A Comprehensive Guide to Buying Bespoke Clothing

June 1st, 2012

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2nd Suit: Solid Grey

After navy, the second suit I recommend is a 4-season (8-10 oz) solid grey worsted wool.

An important note about grey: a lighter shade, like the one pictured here, is more appropriate for Spring/Summer (or warmer climates) while a darker grey is better for Fall/Winter (or cooler weather).

For maximum year-round versatility look for something in a medium shade.

12 Bespoke Commandments

#1: Fabric comes first

There are a thousand ways to sew a suit, but the garment is ultimately only as good as it’s most important raw input. The fabric selection is without a doubt the most important decision you will make when putting tougher your new suit. Not only does it determine how your suit will look and feel,but also how it will perform over time.

Go with the highest quality fabric you can afford (note: this doesn’t mean the highest thread count).

#2: Trust nobody

Because this is a business where manufacturing begins after the sale is complete, and most clients aren’t well versed in the nuances of tailoring, the ugly truth is that it’s a very shady industry.

I’ve seen everything from counterfeit brand name fabrics to “Made in USA” tags being sewn into jackets in SouthEast Asia.

The most common deception in the business is the location of manufacturing – i.e. shops that say their garments are “Made On Site” when indeed they are not.

Here’s some simple math:

A well made hand-tailored suit takes an average of 40 hours to complete. The average master tailor working in America doesn’t pick up his shears for less than $30-40 an hour…let’s call it an average of $35/hour. That’s $1,600 in labor alone.

Decent cloth from a respected mill, purchased at wholesale, runs roughly $50-$100 per yard…let’s call it an average of $75/yard. It takes about 3 yards of cloth to make a suit (2.5 for solids, 3 for pinstripes, 3.5-4 for check patterns). That comes out to an average of $225 for the cloth. Add roughly $25 for the buttons, trims, lining, etc. That’s $250 in cost of tangible inputs, making a rough total of $1,850 for overall cost of production.

Therefore, an American made suit (with a typical %65 profit markup) is going to retail for at least $3,050. Similarly, make this Euros in Italy or France and pounds in England.

If a shop located in an area with similar cost of labor is offering an suit “made on site” at a price notably lower than this, they are likely pulling the wool over your eyes (ha!) by using counterfeit cloth or overseas production where the cost of labour is significantly cheaper.

#3: HOW it’s made is more important than WHERE it’s made

Although the quality and attention to detail of overseas manufacturing can vary from one workshop to the next, on the whole there have been enormous strides made in the past decade. The creatives who control the manufacturing process carefully and diligently, with full creative control, are making world class garments on the level with famed English and Italian tailors…at more accessible pricing.

Again, this is all my opinion.

#4: Understand the shop’s “house cut”

Every shop has their own opinion on how a suit should be a cut to best flatter a man’s body.

For example, traditional British tailors like the esteemed shops on Savile Row tend to cut with larger allowances (the difference between the client’s body measurements and the measurements of the finished product) for a roomier garment that has greater “drape”. English tailors also prefer heavier cloth, a lower gorge line (the seam where the collar meets the lapel) and more overall structure to the jacket (stiffer chest canvas, thicker shoulder pads, etc).

By contrast, Italian tailors tend to prefer lighter cloth, smaller allowances (closer to the body), a higher gorge and a more “flexible” construction (softer shoulders, less padding, etc).

The difference in cutting style can vary greatly from one tailor to the next, even in the same city. For example, tailors in midtown manhattan tend to make a more traditional garment with British accents geared toward an older client base, while downtown shops generally cut a more Italian-influenced, slightly “edgier” garment for a younger crowd.

Understanding the style and strategy of the shop is very important in order to achieve the fit you are seeking. Ask if you can try-on a sample garment in your closest size, this will give you an idea of how the tailor thinks about a suit.

#5: Get to a stable body shape

If you plan on going through a major body transformation, wait until you reach a stable weight that you are happy with before investing in custom clothing. And make sure it’s a weight you can maintain!

As an added bonus, an expensive custom suit will probably be your best motivation to stay in shape.

#6: Get the fit right, the first time

A good shop will keep a paper (or digital) pattern on file for you, and tweak that pattern every time they make you a new garment or alter one of your old ones.

