A conversation with Mary Zarob
10 min. read — In this Q&A style interview (essentially a total guide), you will discover heaps of helpful information tidbits for how to find the perfect suit for your wedding day — everything from how many months in advance you should start looking to what kind of tie is best for your face shape to how you should go about managing what your wedding party will wear.
Who’s the expert? Mary is a tailor and designer based in Phoenix, Arizona. She studied at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. While in New York, Mary designed for Macy’s and Calvin Klein Jeans.
Through her previous work, she learned about different parts of the business — understanding the customer and what they are looking for, to tracking sales, keeping up with how trends evolve and how to adapt those trends to her customer.
Though she had the time of her life in New York, it was time to set roots in another (warmer) city by starting her own business, Q. Contrary. Mary loves that it’s constantly sunny, the people she meets are totally laid back, and the abundance of outdoor activities that Arizona has to offer.
Edited for clarity. Photos from a fitting appointment with Mary’s client, Aravind.
Q: Let’s get right into it. What advice would you give to those looking for wedding day attire?
A: I’d ask them what they want to wear. How they want to dress, what their favorite color is and the image they want to represent. What’s the style of their wedding? Is it super formal? Is it more casual? Where is it located? And really, what do they want? That’s where I start.
So, it’s like a conversation with them.
Yes. Get to know their style, get to know what they wear. What they want and just kind of get a feel for what they feel comfortable in. What makes them feel sexy and awesome and bold and dashing — and then go from there and show them ideas. If they never wear a suit, put them in something basic. If they are big on suits, definitely some more flair. Black tie, more tuxedo, edgy. And get to know the couple too.
Q: Are there any “say yes to the dress” feelings when it comes to your clients finally finding their attire? In other words, what emotions are showing when they put on their suit?
A: Oh absolutely! The big thing is the fit. They just want to look: small waist, big shoulders. They want to feel like they are making a presence. Sometimes you just show them a (fabric) swatch and they are like “ooh!” and they get excited. But then the moment when the suit comes in and they try it on, like Aravind when he tried it on, he was like, “this is what I wanted” and you just see the smile on his face. So yeah, it’s awesome. And then, you can tell they feel great and excited to wear it. You know, it’s cool. Many times, people don’t think about the groom, it’s always the bride, the bride and the dress … which is important … but grooms get left out. And you know, it’s so important. What they wear should complement the person who they are marrying.
Q: Is it better to rent or buy?
A: Buy. Definitely buy. Now-a-days there’s so many great options where you can buy an inexpensive suit for the same price as renting — and, one, you’ll have it fit to you. Two, it’s not going to look like 100 people wore it, it’s going to look nice, clean and crisp. You’re investing this money and if anything, you can always wear the pants again. Right? It’s your wedding day, let’s just get real. Brides are spending a lot of money on their dress. They don’t have to (spend a lot of money), they can, but I think it’s so important that you’re not wearing something somebody else already wore on your wedding day. Think of pictures, think of all that stuff, you want it to fit perfectly and with rentals, you can’t always do a ton of alterations. There’s so many different suit brands and stores to shop in. But yes, if you can’t do custom you should be able to find something that fits your body. Even just a little investment like, do it. I totally encourage it.
Q: How can they stand out?
A: Definitely color. Color of the suit. Maybe it’s a lighter blue and they are all in navy or it’s a lighter grey and they are all in dark grey. Or it’s black and they are in something different. So, pick a color where you stand out. For embellishments, your tie. I do encourage to not go too crazy on the tie because you want people to focus on your face but something that compliments the look. Boutonniere, I’ve seen some people in weddings recently that do print shirts or colored shirts — so it’s just a little more edgy, more party, it’s fun.
Q: How can they stay true to themselves, or in contrast, feel elevated?
A: So, I think it’s a couple of things: how you accessorize it — pick a fun pair of shoes. Pick a styled shirt or a tie or a handkerchief even that you would never normally wear. Have it fit to you, so many grooms never wear suits and they are more casual and they just think “uh, a suit is uncomfortable” — well, find something that really fits so you feel comfortable in it and you will look great. And then your grooming, your hair. It’s not always just the suit. Trim your beard get a facial, get a professional shave — and don’t do it a week before your wedding do it six months before, try it, and then do it again a week or two before the wedding, pamper yourself. This is a time where you are preparing for a new chapter in your life which is so, so exciting. Everyone is going to be looking at you and like you want your hair to be great, you want your skin to be great, you want the right glasses, you want the right beard — whatever it is. Even get a new cologne or maybe wear like a family heirloom, like your grandfather’s cufflinks. Or like a watch from your dad or your mom or whoever it is — add things to your outfit that people notice that add sentimental meaning but that really make you feel good.
