Suit up! Dapper Don consigns to the men of CoMo

To many, clothing that has been bought, owned and then resold would be called “used.” But Steve Gilpin, owner of The Dapper Don of Alley A, has another name for the pre-owned suits and other men’s formal wear that stock the shelves of his consignment store.

“Our inventory is pre-loved,” Gilpin says. “(Our clients) see their clothes as an extension of themselves, and we show the clothes the same respect.”

The Dapper Don of Alley A, located at 906 Alley A between Ninth and Tenth streets, opened its doors May 1 as one of only a handful of local consignment stores specifically catering to men. The store offers a full range of clothing, from suits and formal wear to T-shirts and blue jeans. Gilpin likes to keep his suits priced between $29.99 and $49.99. The most expensive suits in the store are $55.99, unless they are acquired on consignment.

If a client wants to lend The Dapper Don of Alley A a suit on consignment, he must agree on a set price with Gilpin, sign a contract stating that he will not sue the store for potential damages to the suit and pay a small commission. If the suit doesn’t sell after 90 days, the store absorbs the cost of dry cleaning and the store returns the suit to the client free of charge.

If a client doesn’t want to undergo the consignment process, Gilpin offers two other options. He’ll either buy the suit outright and give the customer cash for it, or he’ll give the client double that amount plus a dollar in store credit.

In either case, Gilpin said he likes his clients to understand the process. He has the suit dry-cleaned, preps it for display and prices it, taking pride in being forthright.

“I don’t want (a client) to think I’m trying to buy a suit from (him) for $2 and sell it for $102,” Gilpin says. “That’s not the way we like to do it. We’re very upfront.”

Consignment suits make up what Gilpin estimates to be one percent of his inventory, in part because he doesn’t consign suits unless they’re worth over $1,000, but also because Gilpin simply doesn’t encounter many consignment clients anymore. He thinks it’s a sign of changing times.

“I think it’s a faster-paced world,” he says. “Nobody wants to wait 90 days to come back to the store and get their money.”

Gilpin says he thinks of his store as having a classy, traditional aesthetic. He’s proud of the range and high quality of his inventory — he says it’s “kind of like Ralph Lauren threw up in the store.”

But The Dapper Don also has a distinctly charming vibe. This is no national chain or hipster haven. It’s an old school mom-and-pop shop that Gilpin runs with his mother and their golden retriever. The store doesn’t have a telephone or email address; the only way to contact Gilpin is to swing by Alley A.

Gilpin decided not to have a telephone in his store because he believes suit buying to be a personal process. He also realizes that the majority of men don’t understand how suits are supposed to fit, and he wants to educate them.

“It’s like, my crystal ball broke, I can’t tell what size you are,” Gilpin says. “You need to be in (the store). Guys should feel free to come in and play dress up. We can play dress up all day long.”

Gilpin likes to make sure his customers will be happy with the clothes they buy, as he has no return policy.

“Men are a lot like women in that they buy things a size small hoping to fit into them — it never works,” he says. “I have a habit of talking guys out of purchases. I don’t want people leaving the store looking bad, (for their own sake) and for the reputation of the store.”

For those who may be worried about the quality of the suits Gilpin takes in, he has developed an admirable and unique vetting process meant to allay the fears of nervous customers.

“I’m not going to accept anything that I wouldn’t want to buy myself,” says Gilpin. “I smell the suits. We take stuff from smoking homes; maybe it’ll have a strong animal scent that we might not be able to get out.”

Gilpin grew up in formal wear. As a boy in Ashland, Missouri in the ‘60s, he wore a suit to church on Sundays. In his first job as a healthcare administrator, he made a good salary, but said he had to dress like he was making twice what they paid him.

“I was going broke buying suits,” he says.

So Gilpin and a couple of his friends collected all of their suits and opened up a consignment store in Madison, Wisconsin, called It Suits You. The store remained open for eight years before Gilpin moved back home to Missouri and opened up a consignment store in Jefferson City. That store will celebrate its two-year anniversary this January.

Gilpin came to Columbia because he wanted to help students at MU as well as the community as a whole.

“Our business model is a lot about giving back,” he says. “The first year in Jeff City, we gave $4,100 to charitable organizations in the community, and we’re doing the same things (in Columbia).”

Gilpin said he thinks giving back to the Columbia community is of immense importance.

As for his opinion on the value of a nice suit, he defers to the wisdom of Coco Chanel, paraphrasing, “Dress shabbily and they remember the suit; dress impeccably and they remember the man.”

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