If you have the option of paying more for a “higher level” that includes additional fittings, do it for your first suit. Once you have your pattern locked down, you shouldn’t have to do it again and your future orders will be a breeze.

#7: Understand that you’re (probably) not an expert 

Most shops have employees whose full-time career it is to make their clients look their best. Listen to their advice and conversate with them about your styling decisions rather than assuming you know better.

#8: Avoid trends like the plague

You want your new investment(s) to last 5-10 years (depending on how hard you wear your clothing), so keep the proportions classic and avoid anything “of the moment”. I feel bad for guys who ordered cropped jackets with razor thin lapels two years ago who are now afraid to wear them. The same will happen to the guys ordering oversized lapels today.

The hemline is a different issue as this can be changed in a matter of minutes.

#9: Don’t get caught up in thread counts

Some guys think the higher the thread count (or “super” number), the better the cloth. This is not necessarily true. This number, which represents the number of fibers spun into a unit measure of cloth, indicates only the “fineness” of the fibers. It can thus be used to estimate the “hand feel” and sheen of the cloth, but what’s more important is its inverse relationship with durability.

Most of my suits are in the Super 120-130 range, which I consider the perfect balance between luxury and durability.

Super 180s and higher becomes very delicate. It’s the opposite of a work horse, and should be reserved for guys who have 20+ suits in their rotation who are looking for something that they bust out once a month to make a statement.

You should invest in the most durable fabric that feels good in your hand. Truth is, a “super 110s” from a quality mill will feel softer than a “super 180s” from a second rate fabric house anyway.

#10: Get the basics first, then build on them

Think of your first visit as the first step in building a new wardrobe. Start with versatile basics and slowly build out to fabrics with more personality. You can wear a solid blue or grey suit to the office three times a week and nobody will notice, but your co-workers will call you out if they keep seeing those purple pinstripes.

Also, don’t factor in the suits you already have in your closet unless you love them and they fit very well. 90% of guys stop wearing their off-the-rack suits after going custom.

If you already have a strong base and are looking for something specific, don’t be afraid to bring a picture reference to show your salesperson.

#11: Have realistic expectations

Unless you look like George Clooney, a new suit won’t make you look like George Clooney.

Also, don’t be a wrinkle chaser. The suit is designed to look pristine on a still, standing body. As you start moving all bets are off and the suit will crease and wrinkle in areas of motion. It’s fabric, not magic.

If you want a very slim look, there are trade-offs when it comes to comfort. You will feel the suit and lose a little range of motion. If you are not accustomed to slim tailoring, there may be a short adjustment period here. Keep in mind the only way to make it “roomier” is to make it bigger, thus losing some shape. In my case, I like to feel my jackets against my body a little.

#12: Take care of your investments

Ask your tailor for proper care instructions.

Generally speaking, dry clean your suits as infrequently as possible (only when their physically dirty from spills or sweating). Dry cleaning is a chemical wash that damages fabric – essentially scraping away the surface layer.

Otherwise, if the garment simply needs a “refresher”, have it steamed or pressed (which is much cheaper than dry cleaning and effectively cleans it using heat and steam anyway).

Other care tips:

- If possible, take your jacket off when eating, flying or doing anything active.

- Invest in quality wooden hangers with large shoulders that fit your jacket properly. A good tailor should provide these.

- Hang the suit on a proper hanger in an airy place immediately after taking it off.

- Try not to wear the same suit on back to back days, especially in warm weather or precipitation.

- The trousers will inevitably wear out faster than the jacket. If you’re hard on them, most tailors give you the option of adding second pair.

And don’t forget the custom touches

It’s custom made, so feel free to splurge on details that fit your lifestyle and aren’t generally available off-the-rack.

Matching vests, side adjusters on the trousers, custom interior jacket pockets for your fountain pens or ipad, etc.

I tend to run hot (and hate sweating when I’m wearing a suit) so I get most of my jackets unlined (see the picture above). Most worsted wools breathe quite well, it’s the bemberg/silk/polyester lining that traps heat in the jacket. Not only does it keep me cool, but also feels lighter and less restrictive on my back. It can also be cut a hair slimmer because of the missing layer.

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  • Christine Bravo

    Great tips. We all know that there are a lot of bespoke shops readily available. Making the best bespoke suit is not easy. It requires time, energy and knowledge to be able to make one.

