Before I joined the Foreign Service, I owned exactly one suit. It was a 10-year-old, off-the-rack Calvin Klein, solid black suit. It was the suit I wore when I passed the FSOA (Foreign Service Oral Assessment). By then, this decade-old suit was looking dated and feeling, err, a bit snug. It was time to start upgrading my wardrobe.
I am not what you'd call a fashionista. Newspaper journalists aren't exactly known for their sense of style. My normal dress is jeans and t-shirts. So I started by educating myself, reading men's fashion magazines like Details, GQ and great fashion blogs like Made to Measure. Just before we left London to Washington for A-100, I bought myself a congratulatory gift: a custom-made suit from Savile Row, the street made famous around the world for its bespoke men's tailoring, and where Winston Churchhill and Lord Nelson shopped. I got my suit from The Cad & The Dandy. At about $1,000 for a full suit, they aren't cheap. But it fit like a glove and feel unlike anything you'll ever find off-the-peg. This was the beginning of my new-found obsession with menswear.
I've since learned that you don't have to spend a lot to look like a million bucks. When we got back to Washington, I discovered Indochino, an online Canadian tailor that makes custom suits for just $300-400. I bought two new suits from Indochino for A-100 (one navy blue and one black suit), and then later got the third "Ultimate Grey Suit" you see in the photo above. (Unfortunately, their service has gone downhill since my first order; one linen suit fell apart after the third wearing, and the trousers to this grey suit had to be remade twice because the measurements were so off the mark.)
Flash forward to Bahrain, where we were introduced to the amazing Indian tailors at the traditional Manama souq at Bab al Bahrain, where you can get a complete, custom-made, 2- or 3-piece suit for $100. Yes, that's U.S. dollars! My first purchase was a black subdued pinstripe suit from Marhaba Textiles, a well-known and reputable tailor that's popular with Western expats. Ali and staff at Marhaba are absolutely phenomenal. They can even re-create a suit just from a photo or magazine clipping. Our buddy Christopher visiting from NYC got a three-piece, metallic blue sheen suit with a mango lining, also for just $100. Custom men's shirts are only $20 a pop, and they also make tuxedos and other specialty items. I foresee buying a trunk-full of custom suits before our tour is up!
In photo: Suit by Indochino ($335, www.indochino.com); tie by Calvin Klein ($20 at Calvin Klein outlet in Las Vegas); watch by Fossil ($45 from Fossil Outlet in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware); cufflinks by Kenneth Cole ($28 at Kenneth Cole store in Bahrain City Centre Mall). Model: Mr. Crab. Photo by Mrs. Crab.