Director: Jason Benjamin
Cinematographer: Robert Richman
Composer: Owen Pallett
I’m not sure if I just watched a documentary or an 85 minute commercial. Suited focuses on the tailors behind the company Bindle & Keep, an NYC sartorial startup that focuses on making suits and business attire especially for the trans or gender queer community. The company formed after Rachel, a trans man who chooses to keep his birth name, started apprenticing for Daniel, a cisgendered straight male, and introduced him to an underserved community in desperate need of tailor-made clothing that went beyond fashion and was more closely connected to identity and a finding a place of comfort in a hostile society.
The framing of the documentary is bizarre. Clients are introduced and in a couple of glaring cases, never seen again, in spite of what we assume is a commission and a delivery on the promise of the suit discussed. [The only instance of a trans woman in need of a suit before her appearance before the US Court of Appeals is introduced, never to be brought up again, for no explicable reason.] The narrative choice to introduce each client with a series of photographs pre-transition was also bizarre. Sure, it’s a part of these people’s history, but they are fighting desperately to be accepted as the gender they choose to express, and the documentary has chosen to remind us that most of these men used to present as girls, prior to their transition and in some cases gender-confirming surgeries. I found that problematic. Additionally, each new client is introduced by taking us to the Bindle & Keep website, a constant reminder that this is a real company. It just felt very inorganic and more of an invitation to visit the site and use the services being provided.
That said, the costumers are where this documentary excels and where the film soars. We meet a vast array of different types of people, of various backgrounds, and incredibly diverse ways of approaching gender, expression, performativity, and presentation. It’s also so refreshing to see something made about the trans community that focuses on trans men. In a time when we have movies like Transamerica, Tangerine, The Danish Girl, and Dallas Buyers Club, or television shows like Transparent and Orange is the New Black, trans women are experiencing a lot of visibility, relatively (even if at times very problematically). But trans men are still largely erased. As imperfect as this documentary is, the representation is welcomed and should be celebrated. The clients include teenagers and people of color, lawyers and taxi drivers, people getting married or others who just want something nice to wear. The stories are different but all have something in common: a desire for a piece of clothing that allows for the masking of elements their own bodies betray, be it hips or breasts that don’t match what is inside. The reactions to the suits are magical, for when something previously though impossible is manifested, I dare anyone to not be overcome by emotion.
All in all the documentary sings because of these people, their lives normal and yet extraordinary. It’s so nice to see something that shines a powerful light on a group of men who are rarely seen. The movie may not be perfect, but the overall effect cannot be denied.