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The Definitive Guide to Men's Suit Tailoring Options

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Section: Essential Men's Suit Guide - Blog

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This definitive guide will help you intelligently navigate your way through the racks, swatches and cuts and handle the suit jargon with wit as sharp as a freshly pressed lapel.

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Surviving centuries of fashion fads, the history of men’s suits tells a story of authority and excellence. Since becoming a status symbol of European nobility in the 18th century, the suit has smoothly crossed over political, social and historical boundaries to become the pinnacle of sophisticated attire in the modern gentleman’s wardrobe.

A good quality suit is an investment. In the professional workplace it could signify seeking a new job or promotion, or it could be a reward for closing the big deal. Outside of the office, suits are the chosen men’s attire for formal dinners, charity events and have become synonymous with the groom at weddings. Casual suits are also becoming more popular, worn to day-time events like the horse races and some religious ceremonies. It is fair to say that men’s suits can be seen at almost all major events in a Western man’s social and professional calendar.

mens suit tailoring

Thus, the act of buying a suit becomes nothing less than serious business. Depending on the type of suit to be purchased there are important considerations to be made about the colour, pattern, cut and fit. However, like most things today, the men’s suit market has become clouded with vague and distorted terminology that intends to deceive in order to hike up prices or give the illusion of quality or differentiation. Indeed it’s quite easy for suit salespeople to exploit the uninitiated by using such terms as “tailored,” “made to measure” and “bespoke. Without the correct knowledge of what these terms mean, the unwary men’s suit customer can easily fall for marketing traps.

In short, your main suiting options can be broken down in 4 main types:

The pros and consof these options are discussed indetail below. But if you are to take anything away from reading this article it would be that there is a continuum in suit tailoring. At one extreme we have off-the-rack which embodies the techniques devised to meet the volume demands of the mass market.

At the other extreme we have bespoke, a term which references the time-honoured methods of those few skilled master tailors (or perhaps better described as artisans) dedicated to the tradition of individually hand stitching one-off masterpieces.

For those looking for something in-between, other men’s suiting options are also available which make use of the various benefits of these extremes, while forgoing certain cons to bring costs and timeframes down.

Good luck anf happy suiting!

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1) Off-the-rack (also known as Ready-to-wear or Off-the-peg)

A product of the Industrial Revolution, the off-the-rack suit is a sharp departure from tradition in order to meet the demands of the mass market. The process of off-the-rack suit manufacture is purposely designed to turn product over quickly in retail shops and malls. Consequently, off-the-rack suit stores often come with big marketing budgets emphasising the current fashion of the moment. If you are looking for a great fitting suit, off-the-rack isn’t usually the way to go, unless you happen to be the middle-of-the-bell-curve male specimen and fit the standard sizes.

mens suit tailoring

Despite what would seem obvious, off-the-rack suits aren’t always cheap. While some retailers cater for those with tighter budgets, big name fashion brands can sell off-the-rack suits for well over a thousand dollars. These suits are usually made from good quality European wools and assembled in European factory floors. Some major brands do however manufacture in low cost of labour countries, so you should always check the label to know what you are getting. If you are paying a premium price, yet the suit is made in a low cost of labour country using average quality fabrics, the premium price is probably just the retail margin. Being a mass produced product, off-the-rack suits are part of the normal retail cycle. So if a certain design or size isn’t selling, you will usually get the opportunity to buy it at a reduced price when the sales are on.

The main benefit of off-the-rack suits is that you will get to try on the exact suit that you will buy. Additionally, if alterations are not required they can be worn instantly. Other suiting options require at least a week of lead time for construction, fitting and refitting with the bespoke option taking several weeks. This makes off-the-rack suits a convenient option for some, appealing to those that need a suit right now. However, off-the-rack suits are not usually preferred by those looking for particular suit fabric colours or specific styling details, as you can only get the designed on offer. You may find yourself shopping around for a while before you eventually compromise on something. Additionally, off-the-rack suits often fall short when it comes to fit since they are made from industry sizing averages instead of made to unique client measurements and considerations of posture and shape.

