The recent years’ boom in menswear spells endless shopping possibilities for the style conscious. With so many alternatives available men can feel overwhelmed when it comes to purchasing a suit. Where to buy? How much to spend? What to be aware of? While you probably understand very well the three available options – Bespoke, Made to Measure and Ready to wear suits – it can be confusing as companies use terms Bespoke and Made to Measure interchangeably and is it worth considering custom made when there is so much available in retail?
Artefact London would like to provide its perspective on the industry to help you as a customer decide where to buy a suit and what to bare in mind when making the decision.
Let’s start by the very basic definitions: Bespoke involves creating a suit pattern and design from the ground up. In made to Measure the tailor modifies an existing pattern to fit customer’s measurements, designing every aspect of a suit along the way as you would in Bespoke. A Ready To Wear suit is bought off the rack, in a cut and style determined by the designer, simple alterations can be done to it.
A bit of history. Tailoring has evolved substantially since the heyday of Savile Row. The term bespoke, was coined on Savile Row when customers used to choose their cloth it was said to “be spoken for”. Through the years, this street has become synonymous with fine bespoke tailoring, a reputation that’s anchored in the street’s rich heritage. Nestled behind Piccadilly in Mayfair, Savile Street as it was first known, was taken over by tailors in the 19th century. As British gentry became increasingly concerned with their appearance, the street blossomed and was referred to as the golden mile of tailoring. A recent influx of international designer labels and less traditional tailors opened up the street’s offering to also include ready-to-wear and made-to-measure suiting.
With the resurgence of interest in personalisation, but Bespoke being unattainably expensive for most people, Made to Measure has grown with some retail brands starting to offer the service at a premium price compared to their ready to wear collections, there is even a whole new breed of made to measure companies running their operations entirely online.
Whether you are considering buying your suit off the rack or to go for custom order, be it bespoke or made to measure there are four important areas to consider for each: Fit, Timing, Price, Customisation possibilities
Fit is the number 1 reason that people sway away from ready to wear. Perfect fit is not just for aesthetics, but comfort.
With retail garments it is pretty clear, the sizes are standard to the retailer and each has their own cut and style. One brand’s suits may fit you better than other’s and it is a matter of taking the time and trying on as many different ones as you can before going on to purchase one. Check our article on how a suit should fit before you buy one in retail. Regardless which size and style of a suit you try on the shop floor – a sales assistant will only ever tell you it looks amazing on you. We want you to be able to have an independent judgement from the ‘advice’ you get in a store. More often than not you will take the suit to alterations, however the nature of alterations that you would make to an off the peg garment is quite limited. Shorten the sleeves and trousers, perhaps take in a bit on the sides of the jacket – doing any more than that to a finished garment is unjustified by the alterations costs. More complex alterations involve completely disassembling the garment and sewing it back together. Bare in mind that most retail garments are a bit like Ikea furniture, they are not made to withstand complete disassembly and putting back together.
Bespoke and MTM companies use different processes to achieve a good fit: bespoke tailors take 25-30 measurements and draw a new paper pattern by hand.
MTM use a tested pattern and modify it based on the customer’s body type. The quality of an MTM suit highly depends on the level and type of adjustments to the pattern. Online MTM companies settle for basic measurements and rely on the customer to measure himself correctly or just offer you a choice of regular and slim cut. Such approach does create an illusion that the suit will be made to fit your body well, however, whilst taking body measurements certainly gets you closer to a better fitting suit it ignores the individual’s body typography that makes a bigger visual impact on how well the suit fits.
Measurements aside what is very important in achieving a great fit is getting the balance of the suit right. This involves assessing individual’s posture and adjusting the pattern accordingly. For the same size 42 for example, people come in different shapes and forms and will have varied posture profiles. The same jacket will look very different on someone who has a slightly stooping posture vs someone with an erect posture. This is where physically seeing an experienced tailor is very important to be able to fit the garment to your body type correctly.
A tailor in a quality Bespoke and MTM company will capture finer details of your silhouette: arms position, shoulder angles and much more – you may think of it as the garment being fitted three-dimensionally, rather than with just linear measurements.
