Suiting Up

Jay Lombardo
Jay Lombardo, owner of Lombardo Custom Apparel in Dallas, began his career in fashion by selling a line of wholesale clothing to his fraternity brothers at North Texas State University.
Thursday, April 3, 2008

Much like the Dallas Cowboys, Lombardo Custom Apparel is a fixture in North Texas.

The legendary store founded by Jay Lombardo, a 1986 graduate of North Texas State University (now the University of North Texas) is the place many Dallas Cowboys, Dallas Stars and other sports figures, such as Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and NFL Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith, go when they want to look their best off the field.

"I've always loved clothing," says Lombardo, whose mother is a former fashion model and whose father was "a big dresser."

Lombardo has owned the apparel company for more than 20 years and still can be found advising clients on the design of their clothing. He considers every customer a friend -- and not just the celebrities.

Along with their new suits, they get plenty of advice on the types of fabrics and cuts that complement their size and shape. And the ever-friendly Lombardo offers hugs large enough to make an onlooker think he's greeting long-lost relatives.

"It's the personal touch," says Dallas Mavericks coach Avery Johnson, who began buying his suits from Lombardo while still a player with the Mavericks. "He feels like a friend. He doesn't feel like a guy selling clothes."

Lombardo got started in his clothing career as a student at North Texas. He studied public relations and took business courses, already planning to use his degree to one day own and promote his own business in the clothing industry.

"When I was at North Texas, guys used to always ask me what to wear," he says.

So he worked out a deal to sell a line of wholesale clothing from the Dallas Apparel Mart. And the first place he went for customers was a place he knew well.

"They gave me some of their samples, and I took them up to school and sold them to all of my fraternity brothers and friends," says Lombardo, a member of Sigma Phi Epsilon.

A few years later, he came up with an idea that took him to a higher level.

"There was a real need to combine off-the-rack instant gratification with old world tailoring," he says.

Then one day a couple of Dallas Cowboys called on him to make them look their best.

"From there, we ended up with Landry and other Cowboys," Lombardo says. "It was something to be in my mid-20s and having somebody like Tom Landry and corporate CEOs asking me how to dress."

It wasn't long before Lombardo's reputation began to spread. Today, a tour of his store might reveal a black suit with purple pinstripes waiting to be shipped to San Diego Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson or a blue/brown mixed suit for Tennessee Titans quarterback Vince Young.

And you never know who might be on their way in or out, such as former Dallas Cowboys director of player personnel Gil Brandt, a customer for nearly two decades.

"He's the Michael Jordan and Roger Staubach of his business," Brandt says. Staubach is a customer, by the way.

Lombardo also has clothed comedians such as Steve Harvey, legendary singer Tony Bennett and former presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani. He's even had a member from the cast of HBO's The Sopranos in his store.

Born in the Bronx, Lombardo went to high school first in New York and then in Australia when he and his mother moved to her home country after his father died. But they soon found themselves back in the United States, and Lombardo graduated from high school in Richardson.

His love of sports, which makes him a natural fit for helping today's athletes, runs in the family. Lombardo played intramural sports, including rugby, as a North Texas student. And he'll tell anyone who will listen about his son, Nick, a high school sophomore, and daughter, Lexi, a seventh-grader, who are both swimmers.

While photos of all sorts of sports personalities and events adorn Lombardo's store, he's proudest of his college memorabilia.

"Oh, man, I love North Texas," Lombardo says. "Gotta love the Mean Green."

And the feeling is certainly reciprocated. Two of Lombardo's steadiest clients are UNT head football coach Todd Dodge and athletic director Rick Villarreal.

"It's easy to see right away that Jay cares about making someone look good," Dodge says, "and that makes them feel better about themselves."

Villarreal says Lombardo "has never forgotten us."

"He's a North Texas guy through and through," he says.

Rick Mauch
UNT News Service
This story originally appeared in the spring 2008 issue of The North Texan, the University of North Texas alumni magazine.

UNT News Service Phone Number: (940) 565-2108