$200 Suit vs. $2,000 Suit

October 7th, 2013

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In the world of men’s suiting, there is a dramatic price variation from one brand to another.

Suits can range from ninety dollars to nine thousand dollars, and up.

Here I try to explain the difference(s) by having Townsend model his suit from H&M ($189) vs. his suit from Michael Andrews Bespoke ($1,995).

$189     vs.    $1,995

1

Fit

The most important element of a suit, or any garment for that matter, is how well it fits your body.

The biggest fundamental difference between these two price points: on the higher end you can afford to have the suit custom made for your body, versus choosing the “closest” fit off-the-rack.

As you can see in the photo above, there are a number of noticeable fit compromises with Towni’s $200 suit even after having it altered:

  • The shoulder slopes are not adjusted for Townsend, causing a collar roll across the upper back/neck that’s so bad we can see it from the front (see the wrinkle at the top of Towni’s right shoulder, above where the lapels meet the collar).
  • The shoulders are too wide, causing that unsightly pad “cliff-dimple” (see his right shoulder).
  • The front chest is too big (notice the bulging extra fabric at right chest, where the body meets the bottom of the armhole)
  • Slight pulling at bottom of sleeves where they connect to the body of the jacket (see bottom of armhole on Towni’s left sleeve)
  • The trousers fit fairly well overall (although common problem areas are not visible: crotch, waistband, pockets…)

Fabric

Fast-fashion retailers like H&M (Zara, Topman, JcPenney, etc) cut costs by ordering cheap synthetic fabrics in major bulk quantities. In this particular case, the suit is 85% polyester/15% viscose. The major downsides of this kind of man-made cloth (other than obvious look and feel) are breathability, shape retention, and reactions to cleaning and pressing agents.

For the bespoke suit Towni hand-picked a premium wool flannel/cashmere fabric designed and spun by Ariston in Naples Italy. It’s among the top 1% of the the most luxurious fabrics in the world. Ariston also produces all of their cloth in limited quantity, which means Townsend here is one of only a handful of guys in the world to have this brown flannel glenplaid with overlayed burgundy windowpane.

Tailoring

The $200 suit is machine made on a assembly line, where they pump out a couple hundred suits an hour. The front body (chest, collar, stomach, shoulders) is “fused”, meaning it’s literally glued together using iron-on fabric adhesive. This quick-and-dirty manufacturing greatly limits the three-dimensional shape that the jacket can achieve and can eventually cause “bubbling” (like a poorly-administered window tint) after a few rounds of dry cleaning and pressing. Fused jackets have a dramatically shorter lifespan than canvased ones.

A quality bespoke suit is almost fully handmade with roughy 30 hours of hand labor by an experienced pattern cutter and master tailor. The front body is fully canvassed, meaning a skilled craftsman carefully cut, shaped and hand-set a custom piece of canvas/horse hair between the front plate, lapel facing and lining. This dramatically improves the lifespan of the jacket. It will break-in over time (like a good pair of shoes), eventually molding to the shape of the wearer’s body.

Trims

The $200 suit has low-budget trims like plastic buttons, cheap linings, plastic zippers, non-working button-holes, etc. It even has fake pockets on the front.

A good tailor understands the importance of quality inputs. MAB, for example, uses genuine horn or mother of pearl buttons, durable bemberg linings, YKK zippers (the gold standard in quality zips), surgeon’s cuffs, etc. The pockets are also beautifully designed and can be custom sized for your gadgets (smart phone, ipad, kindle, ballpoint pen, cigarettes, etc).

Exclusivity

When you shop at H&M (or any fast-fashion retailer) there are thousands of other guys wearing the same thing as you.

Going bespoke, you can truly create something that is one of kind and exactly what you were looking for.

Shopping Experience

At a big chain retailer you pick it up off the rack, bring it to a tailor, and hope for the best.

At a reputable bespoke shop like MAB, service is the backbone of the business. You sit down with a glass of whiskey or a cold beer and they take care of everything. From waking you through the fabric options, advising you on styling choices, handling the measuring/fitting process, etc. You don’t have to worry about anything (although you do have to be willing to wait 6-8 weeks for delivery).

Final Note

So what’s the better value? It really depends on your budget, and how often/hard you’re going to wear your suit. If you’re looking for a workhorse suit that you can rely on 2-3 times/week, a $200 RTW number will not last. You’ll end up buying a new one every six months.

That doesn’t mean you have to go the full bespoke route; we realize that not all of our readers have this kind of budget. This article was not meant as a comparison between H&M and MAB, but rather a discussion about the factors that account for the price differences between suits and how they relate to quality and investment.

