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Stateside Podcast: Looking 'Dandy' in Detroit

Clothier Nelson T. Sanders Jr. in his suit atelier, Dandy.
April Baer
Michigan Radio
Clothier Nelson T. Sanders Jr. in his suit atelier, Dandy.

The Oxford English dictionary defines a “dandy” as “a man unduly devoted to style, neatness and fashion in dress and appearance.”

Upon walking into Dandy, a Detroit-based suit atelier, it’s clear that Dandy founder Nelson T. Sanders Jr. has taken an expansive interpretation of this term. Not only was Sanders dressed to the nines, the space was outfitted with racks of suits coats, a bar cart, and a barber. There was an energy to this collective space that is difficult to express in words. With the sound of the music over the hum of a razor, Dandy was on its own wavelength, breathing life into the experience of custom suiting.

Growing up, Sanders watched his father, who he described as “the quintessential Detroit city slicker,” run daily errands in gabardine trousers and hard bottom leather shoes. Part of Sanders’ goal through his business is to reinvigorate this sense of care for clothing and change people’s mindset around wearing suits.

“It doesn't have to be an occasion to wear a suit. It can be a Tuesday and it's okay,” Sanders said.

In addition to offering made-to-measure suiting, Sanders wanted to create a space where people feel at home, and like they are a part of the brand and its growth. While larger corporate suiting companies have already started coming to Detroit, Sanders offers something these companies cannot: a genuine connection to the city.

“I think I have the advantage because I'm a native. I understand the pulse and the culture here.” Sanders said. “On top of that, I'm able to actually sit down with someone.”

After visiting several popular made-to-measure shops in New York City, Sanders realized that his shop isn’t all that different from the Brooklyn ones he admires. New York may have ready access to actors, athletes, and other fashion-forward buyers, but Detroit has a lot to offer the world of fashion, too.

“Detroit cats have a very distinct flavor, if you will. We can go anywhere in the world and people kind of notice.”

In thinking about what makes Detroit suit-makers different from those in other cities, Sanders pointed to the Southern church culture — what he described as a “Steve Harvey” vibe — that’s been passed down.

“Detroiters are bold, vibrant, confident people,” Sanders said.

As gentrification has pushed and continues to push people out of Detroit, Sanders added that Detroiters are also “territorial” about their city.

“This is our situation here. You're coming here setting up shop. You gotta come holler at us … We've been here.”

COVID put a pause on events like weddings, which meant that many people stopped buying suits. But Sanders had built up a name for himself: people he had worked with before the pandemic were still ordering suits, allowing him to continue his work without seeing people in person.

Sanders believes that the lack of education around suiting is why so many people are skeptical about wearing suits on a daily basis.

“I try to do a good job educating anybody who comes through the door on fabric, weight construction and wearing things properly for whichever season it is,” Sanders said.

Suit atelier can be a board term, and Sanders is transparent about what he does in-house. Most of his garments are made in either China or Italy, with the majority of his fabrics coming from Italy or England.

“This is not bespoke. I am not a tailor. You can label me a clothier. So I take measurements and I walk through designing the garments with the clients.”

Instead, Dandy offers a middle point between off-the-rack suits with generic sizing and bespoke suits. And since his suits aren’t bespoke, Sanders doesn’t have to charge bespoke prices — which Sanders said typically start at $5,000. On average, his suits run from $1,800 to $2,200.

A barber and friend of Sanders’ currently operates at Dandy. Sanders’ end goal is to have a one-stop gentlemen's experience: a place to get a tailored garment, a haircut, a shoeshine, a nice cocktail or espresso. He’s well on his way there.

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Olivia Mouradian recently graduated from the University of Michigan and joined the Stateside team as an intern in May 2023.
Rachel Ishikawa joined Michigan Public in 2020 as a podcast producer. She produced Kids These Days, a limited-run series that launched in the summer of 2020.