  • Jimmy Wilson

    Its quite useful guide, it helpful for the people like me who has not enough idea to purchase a well tailored suit. It is my first visit to your site through this blog and i am officially your blog visitor now! Thanks again buddy
    James Bond Suits

  • http://www.henryherbert.com Charlie

    Superb article and very measured, excuse the pun. If you are ever passing through London, please do come and say hello! http://www.henryherbert.com/

  • brokss

    Adding up to what numeorous readers have already mentioned in their comments, I too consider this post to be the best on the given subject that I have ever read. Thanks the author.

  • http://twitter.com/style_mvp StyleMVP

    This post is absolutely brilliant! Thanks for sharing. Well constructed piece with excellent examples.

    We are now a loyal follower.

    Twitter.com/Style_mvp

  • Steve

    THIS is by far the best and most comprehensive guide I have yet to see. I now feel comfortable walking into a few tailors and shopping around, thank you for this thorough advice.

  • Cody

    If you don’t mind me asking, which out of the three Micheal Andrews lines did you tux come from? It looks flawless!!!

  • Anonymous

    Really great article. thanks

  • James Marce

    I see that you go unlined here… does this affect the long term durability of the suit? i have gone to made to measure for everything and have recently bought a 7.5 oz unlined one for the summer. i love the way it drapes and fits over the shoulder, and i was considering going that way for the rest of them. however, i am unsure as to wether or not they will break down easier, as i wear my suits all day everyday (every day to work and a lot of weekends) What has been your experience with that?

  • Rob D

    Great website and great advice here.

  • kayvaan

    For someone like myself with more non-standard proportions (extra long monkey arms, short-waist, long legs, large overarm to chest) even a halfway decent custom garment looks so much better than most ready to wear.

  • alexander

    Being in the custom suit biz, a point worth adding to your myriad good (rather; great) points is as follows: the prevailing myth, propagated by way too many suit makers out there is that once a pattern has been finished for an initial suit that the ‘bespoke expert’ will now be able to bang out suits 2, 3, 4, etc. and deliver them because they, “have your pattern perfected and there’s no need for anymore time-consuming fittings.” No no no no no.
    Clients should understand that the tailor normally will do the least amount of work necessary to make sure the fit is superb- and basic to that is giving you the least amount of knowledge about fit as possible, which is EXACTLY why this posting works abundantly well. All suits will likely NOT fit the same; most fabrics will drape differently which ought to be a huge consideration. Custom craftsmanship is such that there must be allowances for what might even be minute variations in the cutting, prep for the canvas and the stitching of the garment. Legendary NYC tailor Rocco Ciccarelli told me something 10 years ago which was brilliant in its poignancy: “Alex, if I ask you to sign your name 10 times there will be detectable variations in each signature, be they minute or large and one must not expect that a tailor will duplicate a clients garment precisely each time. There must be an allowance or consideration for this fact as well as the inherent differences in the drape of different fabrics.”
    Anywho, clients ought to be forewarned as to this fact and when you ask to try on all 2, 3 or 4 suits at your final fitting and the tailor says, “oh, no need; they’re all the same fit,” don’t believe the hype! Tell him (or her) that you’re in no rush and will be trying them all on. Knowledge is power and you (the client) must understand these things so that whether you are buying a suit for $5K or 5% of that in some far-off country, you KNOW WHAT TO LOOK FOR AND DEMAND THOSE THINGS FROM YOUR CLOTHIER.
    Thanks again for the piece and keep on educating them masses, good Sir!
    -Alex http://www.alexandernash.com

  • Derek

    Great post! I just have a question here: I myself is a new grad and is looking for a suit for work. Since I am kind of a skinny guy (173 cm but weight only 117 lbs), buying a off-the-rack suit seems impossible to me. I am pretty sure custom suit is what I will go with and right now I am just exploring options. A friend of mine told me a website indochino.com. I checked it out, the suit is relatively cheap (it makes sense to me as they were made in china, which saved up labour cost) but I need to measure myself at home. I want to hear what you think about those online custom suits. Thanks a lot.

    -Derek

    • Rob D

      Derek, have you been to Europe or UK. Lots of slim fit suits available and alos Super Slim as well.

