The market for getting a suit made is a vast one. Recently i've noticed a trendy buzzword being used by some companies in marketing their suits, "Bespoke". This is a bit troubling in the sense of it being tossed around casually like a football on sunday. Here in the good ol' USA, without enough digging, sartorial knowledge can easily be overshadowed by trends, celebrities, fast fashion, and whoever has deep enough pockets for marketing.
So what is bespoke?
Bespoke is in essence, having an original paper pattern made for you using your exact measurements. In turn, this pattern is used to create your garment. The process often involves several appointments (including one using a muslin fabric copy of your pattern) to ensure everything fits, BEFORE creating your actual suit. Traditionally, a bespoke suit, on savile row for example, can start at several thousand dollars- not to mention taking months and even a year or more to complete, depending on the tailoring house. There are of course other options, travelling bespoke tailors who have faster turnarounds and offer less expensive entry points- Many young bespoke apprentices offer something like this in building their clientele and honing their craft.
Great, I saw a store recently that says they offer bespoke suits, is it the real deal?
Picture if you will: You walk into a swank clubhouse, lined with club leather chairs, the scent of neroli and tobacco linger in the air. You're greeted by a gentleman dressed in a sobering three piece suit, pointy black shoes with red shoe strings, tie bar, lapel pin, lapel chain, and the rest of the contents included with his monthly subscription box (I'm being facetious, but humor me) who hands you a glass of bourbon. You exchange pleasantries as you admire the stack of menswear magazines and cigars, when he asks if you're ready to be measured. You oblige, and he pulls out his tailors tape, or better yet, walks you into a state-of-the-art photo booth to capture all 15 of your measurements. Then comes the fun part- Shawl lapels for a semi-formal jacket? Sure! how about neon green button holes? A fancy lining with race cars, because you love race cars. Don't forget to monogram your family crest on the breast pocket. 30 minutes later and you're off. Your new bespoke suit will be ready in 2 weeks. So many cool features, this must be bespoke right?
Wrong. But the Wizard of Oz could stand to learn a thing or two from them. Some of these bells and whistles are a bit excessive (you should never do constrasting buttonholes) and in some instances mask the fact that the suit is a shitty fused garment.
So what is the difference between a bespoke suit and custom suit?
The reality is that most clothiers in the USA, offer custom suits, or what could be called Made to Measure. The custom process involves taking an EXISTING PATTERN (i.e. a pattern for a 40R, a pattern for a 44L, etc) , and altering it based on your measurements. You are then given the option to customize aspects of that model to your heart's desire. There is absolutely nothing wrong with going custom/made to measure, as you can get a really great garment with options not available off the rack.
What should I look for when getting a suit made?
Here are my top 3 things to keep in mind when purchasing a suit
- Fit: The way a suit fits makes all the difference in the world, no matter the price. Ensure that yours is proportioned properly, hangs well, and compliments your body. Fitting well does not mean slim fit either- Buttons pulling at the center of your jacket or "bowing" of the lapels at the chest are signs the jacket is too tight. Bunching at the thighs or flaring pockets are signs the pants are too tight. These are just a few examples.
- Construction: We're talking about the guts of a suit here, the things that help provide structure ( although all suits aren't structured, ours for example). This is typically done with canvas and padding. If it comes canvassed, ensure that the canvas is composed of layers of horsehair and natural fibers. Avoid garments that are fused. This typically involves taking a synthetic cloth lined with adhesive and ironing it to the inside of the fabric. Fused garments don't breathe well, are stiffer, and can cause the fabric to bubble with excess heat.
- Materials: When it comes to fabric, most establishments have access to pretty reputable brands ( Gladson, Dormeiul, Draper's, Fox Brothers). Things like linings, buttons, felts, etc vary in terms of quality. We use natural horn, corozo, and mother of pearl buttons for example, rather than plastic.
Everything else from this point is subjective. Although much of the cloth is widely available, what you do with it is an entirely different story and varies from place to place. At XOP, we do our garments in the Neapolitan style- a traditional italian tailoring style that usually comes unlined, and varies from lightly to completely unstructured. We also have a model with the signature Spalla Camicia shoulder. It creates an extremely lightweight garment that conforms to the natural lines of your body. We have our own distinctive style, which is something to consider in your endeavours.
I hope this article serves to provide you with some basic knowledge, clear the smoke, and help you make an informed decision when shopping for your next suit or sportcoat.
If you're looking to get a suit made in Richmond, Virginia, you can always book an appointment with me