The 12 Commandments of Buying a Bespoke Suit

August 26th, 2014

As the team and I continue to grind behind the scenes and prepare to launch a whole new Articles of Style (including an updated version of the much-requested Stye Guide), I’ve been going through the archives and editing some of our top articles from back in the day. As some of you may remember, two years ago I did an extensive “Guide to Bespoke Tailoring”, with all kinds of information. The article needed some tweaks and some updates, so over the next couple weeks I’ll be sharing tips, experiences, and discussions on tailoring, wardrobe building, alterations, etc.

To start, here’s 12 things you should know before buying a bespoke suit. As always, if you have specific questions, feel free to hit me in the comments section below.


#1: Fabric Comes First

There are a thousand ways to sew a suit, but the garment is ultimately only as good as its raw ingredients. Fabric selection is the most important decision you will make when designing your new bespoke suit. Not only does it determine how your suit will look and feel, but also how it will perform and last over time. Avoid anything with a synthetic blend. To start, look for a 100% worsted wool from a trusted mill in a “super 110s-120s” thread count for the best combination of luxury and durability.

#2: Trust Nobody

Because this is a business where manufacturing begins after the sale is complete, and most clients aren’t well versed in the nuances of tailoring, the ugly truth is that custom suit iss a very shady industry.

I’ve seen everything from counterfeit branded fabrics to “Made in USA” tags being sewn into jackets in SouthEast Asia.

The most common deception in the business is the location of manufacturing – i.e. shops that say their garments are “Made On Site” when indeed they are not.

Here’s some simple math:

A well made hand-tailored suit takes an average of 40 hours to complete. The average master tailor working in America doesn’t pick up his shears for less than $30-40 an hour…let’s call it an average of $35/hour. That’s $1,600 in labor alone.

Decent cloth from a respected mill, purchased at wholesale, runs roughly $50-$100 per yard…let’s call it an average of $75/yard. It takes about 3 yards of cloth to make a suit (2.5 for solids, 3 for pinstripes, 3.5-4 for check patterns). That comes out to an average of $225 for the cloth. Add roughly $25 for the buttons, trims, lining, etc. That’s $250 in cost of tangible inputs, making a rough total of $1,850 for overall cost of production.

Therefore, an American made suit (with a typical 65% profit markup) is going to retail for at least $3,050. Translate this to Euros in Italy and pounds in England.

If a shop located in an area with similar cost of labor is offering an suit “made on site” at a price notably lower than this, they are likely pulling the wool over your eyes (pun intended) by using counterfeit cloth or overseas production where the hourly cost of skilled labour is significantly cheaper.

#3: HOW it’s made over WHERE it’s made

The quality and attention to detail of overseas manufacturing can vary greatly from one workshop to the next, but on the whole there have been enormous strides made in the past decade or so. “Made in China” doesn’t mean it’s crap, as long as the person in charge of the manufacturing process is careful,  diligently, and honest. I have an article coming up about the questions to ask to determine the quality level of tailoring… Stay tuned.

#4: Understand the shop’s “House Cut”

Every bespoke shop has their own opinion on how a suit should be cut to best flatter a man’s body.

For example, traditional British shops, like the esteemed tailors on Savile Row, tend to cut with larger allowances (the difference between a client’s body measurements and the measurements of the finished garment) for a roomier fit with a smoother “drape”. English tailors also prefer heavier cloth, a lower gorge line (the seam where the collar meets the lapel) and more overall structure to the jacket (stiffer chest canvas, thicker shoulder pads, etc).

By contrast, Italian tailors tend to prefer lighter cloth, smaller allowances (cut closer to the body), a higher gorge and a more “flexible” construction (softer shoulders, less padding, etc).

The difference in cutting style can vary greatly from one tailor to the next, even in the same city. For example, tailors in midtown manhattan tend to make a more traditional garment with British accents geared toward an older client base, while downtown shops generally cut a more Italian-influenced, slightly “edgier” garment for a younger crowd.

