Few wardrobe pieces are as timeless and stylish as a well-tailored dress shirt. Inspired by this fashion truism, as well as requests from the wives and girlfriends of his custom menswear clients, designer Monte Stewart decided to bring this same classic aesthetic to a dress line.
Dubbed Beg & Borrow, the shirt-dress business began in 2012 with custom, one-of-a-kind pieces. Clients would meet by appointment, get their measurements taken and make their specifications, and in three weeks they would have their own unique dress or dress shirt. The line was successful in its appointment-only mode, but this summer presented a new opportunity through the Downtown Memphis Commission’s Open on Main program. Beg & Borrow opened a pop-up storefront at 147 South Main this August that will be welcoming guests through the end of the year.
One of the biggest changes that came with opening the boutique was the addition of pre-made pieces. Wardrobe stylist Lauren Draffin initially learned the ins and outs of custom clothing from Monte. After eight years of working together, and shortly before the Main Street store’s launch, she joined Beg & Borrow as a partner. With the retail space, she sees an exciting chance to test out Beg & Borrow’s off-the-rack appeal.
“This storefront gives us the opportunity to learn — in a short amount of time — if our stock-sizing works,” says Lauren. “That was part of my idea. I came on board to create more of a demand, and ultimately more volume, by selling the concept to retailers as well.”
The Creative Process
Even with more than 40 years of industry experience, the process of creating this seemingly simple garment wasn’t easy. Monte spent two years reworking designs to craft a piece that could fit and flatter any wearer. With the option of custom measurements, every figure’s proportions can be accommodated. Clients can choose to modify nearly every part of the garment, including the length, sleeve style, collar, back pleat, cuffs and placket. Because the wearer is also the designer, her name can be sewn into the dress as well.
“The great thing about Beg & Borrow is that it’s a lifestyle brand. They’re shirt dresses. However, depending on what the individual’s lifestyle is, it really can engulf a million different ways to wear it,” says Lauren.
The number of options, not to mention hundreds of fabric choices, may seem overwhelming. That’s where Monte and Lauren’s experience comes in. “We can look at somebody and guide them in a direction. They’re really open to listening to what we tell them,” says Monte. “All these girls are advertising for us, so we want them to look good. We want them to get compliments.”
But as any woman who’s worn a button-down knows, there’s still one critical concern about the shirt-based style …
“There is no dreaded boob gap,” Lauren assures. “That’s the cool thing. We altered the button placement from men’s to women’s — how many buttons there are on that placket and where they start. It doesn’t leave that gaping hole because we raised the buttons. It’s brilliant.”
The South Main store also features products from local retailers like 901drift, Pink Pig Apparel, Shotwell Candy and Monte’s own Riff Candle Company (with scents inspired by Tennessee songs). A speakeasy-like basement space provides a hang-out area, as well as a gallery and studio for artist-in-residence Katie Diley. Monte and Lauren’s goal is to create a space that welcomes not just their existing clients, but also casual shoppers, tourists and anyone looking to spend time in a creative environment.
Every now and then, housing all this creative energy in one place can cause a tiny bit of friction — even among compatible colleagues.
“The only argument we have in the whole store is how to decorate downstairs because he originally told me I could do it. But he took it back,” Lauren laughs of Monte’s retracted offer.
Monte shrugs. “I don’t like the way she decorates, so I keep changing it. And she keeps changing it back.”
Ultimately Monte’s “Brady Bunch rec room” vibe won out … for now. Stop by Beg & Borrow’s storefront before the end of the year to enjoy his vision and take the chance to express your own.
Beg & Borrow is located at 147 S Main St Memphis, TN 38103.
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