EVALUATING THE VALUE OF CUSTOM-MADE
G. Bruce Boyer, renowned menswear expert and author of the classic menswear manual, True Style, is famous for saying that a great suit releases ‘unfulfilled potential’ in a man. He credits the 30s as being an “epoch of unparalleled elegance in menswear”. The reason, he insists is a simple one – at the time, “the level of sophistication for the average man matched that of the rich”. This simple observation stimulates so many assumptions, however, it is easy to understand why the 30s holds such prestige in menswear history – the decade brought about iconic firsts such as the creation of the classic double-breasted suit.
Men’s suits are typically distinguished based on their production process. The main categories are ready-to-wear, made-to-measure and bespoke. Ready-to-wear allows customers to buy a finished suit in-store. Made-to-measure offers customers finished suits which can be fitted to the individual’s size. While this option offers more control in terms of fitting, it does not compare to bespoke, which provides the ultimate form of customization and gives the customer complete control over the design process. The main difference between the two is perfectly captured in Master Tailor, Toby Luper’s famous quote, “It’s like comparing a Jaguar with a Bentley – both are amazing quality cars, but one is primarily made by machine and the other by hand.
Bespoke is the menswear equivalent of haute couture and literally translates into made-to-order clothing. Although its origins trace far back into history, it's back on the radar for the same old reason, a good suit lasts a lifetime. When asked why he prefers bespoke suits, Lim Chae Yeong, a local menswear enthusiast and Buyer at John Medley, says “the right suit will truly convey the individual, and highlight his best features”. He adds that while some men may look better in suits, most look best in well-made suits. In a 2015 interview with CNBC, Marshall Cohen, the Chief Industry Analyst at NDP Group refers to bespoke tailoring as “an underground market that is now at the street level”. According to him, “nobody knew about bespoke before unless you were wealthy, (and) now the common man is wearing them”.
Considering bespoke? The benefits are plenty and obvious. Bespoke offers customers the ultimate in fit while providing a strong sense of individuality that is achieved through the process of customizing a suit that meets their every specification and desire. The process of hand-making suits is sustainable and offers value for the customer and tailor, in return. While these benefits are reason enough to go bespoke, the hefty price tag associated with custom-made discourages most people.
In Lim’s own words a suit tells the story of a man’s pride – conveying just what he wants the world to see, whether it be power, professionalism, or sophistication. While most menswear experts have a strong preference for custom-made suits, Lim advises men looking to try bespoke to opt for a few functional pieces first –better yet, he insists on starting with custom-made shirts to get a great sense of the difference between a ready to wear and a bespoke garment.
Bespoke provides a tailored fit to customers that extends beyond individual sizing to include a compatibility with the individual’s lifestyle. The result of working closely with a tailor to develop an individual pattern based solely on the customer’s sizing, is a garment that offers a one-of-a-kind fit that is specific to the wearer. Most custom suits are created with the idea of timelessness in mind, for example, tailors would often attach excess fabric to the lining of suits for future adjustments that may be required due to changes in the wearer’s body. In his book, True Style, Boyer emphasizes the need for an experienced tailor’s keen eye when finding the perfect fit. By paying close attention to an individual’s stance, build, and posture a good tailor can create a fit that is not solely reliant on the measuring tape but also accounts for the little nuances that are unique in nature and typical in every body type.
The fitting process is the most important element of getting a suit custom made. After the initial fitting, tailors meet with clients for several more fittings over the course of constructing the suit. The construction process can take up to 55 hours if the suit is completely hand-made. With each fitting building on the last, the result is always a perfect fit.
Upon initial consultation, Boyer says that professional tailors will often ask clients specific questions such as what they typically carry around in their pockets in order to create a functional ease for accommodation or how they intend to live in their custom suit. This type of information assist tailors in creating a suit that truly takes the individual's lifestyle needs into consideration. When asked how he initially picks out a tailor, Lim emphasizes the need for a compatibility in personal style. He also adds that the average age of clientele plays an important role when deciding on a tailor. In his opinion, a tailor with a younger clientele may be better off creating trendy styles that appeal to a younger demographic while one with a more mature clientele would likely create garments that attract individuals with a more traditional aesthetic.
In the words of Colin Firth in his role as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service, “A suit is a modern man’s armor”, and while the film showcases spies meticulously disguised in dapper-style menswear, the message is clear, the right armor conceals that which the knight requires hidden and projects the illusion of power and grace.