Sunday Slideshow: Studio Visit with Top Shelf
Since 1976 Top Shelf has been a staple for tailoring in Minneapolis. Top Shelf is one of the largest sellers of custom clothing in America. Jon Meegan, on of the founders of Top Shelf showed me around the adorable house south of Lake Street on Lyndale Avenue. The art of tailoring is a true craft and has excelled to bring only the best of quality.
Photos and interview by Kelsey Johnston
Secrets: Are you originally from Minneapolis?
JM: No, I grew up in Chicago, Illinois, I moved to Minneapolis when I was
19, almost 20. I saw the Mary Tyler Moore Show and I saw the minute
when she threw her hat up in the air downtown. Her walking around the
lake, I thought, “it looks like a nice place I think I’ll go see what it’s like”.
Five days later I had a house, a job and was ready to enroll in tailoring
Secrets: Tell me about the history of Top Shelf.
JM: I started the business with a young lady that I graduated tailoring
school with, Suzanne Murphy who stayed with the business for 33 years
of the 34 we’ve been open. She moved to Youngstown, Ohio for love last
year so I lost a good partner. I have my wife Pat who has been in the
business for 31 years. She supported us for our first 3 years when we were
getting going and so together we were a team of three and now Pat and I
Secrets: What is the most important thing about a tailored suit?
JM: There are a lot of different angles that can carry equal importance on
building custom suits. Fit is certainly an important expectation. Selecting
the right cloth for the purpose of the suit is high on the list of what is most
important. And lastly, designing the details of the suit to flatter the wearer
has to be done with careful thought and consideration. To do all this right,
we need to be good at collaborating with out clients.
Secrets: What’s your take on dressing for success?
JM: At Top Shelf it’s an accepted and well-internalized assumption that
you can use your appearance as a tool to success if you choose. It’s just
one of the facts of life that people get read by how they choose to dress.
Clothing choices are a communicative art that always seems to matter
more when times are tough. The old book Dress for Success has never
been more relevant that in todays job market.
Secrets: Tell me about one of your most unique clients.
JM: I have hundreds of unique clients, and I don’t want to name drop. I will
say that from a clothing perspective, my African American ministers rank
near the top in wanting suits that are one of a kind, and very unique. They
never want to see anyone else wearing the same outfit.
Secrets: What is your favorite accessory to a suit?
JM: I love ties. To me a tie is to clothing what spice is to food. It adds
color, flavor, variety and expression. Another analogy is that it’s like album
artwork. It’s just packaging, but it also sends us a message or hint of
what’s inside. Are you playing it cool, conservative, artistic, or just plain
funky? I think women appreciate ties on men more then men do. I think the
trend away from wearing ties stems from guys not buying the correct neck
size on their shirts, because they hate being choked, so they skip the tie
and leave the collar undone instead.
Secrets: What’s the best part about living in Minneapolis?
JM: The bike and skate paths in Minneapolis are what I love the best. I am
happy to pay taxes as long as they maintain the infrastructure for the parks
and lakes. I feel like I own every inch of the paths, especially on roller
Secrets: How was your experience at tailoring school?
JM: I found my vocation in a strange way. I invented a round bow tie. I
dreamed it up and I needed to learn how to sew in order to see the vision
happen and when I was done making 500 round bow ties I was thoroughly
sick of them but I had fallen in love with the sewing machine. I needed
more training. I was in college in Illinois in a pre-law curriculum at Circle
campus and I thought “I don’t want to do any of this I want to go sew”
and “what else can I do with a sewing machine” and that’s what put me
on the path. Minneapolis vocational schools used to be taught by retired
old tailors who were phenomenal. There’s no way in two years you would
learn all the skills you would need to become a tailor but what they did was
opened up the different categories to us. We at least knew where we had
to look and where we needed more training depending on what specialty
we were going to go into. Some people go on to become seamstresses,
pattern makers, production workers, or in my case a tailor.
Secrets: What’s your favorite establishment in Minneapolis?
JM: The Bunker on Washington Ave in Minneapolis on a Sunday or Monday
night has always been my go to spot for the best R&B. Aretha Franklin,
Marvin Gaye, the O’Jays, Stevie Wonder, Bobbie Womack, classic old
school stuff. They’d be so proud to hear this music being played almost
better than when they recorded it! So, that’s my favorite place. I go for
musicians like Michael Bland, the drummer for the Combo, he was Prince’s
drummer for many years, and he’s the best drummer in the whole state. I
always say when I leave “I could die right now, perfectly happy. That’s the
way you feel when you leave”.
Secrets: Childhood dream career.
JM: I thought I was going to be a nuclear scientist. I read the biographies
of Enrico Fermi and Albert Einstein. I was just nuts for the atom, physics
that kind of craziness. I almost burned our house down with a science kit at
home burning sulfur with the house on fire. I was a nerd. (laughs)