There are, of course, plenty of options in the middle ground…

If you’re a relatively easy fit (with balanced proportions) I recommend trying on multiple higher quality ready-to-wear brands (like Hugo Boss, Suit Supply, JCrew, etc). Keep in mind to look for items on SALE and don’t forget vintage/second-hand/consignment shops are full of steals. The trick is to try-on as many suits as possible to find the closest fit, then bring it a skilled tailor (like our boy Franklin at The Tailoring Room) to have it perfected.

If off-the-rack simply doesn’t work for your body type, there are options for lower-end custom. We’re currently working on a “Affordable Custom Clothes Review” but for now, you can use our Comprehensive Guide to Buying Custom Clothing as a reference while shopping around for options in your budget.

Just for Fun

Lastly, since I know we’re going to get comments and emails about this… Towni’s styling was upgraded a little from the $200 suit to the $2,000 suit (slick hair, even slicker briefcase). This was only because we shot this piece last year at the same time we helped produce an advertisement for MAB.

The advertisement, created by our friend Cory Sylvester, was never used…but I thought it was clever, so I copied it below ;)

mabad

 

Thanks, as always, for reading.

If you have any additional questions regarding this topic, please use the comment section below. 

I will do my best to answer as soon as possible.

 

Yours in style,

Dan Trepanier & TSBmen

 

Photography by Alex Crawford

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  • Calvin McCoy

    What about long, regular, and short suits? What’s your take on them? I’m 6’2 with a 6’6 wingspan should I’m liking to buy a suit supply suit should I go with long or will regular suffice?

    • TO

      Definitely a long brother

  • AJ

    Here is an H&M suit for exactly $210 featured in GQ and properly tailored. A bit better than what you see above, huh?

  • David

    I think i saw that dudes head in the new Lego movie.

  • Alex

    I love the briefcase, can anyone identify it?

  • Taylor

    I would love to see an article on budget suit shopping that included a section about what you can do tailoring wise to a $200-$300 suit. Or maybe even a $500. As in, can you take a $500 suit and get it tailored to look as good as the $2000 suit, and end up paying way less then $200.

    Also, what are your thoughts on some of these online custom suit websites that are popping up?

    I have been thinking of getting a suit from indochino.com for a while. Now I don’t expect it to fit as well as a full bespoke suit, but theoretically it would fit better then an off the rack J Crew suit for about the same price.

    • AJ

      Just to let you know, GQ does that kind of thing all the time. I mean, showing how a lower cost suit can be tailored to look great. And it’s way better than what you see here.

  • http://shoplasc.com Antony Levine

    Wow..that guy cleaned up very well. The shaggy hair works and the gentlemen’s cut. Very trendy clothing for young business men.

  • Wilson

    I do not know if this has already been mentioned but that is not the best comparison as Townsend is not posing the same in each picture. In the H&M picture, he is holding his hands which actually exaggerates the issues that you point out. With that said, there is no question a reputable bespoke shop would have much better fitting suits since its customized but it better be better fitting for the price.

  • Vicente

    You could have picked a suit that actually fit on Towni for the $200 option.

  • Jerimy

    I think that the type of suit you by depends on the use. For example I’m a blue collar guy whom works in a factory, so I never wear a suit. With that being said I’ve bought a couple of suits on $600 the other $800 and I’ve paid about 150 buck each for tailoring. People notice when I wear the suits because a. I don’t wear a suit that often and be their quality. No if I worked in an office making the same amount it would be ridiculous for me to pay the amount for suits when I have to have on for every day of the week, plus no one would really care as much. So my suggestion, buy one or two quality suit to turn heads and get a bunch of cheap suits for day to day operations. That, or get a six figure job… like now!

  • http://undefined Cardion

    *Cheaper suits look worse, I should say.

  • http://anorexicecapades.com BougieHippie

    Nice post post but all this is interchangeable. Yes a 2000k suit is better than a 200 buck suit but only due to fit.

    Fit only because when shopping off the rack the designer has to include everyone (the average everyday male’s body) That’s why department store suits are big in its proportions. All suits no matter the cost is going to need some tailoring.