The fit of a man’s suit is arguably the single most important factor when it comes to look, so poorly-fitted off-the-rack suits have a tendency to look cheap and will often have problems with creasing and movement. This is almost certainly the source of the idiom, “all over him like a cheap suit.” The shoulders are usually not made to the correct slope, the position of the armholes can be off, jacket darts aren’t always positioned to the contours of your body and the length of the pants and sleeves almost always require alterations. Furthermore, all modifications are generally paid for separately by the customer.

Made in assembly lines that churn out a jacket and trouser pair in minutes, overall the off-the-rack suit is not unique but is perfect for someone who needs something relatively quick and inexpensive.

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2) Made-to-measure (M2M)

Although it sounds much more exclusive, made-to-measure is only a step-up from off-the-rack. The major benefit that M2M has over off-the-rackis that alternations are made to the base pattern instead of thefinishedsuit. This means thereareno major alteration costs for the customer, a finer finish and improved fit.

mens suit tailoring

However, with regards to fit and design, the M2M option has its shortcomings when compared to tailor made and bespoke. M2M suit patterns are already cut and made for industry standard sizes. Although they can be altered, only minimal pattern adjustments such as lengths are generally allowed and few, if any styling options are available. Fabric choices are rarely extensive. The canvas, which maintains the shape of the suit, is often made of fusible material (a cheaper option) which is ironed-on instead of hand-sewn. Some shops may offer half or fullcanvassed options, but this is generally an added cost.

Due to the extra work involved in pattern adjusting and cutting, pricing for made-to-measure is obviously higher than off-the-rack. However be on the lookout for shops that (under the disguise of a made-to-measure label), just alter store-bought off-the-rack suits. This practice of short changing the client is called “double-tagging”. If a tailor fits you with a completed suit and offers to alter it, this isn’t M2M and is simply performing routine alternations. However, using the M2M name, these “tailors” can charge more than the service offered is actually worth.

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3) Bespoke suits

A true bespoke suit is the highest quality suit money can buy, bar none. Bespoke is not just about producing an impeccable end product, it is also about the journey and experience. Naturally, this red carpet treatment costs a pretty penny.

Top bespoke tailors and their shops convene at the famed Savile Row in London where suits regularly cost $15,000 to commission. Purchasing a bespoke suit is in itself a memorable experience and many of the clientele (such as Middle Eastern royals) are confident they’re getting the bang for their buck.

To start the lengthy and meticulous process of bespoke tailoring, an expert tailor will take many measurements (often more than 25) and assess body shape, posture and proportions. These numbers are unique for each person and will reflect any asymmetry like those in arm length or shoulder slope.

Next will be a discussion of fabric. It is here where bespoke tailors are gold mines. Many bespoke tailors have close ties with family-run fabric mills as well as internationally renowned mills from England and Italy. They can source exclusive Giza cottons out of Turkey and Egypt and high-end internal constituents and linings from Japan. Through them, you gain access to the most exclusive fabrics options for all occasions and climates, with many bespoke tailors claiming to carry in excess of 5,000 fabrics. The richest men can even ask for customised fabric embroidered with emblems or initials. Despite all these flashy customisations, bespoke traditions aim to keep the suit the most understated form of luxury.

suit tailoring

When it comes to design, since everything is made from scratch the client has total control of how the suit will look. The master tailor, with their experience, will provide expert advice and has the ability to create virtually whatever you please. If you want a higher armhole, thin lapels, a higher-rise on your trousers, or exact button positions, the bespoke tailor will be happy to oblige.

Once all fabric selections, measurements and designs are complete, the next step is to draft a unique paper pattern. The bespoke tailor often keeps a library of all patterns for each client on a rack, making it easier for repeat customers. Despite this however, often a full re-measure is required as clients can gain or lose weight in-between suit purchases.