      • Derek

        Rob, haven’t been to europe so far, and I checked some european labels like paul smith, dunhill, zegna, etc. Even their smallest one is big on chest.

  • TTG

    Thanks for taking out the time to give such a detailed post. Great stuff!
    -Philip
    http://thetreasuregentleman.wordpress.com/

  • Young yak

    Thanks for this great post, a real comprehensive style guide!

  • Wow

    Best menswear article I’ve ever seen. You are a fantastic writer! That Ivy league education shines through :)

  • gian

    Now this is what I call comprehensive!

    Very well made indeed, I like it a lot!!

    Cheers

    Gian
    Consultant Style Advisor
    http://gntstyle.wordpress.com/

  • Kris

    Great post…keeping this for future reference. Thanks!

  • BA

    Thanks for the great post. What’s your advice on how slim the trousers should be?

  • TO

    This post is simply brilliant Dan! Your bags compliment the looks really well here too. When are they coming out?? I want to put in an advance order, if possible:)

    When you recommend an 8-10oz. worsted wool as a year-round suiting fabric, what is typical, or what you recommend for a typical “10 month” suit?

  • Sofie

    This is just amazing. I can not say otherwise. Supper funky outfits. Struck me as really fancy. I’m waiting on fine summer days and bright costumes.

    http://www.cheapestnatostraps.com/

  • MrJBeee

    Excellent post. True gentleman and a scholar!

  • Mark

    While not wanting to waste space, I feel compelled to honor the effort underlying this and other recent posts. I’m with CAS: “Serious kudos. Good job, sir.”

  • Dave

    Great article SB!
    I love the fit of the poplin blue shirt by Michael Andrews Bespoke – suit 2 (perfect fit!).
    As a European I am a supporter of the slimmest cut possible ‘Cut To The Bone’. A good suit is your second skin and should look it.
    It must be a challenge to be a Muscular/Athletic man, hehehe :)
    What is your take on Suitsupply? Their suits look decently canvassed, super 120′s and with working cuff buttons, also with a decent price?

    • Vali

      I have switched over the past year or so from hugo boss suits to suitsupply and I am very happy.I have 2 suits from their sienna line and 5 from their washington line. The construction and fabric are much better than boss black. Most of their lines are cut rather slim. I don’t know anything yet about their mtm stuff. I think that you get a great vallue for your buck, but don’t be fooled by that article that rates suitsupply as on par with 3000usd suits, they are not.

      • Sosa

        Maybe not their Sienna lines but their Jort lines are.. I own one and they are on par.. An Armani jacket typically has about 300 hand stitches in it.. (Collezioni and gorgio line) I had my tailor take a look inside when I purchased the jacket just for the simple fact that I was interested.. the Jort had 293.. def comparable.. as in fabric.. beautiful fabric from Luigi Borto.. light weight and luxurious to the touch.. the fit is awesome.. natural shoulders that actual handwork evident.. high armholes..beatiful drape.. I own a couple of Zegna’s and one Collezioni gray suit.. and I would say it’s on par. I dont have a sienna suit so I can’t speak to that. I have a couple of Napoli’s that fit awesomely as well. But I will attest to the fact that My jort jacket seems to be on par with Collezioni and Zegna jackets

        • Vali

          Nice to hear, I’ve been meaning to try the Jort…

  • Sam

    Do you happen to have any tips for girls who want bespoke suits? (Not a pantsuit, but a fine gentleman’s garment).

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for this excellent post. I feel like I’ve been given a side door entrance into a very exclusive club.

  • Santiago

    Gracias Dan, una vez más.
    Hace mucho tiempo que leo tu blog y me ha servido muchísimo. Pero esta vez te pasaste. El informe está muy completo e interesante. Felicitaciones!

    Podría escribirte perfectamente en inglés, pero prefiero que leas mi idioma de origen. Espero no te moleste.

    Mil gracias,
    Santiago.

    • http://www.thestyleblogger.com SB

      Gracias Santiago!

  • Desmond K

    Well done sir. I applaud you for your attention to detait with this post. Very informative for the novice and even for the experienced as well. This will be “favorited” and kept as a reference for my clients.

    http://chinosandcheesecake.blogspot.com/

  • Hector

    Why is everybody so weary of a black suit?

