(photo: Henry Poole Bespoke Tailors.)
I’ve been giving some thought to this lately. There are a lot of new options for the man looking to “dress up.” Customization is the new buzz-word. And “made to measure” (su misura in Italian) is really starting to make headlines with Tom Ford’s launch of his stores, Ralph Lauren’s Purple Label and Armani’s entry into the game. Custom, Made to Measure and Bespoke are not the same thing.
In brief, here’s why.
You can customize an off-the rack suit. In fact, I would argue that simply having it properly fitted is customizing the suit to your build. Of course, you can have working button holes put into the sleeves (with contrast stitching if you prefer), take off the belt loops, add strap and buckles to trousers with an extended waistband, change buttons and have your name sewn into the lining of the jacket. This is the cheapest of the three options and will run you the cost of the services of your alterations tailor.
Half-way between ready-to-wear and bespoke sits the made-to-measure garment. I suppose that’s why the French call it demi-mesure. Here you have the choice of number of pockets, one, two or three button jackets (or double-breasted for those so inclined), flat front or pleated trousers, different fabrics, and fancy linings. Several measurements will be taken and sent out to the factory where a standard silhouette will be altered to your specifications. The suit will be sent to your store for a second try on and any final adjustments will be made. If you are not a particularly difficult fit, this is probably a good option for you to obtain a better fitting suit. A MTM suit starts around $800 and goes into the bespoke pricing levels if done by a famous designer (I believe Armani charges around $5,000.)
Finally, there is full bespoke (a gentleman once called a garment into existence by selecting the fabric. That bolt had therefore “been spoken for.”) This is a longer, more-involved process that involves a good many more measurements being taken and a lot more decisions on your part. A paper pattern will be made based on your measurements that will be yours and yours alone. It will be the pattern along which the material is cut. There will be an initial visit to work out the details of what you want and to take your measurements. Then a visit with a rough approximation of your suit (held together by very few white stitches) for you to try on. It will be chalked up and refined. There will be more fittings and more refinements and your suit will start to look like a suit, as in the picture from Henry Poole of Savile Row, above. Finally, details will be added and the button holes sewn into the sleeves at the last moment (sleeves cannot be easily shortened or lengthened once there are button holes cut into them. Some makers will leave a top hole uncut in the event that the suit is handed down and must be altered in the future.) It may take a year for you to take delivery of the final result, but it will be your suit and yours alone. It will fit you better than you thought possible. This is not an inexpensive habit, by any means. Expect to pay at least $4,000 for a two-piece suit.
This is meant to be an introduction to the options available in menswear. There are a great many resources on the web that do a much better job describing the bespoke experience and the pros and cons of ready-to-wear and made-to-measure. But a word of caution, a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing to the bank account.