Next, the fabric pieces will be cut from the pattern and the tailor will proceed with creating a lining for the first fitting. The second fitting will be with the canvassed shell and the lining. At this stage, the suit is purely hand stitched at the seams to give room for alterations. At the third fitting, the suit will be taken apart, sewn again with sturdier stitches and prepared for delivery. At any stage of the process, additional fitting sessions may be required.

The heart of the bespoke suit is the canvas which decides how the chest of the jacket conforms to the body. The bespoke tailor uses a special horsehair canvas to create the suit’s shape. Made of natural fibres, the canvas will “melt” over the man’s figure over time resulting in a beautiful aging process for the suit ensuring a better fit through time. A small peek on the inside of a bespoke suit will reveal thousands of hand stitches and a cut that is, without a doubt, unique. All of this means a bespoke suit never sits flat when laid out, and holds the three dimensional form of the wearer.

With bespoke being such a time-honored and revered term, be on the lookout for “tailors” that offer bespoke services at what seem to be very inexpensive price points. These establishments are effectively using the term bespoke to mean customization or options in styling, rather than the traditional Savile Row interpretation that means a suit cut and made by hand. However in 2008 the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority allowed the term to be applied to machine sewed garments, provided they are made-to-measure – so its use is unprotected and open to abuse.

One sure fire way to know if your suit is truly bespoke or not is if the tailor you are speaking with at the time of initial sale is the same person involved in the cutting and sewing of your suit. Additionally, bespoke suits take least 50 individual man hours of work to complete. So if your measurements are being sent off to a production facility and your suit is being turned around in less than two weeks, chances are that is it not a true bespoke suit.

Bespoke suit construction is considered by many to be an art form - one that can take more than a month to complete. Many master tailors are artisans in their own right, creating perfect balances of proportion, fit, comfort and style. Constructed with utmost care and attention to detail the bespoke suit is the way to go (if money is not a constraint).

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4) Tailor Made (also known as Custom Tailored)

The tailor made suit is more of a hybrid than a completely unique category. It intends to combine the best and most efficient attributes of bespoke tailoring and M2M suits to provide high-quality clothing with reasonable pricing. The processes used by tailor made suiting companies are highly varied, with some offering a suit in half a week and others up to four weeks depending on client requests and fabric sourcing.

suit tailoring

Styling options and fabric choices are generally abundant. The client will choose his preferred fabric, fit and styling details to make the suit unique. Unlike bespoke suits however, styling options for tailor made are limited, with the tailor made suit design offering clients various design selections, rather than the complete ‘blank canvas.’ A reduction in the number of actual fittings coupled with a shorter timeframe to produce the tailor made suit, means the price paid is less than bespoke. Indeed, with tailor made often the second fitting is on a fully stitched suit, with the tailor looking to make tweaks to perfect the suit’s fit, usually at their own cost.

The general operation of a tailor made suiting shop is to handle the initial measurements, fabric selection, styling and fitting in-store. Then the customer’s details are sent to a production facility where a unique pattern is drawn up, fabric cut and the suit sewn by skilled tailors. Just like the bespoke option, many tailor made shops offer hand sewing and full-canvassing, so be sure to ask as these considerations can highly effect the price and quality. Once the suit is ready to try on, the customer usually has the option to make alterations. It is here where the best tailor made shops have a trained on-site alterations tailor (who should also be a pattern maker) to assist. This is important, as it takes a trained eye to make the right adjustments to a fully stitched suit made to a unique pattern.

With tailor made becoming more popular, a simple two piece tailor made suit of decent durable fabric can cost around the same as a quality off-the-rack suit. If your suiting needs require a full hand-basted canvas paired with only the finest wools and linings, a tailor made suit can still cost up to AUD$5,000. The main benefit of the tailor made suit is you are paying for a well-fitting suit in your fabric of choice while removing the additional costs of alterations and multiple fittings. Since the tailor made suit is much more customizable, the number of possible combinations make it more unique than both off-the-rack and M2M.

