Being the second-largest city on the East Coast of the U.S., Philadelphia has no shortage of custom tailors for men. How do you decide who to patronize?
We took the plunge and looked into Center City’s Henry A. Davidsen. We’ve included quite a few shots of this suit in action throughout this review.
Review Of Henry A. Davidsen Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Owned and operated by Brian Lipstein, Henry A. Davidsen is located in Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square neighborhood at 17th & Spruce, on the second floor above an Italian restaurant. Being a by-appointment business so as to offer more personalized service for their clients, you ring a doorbell and someone comes down to let you in.
The initial impression is one of anticipation. You have to walk up a couple of winding staircases to actually enter the showroom.
Walking into the front room, the vibe is very masculine and elegant: lots of dark, heavy wood and Oriental carpet. Heavy red curtains line the windows, and all of Brian’s accessories are on display: ties (both ready-to-wear and custom), pocket squares, high-end cufflinks, magnetic collar stays, and tons of socks.
After taking in the multitude of furnishings, you’re led back into the consultation room, where you have a seat on a cushy leather couch, have a drink from the shop’s mini-bar, and talk about what you’d like to have made.
First Fitting / Initial Consultation & Fabric Selection
If you’re a first-time customer, the first fitting takes about 90 minutes. It is not an in-and-out operation. In that hour and a half, Brian and his team want to accomplish three things, listed in reverse order:
- Take your measurements, of which there are about twenty for a suit
- Help you select & style a fabric
- Educate you about how they make their suits and on suit construction in general
Suit Construction Presentation
There is immense value in learning how suits are made, and that Brian does this for all of his first-timers puts them on equal footing with him, enabling them to make decisions in a more educated way.
He has some suit jackets that have been cut open (his “cut-opens”) to demonstrate how canvas is used in cheaper jackets versus better made ones, and he gives you a side-by-side comparison, literally from the top to the bottom of the jacket. This is used as a jumping off point to explain how he makes suits and the different price ranges he covers, and you can decide which fits your budget.
We were really impressed by this presentation.
After the cut-opens were put away, it was time to select a fabric and style it.
Fabric Selection & Styling
I’d been hankering for a cotton khaki suit for a few years but never got around to buying one. With summer coming up, I decided to pull the trigger on a color referred to as “Suntan.” Being a seasonal suit that wouldn’t see too much wear, I opted for the introductory “White Label” construction, which is a fused canvas made-to-measure suit.
Brian has a dizzying array of fabrics at his shop. Literally thousands that hit a ton of different price points. As much as I’d have loved to try, I wouldn’t be able to inspect each and every one even if I had a week to do so. Thankfully he knows his product well and instantly hooked me up with a couple of books that had the type of fabric I was looking for.
It’s important to have an idea as to what you’re looking for before you go into a custom shop. Fabric selection is often the most difficult part of the process of having a suit made, and it took me fifteen minutes to decide on the color shade alone. Imagine how much time that could have taken if I’d gone in not even knowing what i was looking for!
As an image consultant, Brian would have been well-positioned to guide me in the right direction, but I still would have felt like I’d gone grocery shopping while hungry. Have a plan if you’re going to have a suit made up!
Style-wise, the options are also wide-ranging. You select linings, lapel styles, pocket styles, vents, stitching colors, and much more. I went with the following:
- Two-button single-breasted with a slightly higher-than normal button stance
- Side vents
- Straight, flapped pockets with a ticket pocket
- Brown buttons with brown stitching at each buttonhole, including the lapel
- 4-button surgeon’s cuffs
- Blue / silver / brown paisley half-lining
- Plain front w/a high waist (the placement of the waist was addressed during the measurements stage to follow)
- Plain bottoms
- Belt loops
- Suspender buttons
- Snug-Tex (a strip of rubber on the inside of the waistband that helps to keep your shirt tucked in)
- Two back pockets
- Offset besom front pockets
About twenty measurements were taken very quickly, in maybe fifteen minutes. Arms and legs were measured individually, try-on trousers and jackets were used as reference points, and Perkins devices were used to measure shoulder slopes, posture, and sleeve inseams. This is very helpful in accounting for body irregularities, in particular my mega-sloping right shoulder!
I prefer a high-waisted suit pant because it makes my (rather short) legs look longer, so Brian made sure to lengthen the trouser’s rise to accommodate my taste.
After the measurements were done, we wrapped up. We were told that we’d be notified for the second fitting after about five weeks or so.
About six weeks later, I went in for the second fitting. This part of the process is rather quick (maybe fifteen minutes), and it was exciting to see the suit that existed in my head come to life.
In a made-to-measure scenario such as this, the suit is finished with the exception of the sleeve button holes. This is so that they can be lengthened or shortened easily without worrying about the buttonholes being too close to the sleeve hem.
Though I’m the size of your average ninth-grader, I’m not terribly difficult to fit. As such, my suit was very close to spot on and required few alterations. It just needed a bit of pant waist work, taking in the jacket’s center seam, and lowering its collar.
Henry Davidsen has a very nice in-house tailor named Edgar, and he was the one who did the pinning. That that tailoring work is pinned and performed by the same person is helpful as it eliminates communication errors.
After we finished, I was given a two-week turnaround time for the alterations, at which point I’d be able to come and pick the suit up.
Final Try On, Pick Up, & Finished Product
For various reasons (including the Memorial Day holiday), it was nearly another six weeks before the suit was ready. Though disappointing, Brian was communicative throughout the process, proactively reaching out to give me a heads-up about the extended time.
Though not ideal, this was the perfect way to handle that kind of situation from a customer service perspective.
I took the wife and son to the final appointment (can’t get the boy started too early on the tailoring experience), and I gave the suit one last try to make sure it needed no further alterations, Thankfully, Edgar did a great job and it was good to go!
I finally had the cotton suit I’d been wanting for years. The pictures below were taken on a 90+ degree day, and I was about as comfortable as one can be wearing a suit in such weather:
Final Review: Four Out Of Five Stars
As far as the in-showroom experience is concerned, Henry A. Davidsen is excellent. The atmosphere is relaxing, comfortable, and masculine, and everyone on staff is kind and accommodating.
The fabric selection is top-notch and hits a wide range of styles and price points. The quality of the finished product is excellent. The number and quality of accessories is truly incredible (I even had to help myself to a pair of VK Nagrani socks), so you can really treat the place as a one-stop shop for your wardrobe.
The reason this review gets four stars out of five is the turnaround time. While I understand that this was likely a blip on the radar, it was nearly three full months between my first fitting and the time I was notified to pick up the suit.
Give Henry A. Davidsen a try, but give yourself extra lead time just in case it takes a while.
"Henry A. Davidsen makes a great-fitting, high-quality suit. The turnaround time took a little while, but the finished product looks and feels fantastic. Definitely recommend for any stylish gent!"Rating: 4.0 ★★★★