Understanding the Different Kinds of Custom Suits

Before designers, big brand names, warehouse stores and suit brokers dominated the land scape, well dressed men of all stature, flocked to old world tailors who constructed custom suits cut for each individual person. As time went by and the advent of mass production became the norm, finding these master craftsmen became harder and harder. Today a large amount of Americans still wear suits, though most are ready made and available at a bevy of retailers ranging in cost from “budget” to “obscene”. Americans have generally shied away from custom suits because of a misconception of exorbitant costs and pretentiousness. Especially during tough economic times, custom suits have become more a symbol of excess rather than value. While ready made suits continue to dominate the market place and full fill the need for instant gratification, more and more consumers are beginning to see the value that custom suits, with their perfect fit and high end craftsmanship, deliver.

Today most suit retailers, as well a number of specialty companies offer a custom suit program which, like their off the rack counter part, ranges from “budget” (Online Hong Kong Tailors can charge as low as $300 a suit) to “Obscene” (Kitons K-50 suits sell for as much as 40K!). The problem arises in the fact that most Americans have a loose definition as to what constitutes a “budget” custom suit vs an “obscene” custom suit. In fact if you do a quick search on the internet you will find companies using terms like bespoke, custom suits, master tailor, made to measure etc. to describe their clothing, all at staggeringly differing price points. This just adds to the confusion.

What is the difference between the $300 dollar custom suit and the $40,000 one? If only the answer was so simple. In European locales such as the UK and France the terms “custom suit” and “bespoke” are protected by law. Companies must adhere to strict advertising standards to use these terms in conjunction with their goods and services. The same does not apply to the US though, as all the terms surrounding custom suits have become murky and interchangeable. Understanding these terms is an important part of getting the best value for your clothing dollar. Bottom line is… understanding these terms will help you get the best of what you are paying for.

Bespoke Suits

Bespoke is the highest level of custom suits. This process remains unchanged for over a hundred years and is the truest form of old world custom tailoring. Today it is only available through master tailors and will usually cost around $5,000 on up (as high as 40K).

Ways to tell if you are truly getting a bespoke suit:

Measurements are taken by the Master Tailor or his pattern maker, personally
Patterns are drawn and cut by hand on muslin for each individual client
The garment is fitted using a baste garment. A basted garment, is a garment made with loose stitching so that it can be modified easily. Usually the baste fitting garment is made from a cheap fabric so that errors and corrections can be made with out ruining the clients selected fabric.
There are multiple fittings, usually between 2-5.
The master tailor and his apprentice will actually sew the garment. The apprentice will do the “grunt” work (basic sewing and cutting, i.e. sleeve and leg seams etc.) while the Master will do the “finishing” work (fine details i.e. the button holes, pick stitching etc)
A bespoke suit will usually take around 6-14 weeks, or more depending on the tailor. Be wary of companies that advertise “bespoke” suits but whose process do not feature these points.

Some companies that provide a great example of bespoke custom suits:

Henry Poole
Richard James
Custom Suits
This term has the loosest definition and can encompass pretty much any of the grades of custom suiting. This is currently the biggest growing segment in custom suits and can be the most confusing area for the average consumer. With that said, there is a big step down from a bespoke suit, to a custom suit, to a made to measure suit, so knowing what to expect can go a long way to investing your dollars wisely in a quality custom suit.

Here is what to look for in a quality custom suit:

Measurements are taken by a professional tailor, designer or pattern maker. It would be advisable to avoid companies that use sales people to take measurements or even worse, ask you to take your own measurements.Even bespoke master tailors, who have spent decades taking measurements, might do multiple fittings to get a garment perfect. It is hard to expect a novice (a sales person) or a beginner (the client) to get measurements consistently right for something as precise as a custom suit.
A new pattern is cut for each client
No limitations to options. Often companies will call their made to measure suits (to be explained below) custom but they have to limit the optional details (such as buttons, pockets, button stance etc.) to keep with in the patterns guidelines.
A quality custom suit can take around 3-8 weeks to complete. It is advisable to find a custom suit maker that is open to different cuts and will listen to your needs. Sometimes you will find tailors that like to cut suits a certain way, this is like going to a barber that only cuts one kind of hair cut. A custom suit allows you to create hybrid cuts and designs that fits your body and personality, so its OK to be creative and to speak up. If you hear the phrase “I’ve been doing this business for XX years you should listen to me” or any variation of that from the tailor, run for the hills and head to your closest designer retail store for the next version of custom suiting, Made to measure.

Made to Measure

This is the most common segment in the custom suit market. Found in most upscale retail stores and brand name designer boutiques, this is the best way to get a great fitting suit in a cut you already enjoy. A made to measure suit is, for all intents and purposes, an off the rack suits pattern modified to fit a specific person. Most people are asymmetrical, some have one shoulder lower than the other, some slouch, some stand quite straight, made to measure allows for the existing pattern to be modified to fit these circumstances.

Limitations are put to help avoid changing the “soul” of the suit, this shouldn’t be a problem if you are already a fan of a certain brands cut or silhouette. Armani is considered by many a genius and of course he is the master of his brands signature style and design. Getting a made to measure suit with modifications only to posture and asymmetry but keeping with in his design will help ensure the best made to measure experience.

Be deliberate when buying a made to measure suit. For example do not go to Brooks Brothers, a brand famous for their traditional American cuts, looking for a slim Italian suit. It defeats the purpose. If you like modern, go to a modern brand like Prada or Dolce and Gabana, if you like traditional go to Brooks Bothers. Choosing the brand is 90% of the battle when it comes to a made to measure suit. Custom suit makers tend to talk down about made to measure suits, saying that it is not a true custom suit. While there are limitations, like an inability to make sizes they do not already make (you can’t modify a pattern that doesn’t already exist) Made to measure allows you to get a suit fitted to you with out having to reinvent the (design) wheel.

Chris Vance is the senior trends and fashion spotter for Requisite clothing, a custom clothing design house specializing in custom suits, custom shirts, custom tuxedos and sports wear for both men and women.

For more info:

About Author

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button