Photos by Nathan Michael.
I got in the habit of tailoring thrift store clothes back in college. My at-the-time girlfriend’s mother was a fairly proficient sewer, and took-in a number of my second-hand shirts and jeans. Did a pretty good job too. After graduating and moving to Chicago, and breaking up with said girlfriend, I set out to find a suitable replacement (tailor, that is). I remember Googling a variety of different keyword combos (“best tailor chicago” “highest rated tailor chicago” “best alterations chicago”), and every time, the same name kept coming up: Golden Needle.
I can only imagine what I must have looked like my first time in there. Shaggy, tattooed, underfed, probably hungover. I held up a pair of $5 thrift store Levis and said I wanted to get the legs tapered. A bright eyed Greek woman, with a head full of billowing brown hair nodded, and told me to put them on. After asking a couple more questions about how I wanted the jeans to fit, she placed a few key pins, and said they’d be ready in a week. One week later, I returned to a warm greeting, and some of the greatest fitting jeans I have ever owned.
Much has changed about my clothes and appearance since that time (especially the underfed part). However, that bright eyed Greek woman, who I later learned was Maria Tesseris, Golden Needle’s owner, has remained as kind, and skilled, as ever. One more story: a few months ago, I called to double-check the store’s hours. Maria informed me that she had a house-call at lunch, but would be back in the shop in the afternoon. Later that day, while she was pinning my new, non-thrifted chinos, I told her that I didn’t know she did house-calls. “I don’t, really” she said, “but I can’t expect Oprah to come to the store.”
She wasn’t bragging when she said it. It was a simple statement of fact. She went on to tell me that she had been Oprah’s tailor for over 16 years, but kept quiet about it for the star’s sake. The same was true for her half dozen other celebrity clients. Suddenly, I remembered the Levis from my first visit, with the bright orange price tag still stapled to the back pocket. I couldn’t help but feel a little embarrassed. There I was, some punk college kid, bringing in my ratty old used jeans. And yet, she treated me, and my jeans, with nothing but respect. It’s a rare thing to find someone so established yet so humble. But, that’s Maria: not only the best in the biz, but also the kindest.
Tesseris took some time out to answer a few questions. Here’s what she had to say.
Well Spent: Are you from Chicago?
Maria Tesseris: Originally, I’m from Greece. I came here in 1973 with my husband.
What neighborhood do you live in?
I live on the Northwest side of Chicago. We moved there because of the school system. We have two kids, and the schools up there are very good. The kids are out of school now, but we still like it up there a lot.
What’s the best part about owning a business in Chicago?
I’ve never had a business anywhere else, so I don’t know. But I like Chicago a lot. The people are great. The clothes are very interesting. I just had one client bring back a number of pieces from Paris, and they are just exquisite. I love what I do.
What’s the worst?
Only the traffic, commuting to and from. Everything else is great.
Your thoughts on Chicago style…
Most of my clients are professionals. Lots of suits. Lately, a lot of shirts. Guys are into having their shirts slim these days, so I’ve been doing a lot of that.
I’m visiting the city for the first time, and I’ve only got 24 hours. What should I do / where should I go?
What’s at the top of your holiday wishlist?
I want a ticket to go see my mom and dad. They’re getting older and I need to visit them.
To view the complete Golden Needle photo set, check out Nathan Michael’s Tumblr.