Understanding the style and strategy of the shop is important in order to achieve the fit you are seeking. Ask if you can try-on a sample garment in your closest size, this will give you an idea of how the tailor thinks about a suit.

#5: Get to a stable body shape before ordering

If you plan on going through any major body transformations, wait until you reach a stable weight that you are happy with before investing in custom clothing. And make sure it’s a weight you can maintain!

As an added bonus, an expensive custom suit will probably be your best motivation to stay in shape.

#6: Get the fit right, the first time

A good shop will keep a paper (or digital) pattern on file for you, and tweak that pattern every time they make you a new garment or alter one of your old ones.

If you have the option of paying more for a “higher level” that includes additional fittings, do it for your first suit. Once you have your pattern locked down, you shouldn’t have to do it again and your future orders will be a breeze.

#7: Understand that you’re (probably) not an expert

Most shops have employees whose full-time job is to make their clients look their best. Listen to their advice and converse with them about your styling decisions rather than assuming you know better.

#8: Avoid trends like the plague

You want your new investment to last 5-10 years (depending on how hard you wear your clothing), so keep the proportions classic and avoid anything “of the moment”. I feel bad for guys who ordered cropped jackets with razor thin lapels years ago and are now afraid to wear them outside the house. The same will happen to the guys ordering super oversized lapels today.

The trouser hemline is a slightly different issue as this can be lengthened or shortened in a matter of minutes.

#9: Don’t get caught up in thread counts

Some guys think the higher the thread count (or “super” number), the better the cloth. This is not necessarily true. This number – which represents the number of fibers spun into a unit measure of cloth – indicates only the “fineness” of the fibers. It can mean that a cloth will have a great “hand feel” and sheen, but what’s more important is its inverse relationship with durability.

Most of my suits are in the Super 110-130 range, which I consider the perfect balance between luxury and durability.

Super 180s and higher become very delicate. They should be reserved for guys who have 20+ suits in their rotation who are looking for something that they bust out once a month to make a statement or for a special event.

You should invest in the most durable fabric that feels good in your hand. Truth is, a “super 110s” from a quality mill can feel softer than a “super 180s” from a second rate fabric house anyway.

#10: Get the basics first, then build from there

Think of your first visit to a bespoke shop as the first step in building your new wardrobe. Start with versatile basics and slowly build out to seasonal fabrics with more personality. You can wear a solid blue or grey suit to the office three times a week and nobody will notice, but your co-workers will call you out if they keep seeing those purple pinstripes.

Also, don’t factor-in the suits you already have in your closet unless you love them and they fit very well. 90% of guys stop wearing their off-the-rack suits after going custom.

If you already have a strong base and are looking for something specific, don’t be afraid to bring a picture reference to show your salesperson.

#11: Have realistic expectations

Unless you look like George Clooney, a new suit won’t make you look like George Clooney.

Also, don’t be a wrinkle chaser. The suit is designed to look pristine on a still, standing body. As you start moving all bets are off and the suit will crease and wrinkle. It’s fabric, not magic.

If you want a very slim look, there are trade-offs when it comes to comfort. You will feel the suit and lose a little range of motion. If you are not accustomed to slim tailoring, there may be a short adjustment period here. Keep in mind the only way to make it “roomier” is to make it bigger, thus losing some shape. In my case, I actually like to feel my jackets against my body. The feeling of being “locked in”.

#12: Take care of your investments

Ask your tailor for proper care instructions.

Generally speaking, dry clean your suits as infrequently as possible (only when their physically dirty from spills or sweat). Dry cleaning is a chemical wash that slowly erodes fabric – essentially scraping away the surface layer.

Otherwise, if the garment simply needs a “refresher”, have it steamed or pressed (which is much cheaper than dry cleaning and effectively cleans it using heat and steam anyway).



Have questions about buying a bespoke suit? I’ll do my best to answer in the comments below!


Thanks, as always, for reading.

Yours in style,

Dan Trepanier


Photography by Alex Crawford

  • Alan

    I just had a suit made it was around $3,000.00
    Do I or should I tip my guy $500 ?