    • Sergio

      Black is usually reserved for formal events and other misfortunes such as funerals and weddings…

      • Dave

        Black is usually worn by servants and waiters during the day – so goes one saying.
        Another is that America’s oldest suit maker Brooks Brothers did not make a ready to wear black suit between 1865 to 1998 (Abraham Lincoln was shot and killed wearing one)

  • Gray

    Howdy, I live in Thailand and so have no choice but to get a suit made in Bangkok, which is known for having ripoffs, but i know their are some good quality places. This should help me find one. thank you.

    • Estelle

      jeg elsker den jakke !

  • UrsTruli

    Game changing post,… for both Dan and I. Incredible.

  • Adyna

    I`m out of town with work, coffee time with the team but I told them:silent pls, I read something important.haha. Very informative. I love it! Some of the things, I must admit, I didn`t know..this is great reading it not only if you decide on going bespoke..but for your own knowledge as well. “Great Colombia paper work“ :D

  • Mehmet

    Incredible article. This is the kind of thing which keeps me coming back to Styleblogger. When it comes to the production side of clothing, there is no such thing as too much detail or information. With all but the small independent brands hiding their fabric and labour sourcing, it’s difficult to tell if you are investing in a quality product, which was designed with function as well as form in mind.

    I would love to see more articles like this in the future, which delve into the nitty gritty of fabrics, construction, and finishes — not just for suiting, but for shoes, leathers, casual wear, etc. How do you determine fabric and construction quality? What are telltale signs of good/poor production? It’s rare to find people who are both knowledgeable and willing to share in these fields. I hope to see more like this in the future!

    • CAS

      100% Agreed.

      NOW THIS IS A FUCKING POST!!!

      Haven’t commented on here in a while but this deserves some serious kudos. Good Job Sir. I see all those years at MAB and FIT are certainly not going to waste.

      You should do a post of this nature on shoes next since soo many men skimp on footwear and it would behoove them to be knowledgeable on the anatomy of a quality piece of footwear.

      My only gripe is your recommendation on knot size for bigger guys. I see so many athletes and sportscasters on TV with giant windsor knots and it looks atrocious! I agree with GQ on the merits of a four-in-hand:

      http://www.gq.com/style/style-manual/201205/ties-neckwear-tie-bars#slide=5

      • http://www.thestyleblogger.com SB

        Thanks brother.

        For the record, by no means would I ever use ESPN as a reference for clothing or fit advice. I’m not sure how some of those guys even tie the enormous boulder knots in question.

        The four-in-hand is the only knot I wear, but it can look small and out of proportion (especially using a thinner silk tie) on a guy with a neck larger than 17.5″.

        Best,
        Dan

        • Joe

          For what it’s worth, I’m right at a 17.5 and like to use a half-windsor for silk ties and four-in-hand for thicker wool ties.

  • Tim

    I am looking for my first tailor suit and this is really useful!!! Thanks!!!

  • cam

    holy hell dan what a post! how long have you been working on this one?? don’t you think a slimmer and much more formal watch should be worn with a tux (if one at all)?

  • Sergio

    As a customer of Michael Andrews Bespoke and someone who fits the heavy side of the spectrum and not necessarily short nor tall, I can say that they definitely do everything that Dan has said and more. The process can be long but I can definitely tell all of you that it is completely worth it. I’ll be hopefully picking up my 1st Bespoke suit (in gray) in the next week and a half. They definitely go out of their way to help you look your very best.

  • Iain

    Excellent post! I’ve been managing a tailor shop for a couple of years now, and I can’t say I disagree with any of the suggestions posted. Much of this information is what my salesmen explain everyday! In addition, any reference to personal preference is clearly highlighted, which only further illustrates your knowledge and expertise. Well done!

  • Bryan

    Thoughts on Proper Suit?

    • Grant

      Bryan – First, I say well done to Dan. Its been a long time since I’ve seen someone go into this much detail. Having worked in the luxury/tailoring space and being a consultant myself its great to see this information provided readily.

      I have personal experience with Proper Suit. I had a navy wool/mohair piece made. SB, notch lapel, two button, 2 vent, flat front trousers with side tabs, cuffs Overall it’s held up very well and I’m pleased with the fabric, construction, and most of the fit. this is an MTM shop making their product overseas but cutting out the middle man so all you’re paying for is fabric and production.

