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If you’ve ever experienced a movie theater full of people bursting into applause when the credits begin to roll, imagine that when you watch Suited, a documentary about the Brooklyn tailoring shop Bindle & Keep that goes live on HBO this Monday.
Such was the case at a screening of the film at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on Thursday evening — though it did help that many of its cast members, whom the audience had spent the last hour and change getting to know, were also in attendance. Located in hipsterish Williamsburg, the bespoke suit-making company Bindle & Keep has amassed a clientele that is largely, though not exclusively, transgender and gender nonconforming. The doc, which makes an unassailable case for the significance of self-expression through clothing, follows the business’s partners as well as a handful of their customers.
Daniel Friedman, a tailor and the founder of Bindle & Keep, could not have foreseen his customer base developing as it did when he opened for business in 2011. In Suited, he says that he thought he’d be making “a ton of money” catering to Wall Street types.
But when Rae Tutera, a transmasculine person, came to him looking for a better fitting suit and subsequently asked for a tailoring apprenticeship, things shifted for Bindle & Keep. Tutera joined Friedman as a co-tailor, and the two started building a business that caters to those looking for clothing that better fits their gender identities.
Tutera and Friedman are a steady, encouraging presence in the film, but it’s the many customers who really pull the narrative forward. Everyone needs a suit: Aidan Star Jones for his Bar Mitzvah, Derek Matteson for his wedding, law student Everett Arthur for job interviews, Mel Plaut for her 40th birthday, attorney Jillian Weiss for a big case, and Grace Dunham just “to run around in.”
Director Jason Benjamin, who wanted to make a film about Bindle & Keep after reading a 2013 article about it in the New York Times, follows the tailors’ clients through their fittings and into their personal and professional lives. Arthur describes his difficulties getting a job as a trans man, with one company telling him outright that they wouldn’t hire him because of it. Matteson allowed the camera crew film him in recovery from a vaginal hysterectomy and, later, on his wedding day.
Above all, Suited makes the powerful case that fashion and what we put on our bodies is personally and culturally significant. Beyond merely providing its customers with custom clothing, Bindle & Keep helps them look exactly as they want to, through a suit fit that de-emphasizes their hips or creates the appearance of a straighter waist.
“You don’t need a PhD in Gender Studies to make people feel really fucking happy about themselves,” Friedman said on Thursday at a Q&A following the screening.
In the Q&A, Friedman and Tutera’s clients offered some updates on their lives post-production. Jones’s Bar Mitzvah had gone well (“I messed up on most of it, but no one noticed!”), and his father got a tattoo of the word “Suited” on his arm. Arthur landed a job at the queer liberation organization Southerners on New Ground, and Matteson and his wife are new parents to twins. Weiss got a favorable ruling on the case she had argued and won the right to go back to trial.
With all the attention Bindle & Keep has gotten through the film (and independent of it), Friedman said he would love to see other businesses catering to his and Tutera’s clients.
“We want people to be able to come into a store that live in any city across the country and have the right to feel great about themselves,” Friedman noted. “If we get overtaken by a company that does this better or smarter, then we did a good job. We did what we were supposed to do, which is show that this is the good side of capitalism, that you can make money doing something that serves everybody regardless of from where they hail.”