Stars of the National Football League draft are turning to the Memphis area to get suited up. They have suits and shirts custom-made through stylist Clarence Jones of Hernando and ties and pocket squares created by Juliet Nelson of Memphis.
Among Clarence Jones’ clients is NFL draftee Patrick Peterson, who was selected fifth overall by the Arizona Cardinals.
Among them are Von Miller, the second overall pick in the NFL draft who is now with the Denver Broncos. In events prior to the draft, Miller posed on the Radio City Music Hall marquee with others in a suit from Jones and pocket square and tie by Nelson. He also wore the outfit, jacket off, to ring the closing bell of the New York Stock Exchange.
Patrick Peterson, the fifth overall pick, now with the Arizona Cardinals, was outfitted recently by Jones and Nelson when he picked up his Home Depot College Football Award.
Jones, owner of C.J. Custom Clothiers, has handled suits for NFL Rookie of the Year Ndamukong Suh of the Detroit Lions and Robert Quinn who went 14th in the draft to the St. Louis Rams.
When Sasha Kaun, a Kansas Jayhawks basketball center, went to the White House to meet President George W. Bush in 2008, he was wearing a pinstripe suit from Jones. Kaun was a member of the NCAA championship team that defeated the University of Memphis Tigers in overtime.
Jones’ clientele also includes prominent local businessmen and officials such as Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong, whom he met at a shoe-shine shop. Armstrong, who has an athletic build, complained that he couldn’t find shirts large enough for his neck and also long enough for his arms. Jones has made him 10 shirts so far. Because Armstrong is a
Dallas Cowboys fan, Jones made one shirt in white with a blue and gray stripe.
Jones meets with clients in their homes or offices, takes measurements, helps them select fabrics and styles of suits and coordinating shirts, and has the garments made in Texas. In about three or four weeks, he hand-delivers the suits to new clients so he can check to see whether adjustments need to be made.
“The fabric is really good, the service is really good, and if anything is wrong, he makes it right,” said Scott Monarch, assistant basketball coach at Marquette University, for whom Jones has made many suits.
“The quality is as good as is out there,” said Joby Branion, co-founder of Athletes First, which represents about 95 NFL players, including Miller. “But what separates him from others is the personal attention he pays. He doesn’t lose clients.”
Jones’ suits are made from a pattern created for the customer using between 13 and 16 measurements. The customer may choose any style option and from fine wools and cashmere from Italy, London and Australia. His shirts are Egyptian, Sea Isle or Italian cotton. The suit cloth is hand-cut with shears and about 90 percent hand-stitched, he said.
Jones calls his suits bespoke rather than made-to-measure, a distinction that has become blurred. But made-to-measure often describes a suit created by altering a standard-size pattern to fit the customer and involving more machine work.
Jones’ suits are generally $1,350 to $2,000. His shirts run about $135 to $225. Jones said his prices are very competitive because he makes his profit in volume. Customers buy more suits and refer him to their friends. (Jones can be reached at 378-8273 or cjcustomclothiers.cj @gmail.com.)
The majority of Jones’ suits are set off with ties and pocket squares made for them by Memphian Juliet Nelson, who opened Juliet’s Pocket Squares in April at 8081 E. Shelby Drive. Nelson makes ties, bow ties and ascots, but her focus is pocket squares in silk, cotton or linen, in a big selection of patterns and colors, and with more varieties of folds than an origami artist. They’re about $40 each.
Customers who bring their suits and shirts to her store to be matched with a pocket square “flip out when they see the selection,” she said. Nelson has done hundreds for Brown Missionary Baptist Church’s men’s choir and took an order more recently for 25 from a partner in an Ohio consulting firm. Other patrons are ministers, judges and police officers, she said.
Jones was mentored by two Memphis tailors. He fitted shirts for Nico Perkins and learned to fit suits from Troy Watson in the late 1990s. Eventually he fitted shirts for the celebrity clientele of Barbara Bates of Bates Design Inc. in Chicago, he said. He handled shirts for comedians Cedric the Entertainer and Steve Harvey. Bates’ clients have included Oprah Winfrey and Michael Jordan.
When Jones started his own styling business, his first clients included Walt Harris of the Chicago Bears and Tim Hardaway of the Golden State Warriors.
Jones has built his business with young players going professional who often need a special fit and lack a clear sense of style. He generally approaches family or coaches to request an introduction.
Jones said the secret to his success is relationships. “It used to be about money,” he said, and his business didn’t thrive. “When it became about relationships with people, then I became successful.” He used to pray that God would put him in the presence of the folks he needed to meet, and God did, he said. “I took it from there.”
Jones said most athletes want a lot of one-on-one attention. For example, Sedrick Ellis, defensive tackle for the New Orleans Saints, got him out of bed at 5:30 a.m. last week, pleading for one of his 10 new suits to be overnighted to him in St- Tropez. “He said he has a photo shoot,” said Jones. “I think he’s going to a party.”
In style, his patrons are moving toward more fitted, European-cut suits with two buttons, no pleats and no cuffs. But they sometimes like three-pieces. Polka dot is a popular pattern for ties and pocket squares. A favorite casual look is custom-made jeans, which Jones also supplies, with a sport coat and either a button-down shirt or a V-neck sweater.
His football player clients dress up much more than his basketball ones do, he said, except for C.J. Watson, a guard for the Chicago Bulls who likes to dress.
An odd request is for ties and pocket squares in the colors of opposing teams. Football players like to wear them with their suits when they play in other cities. “I’ve never asked why,” he said. But he’s probably one of the few stylists who has to choose colors based on football schedules.