What suits you?
Off the Rack, Custom, or Bespoke?
They say a stitch in time saves nine. I say the right stitch saves time, money, and reputation. A man is judged by his demeanor and confidence. This is assured by the choice of dress and grooming.
How you dress says a lot about whether you respect yourself. Picking out clothes that fit you well and are comfortable speaks volumes. Doing the opposite says a lot about your attention to detail and leaves a lot to be desired.
So, how can you be deliberate about your style?
Gentlemen, I shall start with the basics of formal wear. A perfect suit and shirt blended with a nice tie and kerchief will almost always get you affirmative nods from the guys and a warm knowing smile from the ladies.
A two- or three-piece ensemble sends a strong message about your state of mind, pocket, and upbringing. There are three main types of suits: off-the-rack type (off the peg), made-to-measure (MTM or M2M), and bespoke.
The most important starting point is to know your body size, shape, and how much you should spend. Remember, stocking or upgrading your wardrobe is not an event but a journey, so do not break the bank on your first suit.
If you are lucky enough to have a normal body frame, a good standard off-the-rack suit will often do. If not, then a made-to-measure or bespoke suit is your best bet.
So what is the difference between off-the-rack, made-to-measure, and bespoke?
Natasha Scaife, the managing director of Tailor Made London, a store in the UK that stitches suits says made-to-measure garments are cut from an existing pattern and then just adjusted according to a client’s requirements.
A bespoke suit, however, is created from scratch especially for you. Hundreds of body measurements are taken and additional details are taken into account such as posture and body shape and how the garment can be created to suit these.
‘‘A bespoke suit is unparalleled in terms of fit. It fits close to your shoulders, creates a clean, neat back and offers a flattering and crisp silhouette whilst still being extremely comfortable,’’ she says.
It is as simple as it sounds. You walk into a clothing store, pick out the color and size you want, try it on, and leave after minor adjustments. These suits are made to standard sizes ranging from 36 to 56. Most suit makers will stick to full sizes with the option for regular, short, long, and extra-long to cater to various demands in body shapes.
Some more expensive designer labels will have half sizes (40.5). If ordering online, check if the sizes are US (inches) or European (cm). A size 40 US is a size 50 UK. A rule of thumb in determining your size is the length of your chest measured just under your arms. If your chest is 42 inches, you should be a size 40R.
But don’t buy a cheap suit. After five laundry washes and pressing, it will look shiny and unwearable. And when you sit down, the lapels will start bulging.
Most cheap suits don’t have a canvas on the lapel so they form bubbles after dry-cleaning. Good suits can have up to 20 layers of fabrics in a lapel and all those fabrics are stitched together, beautifully taking your body shape.
A $500 to $800 off-the-rack suit on the other hand will offer you very good value with relatively decent comfort.
This allows you to customize your clothes by adjusting the fit, style, buttons, lining as well as choosing the outer fabric. A tailor or a consultant will assist you to pick the fabric, colors, and styles to suit your body shape, career, and lifestyle.
According to Ms Scaife who heads the London store known to use body scans to get the right fit, a made-to-measure coat and trouser are individually cut from a unique pattern and hand-finished using the finest materials. This delivers a more comfortable fit with a unique combination of outer fabric and lining.
‘‘For these garments to achieve a perfectly balanced and flattering line, all measurements must be very accurate. We use laser measuring technology to determine the exact size. Using a 3D body scanner, the dimensions are captured within 10 seconds. This allows for all those small imperfections of the gentlemen’s form to be compensated for without the need for many visits to the tailor for adjustments,’’ she says.
Made-to-measure allows you to have your unique style without the high price tag associated with bespoke tailoring.
A good made-to-measure suit should take between four to six weeks to stitch. Expect to spend anything from $800 to $2,500. You can spend more but I would advise you to go for a bespoke piece if your budget is higher.
Forget the expensive car and 16-bedroom mansion, this is the pinnacle of self-actualization. For bespoke suits, a man is ensconced in only the finest materials. The fabrics are not flashy but the wearer will know how it feels, and that’s all that counts. And these suits are for a very select minority. It compares only to serving yourself a tot of the rarest $400 whiskey.
Ms. Scaife says the most expensive bespoke suit they have created was worth £5,000.
‘‘This was a bespoke suit made from bespoke fabric,’’ she says, adding that on average most buyers spend about £1,250
While in made-to-measure you choose from a set of fabrics, in bespoke you can have the fabric made specifically for you in a mix of cashmere, wool, and cotton.
Your buttons can be from rare horns, sterling silver, gold, or even exceptional pearls. The process could take years or months. This is more than a service, it is an experience.
Choosing expensive fabric is where the rite of passage starts. The best fabrics globally are sourced from Italy’s top mills like Ermenegildo Zegna. The most expensive fabric, however, is vicuña wool. It is usually reserved for billionaires and royalty. A vicuña is a miniature cousin of Ilama. If you have an expensive allure to very fine things, a vicuña jacket can cost you three or four times more than cashmere.
So what suit should you start with? Begin with a good off-the-rack suit then get yourself a made-to-measure blazer and only deep dive into bespoke when you know a little more about what style fits you.
Natasha says you cannot go wrong with a dark blue tailored two-piece.
‘‘It’s softer and more versatile than black and will work for many occasions and events. A lightweight tailored blazer is another perfect wardrobe addition. Smart enough for the office but easily styled with chinos or denim for a laid-back look,’’ she says.
How to pick luxury fabric for your suit
The story of luxury fabrics is long but in summary, if it is natural and rare, it shall cost more. When you think of fine clothing start with wool, silk, cashmere, and mohair.
For the finest wool, pick those that come from Australia and New Zealand. Some sheep breed like merino, booroola and rambouillet produce very good wool, arguably finer than cashmere and as light as vicuña. Silk is another amazing fabric especially it originates from China, India, and Thailand.
Another rare and luxurious fabric is mohair. Sourced from young Angora goat, it is sometimes called the diamond fiber because of its luster and sheen.
It is more expensive than most wools and often blended with other yarns. It remains cool in summer, is warm in winter, has good elasticity, and is crease and flame-resistant.
Most suit makers will blend the above yarns to create the finest and most comfortable fabric possible for your bespoke and made-to-measure business suit.
Brands like Ermenegildo Zegna, Brioni, Kiton, Stefano Ricci, Hugo Boss, and Armani use these for their ready-to-wear collections. Bespoke brands like Desmond Merrion, Kiton, William Westmancott, Dormeuil, and Stuart Hughes will often choose a mix of wool, cashmere, and silk to craft their one-of-a-kind pieces that cost between Sh2million to Sh10 million. Some top fabric brands include:
This is one of the biggest global producers of fine fabrics.
Holland & Sherry supplies bespoke tailors the finest natural fibers, ranging from super 200’s with cashmere to pure vicuña.
It makes fabrics that have microscopic traces of diamonds attached to the fine merino wool. Over the years, Scabal has evolved from being into a top-quality fabric supplier to one of the most prestigious textile businesses worldwide. It started in 1938 and it has over 5,000 fabric varieties.