Q: Some people don’t like to feel “constructed”, being in a suit, how do you combat that? In other words, what are the alternatives to being full-on?
A: They could maybe not wear the jacket and just wear the vest. Some grooms feel more comfortable not wearing a tie or a bow tie. I have a lot of grooms who love their cowboy boots and they wear their cowboy boots with their suit or their slacks. They could wear a flannel shirt with like a jean jacket but they have to find something they find comfortable in that the person that they are marrying likes. You don’t have to wear skinny stuff if you aren’t a skinny person. You can wear a pair of jeans or darker slacks or cotton pants or linen slacks if that’s what you’re more comfortable in. Just, you know, whatever you do just have it tailored to you, like little alterations, so you’re not totally investing a ton of money into a formal suit or tuxedo — but you still look like you put in a little effort.
Q: What trends are you seeing?
A: A lot of color. Blues are getting brighter. Pinks, tuxedo jackets, white jackets. Even in the fabric there’s a lot of texture or detail. Lapels are different colors. So, if you’re doing a tuxedo jacket with a satin lapel maybe is black or red or pink or ivory or something a little different than the traditional. Printed shirts, printed and colored shirts — I’ve been seeing a that a lot. Those have been more for casual weddings, outdoorsy weddings.
Q: Do you preach any dos or don’ts?
A: Do wear your shoes a lot. If you get brand new shoes, wear the shoes a lot before the wedding day, break them in. Do buy a tux or a suit, don’t rent. Do have this done about four months before your wedding, don’t wait until the last minute — especially with your groomsmen/wedding party, they will take forever and something will always happen. Do pick something you want to wear. This is more individual-based, but don’t wear a bow tie if you are not a bow tie kind of person — unless you’re wearing a tuxedo. If you say you’re going to lose a lot of weight, don’t buy something just because you’re going to lose the weight to get down into it, buy something that fits you and you can always have it tailored down. Do try your suit on a week or two before your wedding just to make sure it still fits. Do think about rehearsal dinner, like what are you wearing to rehearsal dinner what are you wearing to engagement pictures if you’re doing a lot of photographs. Doesn’t have to be a full three-piece suit but everyone’s seeing those pictures.
Q: What is the average cost of a custom suit?
A: You can spend $1,000. I can make something for $850. Decent quality from myself is around $1,200-$1,500 and you should probably spend that amount anywhere. You can go to these online resources that say custom, I’ve never used them but I’ve had customers use and love them — some of them have used them and don’t love them. But for custom you should be looking at spending around $1,000.
Q: Is it a separate cost for alterations?
A: Yes — if you buy a suit off the rack, and it doesn’t fit in the center then usually it’s about $35 to take the sides in. If the sleeves are too long that’s about $30-$35. If the pants are big, you’re looking at about maybe, $30, $40, $50 — all depends how much work. If you’re going to buy something off the rack separates are good. But, you know, just shop around until you find that brand that fits your frame, versus being like “I have to wear Hugo Boss” or “I have to wear Calvin Klein” or “I have to wear Dior”, when you’re not that fit model or their (ideal) customer — so just keep shopping.
Q: In your experience, what is the biggest challenge when it comes to finding what they’re wearing?
A: Time. I think people underestimate how long it takes. Or they have these expectations that, I don’t know if I want to say this, they can find something super cheap … but then they end up looking super cheap. Don’t be afraid to invest a little bit of money into yourself.
Q: How to combat the challenge of time?
A: Definitely start 4-5 months before your wedding to shop and get something made. Even if you just buy it and you keep it until a month before the wedding and then have it tailored. It will take a month to make the suit if you do custom and even to order it, sometimes it’s not there. It might be sold out. And then seasonally, if you are getting married in the fall maybe start looking in the fall (the year before, if you’re able) so you have fall looks because then when you start shopping in the spring time it’s different sort of trend looks in the department stores.
Q: Are there any fads to avoid?