    Since the suit cost so cheap spend another 60-100 bucks getting it tailored to your body/preference. As far a fabrics/textiles Majority of all suits and slacks are made of wool and sometimes cashmere.

    http://www.anorexicescapades.com

  • http://undefined Charles Patrick

    Isn’t there already enough advertising for MAB on this site? Come on guys, please don’t try to ‘subtly’ push more of it on us in the actual articles. It’s obvious that a $2k suit is going to be better than a $200.00 one but it’s a bit of a cheap shot to have Townsend that little less well groomed in the lower priced suits shots (Check-out his hair and unshaven face). Also, the rather tatty shoes and bag appear to be designed to cheapen the look even further. Dan. Please don’t underestimate the intelligence of your readers. I’m aware that you are extremely sensitive to criticism, but do try to take this one on the chin. Otherwise, nice site… and your ‘thanks for reading’ comment never fails to impress.

    • http://tsbmen.com Dan Trepanier

      Once again, this was not meant as a comparison between a suit from H&M and MAB, but rather a discussion of the elements that can go (or not go) into the production of a suit at different quality levels.

      MAB does not pay to advertise with TSB, we wear their suits by choice. I wanted to share the “ad” because we helped produce it and I thought it was fun (and was upset that Mike chose not to run it).

      Anyway, thanks for reading and for your support.

      • T

        Ad probably was chosen not to run because it attacks the slogan of mens wearhouse, which can be a bit low-blow/kitschy instead of choosing a more understated adv. route. I think it was a wise choice to nix that ad from being published.

        • http://tsbmen.com Dan Trepanier

          Yea, you’re probably right.

          • http://joshua-gold.com Josh

            So crazy to me how much people hate on the site sometimes. Why are you here? Why are you trolling through every post if you hate what the guys produce? Where’s your site??? Where’s your site that draws this much conversation? What other site is there that offers so much detailed, thought out material. Show me a site that could even go toe to toe with this site? Don’t worry, I’ll wait.

  • John

    There’s something about the MAB suit construction that I personally dislike in a minor way – MAB suits seems to have a certain look, and the lapels always seem to lay slightly less naturally in my opinion. When compared to a tailor like P. Johnson it just seems there’s a different ‘drapeness’ and nonchalance in the overall. Still great suits on both sides. I was wondering if this blog could possibly explore some of the more intricate nuances in tailoring – as I believe you hold a degree in the field. Differences between regional cuts, ect. Dan, what would you say the difference is between a tailor like PJ and MAB?

    • John

      I also think this post is a bit of a ‘Wow! No way!’ for the beginner readers. I would imagine most of your readers would prefer a more nuanced discussion, as there certainly are suits at the 200 mark which fit the wearer much better than h&m.

      Thanks for your time.

      • http://tsbmen.com Dan Trepanier

        There will be more posts where we compare suits. In my opinion, it’s good to start by showing the two ends of the spectrum.

        What suits do you recommend in the $200 range? And why?

    • http://tsbmen.com Dan Trepanier

      Hi John. I don’t have any experience with P.Johnson suits, but I’d love to make it down to Australia to try them! Also, the pics on their website are hilarious.

      We will be having more articles comparing suits/tailors.

      Stay tuned.

      Cheers,
      Dan

    • Gazman

      Is P Johnson Tailors a bespoke operation? I think it is MTM with its suit made in Holland and soon in China.

  • http://profblack.blogspot.kr/ Professor Black

    The 200 dollar suit also makes Towni’s hair look longer…

    • http://tsbmen.com Dan Trepanier

      Weird eh

  • Shotcaller

    I agree with some of the sentiments here: I think it’s more useful to have a conversation about the difference between higher-end MTM ($500-$1000) and bespoke ($1200+). The differences at the two ends of the spectrum are useful to know, but it’s not very actionable. Anyone considering a $200 suit is unlikely to start thinking about buying one that’s ten times as expensive. They might, however, consider a $500 suit. The middle ground is left out of this equation, which is a shame.

    Additionally, while I understand that this site has a partnership with MAB, it would be useful to know what suits outside of MAB are like. You’ve mentioned Angel Bespoke sometimes, and it’d be great if you could tell us more about their suits. The focus on MAB may potentially seem like you’re an Internet shill, which undermines your authority. I don’t mean any offense, as I’m sure that you mean well: I only mean to point out something that might damage your reputation.

    • http://tsbmen.com Dan Trepanier

      We have more suit comparisons coming.

      MAB shows up in a lot of our styling, and as a point of comparison, simply because we own their suits and have them readily available for photo shoots. We almost never suggest one brand for everybody, that defeats our messaging of finding your own style…we also have a worldwide readership, so that wouldn’t be realistic or helpful for those who don’t have access.

      The idea here is simply to educate guys about what the differences are before they invest, at any level within their budget.

      More in the series coming, please stay tuned.

