The right store at the right time

A big season of proms and weddings is tailored for what Nick Kyritsopoulos has to offer

BUSINESS PROFILE Kings Contrivance Formal Wear

April 26, 2006|By KAREN NITKIN | KAREN NITKIN,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

This is a busy time of year for Kings Contrivance Formal Wear. Prom season is starting, and the big wedding months of May and June are around the corner.

That means people are renting or buying tuxedos and having their suits and prom dresses tailored at the 13-year-old shop.

Early Monday morning, a steady stream of customers entered the small but tidy store that is filled with racks of dark suits. A few men had come in to pick up suits that had been altered. A mother had questions about the tuxedo her son would need for his prom.

As spring wears on, things will get busier, as high school students pick out tuxedos for their proms and choose from a large assortment of accessories such as vests, ties, cummerbunds and pocket squares, said owner Nick Kyritsopoulos.

This year, the trends are for long ties as opposed to bow ties, and vests in bright pinks and turquoise. "A lot of stripes this year," said Kyritsopoulos, 56.

White suits, tails and other bold options also are worn, but not as frequently, he said.

On a wall near the counter is a framed photograph of Kyritsopoulos holding a tape measure next to Washington Bullets basketball player Manute Bol, all 7 feet, 6 inches of him. Bol was a customer when he played for the Bullets.

The photograph, taken in the mid-1980s, Kyritsopoulos said, makes a good impression on customers, who figure if Kyristopoulos can fit clothing to Bol's build, he can fit clothing to anyone.

Steve Reynolds, who lives in Elkridge, certainly thinks so. Rey- nolds said he has been coming to Kings Contrivance Formal Wear about six years. Even if he buys suits elsewhere, he takes them to Kyritsopoulos to be altered.

"To be honest, nobody alters clothes the right way except Nick," he said. "I wind up having to come back here to get it fixed."

Reynolds was waiting to pick up four suits - two had been purchased at Kings Contrivance Formal Wear and two at a store in the mall, he said. All were altered by Kyritsopoulos.

"You can take a $250 suit and make it look like a thousand-dollar suit if the tailoring is right," Reynolds said.

Kyritsopoulos, who started working for a tailor in Greece when he was 13, said tailoring is a lost art.

"The trade is dead," he said.

He moved to the United States in 1973 and worked for 19 years as director of tailoring for a now-defunct chain in Virginia, Maryland and Washington before opening his shop.

The Columbia resident sells a few off-the-rack fashions for women, but mostly he rents tuxedos and sells ready-made suits ranging from $600 to $1,500.

In his 13 years as a small-business owner, he has seen large chains take a chunk of the tuxedo-rental business.

But he says he offers several things the big chains can't. One is expert tailoring, often on the spot. That is useful for someone who is picking up a tuxedo for the prom, only to find that the sleeves are too long, for example. Kyritsopoulos says rental tuxes are designed with easy-to-alter sleeves and cuffs, and he can make the changes quickly.

Kyritsopoulos also says he can offer more variety than chain stores, which typically sell only their own brands. He can track down any tuxedo a person finds on the Internet, he says. Customers can flip through favorites in an order book and find what they like.

Kyritsopoulos recommends that customers come in a month before they need the tux to pick one out. For a wedding in May, when so many tuxes are being worn to proms, two months is better, he said.

Kyritsopoulos said he keeps tuxes in stock, ranging from sizes 36 to 60, for customers who need one immediately. He estimates that happens four or five times a week, typically for a man who suddenly has a black-tie event to attend.

Many men have little experience with tuxes and are eager for advice, Kyritsopoulos said. He suggests they try on several to see what they like best. For grooms, he likes to see a swatch from the wedding dress, to coordinate the color with the bride. For prom- goers, he will see the dress or ask what color it is.

A tuxedo rental with cummerbund and tie averages $60, he said. With shoes and a vest, the total will fall between $100 and $140. They can be picked up on a Thursday and returned the following Monday.

Kings Contrivance Formal Wear is in Kings Contrivance Village Center, 8640 Guilford Road, Columbia. 410-381-0619.

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