  • roanne schmidt

    Valuable commentary – I was fascinated by the details . Does someone
    know where my assistant would be able to acquire a blank a form example to work with ?

  • S W

    I am thinking about making the step into a bespoke suit from off the rack Jos A. Bank wear. Is the tremendous increase in cost worth it?

  • singingcowboy674

    Oh I SO long for the day I can get a bespoke. That’s pretty pricy out the door. I’d lose the “choice” factor, but I might volunteer as a fashion designer’s “billboard” or model for her/his final exam and see if I can pay a lot less than $35 a hour for the work.

  • David Murphy

    Hi, very informative article, thank you. I live in the UK, (Hertfordshire),and have a friend who used to be a Saville Row Tailor, and has some top class suit material from about 30 yrs ago. He has offered to let me pick some material for a suit, free of charge, but I don’t know any good tailors to approach, to ask if they will make me a suit from my own material. Do you have any suggestions. My friend no longer does tailoring.

  • Alex

    Hi, I’m buying my partner a bespoke suit from a high-end American house. The VP of sales comes right to our apartment for the fabric choices and fittings, etc. My question is, when I have the suit, should I tip the guy? And how much?

  • Speicus

    Thank you for this informative article.
    Nit: at #12, could you change ”
    their physically dirty
    their physically dirtytheir physically dirty” to “they’re physically dirty”.

    • Speicus

      Or not.

      • DrZanz

        Ridiculous isn’t it? I’m very surprised you’re the only one to have pointed it out. As for the writer, for someone who gives the impression of being educated and attentive to detail, leaving that mistake, let alone making it in the first place is really quite jarring.

  • Marcus Lagerkvist

    Having trouble finding great fit in RTW, and I’m now considering bespoke. Don’t own any sport jackets so I’m thinking of making one. Was thinking about a blue/navy flannel with patch pockets. But since it’s extremely pricey (€ 3000) I would like to make a correct decision of a first sport jacket. Does anyone have any suggestions for fabric, weight and color? Stylewise I have a pretty good idea.

  • Gideon Aldridge

    Hi Dan, I am planning to buy my first bespoke suit in Dubai this year. After reading lots of discussions on fabric quality I am looking for some clarity. I am thinking, initially for something in s150 to s180 range for special occasions. I understand that S is no quarantee of quality. The tailors that I am considering stock amongst others Zegna, Scabal, Dormeuil, Loro Piana, Guabello and Carlo Barbera. Can you recommend any of these brands in the weight I am considering? Thanks Gideon

  • grc1

    I’m wondering not so much about the first bespoke suit, but the second – not that I’m there yet, but it stands to reason that a second suit will almost be better than the first, if only because the buyer has a better understanding of what bespoke is about than on the first go-round. My question is, what happens to that first suit? You said that 90% of guys don’t go back to off-the-rack, do you know whether they ever the wear the first suit after they’ve got the second? Just curious!

  • Dissapointed

    Conversate….. are you serious?

    • Jairzinho


      Useful article nevertheless.

  • James Wong

    Great article and I love how the comments contribute just as much as the article itself.
    As Barney Stinson would say, the bespoke Suit is The Dream.

  • Nick_L

    This post has an amazing amount of content to pour over. I think the math Dan did for us and the point #10 are critical to have in mind. Especially, since we see most of his posts include a custom MAB suit / pants / shirt or some combination. My question would be, is it possible to get a list of TSB approved custom suit shops in major cities? I’d love to know what Chicago has available.

  • Gazman

    Point #2 is spot on and it’s not just shady ‘tailors’ using counterfeit fabric and cutting corners. One of the most dubious practices these days involve businessmen running made to measure operations and passing them off as ‘bespoke’ tailoring. This is rife and as Savile Row can testify impossible to act against (there was a law case a few years back). Such MTM businesses typically send their measurements overseas where the suits are stitched up in China or Vietnam. It’s a crock as apart from the misleading marketing the prices charged are excessive. I don’t mind if the companies market themselves as MTM operations – that’s fair play; it is when they deliberately pass themselves off as bespoke tailors that I find unconscionable. Unfortunately, the misleading marketing of the MTM businesses are often supported by journalists who are ignorant of the significant difference between bespoke and MTM.