      Thx,
      Dan

  • Bob

    Something I don’t ever see come up here is how easy it is to gain/lose weight depending on the seasonal activities we are engaged in and how *that* influences choices in fit. I’m usually between 180-190 lbs and that 10 lbs makes a huge difference in how things fit, especially waist and chest. I think it’s probably pretty common for young men (TSB’s target audience?) to lose/gain a couple inches everywhere depending on their exercise regimen.

    Knowing that, it’s not super practical (even if with a great salary) to go the bespoke route, unless you can get several suits to fit you across your normal weight *range*. Otherwise it’s a lot of trips to the tailor to get that really nice suit to fit throughout the year. The alternative of course would be to just stick with the same sport/exercise routine/diet and try not to break your own mold.

    • http://tsbmen.com Dan Trepanier

      GREAT POINT BOB!

      We talk about this all the time in the tailor shop, but haven’t discussed it much on TSB.

      For me, I try my best to remain the same size/shape year-round…and my closet full of slim-fit bespoke suits is BY FAR the most effective motivation to stay in the gym and eating lean.

      Very similarly to you, I fluctuate between 185-195 lbs throughout the year. However, I find that 10 pounds doesn’t seem to affect my fit much, since the weight is usually spread around my body (not all in one area, like the chest, for example).

      One solution would be to go a little less slim to begin with. Franky, if 10 extra pounds is making it feel tight, than it’s probably a little too slim to begin with…unless you’re making some serious gains/losses in one specific area (like thighs or upper back) and working much harder than I am…which could certainly be the case.

      Where are the problem areas? and what sports/training are you doing?

      Cheers,
      Dan

      • Brent Kuz

        I am also with Bob on this. I can go from 195-210 depending on work schedule. This is a huge issue as I seem to gain the extra weight in my stomach and thighs. Alpha khakis can get a little too slim and that great fitting blazer or suit become a little tight in the midsection.

        I’m attempting to

  • Rob

    HI there,

    thanks for this article – a great idea.

    But I think what would be even more interesting, and certainly useful for me, is what is the difference between a $200 made-to-measure suit and a $2000 bespoke suit?
    Or even a $500 made-to-measure/starting to verge on bespoke suit, and a $2000 suit?

    I have mine made to measure in China for £200 and delivered to London, with reasonable quality wool and half-canvassed jackets, so I’d be interested to know what I could gain by shelling out ten times that amount… it’s quite hard to “try before you buy” when it comes to suits!

    thanks again,
    Rob

    (PS I know a few other posters have mentioned this point – it’s certainly not meant as a criticism but more as a build for a possible future article!)

    • http://tsbmen.com Dan Trepanier

      It’s really hard to generalize for all suits, especially with comments coming in from all over the world.

      In general, lower-priced “custom suits” are going to be lower quality than their OTR counterparts in a similar price point. The made-to-order processing and individualized “pattern making” ads a significant cost to the production of a suit. Therefore, what “cheap custom” gains in the way of “measuring process” they typically trade-off on the fabric & construction side. After all, they’re doing more work but are looking for a similar profit… Again, very general.

      How much do you know about these Chinese suits delivered to London? Is the cloth genuine? If it really half canvassed?

      The custom clothing business is one of the shadiest around since you pay before you see the product. Lots of lies being thrown around…educating yourself is protecting yourself.

  • http://undefined TimL

    I say take a $200 suit OTR and show the tailored difference in price to make it a great fitting suit.

    Most people cannot and will not pay for a $1000 suit in their lifetime.

  • Aadi

    Would it make a difference to size up a bit more when purchasing a cheaper suit? This way you could have a lot more fabric to work with so when you go to a tailor he might be able to adjust the coat or trousers to fit the best they can to your own body.

    • http://joshua-gold.com Josh

      Not a great idea. As soon as you size up, the shoulders become wider and the jacket gets longer. Those two alterations (shortening a coat and narrowing shoulders) are typically the most expensive alterations.

      I’d keep searching for the brand that works for you.

  • Gazman

    I reckon many style-conscious people would be able to tell the difference between a bespoke suit from one made from synthetic fabric and costing $200 – on sight alone. But I would say far fewer would be able to tell the difference between an off-peg designer suit made from decent worsted wool costing $1,000 to the MAB suit in question – also on sight alone. Your comparison is a tad bizarre as no one in their right mind would be weighing up buying a $200 low-end suit and a bespoke one worth considerably more. If the point of this is to show the different elements in crafting a suit, then why not compare an off-peg suit from the higher end of the scale to the MAB one and thus showing whether it is really worth shelling out a further $500-$1000?