A word on "Tailored" Suits

A mention must be made to what is another often misused term – “tailored suits.” While the word “tailored” in this context can be used to describe “tailor made” or “custom tailored” suits, it is often used just to describe the fit of the suit. If used this way, the phrase “tailored suit” is alluding to the slimness or tapering of the suit’s cut, rather than the suit’s method of construction. For example a mass produced off-the-rack suit can easily be called “tailored” if it offers a streamlined appearance when worn.

The cheat sheet

Below is a table that describes the common characteristics of each men’s suit tailoring option. While it can be used as a general rule, exceptions will exist.

Type

Off the Peg

Made to Measure

Tailor Made

Bespoke

Other names

Off-the-Rack, Ready-to-Wear

M2M

Custom Made, Custom Tailored

Production

Factory assembly line using standard sizing.

Patterns pre-made and adjusted. Factory assembly line, sometimes finished in-store.

New patterns cut from blocks specific to client’s body shape, posture and design. Constructed by skilled pattern makers, cutters and tailors, sometimes finished in-store.

New patterns drafted specific to client’s body shape, posture and design. Constructed by skilled pattern makers, cutters and tailors, often all in-house.

Hours worked per suit

Around 30 minutes, often supported by automation

10to 15 hours

10 to 25 hours

At least 50 hours, all by artisans

Uniqueness

Mass-produced

Should be made to order with some customisations like fabric

To client’s unique preferences (fabric, cut, design)

To client’s unique preferences (fabric, cut, design)

Sizing

Average sizing by population

Closest match then altered (in the pattern)

Exactly to client

Exactly to client

Fittings (generally)

0

1

2

At least 3 times

Body shape considerations

None

Minimal, must be close to standard (usually just height)

All considered e.g. posture, proportion, shoulder slope, upper body type, seat type etc.

All considered e.g. posture, proportion, shoulder slope, upper body type, seat type etc.

Styling

Predetermined

Predetermined (generally)

Client has many options to choose from

Unlimited, client has complete control – “blank canvas”

Fabric

Often low-price wools or synthetic for outer shell and lining.

Low to mid-priced wool selections, with some stores using higher-end options

Client can choose fabrics with different compositions (wools, silks, linens etc.) from different fabric mills

Seemingly unlimited, sourced from mills all around the world, often including exclusive custom textiles

Internal stitching

All machine (for speed)

Hand + Machine

Hand + Machine

All Hand

Timeframe

Immediate

2-3 weeks

3-4 weeks

8+ weeks

Shape support

Fused, stick-on stiff canvas

Fused, stick-on stiff canvas or ½ stitched canvas

1/2 stitched canvas, up to full canvas

Almost always full canvas

Cost

$ - $$$

$$ - $$$

$$$

$$$$

Pros

Cheapest option.

Suit is ready right away.

Better fitting than off-the-rack suits, fabric and colour selection

Personalised fit.

Many fabric, colour and design choices to select from

Best fitting suit you will ever own.

Impeccable quality.

Cons

Alterations often required.

Low-quality craftsmanship

Often paying for a label.

Very misused term.

Does not consider posture or shape when it comes to fit.

Have to wait a few weeks. Cannot try on the suit before purchasing it.

Cost.

Have to wait several weeks.

Multiple fittings. Many decisions to make.

Tailor Made FOR EVERY OCCASION

We tailor make mens suits, jackets and shirts for all occasions. Each garment is custom designed, precisely made-to-measure and is guaranteed to fit you perfectly. Unlike others, we offer you end-to-end service and a personalised styling session where we take the time to understand your needs to ensure you get the colour, style and fit you want.

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Simon Frazer

Montagio did a great job on wedding suits for me and my two groomsmen. Bally provided us with fantastic service and the result was definitely superior to an off-the-rack option... more »

Kiran Dosanjh

I have bought a total of 11 pieces custom made so far - quality and attention to detail is spectacular, material choice is broad and the input customers have in creating the exact look they want is a great experience... more »

Roy Soliman

I went back for another suit, a few shirts and some ties. Outstanding! I had so many complements on my new suit yesterday! more »


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