Directed by Jason Benjamin (2016)
by Jaime Davis
The Fixer at Moviejawn
Imagine you have an event in your life. Maybe it’s a friend’s wedding, or your wedding. Or something critical for the expansion of your career. Or maybe you just need something to wear to make you feel good. And then you go to the mall, or the shops in your area, or online, and nothing fits. And you search and search – nothing makes sense. And you give up. Or you settle for something that isn’t you, doesn’t make you feel good about yourself. Or you find something that technically fits, but it’s really made to fit someone else. Someone who easily and naturally identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth. Someone who easily and naturally can walk into any store, pick up a men’s shirt or a women’s shirt, and know that it will work for them, inside and out.
I certainly take for granted my ability to buy clothes in most stores, almost all of which make clothes exclusively for the gender binary population. For myself, I sit somewhere in the middle. I feel just as powerful wearing jeans, nondescript tees, and sneakers as I do in dresses. I am lucky, privileged even, to be this way. To have the option of choosing what I want to express on any particular day. After watching the 2016 doc Suited, which profiles bespoke tailoring company Bindle & Keep, I’m reminded of that privilege. If you’ve heard of the film, maybe it’s because it’s produced by Lena Dunham. Or maybe you heard of it because Dunham’s sister is featured as one of the subjects (albeit momentarily). Or maybe you have HBO and saw a trailer for it. Either way, you should really take 77 minutes of your time and check it out. It’s just beautiful.
The film starts with an overview of Bindle & Keep’s philosophy and current iteration. Founded in 2011 by Daniel Friedman, a heterosexual cis male, aimed at targeting Wall Street financial services folks, the majority of B&K’s business now serves members of the LGBTQ community. Rae Tutera, a trans male unable to find satisfaction in the mere act of clothes shopping for himself, decided to splurge on a custom-tailored suit when he was 25; the result was something that allowed Tutera to finally feel good in his own skin. So Tutera sought out Friedman, asking for an apprenticeship to learn the art of tailoring. Eventually the two became partners in Bindle & Keep and off they went.
The film employs a clean, smart format: we begin each client’s segment by reenacting their visit to the Bindle & Keep website to submit a request for a fitting, learning a little about their needs along the way. And then we meet each subject. Derek, a trans man looking for a suit for his wedding. Everett, navigating his transition while also attending a conservative law school in Georgia, in need of a suit for job interviews. Aidan, a 12-year-old trans boy from Arizona who decides to have a bar mitzvah instead of a bat mitzvah, and wants a suit for the event. Mel, who wants to look good at their 40th birthday party. Jillian, a lawyer and trans female who needs a suit to argue a case in front of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. Grace (Dunham’s sister), who just needs something to help her feel more comfortable in her androgynous identify.
The doc, directed by first-time helmer Jason Benjamin, is a bit fast-paced at parts. Some details get glossed over quite quickly – I would have loved to learn more about the partnership between Friedman and Tutera and how that came about. I would have loved to spend more time with Aidan, who admits to not liking himself in any clothing, ever, but who smiles when he sees himself in his new suit. I wanted to see Everett on his first day of work, and learn more about what that was like, after another firm told him he was exactly what they were looking for, except for that whole trans thing. We only see Jillian once, Grace once. And while the film spends considerable time covering Derek’s transition medically and also his wedding, his story is also the most emotionally rewarding. We get to meet his parents, from a very conservative farming family in God-Knows-Where Pennsylvania, who admit to not necessarily understanding Derek’s needs at first, but who love their son unconditionally. We meet his supportive, plucky fiancée and are lucky to witness their nuptials.
And then the end of the film is upon us almost as soon as it began and I didn’t want it to end; I wanted to know so much more. Wanted to experience more moments of discovery with people navigating a world with all its prescribed ideals, people who just want to live comfortably in their own skin on a regular basis. I understand the struggle of wondering just where you fit in. And I think a lot of us feel the same way, which is just one of the reasons why this film is important. The format of Suited lends itself so naturally to a regular documentary-style tv series, so I’ll be wishing and praying on that for the weeks, months, years to come. Until then, I’ll just keep thinking about Tutera’s words at the close of the film:
“Dress braver than you feel.
Act braver than you feel.
You have the right to be handsome.”