Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Choose Your Perfect Suit

Think back to when you got your first custom suits.  Maybe you got it as a graduation gift, or perhaps you needed to buy one for your first job interview.  Likely, you went to a department store and were assisted by a sales associate who helped make small adjustments to the suit’s fit.  You then bought the suit and had it as part of your wardrobe from that point forward.  But suit buying, as most men already know, doesn’t happen solely in department stores.  Men can have a custom suit made from scratch, or can even order their suit over the internet and have it delivered to their home.  Not only can men decide how to purchase a suit, they can also decide how the suit is created.  There are huge differences between custom, hand-made suits and mass produced ones produced in a factory.  Today, The Sharp Suit will help highlight the differences between the major types of suits: bespoke, made-to-measure, and off-the-rack.
Bespoke suits are custom-made suits, often considered to be some of the highest quality mens garments in the world.  The word means exactly what it sounds like: in olden days the fabric a custom suit was to be constructed from was said to be spoken for.  Savile Row in London is the home of many of the world’s preeminent bespoke suit tailors, but these experts, like New York’s Martin Greenfield Clothiers, can be found all over the world.  These master craftsmen can spend upwards of 60 hours creating a suit, constructing it by hand using the highest quality fabrics.  Sure, some bespoke suits are made using machines but those have been described by some people as “lifeless.”  Hand sewn bespoke suits are still considered the gold standard in menswear.  And it’s easy for a tailor to create a new suit for a customer once they’ve been measured for their first suit.  Bespoke tailors will cut stiff paper to create a pattern for the fabric after the customer has been measured.  This cutout can then be used to create any future suits the customer may request.  These products often carry a hefty price tag, so it’s not uncommon to find bespoke clothiers constructing both bespoke suits and selling off-the-rack suits (because they have better profit margins and more consistent sales).  The quality of these off-the-rack suits pales in comparison to the bespoke suits, though, and these hand-crafted suits are coveted by the titans of business and politics throughout the world.

A well-fitted, bespoke jacket – via Savile Row.
(Courtesy of William Westmancott)
Made-to-measure suits straddle the line between bespoke and off-the-rack.  These suits are similar to bespoke suits, but the customer often has fewer pattern and design choices when ordering the suit.  Pre-existing patterns are assembled according to the customer’s measurements and specifications.  This requires the tailor to take the customer’s measurements, but he or she won’t go as far as the bespoke tailor in creating a stiff paper pattern from those measured numbers.  The measurements are normally stored in a computer and this allows the tailor to quickly reference a customer’s previous purchase(s) if needed.  This suit option still provides the customer with a great deal of control over the final wardrobe product, and some great examples of made-to-measure suit companies can be found all over the internet.  SuitSupply and Indochino are two of the many options, and they offer fantastic, tailored suits at a fraction of the cost of a bespoke suit.

James is sporting a flashy made-to-measure suit.
(Courtesy of Gucci)
Lastly, customers with standard body types that know exactly what suit they want (usually at a low price) opt for an off-the-rack suit.  These suits are frequently found in department stores, are pre-made and can be adjusted slightly by a tailor to better fit the customer.  Most men’s first suits (including suits for homecoming and prom dances) were likely purchased or rented off-the-rack from their local department store.  There is nothing inherently wrong with an off-the-rack suit; they just work best though for men with “standard body types”.  Men with sloped shoulders, slim waists and wider shoulders, or those that fall between standard sizes may have difficulty finding a great-fitting off-the-rack suit.  The limited tailoring options make it challenging to create a perfect fit if the suit doesn’t already fit well before any alterations are made.  Stores like Macy’s or Men’s Wearhouse specialize in these types of suits, and often have great deals on products for men starting their suit wardrobe.

Joseph Abboud off-the-rack suit.
(Courtesy of Nordstrom)
We will leave you with a couple key points to remember, while you decide which of the three suits works best for you.  First, prices do not automatically indicate a suit’s quality.  Sure, bespoke suits will cost more than the other two types, but that doesn’t mean a disciplined customer can’t find a sharp suit in a department store or online that fits great and looks fantastic.  Second, and in line with the first point, it’s always better to choose a well-fitted suit over an expensive one.  The well-fitted suit always makes a man look fantastic, is a staple of an male wardrobe, and can make up any potential lack of quality through its stylish looks.  Fit is always the most  important element of any suit – get that squared away and any of the suit types listed above will make the perfect addition to your growing suit wardrobe.

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