Shopping for Clothes

Mar 4, 2024

If you want to get a fancy vintage-style Western suit made, there’s no easy method. You have to put in the work. Especially if you’re really, really picky about details, as I am.

The first thing you have to do is pick out the fabric you like. Some people don’t care, so polyester or even curtain material will do. For me, if I’m gonna invest the coin into getting a couple new suits made, they’re going to be made of 100% wool gabardine. You know, the stuff that Gene Autry and Tex Williams and Merle Travis all wore. That means you have to go on a mission, or maybe a couple of missions, to find the material you really like.

There’s a reason why people like Nathan Turk and Nudie the Rodeo Tailor made such fabulous suits for famous country-western stars back in the day here in the city of Angels. There were a lot of (mostly Mexican; although Nudie Cohn was Ukrainian, he employed Mexicans almost exclusively) tailors and seamstresses for labor. But besides the labor, Los Angeles has always been the place where you can find the fabric—the good stuff!

I’m getting a couple new suits made by Jaime the Custom Tailor, who has a shop on Lankershim Boulevard in North Hollywood, not too far away from Nudie’s original shop (and as I understand it, Jaime is the son-in-law of Manuel the tailor, who was the son-in-law of Nudie Cohn, so there is a real lineage to the old days).

I’ve got a couple ideas in mind for suits, but that requires searching for the right kind of wool gabardine. The first stop that Jaime recommends is a place called International Silks and Woolens over in West LA. This place is a smorgasbord of beautiful fabrics, and since West Los Angeles is a haven for gay culture, you can find all the crazy and bold colors you want, the type they used to use in 1950s and 1960s Western suits. I like color. A lot.

In fact, one item on my checklist on this mission was to try to find some salmon-pink gabardine that might match a jacket I had made by Jaime five years ago. The jacket is beautiful, but he didn’t have enough material to make a matching pair of pants. Have you ever tried to match pink fabric? It’s virtually impossible! I’m still on a mission, but I’m not sure I will ever find this particular shade of salmon pink gabardine ever again. If anybody can help me, let me know.

I found a couple nice colors of dark blue and turquoise gabardine at International Silks and Woolens, but most frustratingly, they had the absolute perfect shade of cream/off-white gabardine I was after for a second suit—but not enough of it to make a whole suit out of. And of course they can’t get any more in that same shade; it’s been discontinued.

That meant that today, I had to take a trip to downtown Los Angeles, to the fashion district, to see if I could find what I was looking for.

There are two places in downtown Los Angeles that specialize in fine fabrics. A place called B. Black and Sons is the first, and it is truly amazing, a business that has been in the same family in the same location since 1922. Super old-school, and real quality stuff! But the difference between downtown and West Los Angeles couldn’t have been more stark. B. Black and sons had lots of really nice wool fabrics, but mostly in very austere colors—black, gray, silver, a couple whites. Nothing like what I was looking for.

I went walking through the Fashion District to the other place known for fabrics, Michael Levine. Damn if they didn’t have a shade of pink that was really, really close to my salmon pink jacket—but still not quite close enough to have a pair of pants made from it.

I love downtown Los Angeles for the sheer chaos of it all. I do not want to live there, but I sure love visiting a few times a year. The hustle and the bustle and the energy cannot be denied. The sights, the sounds, the smells, the people-watching, it’s all very overwhelming. Downtown LA is an interesting place where Italians, African Americans, Jews, Asians, Latinos, and Middle Eastern people all work together in the most densely populated, cutthroat environment imaginable. A four-block stretch of Los Angeles Street houses a number of men’s clothing shops catering to African American men. This is always my favorite area downtown. I love these places, being a white guy buying an Italian suit from a Mexican guy surprised that a Caucasian walked in his shop that caters exclusively to African Americans. It’s one of the greatest and simplest examples of the “Los Angeles experience” I can think of.

When I was a young kid, newly arrived from the state of Missouri, the multiculturalism of this place freaked me out. I wasn’t used to it. I wasn’t raised to be racist, but it was just so different from what I was used to. Everything is still pretty segregated in Missouri, but here in Los Angeles, if you’re hustling to make a buck, you don’t really have time to be racist or worry about such things. Things happen too quickly. After a year or two or being out here, I never thought about it again, and now I see how much it helps this place be incredibly productive and creative. It was a good growth experience for me. Going downtown today and getting thrown in the blender of humanity once again reminded me of that period of learning experience in my life.

I didn’t find the exact gabardine I was looking for (if anybody can help me with that, I’ve posted a couple photos of what I’m looking for). But I did buy a nice black 100% Italian wool suit, a new pair of shiny black Stacey Adams shoes, a couple dress shirts, and a nice Italian leather belt.

As The Coasters sang in the song “Shoppin’ for Clothes,” (a doo-wop song written by two Jewish men, Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, and performed by an African American vocal group here in Los Angeles, naturally):

“Stand in the mirror, and DIG YOURSELF.”

See the original Facebook post for more photos!