black Lapel’s first time working with grosgrain they are not yet sure what caused this problem but Derek assured me they’ve had no similar occurrences with their standard satin facing.  They are currently looking into the issue and we’ll see what happens when I first wear my replacement jacket.

More of a concern is the suit fabric’s poor wrinkle resistance.  The wrinkles are particularly pronounced in the trousers (crotch and back of knees) after just a few minutes of sitting.  In fact, when I applied the standard wrinkle test – squeezing a handful of fabric then letting it go – the fabric became creased.  While this may partly be a factor of the year-round weight, the same test applied to the similar weight but even finer fabric of two of my other MTM suits (9.1 oz super 120s and 8 oz super 130s) resulted in no noticeable creases.

Value

For me, the wrinkling is a tolerable shortcoming for a dark formal suit worn in dim lighting. It  is definitely outweighed by the great fit, appearance, and wearabilty in general and the opportunity to incorporate such rare traits as a proper evening waistcoat and grosgrain facing.   Overall the tuxedo is an admirable offering from a company whose very name alludes to the high standards of formal wear.

Disclosure: The garments reviewed in this post were provided at a discount for editorial purposes.

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Postscripts

March 2, 2014

The replacement jacket earlier this week and not only do the sleeves fit much better but Black Lapel also took the opportunity to improve the fit of the shoulders.   I’m very pleased with the end result:

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I also took the opportunity to remove the jacket’s wrinkles (from shipping & handling) using recently posted DIY suit pressing instructions for the first time.  It’s certainly not as quick as steaming but I didn’t mind now that I know such expediency comes at the cost of a suit’s proper fit and construction.

July 25, 2014

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I happened to take a look at the jacket yesterday and noticed that its quality had deteriorated despite never having been worn. There had always been a slight vertical ridge on each side of the front that mirrored the lapel facing seem inside but now those ridges are much more prominent as seen in this photo.  I was already wary about the suit material wrinkling so quickly but this new development can’t be so easily overlooked.  The tuxedo is now unwearable.