  • Nick McCann

    I’ll never afford a suit over a 600-700 dollars with my future career (I graduate next spring). I’ve heard great things about Suitsupply, and visited it a few weeks ago and loved the styles, would you recommend that? Or, a place like Indochino?

    • A

      Those are both good options for the price. Personally I would recommend Suitsupply over Indochino on two conditions: 1) You can get to one of the Suitsupply stores to try stuff on, and 2) You don’t have an odd body-type that doesn’t work well with OTR suit sizing.

      • Nick McCann

        Thanks for the advice!

      • http://tsbmen.com Dan Trepanier

        If off-the-rack fits, avoid online made-to-measure. The self-measuring process is a disaster and leaves way too many important variables unanswered.

        • http://www.pmplifestyle.com ajb240

          I’m a little late to this conversation but couldn’t one get measured by his tailor and then use those measurements to buy the suit off suitsupply or indochino?

          • http://tsbmen.com Dan Trepanier

            Please don’t do this. It’s disrespectful to the tailor who’s measuring you, and it doesn’t work since every suit manufacturer measures differently.

            Cheers.

  • raj

    Hey guys, been a long time reader of the site but first time commenting. I wear suits all the time and I have suits ranging from topman (£50), zara (£180), paul smith (£500), hugo boss (£800) and pal zileri (£1k+). All my suits are of OTR but are tweaked by my trusted tailor, and look as they’re made for my body.

    I live in London so visit Savile Row to shop & browse for inspiration. I was told by a tailor at William Hunt that I am very fortunate that my body proportions are perfect for OTR so maybe that helps I guess.

    But as Dan and the team rightly point out you get what you pay for. My topman suit literally fell apart, the zara suit trousers repeatedly wear out at the groin area and the suit has shiny spots. The other suits have stood the test of time. I also feel more confident wearing them and know they look good and hold their own against much more expensive suits.

    But if your budget is limited like mine has been in the past then a high suit suit, tailored well & accessoried well can still drop like a bomb.

  • http://tsbmen.com/22971/reader-question-go-to-winter-scarf-knots/ Edgar Morales

    That’s why I’m saving enough money to get a better version, I’m tired of wearing Benetton, don’t look bad but it doen’t fit my body

  • Harvey

    Hugo Boss fits well and decent quality. But I feel they hike the prices due to the Hugo Boss name. J. Crew and Suitsupply are just as good, if not better, for around 40% less for retail. That being said I go to Nordstroms Rack, Off 5th, etc and I’ve gotten $1k Hugo Boss suits for under $250.

  • BF

    The number of horrifying suits I see on guys getting out of 7 Series Bmw’s and Audi a8′s in the gold coast of chicago daily is truly staggering.

  • NCJack

    If one is in a “suit” environment, the more money and time you spend initially really does make a difference. Whereas almost anything can look pretty good if only worn a couple of times a year, only the better materials and construction are going to hold up WELL over the long haul. A cheap suit worn weekly for two years will likely look baggy and old, but a high quality (expensive) one will still look almost new after twice that time. Been there and done that!

  • Mr E

    Isn’t it a bit ridiculous to even try to compare an off-the-rack suit from H&M against a bespoke one?

    Wouldn’t it have been more beneficial to compare off-the-rack suits from different retailers in varying price points?

    $189 to $1,995 is a chasm of difference.

    • http://tsbmen.com Dan Trepanier

      Exactly.

      Again, this was not meant to be a direct comparison between H&M and MAB. It was simply meant to show the different elements that go into crafting a suit. In my opinion, showing both sides of the spectrum makes for a better conversation.

      Cheers,
      Dan

      • LouCaves

        I agree with Dan.

        This was not a “sales” comparison that tried to tell someone what to buy. It showed “how” to buy.

        I like to see comparisons that are 180 degrees from each other. It lets me know all the differences between items and allows me to make a better decision on items that more closely related. Or, to find a middle ground.

        Thanks, TSB.

  • Shawn

    While I agree that the 200$ H&M suit has it’s issues, I can tell you that it looks a thousand times better (slim, pocket square, shows a little bit of shirt sleeve, right trouser length, non-square-toed shoes) than most of the people in my neck of the wood wear. You just have to drive off the major urban centers (Montreal, Toronto, NYC, LA, Miami, etc.) and you’ll find it hard to encounter people following these fundamentals. I don’t have to tell you how the lawyers and bankers ‘dress’ around here!

  • Daniel Moretz

    Time for a MAB commercial. The Men’s Warehouse guy was fired.