Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Why Buy Custom?

Just this past Sunday I featured a post regarding the differences in suiting and sport coat fabrics, in which I told you that I highly recommend custom tailoring. As many of you know, I worked in custom tailoring for six years, and one of the most common conversations I had with customers was why custom is better. Custom can be intimidating for a few reasons.

First of all, the minute people hear that word, they think expensive. But it really is surprisingly comparable--and sometimes even more moderately priced than your high quality off-the-rack clothing.

Second, the wait. We live in a world of immediacy. We like to have what we want with the click of a mouse. But patience is an important virtue in life and this is a great place to exercise some. Its worth the wait.

Third, the process. If you haven't done custom before this can sound more daunting than it is. The process involved in your first suit will take the most time, as your tailor will need to get measurements. But really, this takes about 15 minutes of your time--give or take. Yes, someone will need to get up close and personal to do this, but as professionals, we do it all day long and don't think a thing of it, so neither should you. The selection and design process also takes time. You may already have an idea of what color or type of fabric you want, but maybe not! Don't worry, a great tailor or sales associate will ask you a lot of questions that will give them the information needed to guide you toward the right fabric for the job. As far as the design details, some customers like to be involved in every little detail of their suit, and some find it overwhelming! Maybe all you know is that you want flat front pants and a two button jacket. That's fine. Just tell your tailor that you want them to choose options that will make your suit timeless. (Lapel width is a good example here, as they will get wider and narrower with trends.)

So now that I've quelled your apprehensions, let's talk about why custom really is worth the time and money. I caught up with Derek Bleazard from Beckett & Robb, a custom tailoring house out of Utah that also has a comprehensive online custom shop, and asked him a few questions. Here's what he has to say:

What are the differences one is most likely to notice when switching to custom tailored suits from off the rack?

The first thing our clients notice is the superb fit of a custom suit versus what they are used to off-the-rack.  It looks and feels better, and the client can tell from the moment they put it on.  The other main difference is the customization that went into the suit.  Not only was it made for them according to their measurements and fit preferences, but they also chose all the details: the cloth itself, pockets, buttons, linings, lapels, etc.  What may not be quite as noticeable (but becomes more obvious over time) is the quality of the materials and construction of the suit.  The craftsmanship and construction techniques, together with the quality of the cloth, result in a suit that will perform better, look better, and will last longer than most off-the-rack suits. 

I have to stress two points that Derek makes here. Fit. Fit. Fit. Its everything. And there is no way to get a better result than by going custom. There may be aspects of fit that you have never thought of because you don't see them! Why? They're on your back! When being fitted for any suit, whether custom or off the rack you need one of three things. A good three way mirror, a tailor you trust to tell you the truth about what they're looking at (not just to get a sale), or a friend who knows the difference to point it out for you. DO NOT try to twist in a regular mirror to see this. It pulls at the fabric and you will not see what others do. Some details that show up often on ready-mades that you will not have with a well tailored custom suit are pulling between the shoulder blades, rolling right under the bottom of the collar, or extra fabric where the arm eye meets the back of the jacket.

His other point is craftsmanship. Custom suits that are well made should really stand the test of time. Did you know that most of the off the rack suits you buy aren't even sewn together? They're GLUED! Even some major name brands!  OK, next question: 

If a customer is going to invest in one custom suit, what do you point them toward?

Part of the allure of a custom suit is the ability to select a unique cloth from which to make the suit.  However, a lot of men are looking for a great go-to suit that will work in a number of situations and can be dressed up or down for maximum versatility.  In this case, we'd recommend a medium to dark gray, probably in a solid, or a solid navy.  It's the type of suit that looks fantastic, but isn't as recognizable as something made from a bolder cloth.  They can also opt for fewer embellishments, like no ticket pocket or hacking pockets.  Both gray and blue suits allow for a lot of different colors and patterns for shirts and ties. For shoes, a rich brown is the best choice for navy suits, a gray works well with different shades of brown or black for shoes.  Whether they choose a solid that will give them a lot of versatility, or a more whimsical and unique cloth for their suit, a custom suit will fit right and help him look his very best. 

I have to go with Derek on the dark gray. A charcoal suit is the most versatile suit you can own. Even more so than navy. Its not a color! Its on the black and white spectrum so you can't clash with it and its not as severe as black. It will already go with any shirt you have in your closet.

A lot of better Men's stores will not take and provide measurements for outside purchases.  When purchasing a custom suit online, what is the best way to make sure you have good measurements?

A tailor or alterations shop will usually take measurements for a small fee.  However, part of the battle is understanding how these measurements are interpreted by the suit maker.  Additionally, the measurer may have a different technique or idea for how a suit should fit than both the suit maker and the client, which further complicates the process.  Beckett & Robb provides our own set of measurement instructions for out of state clients, and we ask follow up questions to make sure we have the same understanding about the client's fit expectations.  I would discourage someone from buying a suit from a website that doesn't provide their own instructions on measurement taking.
This was an important question for me personally to ask Derek. I worked in a store where I was hands on with my customers every day. I was a little skeptical about online custom, but this answer makes sense to me. There are many "right" ways to take measurements and I was concerned about providing the tailor with the set of measurements that work for their construction process. But if you follow Derek's guidelines above, you should be good to go.

Here are some great shots from Beckett & Robb. Check out their online store and blog!

Whether you are investing in your one staple suit or getting a fun plaid because its your 10th, custom will open you up to a whole new suit experience. Do you buy custom? Why or why not?


  1. Great post! That was very informative.

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