How custom clothes can help you dress the part for your D.C. job
Chef coat by Madam Couture
Knowing what to wear to work in the Washington area is one thing. Finding the right fit, professional D.C. style and size are whole other matters.
The D.C. area is home to many tailors and clothes designers who can create everything from the perfect suit or blouse to something as unique as a colorful chef’s coat that fits your personality and your waist.
“I do things totally different,” says Suresh Khemlani of the highly rated Custom Executive Outfitters in Alexandria, Virginia.
Khemlani specializes in men’s suits with an attention to detail and customer service.
“I come to a client’s office, or home, and I am geared specifically to them,” he says.
Everything Khemlani uses, he says, is “from scratch.”
“The only thing I start with is the fabric,” he says. “There’s nothing already made that I need to push.”
"From scratch" would be a good way to describe how chef Mary Erwin approached the clothing business.
She started Madam Chef Couture in D.C. from a single idea while in cooking school. Her “light bulb” moment was more of an “on fire” inspiration.
Erwin was making the classic French béchamel sauce and receiving high praise from the instructor when her bulky chef’s coat caught fire.
Luckily, only her pride was injured when the instructor stopped talking about her sauce to scold her for being careless about the fire.
Being fashionable can start with finding the right fit
“It was more about how the coat fit me than anything I had done,” she says. “It was made for a man and was too bulky.”
Erwin decided to do something about those ill-fitting coats and that's how the highly rated Madam Chef Couture was born.
Finding that perfect fit is what drives many Washington residents to seek custom clothing.
“About 90 percent of men don’t fit their suits,” Khemlani says.
That fact has kept him in business for 30 years, thanks to the buttoned-up power brokers and politicians who keep Washington running.
“This city is not as casual as other places,” he says, adding that the key to a good suit is a good shirt.
“A suit without a shirt is no suit at all,” he says.
And a chef without a coat doesn’t leave the same impression.
It's important, Erwin says, to look, as well as cook, the part.
"Restaurants do a good job of branding their business, but chefs can be left in the cold,” Erwin says. “They need to brand themselves."
Female chefs, especially, need coats that fit their form and personality. Those traditional white bulky chef coats for men just don’t seem to cut it.
"We are drowned in them because they are mass produced for men," she says.
Her coat creations are intended for celebrity chefs, personal chefs and home cooks who wants to look as good as the meal they create.
"Each coat has its own story,” Erwin says. “It’s really about who it’s going to honor."
How much is your favorite piece of clothing worth to you?
Custom clothing is more expensive than buying off-the-rack, but Khemlani and Erwin know it’s money well spent because of the positive feedback they receive from clients.
Khemlani finds most of his customers come by way of referrals from his regular clients. Those clients, he says, are his “walking mannequins.”
A basic "single package" of clothing by Khemlani starts at $875 and includes one suit and five shirts. The "wardrobe package" includes two suits, 10 shirts and a blazer with prices starting at $2,150.
Chef coats can be more difficult to price. It often depends on the intricacy of the design and how many coats are ordered.
Erwin says, on average, a coat from Madam Chef Couture runs about $200. That can be a small price to pay for a coat and the personal branding that comes with it.
"Dress for the job you want,” she says. “You have to make yourself the executive."