There are men who love to shop. I just don't know any.
The fellas I'm related to, the guys I work with and the ones I see when I'm out shopping would rather have a tooth yanked (without Novocain) than pick out a suit, choose a shirt, or, for that matter, shop for sweat socks. A good example of this mind set is Peter Bentler, a 27-year-old financial adviser at Smith Barney, who told me that shopping "is really torture." "Going into stores, looking at multiple things? ... I hate it."
It's this kind of negative attitude that Daniel Wiebracht thrives on. Wiebracht is a "professional clothier" who counts Bentler among his devoted clients.
Wiebracht's job is to keep you out of stores. He is the store. Wiebracht comes to your office, assesses your needs, shows you the stuff, takes your measurements, orders the clothes -- down to the socks and boxer shorts if that's what you want -- and then delivers it all, waits for you to try it on and will take it back for further alterations if you don't like the fit. "It's the best deal ever," said Bentler.
I'd always assumed that this was the kind of service that Michael Jordan, Donald Trump and Tom Cruise employ to outfit themselves for their busy lives as zillionaires. Many menswear shops will offer personal service if you spend a great deal of money at their stores.
But I've recently learned that the same thing is available to regular people with less astronomical incomes, retailphobics who just want to avoid shopping in stores but either don't trust their own judgment or want the personal attention you can't getshopping online.
"Our ready-made suits start at $359 and you get the same service as someone who is spending $4,000 on a suit," said Wiebracht, a personable, well-dressed 23-year-old salesman. He works for a company called Tom James, a privately owned firm founded in Nashville in 1966 that does not advertise and relies on word of mouth to acquire its clients. (The company also does women's business suits, but the vast majority of its clients are male.)
With 23 sales employees, the Tom James Chicago office is the largest of the firm's 182 worldwide offices, a strong indicator that Chicago men are busier, lazier, more store averse -- or all three -- than their counterparts in other big cities.
The company makes many of its own fabrics and manufactures suits for its label as well as for many department store labels, claiming the title of "the world's largest manufacturer and retailer of custom clothing."
I met Dan Wiebracht and his supervisor, Eric Kean, 29, in the lobby of the Loop office building at 70 W. Madison St. where they were about to deliver a charcoal suit to Bentler -- his first custom-made garment. When we arrived at the front desk of Smith Barney on the 51st floor, Wiebracht seemed to know everyone, even though he has only worked for the company since January. "Hi Emma," he greeted the receptionist. "How you doing?"
Tom James sales territory is divvied up by building, which is why so many of the Smith Barney guys are Wiebracht clients. "Ryan, looking great!" Wiebracht greeted one man in shirt sleeves. "That's one of my shirts," Wiebracht boasted. "And my ties.