Suits Can Change Lives

The HBO documentary Suited, directed by Jason Benjamin and produced by Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner, tells the story of a suitmaking duo who create custom-made garments to better dress the queer community. Find out how and why their well-tailored suits provide empowerment.

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In 2013, filmmaker Jason Benjamin read a New York Times article that sparked a fire in him. The story profiled Daniel Friedman and Rae Tutera, the Brooklyn-based suit makers behind the bespoke tailoring company Bindle & Keep. Tutera—who identifies as gender non-binary, but who dresses in more traditionally masculine clothing—originally approached Friedman about becoming his suit-making apprentice. Friedman's business had primarily been outfitting the Wall Street crowd, but after working with Tutera, the pair formed Bindle & Keep to provide sartorial services to a new world of clients: queers, transgender individuals, and gender nonconformists. Benjamin instantly saw that there was an even bigger story to tell.

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At the time, Benjamin was working as a boom mic operator on the HBO series Girls. He sat down with Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner and pitched them a documentary about Bindle & Keep, one that would take a holistic look at the duo's process of designing custom-made suits tailored to clients across the gender spectrum. Dunham and Konner quickly agreed to be producers.

Rae Tutera getting Grace Dunham's measurements.
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The film zooms in on six clients in particular: Derek Matteson, a trans man preparing for his wedding; Everett Arthur, a trans man and law student who needs a suit for job interviews; Melissa "Mel" Plaut, a gender nonconforming cab driver looking for something to wear to their upcoming 40th birthday; Grace Dunham, a writer and activist who doesn't identify as either male or female, but wants the perfect winter suit (Grace is also Lena Dunham's sibling); Aidan Star Jones, a transgender teen boy anxious about his Bar Mitzvah; and Dr. Jillian T. Weiss, an attorney, professor, and trans woman getting ready to argue a landmark case against transgender discrimination in federal court.

Derek Matteson feeling happy and confident on his wedding day.

"We sought diversity," Benjamin tells Sweet on the night of the film's New York City premiere at BAMcinemaFest. "I don't just mean racial diversity, but all kinds of diversity within the stories we ultimately chose. We wanted the subjects of the stories to reflect the trans experience."

Aidan trying on his custom-made suit for the first time.

"The reality is that queer bodies aren't the only bodies that come in different shapes and sizes—or that have different experiences attached to them," says Tutera. "We need the fashion industry, and similarly society, to start being more aware of the reality that we're all totally different."

Suited premieres June 20, at 9 p.m. on HBO.

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