Meet the custom tailor for athletes

April, 1, 2013
4/01/13
12:00
PM ET
Billy ButlerDominic DiSaia for ESPN The MagazineTam Copenhaver measures Billy Butler.
“Measure three times,” advises Tam Copenhaver, 58, a Willy Loman-style traveling salesman who makes about of 20 percent of his annual income peddling custom clothing at spring training. “I haven’t had anything sent back in over 15 years. If you measure wrong, it costs you money.”

Fabric samples and measuring tape at the ready, sometimes he’ll wait seven hours in a Scottsdale, Ariz., courtyard or Sarasota, Fla., lobby just to get 30 minutes with a client so he can pitch him a package of custom suits, sport coats and dress shirts. And of course, like with the Royals’ Billy Butler, he gets all the right measurements. If he’s lucky, a day’s visit to a training camp will net him a couple of $20,000 orders.

“You’ve got to measure real easy with these guys,” he says. “You can’t go right up against the skin.”

He also becomes a de facto wardrobe consultant for guys who have just come into money and don’t know much more about dressing than throwing on a clean T-shirt and pair of jeans.

“A lot of these guys have never dressed before. A lot of these kids are just out of college and when they were in college, they weren’t even wearing suits,” he says as he’s packing his truck for a Florida road trip where he’ll start off in Fort Myers with the Red Sox and work his way north and east, ending with the Nationals in Viera before a pit stop at home in St. Augustine. “Maybe the last time they wore something nice was at their high school prom, and that was a rented tux.”

The traditional starter package for a guy who comes into some money with his first multiyear contract is “a couple suits, shirts, ties, shoes. Normally it will give them the ability to travel and mix and match, and wear to charitable events, or to obligations.

“If a guy has a $100 million contract, a $5-or-10,000 order is not going to hurt him.”

The fabrics come from Italy and England and after a player’s measurements are taken, the order goes off to factories in New Jersey or Tennessee. Turnaround, complete with shipping to the player’s locker room in a wrinkle-proof, stand-up wardrobe box, is about five weeks.

So who is one of his favorite customers? Former Cub and Diamondback, Mark Grace, is tops among the 400 MLB, NFL and WWE athletes Copenhaver has suited up. His biggest customer? Big Show from WWE -- who checks in at 7-foot and 400 pounds. “I needed my 80-inch measuring tape for him. I stood on a chair, too,” he said. His most impressively built? WWE's John Cena, whose 14.5-inch forearms are the same size as some people’s necks.

Recently Copenhaver designed tuxedos for former big leaguer Eric Young and his son, Eric Young Jr., a speedy utility man for the Rockies who was married before spring training. “It’s kind of cool to see it come full circle. I sold suits to the father at the beginning of my career, and the son,” Copenhaver said.

Here’s a by-the-numbers look at Copenhaver’s business:

16
That’s the “drop,” or difference in inches between jacket size and waist size, for Prince Fielder, one of Copenhaver’s hard-to-fit clients. Fielder’s chest is 54 inches and his waist 38, making him a perfect candidate for a custom suit. The average American man’s suit drop is six inches.

400
Athletes who’ve purchased clothing from Copenhaver over the years -- including Manny Ramirez, Wade Boggs, Jeff Bagwell, Andre Dawson, Tim Wakefield, Miguel Tejada, Rafael Soriano, Andre Dawson and John Cena.

18
The age difference in years between Eric Young and his son, Eric Young Jr. Each wore a Copenhaver tuxedo at Junior’s January wedding.

600
The round-trip mileage from Copenhaver’s home in St. Augustine to Fort Myers, where he begins his annual Florida sales swing.

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