Credit to: The Complete Guide To Made To Measure Suits BY: JOSH SIMS
The bespoke suit is often proclaimed as the greatest possible exemplar of the art of tailoring. And, coming with it, a hefty price tag. But the alternative is not just to make do with ready-to-wear. There’s a middle ground: the made-to-measure suit. This allows a suit to fit you better, and for a degree of customization – just not on the scale of full bespoke.
Of course, you may have one of those rare mannequin-shaped bodies that allows ready-to-wear to fit just fine. But, for everyone else, the more manageable investment in made-to-measure could be well worth it.
What Is A Made-To-Measure Suit?
“In short, made-to-measure offers the quickest and most efficient way to have a beautifully fitting suit made to your own specifications. Personal style meets efficiency with made-to-measure,” explains Toby Lamb, brand director at Richard James. It’s a blunt, simple definition because, in truth, made-to-measure is a term that is widely interpreted.
Today’s made-to-measure suit may show more signs of being finished by hand – traditionally a sign of bespoke tailoring – but, by the same token, elements of bespoke tailoring, such as the main seam in the seat of a pair of trousers, are likely to be machine-finished. Lines, in other words, are blurred. Add in a lot of marketing – ‘personal tailoring’, ‘customisable suiting’, ‘custom made’ – and the fact that tailoring houses are quick to dismiss the efforts of other tailoring houses as being ‘real’ made-to-measure and the waters are muddied further.
Ready to Wear
“Unfortunately some companies deliberately distort understanding to meet their marketing requirements,” argues Tony Lutwyche, of Lutwyche. “Admittedly it’s difficult to draw hard lines along the ready-to-wear, made-to-measure, bespoke continuum. It really comes down to a matter of authenticity. As much as anything it’s about the quality of experience.”
Perhaps made-to-measure is best understood in contrast to ready-to-wear and bespoke. With ready-to-wear, you wear the suit as it comes off the hanger (aside from minor alterations, the likes of leg and sleeve length). At the other extreme, a bespoke suit is made for an individual entirely from scratch – every aspect is chosen by the customer and made explicitly for him or her. In between lies made-to-measure.
“One analogy has it that, if bespoke is going to the Porsche factory to have absolutely everything exactly as you want it, then made to measure is buying a Porsche and then having its interior outfitted to your liking,” says Gieves & Hawkes’ made-to-measure consultant Thomas Blatch. “With bespoke everything is done from new. With made-to-measure, we work with a base suit and then adjust it to fit better, and to the client’s liking.”
In other words, made-to-measure allows, for example, a choice of cloth, a choice of details and an excellent fit – but not a choice of all cloths, a choice of all possible details and the perfect fit, which is the realm of bespoke.
The Made-To-Measure Suit Process
The made-to-measure process is not unlike that for bespoke – it’s just less particular. It all begins with a consultation with your tailor of choice – so the first thing to do is shop around, and find an establishment you feel comfortable with, and whose services work for your budget. The cost of made-to-measure varies wildly, from a few hundred pounds to several thousand.
The consultation process is straightforward, though does entail making many decisions. So it pays to do some research ahead of the visit to your tailor – Pinterest might prove a good source to work up a mood board of the kind of suit you’d like.
Your tailor is there to help too, offering advice based around his or her taste, or that of the tailoring house, and they all prefer to gently push a house style. Is your made-to-measure suit for everyday wear or for cocktail attire for example? Will you be wearing it through cold weather, as a summer suit or both? This might affect your choice of colour, fabric and extra details.
Choosing your cloth is the first step and you choose typically from a huge selection – well over a thousand. This choice is a matter of weight – lightweight (typically 8oz-9oz), heavyweight (14oz-15oz), or something in between. A 12oz cloth is a good all-year-rounder.
It’s also, of course, a matter of colour and pattern – check, birdseye, pinstripe and so on. The cloth is one of the key factors affecting the final price of your suit. Next – at those tailors that offer a choice – you will need to select the level of construction you require, from half-lined to fully-canvassed, with some tailors offering more or less hand-making for your garment.
“It’s really the quality of construction that affects the final price,” explains Lutwyche. “Generally, without guarantees, the more you spend the better quality of construction you get.”
Next the process gets more intimate. Your tailor will take several measurements – chest, waist, seat and perhaps several more (though not as many as is required to make a bespoke suit). Then you will try on a suit of your preferred construction. This provides a template your tailor can work with – and he will start to pin it to shape a suit that better fits you, one that compensates for the unique characteristics of your body.
This is not an altogether comfortable part of the process. A good tailor will likely spend several minutes just looking at you: assessing your build, posture and symmetry, or more usually, the lack of it. Most men, for instance, have one shoulder slightly higher than the other. Allowances will then be built into your suit where possible.
More pleasurably, this process also starts to make for a suit that is to your liking. Perhaps you like high waisted trousers, or a sharply tapered trouser leg. This is where such preferences are accounted for.
The final part of the consultation process – which is likely to take at least an hour and will need to be booked in advance – is where you choose all the extra details that make the suit right for you. Options range from lapel style; number of buttons in the fastening; belt loops, side adjusters or brace buttons; cuffs or plain finish; type of pockets; pocket flaps or none; and so on.
“If you want something very particular – a hidden pocket, for example – you’ll need to go bespoke,” warns Blatch. “There are limits as to what can be altered for made-to-measure too, but the parameters in which we can work allows for most things. When it comes to it, made-to-measure really does suit most men’s needs.”
Once these are all decided on, your part in this process is more or less done. You will most likely be asked to pay a deposit and then you’ll be leaving matters to the people who will actually make your suit. This is not an overnight process – so plan well in advance if you need the suit for a specific date. To make your suit might take anywhere between a month and three months, depending both on the tailor and their workload at that time.
However, some weeks later you will be asked in for another fitting for final adjustments (you may well put on or lose an inch in your waist over this time frame, for example) and to decide on sleeve and leg length, which might be determined by the type of shoes you’re likely to wear with your suit, so if possible take these along.
You need to be available for this fitting – your suit will not be finished until you undergo this fitting, which should last not much more than 15 minutes. Once this is done – final payment is likely due then too – your suit can be finished, which might take another two weeks.
Is Made-To-Measure Worth It?
“The reality is that more and more of the things we buy are customisable in some way. That’s what people want, to be able to have some input, to make it their own,” argues Alex McCard, senior menswear buyer for Reiss. “The whole idea of made-to-measure is that the customer becomes the designer.”
Is made-to-measure’s investment of time and money worth it? It’s certainly a faster option. “Bespoke offers a totally unique product, but you’re talking about some 60 man hours and eight to 12 weeks,” notes Lamb. “So bespoke is an investment in more ways than one.”
If you’re a less-than-textbook shape – if you’re particularly tall, or broad, muscular but short, have loping shoulders or one hip higher than the other, for example – made-to-measure will save you from the trials and endless try-ons of finding a ready-to-wear suit that fits you passably well.
Yes, the basic shape of the jacket your made-to-measure suit is based on is a standard one. It’s based on the proportions of Mr. Average. But the fit of much made-to-measure suiting is still so good. In many cases, it would take an expert eye to distinguish it from bespoke. Some tailors will, as with bespoke, build in some excess cloth to allow the suit to be re-tailored. So, it can fit you again if you put on some pounds in years to come.