      The name/mill of the fabric maker escapes me but it has held up well. A bit darker than midnight blue with a solid weave but a bit if visual texture. the mohair mix gives it a sharp look and holds the creases well.

      The shoulder line is natural with AMF stitching. Fully canvassed with a narrow lapel (a bit more narrow than I usually take, but this is MTM) with a jaquard lining. Dan is right in his warnings about linings as mine has begun pilling a bit.

      The trousers are cut well with side tabs and a “fish back” waist meaning a notch is cut out in the back for easy alterations. Trouser hems also come with heel protectors. I had to shorten the trousers a bit but this was nothing major.

      My biggest problem is the sleeves. They are too slim for my taste. The two guys who run the shop will try to get you in the slimmest thing possible which I disagree with. they are young and laid back and into he slim look. I like my clothes fitted but not tight and the sleeves are dangerously close to too tight. I’m also a former athlete so I have a bit more muscle than the average customer.

      The sleeve length is also on the short side. I have not taken the time to get them lengthened but will do so. I originally order surgeon’s cuffs but the jacket came without them. this is actually a good thing since they can be altered. I’ve ordered suits since this one with functional buttonholes and the sleeve length was off and can’t be adjusted.

      Overall the suit fits very well save the sleeves in the arm area. I get compliments every time I wear it and it has held up well. This is a classic case of having to tweak some small things in the next suit to make it the best fit possible.

      If you’re interested in trying them out let me know and I’ll put you in touch directly.

  • Dan

    Great post!

    Do you have an opinion on suitsupply.com suits? What category do they fall into? I’m in Australia so it’s a big risk buying one online without trying it on.

    I fit a 38R off the rack so I can get it tailored here afterwards.

    • Steven

      Hey Dan.. Ive bought a couple of their suits online and am very pleased with the results..It is half canvassed suit from the Napoli line with soft shoulders a slight roped shoulder with a beautiful roll on the Lapel. They have different lines and the Napoli fits me well. This is due to the fact that I have broad shoulders and a more than average drop (8 inch drop). It fit me pretty well off the rack where all I had to do was lengthen the sleeve a little bit. They do come with surgeons cuff’s which limits how far you can shorten or lengthen the sleeves. If you have smaller shoulders then the other lines like the sienna will be a good look. The Washington line is more of that British look with the strong shoulders and the ticket pocket. So, if thats more your thing then go for it. Overall Its a good line for its price point. I have a couple of ck collections suits (that are half canvassed)and some brooks brothers 1818 and suit supply fits me best within the half Canvassed range. I also have some higher quality suits like Zegna’s and Canali’s and I will say fabric wise its not as good but not too far down. Ive seen suits not made as well (very few hand stitches in the canvass) and they sell for three times more. I have two suit supplies from the napoli lines (charcoal gray and navy) and they get a lot of play in my closet. Great work horse suits. And the fit and drape is really nice (slim without being skinny). My two cents anyways

      • Dan

        That’s great info – cheers!

        I was looking at the Washington in Navy or Grey for exactly what you describe, a workhorse suit.

  • Joe

    Very informative and helpful. The point about getting to a stable weight is important. I’ve lost about 70 lbs in the past year, gradually by making certain lifestyle changes. I’ve got another 50 before I’m happy with my weight. A lot of my clothes that I really liked and looked good in, in spite of my size, are now way too big on me, but I don’t want to invest too much since I’m still in transition. Now, on the other hand I have invested in some bespoke footwear (boots by a maker in Texas), and there’s really no comparison to anything off the rack. And the process seems to be just as involved.

    • cuponoodles

      One should be careful, though, Chris. Often, weight loss leads to less inches everywhere, including in your feet. Don’t be surprised if you drop a shoe size or two after those last 50 come off…

      • Joe

        That’s a very good point and very true for most. However I gained all the weight after high school ( I was an athlete in high school) and my shoe size has stayed constant (though these are not an off the shelf size, they’re made for my foot, which very well may change a bit while staying the same “shoe size”). Now these are boots, so I am a bit concerned about the circumference on the top. But I don’t regret them for a second, they were my gift to me for finishing grad school. If ever they don’t fit, I’ll put them on a shelf. The craftsmanship that went into them are worth displaying.