10 Commandments of Buying a Bespoke Suit
#1: Fabric comes first
There are a thousand ways to sew a suit, but the garment is ultimately only as good as it's most important raw input. The fabric selection is without a doubt the most important decision you will make when putting tougher your new suit. Not only does it determine how your suit will look and feel,but also how it will perform over time.
Go with the highest quality fabric you can afford (note: this doesn't mean the highest thread count).
#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 it's a very shady industry.
I've seen everything from counterfeit brand name 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.
#3: Understand the shop's "house cut"
Every shop has their own opinion on how a suit should be a cut to best flatter a man's body.
For example, traditional British tailors like the esteemed shops on Savile Row tend to cut with larger allowances (the difference between the client's body measurements and the measurements of the finished product) for a roomier garment that has greater "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 (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 very 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.
#4: Get to a stable body shape
If you plan on going through a major body transformation, 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.
#5: 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.
#6: Understand that you're not an expert
Most shops have employees whose full-time career it is to make their clients look their best. Listen to their advice with an open mind rather than assuming you know better.
#7: Avoid trends like the plague
You want your new investment(s) 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 two years ago who are now afraid to wear them. The same will happen to the guys ordering oversized lapels today.
The hemline is a different issue as this can be changed in a matter of minutes.
#8: 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 thus be used to estimate the "hand feel" and sheen of the cloth, but what's more important is its inverse relationship with durability.
Most of my suits are in the Super 110-120 range, which I consider the perfect balance between luxury and durability.
Super 180s and higher becomes very delicate. It's the opposite of a work horse, and 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.
You should invest in the most durable fabric that feels good in your hand. Truth is, a "super 110s" from a quality mill will feel softer than a "super 180s" from a second rate fabric house anyway.
#9: Get the basics first, then build on them
Think of your first visit as the first step in building a new wardrobe. Start with versatile basics and slowly build out to 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.
#10: 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 in areas of motion. 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 like to feel my jackets against my body a little.
BONUS: 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 sweating). Dry cleaning is a chemical wash that damages 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).
Additional care tips:
- If possible, take your jacket off when eating, flying or doing anything active.
- Invest in quality wooden hangers with large shoulders that fit your jacket properly. A good tailor should provide these.
- Hang the suit on a proper hanger in an airy place immediately after taking it off.
- Try not to wear the same suit on back to back days, especially in warm weather or precipitation.
- The trousers will inevitably wear out faster than the jacket. If you're hard on them, most tailors give you the option of adding second pair.
Thanks, as always, for reading.
Yours in style,