A: That whole “Dumb and Dumber” look. Ruffled shirts and pleated pants. I wouldn’t get something that looks like a business suit either. If you have something in your closet that’s got pinstripes or a really bold plaid that looks more business-y than a party, I would stay away from that. In a couple years, color might be gone — just something to think about.
Q: How can they add subtle personality?
A: Socks, all the groomsmen/wedding party can wear fun socks — you can do fun pictures like that. Stitching colors, button colors. Shoes, they can always pick out their shoes. Some want to wear sneakers, some want to wear Chuck Taylors, some of them wear a dress shoe or dress boot or cowboy boots — that’s a great way to add personality. How they groom themselves, beard or no beard. Mustache or no mustache. Bolo tie versus a long tie.
Q: How can they fit the theme of a wedding?
A: If you do black tie, obviously a tuxedo but there’s a way to jazz it up with different color or texture in the actual fabric. If it’s a downtown/city wedding, more super sleek suit, maybe a little shine to it. If it’s an outdoorsy wedding I’d definitely do a three-piece suit so he can take the jacket off and just wear the vest. Beach wedding, definitely no tie, handkerchief, a jacket that’s linen, textured, lightweight, breathable. You just have to think of what you would wear to a party in your location and just elevate it a bit.
Q: How can they find the right type of suit for their body type?
A: They just have to shop around. I mean I know because I’ve been studying fits and designers for a very long time — it’s my whole career. What you can do is if you see someone that has your same frame in a suit, ask them where they bought it. If you have a best friend that always wears suits, ask them where they shop. Stores like H&M and Zara are very slim, young. Brooks Brothers is very traditional. You can kind of tell by what they sell in a store and who shops there.
Q: Ties? Bow ties, skinny ties. Let talk ties.
A: If you have chubby face, I would not encourage a bow tie because it will make your face look wider. The shape of a wide bow tie is better for someone who has a longer face. Long ties, most grooms usually wear that because they’re more comfortable in it. If you have like a super long face sometimes bow ties are nicer because it complements the shape. So, then the width of your tie should be proportional to the width of your lapel on your jacket. For example, if your lapels are very narrow, you should do a narrow tie. If your lapels are really wide like Tom Ford, then you need that really wide tie. Usually, lapels are 3/3.75 inches wide and a normal tie will do just fine. It’s all proportional.
Q: Fabrics for breathability?
A: First, there’s always natural fiber. Wool is a natural fiber, cotton is a natural fiber, linen is a natural fiber. Natural fibers breathe better. You can buy a wool suit that’s super light-weight, not like chunk wool — like your parka. I do a lot of linen blends for my beach weddings. So like wool, silk, linen blends or wool and linen blends because the linen makes it really light weight as well. Polyester is a synthetic fabric it’s not breathable, even wool/poly blends are going to be very warm. Another thing for my clients is that if they tell me they sweat a lot or they have an outdoor wedding, I don’t line the jacket or I half-line the jacket. Lining is the fabric inside the back of the suit that is usually just a synthetic like a polyester or a rayon and that doesn’t breathe, it actually keeps air trapped. If you remove it, it helps them stay a little cooler.
Q: How can they coordinate with the groomsmen/wedding party?
A: Many times a groom has a hard time expecting them (their wedding party) to spend over a $1,000 on their suit, so what I encourage them to do is pick a day where they go by themselves, find what they want, and then coordinate the others by saying “hey we’re all going here” or send them a link “hey here’s the suit we need to order” or “hey, give me your measurements and your money I will order it for you” — just to make sure that they get it and they all get the same thing. Or you make an event out of it, go to the store together, give the sales person a heads up. You can bring them to my store or another tailor to have them tailored to have them fit better. Then go grab beers after or go get lunch together. Also, I would encourage the groom to buy all of the socks for their groomsmen/wedding party and then bring them to the wedding for them. I would also encourage the groom to buy all the ties or hankies and bring them the day of the wedding — don’t expect to give them to your groomsmen/wedding party and they will remember to bring it because they won’t. Any sort of accessory, buy it, put it in a box, bring it the day of the wedding — you don’t have to worry about them forgetting them. Same thing with shoes, make it simple, here’s a sample of a black shoe or a brown shoe — just tell them “this is what I want you to get”, and give them a couple options, because they are definitely going to wear those again. Maybe they already have something in their closets that fits — just be very specific.