Umberto Pitagora: Wilton’s hometown tailor for 45 years

If you ask Umberto Pitagora which president had the best suits in the past 50 years, his answer is quick.
“I liked Reagan’s,” he said last week in his shop. “He had a good Italian tailor in there from Los Angeles.”
Sixty-two years since he got his first job in fashion — threading needles for a tailor outside Florence when he was 14 — Pitagora is still in the business as the longtime owner of Umberto the Tailor in Wilton.
Though he never had the chance to make a suit for an American president, he once made a suit especially designed to impress President Mikhail Gorbachev. While commissioned to create a suit for a man visiting the Soviet president to discuss a business deal, Umberto said he made one important suggestion.
“He wanted just a plaid, gray suit, but I suggested we stitch a red line down the inside of the jacket,” he said.
“I told him, ‘Why don’t you put a red line down the inside of the coat. And when you talk to him, open the jacket and show him the inside. It will tell him, see, I’m an American, but I’m on your side, too.”

Early days

A native of Italy, Pitagora learned the tailoring trade in his home country before immigrating to the United States in the 1960s.
“You learn in the tailor shop by just doing it,” he said. “There was no reading of books or anything, you just go to the shop, they give you a needle and you have to start. Little by little I learned how to cut,” he said.
He left Florence for the United States when he realized Italy was a flooded market for tailors.

“By the time I was 28 I was all ready to start my own business, but in my own town there were already 49 tailor shops in a town of 40,000 people. How can I survive here? They don’t pay you nothing already.”
Though “the first suit a tailor does is never that good,” Pitagora was making things for himself as soon as he started in the business in the 1950s.
“Every day since I was 14 years old, I’ve never worn a ready-made suit or pants. At 14 I was making custom pants already — though they were short pants because we had to save on materials after World War II,” he said.
“We even used to make our own custom-made swimming suits,” he added with a smile. “We couldn’t afford to buy them for ourselves, so we made it for ourselves.
“When you are poor you become more creative. You need to be poor to be good.”
To this day, he says he loves the art of tailoring.
“It’s an act of creation, it’s not just work,” Pitagora says of his craft, building custom-made suits from raw Italian and English fabrics.
One of only a few bespoke tailors left in the United States, Pitagora first opened his Wilton Center shop 45 years ago and never left.
“I take the measurements, I cut the fabric, and I fix the suit,” he said.
“When it fits perfectly, and we reach a point where I’m so happy, and the customer is so happy, and they can move in their clothes without being restricted, that’s when it is a masterpiece.”
Another bespoke tailor, Eugenio Venanzi, has known Pitagora for many years and says he is a true expert.
“I’ve seen the best of them, and Umberto is as good, if not better. He’s not as appreciated because he’s in the back country up there [in Wilton].
“If you put him in New York City everyone would know his name,” he said.

Bespoke tailoring

More than someone who fits pre-made suits, a bespoke tailor specifically cuts and stitches every piece of fabric for a completely custom creation.
“You see the customer, you take the measurements and you take a mental picture of the customer. Then it goes into my computer — what I like to call my brain — and when I go back to put some designs down on paper, I remember exactly what I saw, that picture in my mind.
“It’s not just about measurements, it’s about shape,” he says.
Clients may choose from 1,600 materials in any style, and the custom nature of his suits means he has a fit for everyone. He uses a number of different fabrics for his suits, including Zegna, Loro Piana and Barberis.
One of the aspects of the business that has always kept Pitagora interested, he said, is the fact that one day is never quite like the next. Each time a new customer comes in, he sees it as an opportunity to learn.
“Everything is a learning process. Your mind must always go to criticizing the good, or the bad. In my business, you never finish learning. After 62 years, I’m still learning. And I’m still learning a