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Pat Langel dresses Des Moines


Pat Langel, owner of Pat Langel Clothiers, is working to dress Des Moines, one custom-made shirt and hand-sewn suit at a time.

Langel, who trained in New York City under the famed clothier Norman Hilton, has for years operated in the time-honored manner of custom clothing makers. He visits his clients personally, bringing clothing samples and a measuring tape to their offices, homes or wherever is most convenient for them.   

He once measured a man in two minutes during a meal at Jimmy’s American Cafe. He has roughly 250 clients in Greater Des Moines, and they have all come to him via word-of-mouth advertising.

That is about to change. Later this month, Langel is planning his first trunk show at the upscale Suites at 800 Locust Hotel & Spa. in attempt to increase his roster of customers. His children, now in elementary school, don’t require as much looking after and he is ready, he said, to pour more energy into his business.

“I feel like I should be working with more people,” he said. “It’s time to grow this business a little.”

His moves come at a good time. The market for suits and formal clothing waned in the late 1990s as teenage and twenty-something dot-com millionaires put their casual stamp on American business attire.

But following the stock market swoon, business dress is making a comeback. Investment banks, including Lehman Bros. Holdings Inc., have mandated that its employees wear suits, as have hundreds of other firms across the country.

Langel, who operates from his office in West Des Moines, said some insurance companies in Des Moines are considering providing executives with clothing allowances.

He is not an ordinary clothing maker, and is fond of saying that he will do anything for a customer. Ben Hildebrandt, a spokesman for the Iowa Bankers Association and a longtime Langel client, vouches for that.

Not long ago, Hildbrandt had tight schedule of meetings and the battery in his car died. Langel called to check on an order and Hildebrandt told him about his problem. Langel rushed to a Wal-Mart, picked up a battery for Hildbrandt and installed it in his car.

“Pat’s known for doing those kinds of things for people,” Hildebrandt said.

Langel works with three U.S. clothing makers. His custom shirts range in price from $80 to $285, and average $125. His custom suits start at $595 and generally top out at $1,200, though some customers request rare fabrics that cost much more.

Langel, a Des Moines native, got his start in the fashion business in Iowa City as a student at the University of Iowa. There, he worked at the now-defunct men’s clothier Stephens under Tom Summy, who required that the sales staff learn something new about fashion each week.

From there, Langel moved to New York. At Hilton’s company, Norman Hilton, which had once provided the financing that helped Ralph Lauren get started, Langel rose from the shop floor to running the company’s custom clothing division. He developed a keen eye for fabric quality and the importance of cut and fit.

In the 1980s, Langel personally shepherded suits ordered by then Vice President George H.W. Bush through the fabrication process. Other famous customers included Baltimore Ravens owner Art Modell.

Closer to home, Langel’s clients include Iowa State Bank President John Burgeson and Holmes Murphy & Associates President Jim Swift. Several attorneys from the Nyemaster, Goode, Voigts, West, Hansell & O’Brien law firm buy his clothes, as do lawyers at Davis, Brown, Koehn, Shors & Roberts and Bradshaw, Fowler, Proctor & Fairgrave.

Dutch financial services giant ING Groep pays him to attend annual meetings of its salespeople and executives, where he speaks to workers about fashion and handles orders.

Langel’s trunk show will be held Sept. 18-19. He is planning to give away a free suit, a sports coat and a dozen ties.

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