Pale blue or midnight blue? Pinpoint, oxford, broadcloth, melange? Stripe or plaid or check or solid? What of collars
and plackets and buttons and monograms and pants pleats and cuffs and breaks and – oh, the shoes. This custom clothier helps cut through the thicket, with a splash of pizzazz.
by JANINE LATUS
photography by TODD WRIGHT
Custom clothier Verrandall Tucker sits at the shirt bar at Details on Granby, flipping through bound books of fabric samples. There are thousands – Egyptian cotton, pinpoint, oxford, twill – each in different thread counts and patterns. Some wrinkle more easily than others, some hang more heavily on the body.
Then there is the stylebook of line drawings of collars, whether spread or tab or cutaway, and of French and barrel cuffs, and conventional or French or fly-front plackets, then decisions about buttons and cufflinks, monograms and linings.
Tucker, 54, can tell just by looking at a man what he should wear and what he’s likely to choose, which are sometimes not the same thing.
Tucker’s career as a man who dresses other men began more than 25 years ago, when he was working at his family’s dry cleaning business and a customer brought in particularly nice neckties to be cleaned. The man’s aunt had made them, and she didn’t have anyone marketing them for her.
Tucker, who had a bachelor’s degree in business with an emphasis in marketing from Virginia State University, paid the aunt a visit, and left with a stack of fabric samples that he assembled into an album of swatches, assigning numbers and names to each one. Soon he was driving to the homes of some of his family’s customers, selling hand-made ties out of the trunk of his car.
He added shirts, and demand for both grew so quickly that he started driving up to New York every three weeks to restock. It was the early ’90s, before it was easy to shop online, and he would carry bags of boxes onto the subway, where he’d doze on the train, trying to catch some sleep before starting the long drive back. He partnered with two friends and began setting up booths at conferences for ministers. From there came what Tucker considers to be continued blessings. He and a partner opened a clothing store at Greenbrier Mall; then Tucker moved to a storefront on Indian River Road, then to another location near Greenbrier. All the while he was bringing in higher-end products, and the look of his subsequent stores reflected it, until in October of 2009 he moved into his current location between Hell’s Kitchen and Jimmy John’s in Norfolk’s downtown. Here, silk ties hang over the shirt bar, shoes are racked on the opposite wall. Trousers and suits, sport coats and women’s classics hang on racks on both sides of a display of Tucker’s cologne, Verrandall.
Tucker takes customers’ measurements and helps them pick out a fabric, a style. He tells them which cut will be most flattering, whether pleats or cuffs will make them look taller or more authoritative, which colors will enhance their looks and which will wash them out. He asks about their profession, about what events they attend socially, and where. He finds out whether they travel, whether they’re into sports. From all of that he helps them build a wardrobe, from the basics on up. Tucker also is a personal clothier for professional athletes – the tall, the broad, the men of big shoulders and out-sized thighs. He goes to their homes with his books and his swatches, and his opinions.
“Clothing for a lot of men is an art, a way of expressing yourself,” he says. “I tell guys that when you walk into your closet you don’t want to walk into a funeral home, with everything the same. You want some excitement!”
For a fee, Tucker will walk into your closet for you and help you see what you have and what you need. He’ll go through your ties and tell you which ones to get rid of and which ones to pair with what. “People get into their daily routines, the navy blue suit, the white shirt and red tie, but they never consider mixing it up with other pieces,” he says. “They don’t take the time to put those things together, to experiment, to find out what else they can play with.”
Doyle Palmer, 56, president of Campostella Builders and Supply Corporation, which makes commercial millwork and casework for high-end projects, wears a button-down shirt, denim pants and suede shoes, every piece of the ensemble ordered through Tucker’s shop. He owns a custom-made tuxedo; he’s wearing custom jeans.
Tucker keeps a record of each purchase, so now if Palmer looks through the fabrics and chooses a color or a pattern or a stripe, Tucker can tell him if he already owns something similar. After Palmer accidentally left two pairs of linen pants in a hotel closet, Tucker pulled his file and ordered replacements.
Clothes are important to Palmer, who doesn’t want to show up at social or professional events and find out that he’s wearing the same shirt or sweater or pants as the guy next to him. Plus, he likes the custom fit. “When I buy a dress shirt off the rack it is so completely uncomfortable compared to one of Verrandall’s,” Palmer says.
For a long time he wore only white shirts, until one day at the kitchen table his son asked him why he wore the same shirt every day. Palmer is color blind, so he asked Tucker to go through his closet and tell him what to wear with what. The look that results is elegant even when it’s casual.
“I can determine a gentleman’s profile just by watching him for a few minutes to see how he responds to certain things,” Tucker says. “I can pick up whether he’s conservative or flamboyant, whether he’s willing to take that little risk of becoming more edgy. I say, ‘Try this. I’m not going to put you into culture shock; I’m going to take it slowly and watch the compliments you get.’ Then when a man starts getting compliments his ego goes through the roof. He’ll get excited in the mornings when he walks into that closet.”
That kind of service, that kind of look, doesn’t come cheap. Shirts start at $95 and can easily get to twice that. Custom suits start at $900, bow ties run from $45 to $95; neck ties from $69 to $175, the customer picking from samples and styles – thin or wide, bow or long. There are black shoes, buff shoes, multiple shades of cognac or bourbon or dark brown, shiny or pebbled or suede.
Longtime customer Gary Milton, 49, dresses well because that’s the first thing people see. “Before you even open your mouth, that tailored look says a lot about you,” he says, “and people are more apt to listen to someone who looks good, which allows you to be more influential.”
That matters in his job as a supervisory contract specialist for the Naval Facilities Engineering Command, but it’s also important as an example to his college-aged sons. “One day both of them will likely be in corporate America,” he says, “so it’s crucial for them to see how important it is to dress a certain way and to carry yourself in a certain manner, so that others will listen to you.”
Customers call Tucker to enthuse about the compliments they get. They send him photos and videos, saying, “I’m going to an event; what do you think I should wear?” The relationship is personal, as it is in any business where someone lays hands on your body.
“This is the kind of business you can’t just learn overnight. You have to have a love for it, a passion,” he says. “You can’t sell just to sell and tell people everything looks good on them, because the customer will know. You have to be genuine, authentic.”
For Tucker, it’s personal.
“When my customers go out I want them to feel good,” he says, “because that makes me feel good.”