“Suited,” a documentary directed by Jason Benjamin, appears at first glance to be a film about Brooklyn-based bespoke tailor Bindle & Keep. And while this is true, the real stars and heart of the film are the six clients whose stories and struggles are highlighted in this low-key, groundbreaking work.
Bindle & Keep caters primarily to gender non-conforming members of the LGBTQ community, which is a far cry from Daniel Friedman’s original mission, when he founded the company in 2011, to clothe wealthy Wall Street types. Rae Tutera, born Rachel, got their first suit at 25 and asked to be taken on as an apprentice. Rae opened Daniel’s mind to the sartorial need and untapped market within the underserved gender non-conforming community, and the rest is history.
While Bindle & Keep serves everyone across the gender spectrum, “Suited” focuses solely on six transgender and gnc clients, and the film is stronger for it. In a day and age when transgender people are rarely seen and their stories rarely heard in mainstream media, a documentary that reveals their struggles through their individual needs for a suit is wildly refreshing.
Each client is introduced in a simple and creative way, through their submission in Bindle & Keep’s website’s “The more we know” section. They include Derek, a transgender man who needs a suit for his upcoming wedding; Everett, an African-American, transgender law student; Aidan, a transgender 12-year-old with an upcoming Bar Mitzvah; Jillian, a transgender attorney looking for a power suit for an upcoming court case; Mel, a gender non-conforming taxi driver; and Grace, producer Lena Dunham’s younger sibling.
While the film’s relatively short 77-minute running time does not allow for each story to be explored as in depth as we would like, they all leave an impact. Derek, who works as a nurse and is from small-town Appalachia, allows us a glimpse into his personal life, including allowing the cameras into the recovery room after his complete vaginal hysterectomy. His bravery and the unconditional love he receives from his family and fiancée are a beautiful thing to behold, and when his wedding day arrives and he looks sharp and proud as hell in his new suit, it is difficult to find a dry eye in the theater.
Everett eloquently and bravely shares his story, and it is maddening listening to what he has to go through. As a law student in Georgia, he has been having a very difficult time finding a job because of his gender identity, with one potential employer literally telling him, “You’re exactly what we want, but we’re not ready to deal with the ‘trans thing.’” He also has to contend with a mother who does not accept his gender identity. His hope is that a fitted suit will help him find a job and boost his confidence. He does, however, voice the concern that he will not look good, as he has never liked what he’s seen in the mirror. When he returns to the shop for the finished product and looks in the mirror, he is completely silent, and after Rae asks if he’s ok, he starts crying and replies, “Really good.” Again, waterworks from the audience.
One of the toughest scenes features young Aidan entering the shop with his supportive grandmother, clutching to his chest – almost as a shield – a stuffed dinosaur, and talking about how he doesn’t have many friends and his father doesn’t support him. When he returns to the shop (with said father, who appears to be showing support), tries on his suit, and breaks into a sweet, soft, satisfied smile, it may be the highlight of the film.
While the documentary does fall short in some ways, namely omitting any insight into the suit-making process (there is a nameless woman who appears to be doing the majority of the work), the underdevelopment of some of the stories, and the lack of any detail about the final scene which features a nameless fashion show (the dynamite (un)Heeled, put on by dapperQ), it is overall a beautiful and necessary film. Showcasing the powerful way in which clothing can help a person feel complete in their identity, it focuses on people who are so often unable to feel that way in today’s society. Rae, who throughout the film serves as an empathetic and welcoming presence to the clients, sums everything up best with this line of gold: “You have the right to be handsome.” Amen to that.
Air Date: June, HBO