Strong Suit

Strong Suit

W hile chatting with Enzo Valentino (pictured left, above), owner of Valentino Tailors in Hamden, I can hear the sounds of scissors on fabric and the gentle hum of a sewing machine downstairs, where the third-generation family-owned business has its workshop. The sounds are comforting, indicative of careful handiwork, the sort that seems increasingly uncommon.

“We’re really old-fashioned here,” Enzo says right off the bat in describing the business, which provides alterations to a wider range of apparel than you’d expect—“from sweatpants to wedding gowns”—and sells off-the-rack and custom menswear.

A few decades ago, “old-fashioned” probably wouldn’t be the term used to describe a proper tailor shop, which could find prosperity in most neighborhoods. “It used to be that every home had a sewing machine,” Enzo remarks, because tailoring was such a common feature of everyday life. Still, people needed truly expert hands and eyes for the difficult and important jobs.

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Today, those skills, along with tailor shops, are a bit of a dying breed, he notes. The news is bittersweet; the lack of newly minted tailors means young people aren’t learning the skill. The good news, for Valentino Tailors anyway, is less competition. Even if the shop weren’t one of just a handful of full-scale tailoring businesses in the New Haven area, though, the quality of its work and resounding customer satisfaction would keep the shop very busy anyway.

The “old-fashioned” vibe—advanced by details like the framed black-and-white pictures of Enzo’s father and grandfather with customers in years past—really works in this atmosphere. Considering the refined art of altering clothes and classic nature of men’s formalwear in particular, experience is best, and the Valentino family has certainly got that.

The store was originally opened in 1969 by Enzo’s grandfather Vincenzo, an immigrant from Italy who had made a career working as a tailor and in upscale men’s shops. The business was eventually handed down to Enzo’s father Antonio, and Enzo’s mother Carmel (pictured right, above), who were at the helm until 2006. Although they’re formally retired now, they often stop by and help out.

Enzo was a little slower getting in touch with his inner tailor. Truth be told, he was downright against it—for a while. “I never wanted to be a tailor,” he says. Instead of taking over the business in his early adulthood, he attended the University of Connecticut where he got a business degree, then worked in construction management in North Haven for several years.

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Eventually, he had a realization. “‘Wait, I have this nice family business,’” he remembers saying to himself. He’d grown up among tailors and knew how the shop operated; plus, he had always liked working with his hands. All roads pointed home to the Hamden shop. He took over in 2006 and has been a contented business owner since. The love of fashion is a family affair in more ways than one: his wife, Alicia, owns CG Consulting, performing image consulting for individuals and businesses.

People come to the shop for basic tasks—hemming a pair of jeans or skirt—to more intricate ones, like getting a formal gown or suit fitted. Enzo says that although cost depends on the garment and desired changes, there are some baselines. Hemming pants is usually $15, for instance, and shortening the sleeves on a jacket is usually $30. With the most common jobs, they try to get garments back to customers in a week or less—again, depending on the specifics.

Valentino’s custom menswear business features start-to-finish suits—from picking material to cut and style—which are normally priced between $800 and $2,000. Non-custom men’s business and formalwear from brands including Italian makers Canali and Sartoria Tosi, and American clothier H. Freeman, are available as well.

The goods and services are top-notch, but Enzo takes service to another level. He really cares about providing value, giving customers solicited advice on cut, quality, brands. He’s educated many a young college grad on their best look for a first job interview, pumping up their confidence when they need it most.

“I love the variety of being able to work with my hands, and work with people,” he says. “I get to do a little bit of everything.”

Valentino Tailors
1422 Dixwell Ave, Hamden (map)
Tues-Fri 9:30am-6pm, Sat 9:30am-5pm
(203) 248-2037

Written and photographed by Cara McDonough.

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Cara McDonough has been a journalist for over ten years. She writes regularly about family, parenting, religion and other issues for The Huffington Post and chronicles daily life on her personal blog. She lives in New Haven with her husband, two children and two dogs.

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