off the peg

Trying custom clothing for the first time? We got you covered, of course.

But in the event you’re going to experiment with a local tailor, here’s a comprehensive guide to making the most of your investment.

The first suit I recommend is a solid navy 4-season (8-10 oz) worsted wool.

It’s a wardrobe staple and the most versatile suit a man can own. You can wear it to the office, to a wedding, to an evening event, as a blazer with jeans, as a pair of trousers with another jacket, etc.

Selecting a Clothier

There are hundreds of “bespoke” shops popping up all over. Here are some questions you should ask to narrow down the list of stores in your area.

1. What fabrics do you offer?

The world of quality menswear fabrics is a small one with few major players. A decent bespoke shop should have relationships with vendors who supply a range of fabrics from established English and Italian mills such as Dormeuil, Holland & Sherry, Scabal, Zegna, etc.

The seasonal books used to display swatches to clients are costly to manufacture and limited in number. For this reason, vendors carefully distribute them only to the shops that do the most business (and thus have the best reputation and highest number of returning clients).


2. What about trims?

A shop with good attention to detail (which is crucial in this business) should use top quality trims to go along with their luxury fabric offering. I’m talking about genuine horn buttons, durable bemberg linings (beware of anything with a raised surface, like a jacquard, that can rub and pill over time), RiRi or YKK zippers, etc.

Other internal inputs like chest and collar canvases, shoulder pads, sleeve heads, collar felts, etc. are difficult to differentiate in a finished garment, until you’ve worn it for a few months and dry cleaned it several times. You’ll have to trust the salesperson on these things, and use your judgement based on the other trims they are using.

Of course, it’s always a good idea to do your research and read customer reviews online.

3. Is the jacket canvassed?

A tailored jacket is either:

A. Fused: the easiest and cheapest method to construct a jacket where the front panel and lapel facing are backed using iron-on glue called interfacing then sewn together.

B. Half Canvassed: a better method of construction that takes more time and hand work. A canvas “chest piece” is strategically sewn between the front panel and facing from the shoulder to the lapel roll line, giving the jacket some internal structure over the chest which makes it more durable and body forming over time, without giving it a “stiff” feel.

C. Fully Canvassed: the most time consuming method to tailor a jacket. A full-sized layer of canvas is inserted between the front panel and facing, giving the jacket the highest level of structure and rigidity. This canvas makes the lower jacket hold a strong sturdy shape and gives the overall a garment a stiffer, more structured drape.

4. How much handwork is done on the garment?

Hand sewing vs. machine sewing is kind of like a home cooking vs. microwaving. The end product is similar, but the quality isn’t the same.

There are major advantages to handwork in certain areas of the garment such as a hand-set canvas, hand-rolled lapels, hand-felled collar, hand-set sleeves, etc. Manipulating the fabric by hand allows for small nuances that ultimately give the garment greater flexibility and dimension.

If a salesperson tells you the entire suit is sewn by hand, however, I would be skeptical. Very few tailors will spend time hand-sewing straight lines like the outseam of a pant – where the cost would outweigh the benefit and the only real advantage is prestige.

5. How many fittings will I need? 

This one varies greatly depending on your body type (ie. how well or poorly a standard off-the-rack garment fits you).

If you are not far from an off-the-rack size, you should only need a one or two fittings – again, depending on the quality and accuracy of the pattern-making.

If off-the-rack garments are not even close on you, you could need 3-4 trips to the tailor.

6. What is your alterations policy? What if I gain or lose weight?

With regular fluctuations of 5-10 pounds, this weight is typically spread around the body and doesn’t affect the fit of the overall garment much (unless you prefer a super-slim painted-on fit).

If you lose weight, taking-in (making smaller) is easy, within reason. If you gain weight, a good custom suit should be made with excess seam allowance beneath the sewing lines to allow the garment to be let-out (made bigger), again, within reason.

7. What if I’m not happy with the finished product?

In any business where you pay before you play, make sure there is some kind of satisfaction guarantee.

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