The popularity of made-to-measure suit offerings has exploded, and while this is great news for leading more men down the rabbit hole of custom tailoring, there are simply too many confusing options that are riddled with misleading information. Made-to-measure isn’t ready-to-wear (RTW) and it isn’t bespoke; it sits somewhere in between, although I would argue closer on the spectrum to RTW.
The appeal is easy to see; for a slight price markup, the customer gets to choose from a vast selection of options including fabric, lining, pockets, lapels, buttons, stitching, trouser details, monograms and so on. For the suit maker, its offers a chance to leverage the existing supply chain and entice more customers with the allure of “personalization” to sell more suits slightly above full price – a win-win situation no doubt.
So in the interest of investing your tailoring money wisely, here are my top tips for going made-to-measure:
First off, what is made-to-measure?
Made-to-measure refers to a garment that is adjusted from an existing pattern in which a wide variety of details can be customized. The process typically beings with a fitting that is based on an existing ready to wear or “template” suit in which a series of adjustments are made. Once all the details are chosen and the fitting is complete, the measurements usually sent off to the factory to be manufactured. The garment is then returned at which point a final fitting ensues and remaining adjustments are made.
Made-to-measure is not an indicator of quality level. Certainly, some suit makers do offer added quality related features, like additional hand work or access to finer cloth, but generally the products are more or less equal.
Depending on where it is offered, a made-to-measure service can exist in different forms; for example, a Savile Row bespoke tailor may expand their offerings with a made-to-measure program as an extension of their bespoke service that is made on site by the tailors – rather than an add-on to a ready-to-wear service. In this case, the made-to-measure product might actually be near bespoke in terms of craftsmanship and allow added hands-on tailoring finesse. Contrast this with a large company that makes their garments in an overseas factory where the suits are similar to their ready-to-wear offerings but with a few adjustments and the option to pick and choose details. Two vastly different products indeed. Some of the top suit makers that produce their garments in a factory make a far superior product to many custom/bespoke tailors.
Familiarize yourself with what quality in a suit feels and looks like. If you are considering made-to-measure, stick with a suit maker that you know well and already produces excellent quality.
Made-to-measure is not a solution to an ill-fitting garment, especially when it comes to the critical components like shoulders, chest and collar. If the type of shoulder construction is fundamentally off then find a different fit or brand where the ready-to-wear cut is right for you.
A common and rather costly mistake that gentlemen make is to believe – often at the guidance of a salesperson – that the fit flaws that appear when you put on the “template” jacket can be corrected in the factory with the direction of a few written notes. This becomes a problem because the nuances of tailoring can often only be addressed by the keen eye of a tailor in person; there is a reason a bespoke suit requires several in person fittings.
A safe bet is to think of made-to-measure primarily as a service that provides the ability to customize aesthetic feature (cloth, lining, pockets, etc.) with the secondary bonus of incorporating minor adjustments to enhance the fit. In essence, if the shoulders, chest, and collar don’t fit correctly, then don’t bother.
What happens when you combine almost endless personalization options, an overzealous shopper that is looking to make a statement and a salesperson that is eager to please? A potential sartorial abomination. A decent salesperson will act as a gatekeeper and encourage restraint, but that doesn’t always happen. Some good advice is to remember that you aren’t a fashion designer and probably never will be. Not to say that it’s difficult to piece together an elegant suit, just that there are many ways to overdo it: too many contrasting buttons, weird combinations of pockets, cut that is way too tight, etc.
Back to the importance of choosing a quality suit maker, the better the product chances are the better the styling advice. It also never hurts to get a second opinion, maybe bring a friend you trust.
With this suit I chose a fairly distinct windowpane pattern, added patch pockets and a wide notch lapel. Because of the classic suit cut and colours, it allows me to easily pair it with different shirt and tie combinations – surprisingly versatile for a bold suit.
Made-to-measure is a great option if a brand already fits well off-the-rack and you can focus attention creating unique additions to your wardrobe to enhance your personal style.
Find a brand that fits perfectly in the important ways. Remember, just because the option is there, doesn’t mean it should be exercised; red contrast stitching on a navy suit might work for some folks but maybe not for you.
Personalized doesn’t have to translate to loud and showy; in fact, a great suit should look amazing with the general public not knowing why.
Finally, quality is quality. A lousy suit maker isn’t going to suddenly create a substantially higher quality product just because it is custom.
My advice is stick with a producer that specializes in tailoring at the best quality level you can afford.