Men Suit Up

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By Torey Van Oot

Photographs by Bob Rozycki

Less than an hour after The Westchester in White Plains opened its doors for the day, Peter Ebner had already packed a spacious Nordstrom dressing room with some of the season’s most stylish looks for men.

Sharp Canali and Hickey Freeman made-to-order suits, some still marked for alterations, hung from hooks on the wall. Purple paisley and textured gray ties popped against tasteful David Donahue dress shirts. Peter Millar slacks paired with plaid button-downs, and sweaters fit for a casual weekend lay stacked on a bench. He had even picked out a selection of socks that included a bright orange pair from Hugo Boss.

“I believe in hot socks,” Ebner said. “I think the most conservative guy in the world should wear hot socks.”

Ebner wasn’t shopping for himself. The offerings were on display for one of the many clients he serves as a personal stylist in the men’s department of the store.

“He’s a fairly conservative dresser, so I’ve tried to show a mixed media, where you take that plaid shirt or that tattersall shirt, you put it with a very fine patterned tie,” Ebner said as the two examined the items.

“That looks great,” the longtime client said, pointing, predictably, to the most conservative of the three outfits, a mostly gray ensemble.

Some of the other pairings, all based on suits he had already purchased in advance of one of his son’s upcoming bar mitzvah, were a little too bold for the Westchester attorney’s tastes. The purple paisley tie and corresponding purple pocket square Ebner had matched with a purple and gray striped shirt were deemed too flamboyant.

“That, I don’t do that… It’s a little too fashionable,” he said of the fabric flair.

Ebner isn’t a big fan of pocket squares personally either. But he sees his job as a stylist as encouraging clients to “get out of the box” and try new things.

“Men don’t have any sense. They’re very, very regimented,” he said. “They think if they’re wearing a plaid suit, they need to wear a solid shirt. So we try to show them that they can wear a plaid, with a correct stripe, and also that they can wear a different type of neckwear, that they don’t always have to be so straitlaced.”

That doesn’t have to mean modeling the latest and craziest runway looks. For the client Ebner was seeing that day, pairing a navy Hugo Boss suit with brown shoes, both purchases from earlier sessions, was a big step. The color palettes of his closet had expanded from the traditional navies and grays, staples of the finance and law set, to include “browns and beiges and ‘summers’ and greens and blues and tan” since he started working with Ebner.

“If it wasn’t for Peter, I would actually look even more boring,” he joked.

Ebner doesn’t have any formal styling training outside of Nordstrom. He says he relies on intuition, experience and his observations of what trendsetters in the media and on TV are sporting. But he does bring a long track record of working in the clothing business to the job. He worked in the women’s garment industry before joining Nordstrom in the 1990s, climbing from a temporary holiday position to full-time work in the men’s department. He found his calling as a stylist in the late 2000s, when the White Plains location launched its in-house program.

“I have a more critical eye than the average person, I think,” said Ebner, looking sharp in a blue-and-brown checkered suit, a striped shirt and a silk knit tie.

His clients range from recent graduates getting outfitted for job interviews to an 80-something law professor who is no longer able to come to the store comfortably for fittings. Ebner, who sees serving the customer as his top priority, now takes the clothes and a tailor to the man’s home. Many clients come in seasonally or yearly, though one man who works near the store comes in much more frequently, calling on Ebner for help with everything from workout wear to purses for his wife.

While he gets paid based on commissions from his sales, Ebner knows giving customers value and catering to both their tastes and what looks best, instead of pushing the most expensive products, is key to building lasting relationships and securing returning business.

But that approach doesn’t mean shying away from showing clients what he likes to call “nuggets,” fun add-ons or accessories they wouldn’t have tried themselves, when they come in for an appointment. Case in point – the “hot” socks, priced at $14 a pair, actually appealed to the disciple of muted men’s executive socks.

“I actually would,” the client said when asked if he would wear the “funky” footwear. “It’s one of those things that, it’s under the radar.”

It’s kind of like underwear, he added: “Only I know.”

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