Important to remember is that every bespoke tailor has their own opinion on how a suit pattern should be cut to best flatter a man’s body – this is called a ‘house cut’. For example, Savile Row tailors, tend to cut with larger allowances while Italian tailors cut closer to the body. A customer won’t know the ‘house cut’ until he comes in for the first fitting, hence bespoke tailors have anything between 3-5 fittings at different stages of the suit making process, before the semi-finished garment is approved by the customer.
With Made to Measure it is like coming for a final fitting in Bespoke, the suit pattern you will try on is the one closest to your body type, it is then adjusted accordingly to take account of intricacies of your body. The actual garment created is made in your custom pattern.
Immediacy is an obvious advantage of Ready to Wear suits. Each suit is pre-made to a generic size and specification. So as long as there is a suit in the fit and style that meets your needs – consider yourself lucky, but once again we urge you to read our article on how a suit should fit before embarking on a search, as spending time and money to purchase a suit that does not fit you – is a waste of your time and money!
Bespoke services require anything from 8+ weeks up to 6 months to complete a suit, driven mainly by an elaborate fitting process: several fittings are required throughout the tailoring process with some bespoke shops doing 5+ mid-fittings, before the suit is finished. While there is some romance around this highly personalised service, one may struggle to squeeze fittings into his busy schedules.
MTM takes 4-8 weeks with 2 fitting sessions required, one session to take measurements and try on a sample garment and one a few weeks later to try on the custom made suit. The latter can be followed by the final tweaks to the garment based on the customer preference. Be wary when made to measure companies offer long lead times as it could well indicate your suit being made in Asia, whilst this could be great for the price it may not be so much for the quality.
Construction & Fabrics
Stating the obvious here, but the quality of internal and external construction varies greatly in retail brands and the price tag will largely dictate how good or bad it will be. Don’t expect to see pure wools or cashmeres unless you are spending £700+ in retail, although many labels on cheaper suits state ‘pure merino wool’ or ‘cashmere’, in fact if there is a % of the fabric that contains pure merino wool, the label can state that whilst omitting any mentioning of polyester use. Sad, but true. Same applies to labels that state ‘Made in Italy’, ‘Made in Britain’ and the like. The suit can be glued together in Thailand, sent to Italy to attach buttons and you have a suit that qualifies for a ‘Made in Italy’ label.
A great motivation to seek Bespoke service is that it offers great customisation flexibility – bespoke tailors are able to cater to customers’ most whimsical demands, at a price. Bespoke jackets will be half or fully canvassed, some will use horse hair for their canvasses which is a very traditional way of constructing internals of a suit.
There is great variability in the degree of flexibility MTM companies offer. Some settle for basic customisations, higher end will be able to do as much as bespoke can offer. If you have a specific request in mind it is worth enquiring with the MTM if it can be accommodated. In a high end MTM you will get 1000s of fabrics from the same cloth merchants as the ones Bespoke tailors would offer. As with construction it is best to enquire with individual made to measure companies regarding the internal construction as this varies greatly from one company to another.
Online MTM companies tend to cater to younger technologically savvy crowd offering a degree of styles customisation and fabric selection that tend to be polyesters and cheaper grades of wool. Don’t expect much in terms of quality of construction when you pay below £500 online.
The most affordable options are obviously with online retailers and online made to measure. You could find a made to measure suit online for as low as £99. Online retailers such as Asos is a safer bet if you are a student or on a budget – at least you are able to return it easily. With retailers you pay anything from £99 for a polyester blue suit in Zara to £3950 for a Mohair wool traditional Brioni.
Bespoke tailors charge a hefty premium for their service as there is a great deal of hand work involved, on the outer stitching, canvassing, buttonholes and buttons, the longer stitches are machine sewn though. The hand work creates certain aesthetic and raw craftsmanship that many people adore. For a Bespoke service in its true sense expect to spend £3500 upwards depending on location and fabrics, £4500+ on Savile Row.
Be prepared to pay anything between £650 to £1200 as a starting price for a MTM suit. Be wary of hidden charges to the starting price, such as extras for using horn and pearl buttons or adding contrasting details to your pockets. You may end up spending a lot more on a suit than budgeted. Always check with the company beforehand what is included and what is added as a surcharge.