Dallas tailor Harry Papas talks trade
By Madeleine Kalb
People will always buy new clothes. They will gain weight. They will lose weight. They will get married.
People will always find some way to pay a visit to their neighborhood tailor. There will never be a digital device or application that will make a tailor’s work and trade obsolete or in the least bit jeopardized.
“There will always be a timelessness of fashion that makes a tailor’s job a necessity,” said Harry Papas of Harry Papas Alterations.
According to Papas, there is no slow season in the tailor trade. Each season presents a new wave of suits, dresses and garments that need to be altered and fitted in a timely fashion.
In just a day, Papas touches between 200 and 250 garments. He has a staff of eight highly skilled seamstresses who are specialized in a particular garment – pants, men’s suits, gowns, wedding dresses and jackets. But every single garment that comes through the front door is touched by Papas and then touched again before it is sent back to the client with a guarantee of Papas’ quality service.
Thirty years ago at the age of 22, Harry Papas opened his first tailor shop in North Dallas. Fifteen years later, Papas moved just a block down the street to his current location at Arnold Square on Preston Road. For the past 30 years, Papas has been a fixture in the Dallas-Fort Worth community – even serving local celebrities including Troy Aikman, Emmett Smith, FOX 4’s Steve Eager, and Channel 11’s Brian Curtis.
Papas prides himself on maintaining the upmost in customer care and service.
“We are very much a community business. The people who come to us have come to us for a long time and will continue to come to us,” Papas said. “We have a special relationship with all our clients.”
Papas said that he has a large group of clients who have been coming to him loyally since he first opened 30 years ago. The most rewarding phenomenon Papas is now experiencing is the children of his clients growing up and then continuing to come to his shop – the generational clients.
According to Papas, it’s pretty cool.
Papas immigrated to Ashville, N.C. from Greece when he was just a teenager in the late ‘70s. At the time, Papas did not envision becoming a master tailor. In Ashville, he began an apprenticeship with his much older brother, who he describes as “the best in the business.”
At 22 years old, and with only a few dollars in his pocket, Papas left Ashville for Dallas. He walked into a shop that was being run by another tailor and offered him all that he had in his pockets for the business. Harry Papas Alterations was open.
“I started out with no money, new town, waiting for business to come in and to build business was nerve-wrecking,” Papas said. “But slowly, it started to pick up and my name was being built.”
Over the course of 30 years, much has shifted in the fashion world in both design and production. According to SMU professor and fashion designer Chelsea Bell, there is a new trend in menswear in which Dallas retailers like J. Hilburn and Q Clothier create “custom-made menswear.”
The idea of a custom-made, custom-pattern garment would cause concern for competition.
“I don’t buy it when they say custom-made,” Bell said.
Bell explained that her husband ordered a jacket from J. Hilburn. The Hilburn associate took her husband’s measurements and claimed to be making a custom pattern, but when the jacket came in, the waist had to be taken in. The Hilburn associate then sent the jacket and Bell’s husband to Papas. He made the correct alterations to the jacket and pattern and sent it back to Hilburn.
Going forward, Hilburn now has the adjusted and accurate pattern for Bell’s husband.
“Harry Papas is doing traditional work. Q and J. Hilburn just don’t compare, as great of a job as they do,” Bell said.
The fact that the custom clothiers at J. Hilburn have an alterations account with Harry Papas speaks for itself.
J. Hilburn is one of many Dallas companies that have commercial accounts with Papas. All Lululemon stores in Dallas send their leggings to Papas as well (when customers buy ill-fitting leggings).
Brittany Rice, assistant manager at the Lululemon on Knox-Henderson, has worked with Papas for nearly three years. She said that Papas has been their go-to tailor since before her time.
“I even took my sister’s bridesmaids dresses to him,” Rice said. “I can always count on Papas. If there is a problem he will remedy it immediately.”
Rice also noted that Papas is on top of his work 24/7 and is phenomenal in both his tailoring and personality.
According to Papas, during the holiday season his shop will alter 250 to 450 yoga pants a week for the yoga mega-chain.
“I have a hand in every part of my business. There is nothing that comes in here that won’t have my stamp of approval going out,” Papas said.
In addition to company accounts and the rise of made-to-fit retail stores, Harry Papas’ business has shifted in terms of the available help. Papas said that although his services will continue to be in demand, down the road, in 15-20 years, he fears that trained seamstresses will be hard to come by.
“What happens when Papas wants to retire, who will take his place?” Professor Bell said.
Bell suggested that many people in America are learning industrial sewing techniques, but with the intention of becoming a fashion designer. Finding skilled seamstresses is a huge problem because not many people want to sit in a workroom all day.
“Tailoring is taking a garment apart and sewing it to a new proportion. That’s harder than making a garment from scratch,” Bell said.
Papas said that since the revolution of ready-to-wear fashion, there has been a movement towards manufacturing overseas. As a result, the master tailors and seamstresses are being trained and taught over there too.
“The only hope for this business in 15 to 20 years is for people in Asian, South American and Latin countries to continue immigrating here since we are not teaching it here,” Papas said.
There are no trade schools or any programs in the States that offer tailor training. Papas said that the only way to become a tailor is to be taken on as an apprentice, as he did 30 years ago.
Papas will continue to serve his loyal Dallas following. He said his 17-year-old son has expressed interest in one day taking over the business. Papas has only one requirement – that his son first earn a college degree. Then the business will be there for him if he still wants it.
“My favorite part of my job is interacting with my clients and my day-to-day dealings with my clients,” Papas said. “Greeting all my clients by name is important to me. It’s a rewarding life.”