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‘Suited’ review: More about transgender identity than fashion

Bindle & Keep co-founder Rae Tutera, right, confers

Bindle & Keep co-founder Rae Tutera, right, confers with customer Everett Arthur in "Suited." Credit: HBO

WHEN | WHERE Monday at 9 p.m. on HBO


WHAT IT’S ABOUT Bindle & Keep is a Brooklyn-based tailor that makes custom-made suits for gender nonconforming and transgender people. Each of their customers — it turns out — has a story and challenge, notably the tortuous process of finding clothes that actually fit. This film — produced by Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner (“Girls”) — tells a few of those stories, including those of founders Rae Tutera and Daniel Friedman.

Rae — a trans man — says “people call me ‘he’ or ‘she’ ... [and] sometimes I feel misgendered by my own name, Rachel. . . . [But] I want to be myself all the time.” “Suited” is about others who do as well.

MY SAY As you’ve probably figured out by this point, “Suited” really isn’t about suits. Fashion — as either concept, ideal or goal — is mostly besides the point, too. Instead, director Jason Benjamin has traveled far beyond the “clothes-make-the man” cliche, to the man himself, or trans man. In this film, clothes, or bespoke suits, are the symbolic closing of a circle — the final part of a quest to confirm identity or almost consecrate it. This isn’t about grabbing something off the rack at Barneys. Instead, it’s seen as tantamount to a life decision, and a life-affirming one. Little wonder, then, that “Suited” often finds something so moving and deeply felt in the process.

“Suited” follows a handful of subjects, including Dunham’s younger sister Grace, who makes a brief, energetic entrance (“I dress in a super-androgynous way”) and fast exit. But the film mostly locates its heart in just two profiles:

Derek Matteson, born in Pennsylvania farm country, is engaged to Joanna Levy, and for the wedding, he “wants a suit that makes my body as masculine as it can look.” Later, at Matteson’s childhood home, his parents spread snapshots of Derek as a little girl on a table. “This doesn’t mean that I stop loving my kid,” says his mom. “I loved him from the first day I held him.”

In the Brooklyn studio, Everett Arthur, a trans man who is studying law at Emory, puts on his new pants, then suit jacket. He studies the transformation, and then begins to cry. “It’s hard to stand in front of a mirror,” he says, “when I’ve never liked what I’ve seen.”

Tutera says that “for a lot of people with all kinds of bodies, and identities, clothes can make or break every day of their lives. I always tell people: dress braver than you feel, act braver than you feel.” Both Matteson and Arthur evidently listened.

BOTTOM LINE Often moving film about transgender identity — almost nothing about fashion.

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