  • CaseyD

    Best place to buy for your $ in Manhattan is?

  • Jaws

    Great post. I think a lot of people don’t mention house cut much, when talking about this, and the importance of understanding your preference in cut if you’re shelling out. It’d be interesting if you would expand on cut more and talk about the nuances of that. And on more detailed customizing – i.e. lapel shaping, quarter shaping, ect.

  • Dame

    Dan, are you coming out with your own bespoke line? or are you still with Michael Andrews ?

  • tommyjohn_45

    Looking forward to this series of updates… Now if I can just find the $3-$4k to make an investment ;)

  • Miguel

    Hi Dan, you mentioned that on average an american made suit might run for $3000 but some companies like Suit Supply and other you’ve feature have suit as low as $550.

    So what’s the deal with this companies since you can have a suit made at the SS store?

    • pyrokeet

      This is probably linked to my question below – Suit Supply is made-to-measure rather than bespoke is it not? I’ve not shopped there though so couldn’t say for sure, apologies if inaccurate.

      • Miguel

        You might be right, that’s why I want clarification.

        • cam

          Suit Supply and others are completely different from a true bespoke suit. Just look at the complexity in the first picture of Dan to get an idea the labor that goes with bespoke. It’s completely custom to the individual while made to measure and off the rack use pre existing patterns.

          • Kallan

            There are many people out there who simply want a suit that looks good. In fact one essential factor to qualify as bespoke suit is that a suit must have been tailored within a certain perimeter of Seville Row a small street in London that houses these bespoke tailors. All other tailors are doing customization and made to measure.

    • Dan Trepanier

      I’ve never heard of a Suit Supply suit made in America. Nor bespoke. They offer made-to-measure (tweaking measurements of from their stock patterns) and (as far as I know) run everything through there incredibly efficient production line overseas… More on this later. Cheers Miguel!

      • Miguel

        Thanks Dan, I asked because I planning on purchasing my first made to measure suit from them.

        • Kallan

          I dont believe SS has a made to measure service as Dan said. I have been studying their site for a while to understand how their collection is updated.

  • pyrokeet

    Hi Dan, thanks for the post, interesting reading. I understand that this is aimed at bespoke suits, but do you have an average number of hours that might be spent on creating a made-to-measure suit? I wanted to calculate for comparison on the indicative cost estimates you mentioned above – possibly less than forty?

    • AdamE

      There could be huge differences depending on the amount of hand-work both on MTM and OTR….

    • Dan Trepanier

      In most MTM cases, the only added time is measuring…especially since pattern-making is moving digital. The amount of time it takes to make a suit is all in the amount of handwork…made by hand by a skilled tailor, or made by a machine on an assembly line in a factory… More on that later. Cheers mate.

      • AdamE

        We’ve got a new local shop (4 canadian locations) that do MTM with a 3D scan, followed up by extensive measurements, then have them built in asia (I assume digital pattern making, based on the types of measures they took), apparently with a lot of handwork by tailors over there, and then do a second fitting and have the finishing and adjustments done by a local tailor. Price ranges are quite reasonable with decent fabrics (extensive collection), options on canvassing (which drastically affect price, although they don’t offer fully canvassed on your first order, because they want to dial in the pattern for you, since they input all adjustments after the follow-up fitting), etc. In the next couple of weeks I’ll have the second fitting on my first order, and then I’ll think about posting a review once I have the end product, but so far the experience has been great with them, and fills the gap from the on-line MTM experience (brick and mortar, knowledgeable staff, more extensive measurements done by staff, rather than yourself, to confirm what they get from the 3D scan. if they put some red on the face, my 3D image would look all walking dead…)