I love suits. I have a closet full of them, and a different closet full of blazers and sport coats. I would wear a suit every day if I could.
Recently, to prepare for my wedding next summer, I had my first experience purchasing a made-to-measure suit. I LOVED it. This suit is everything I hoped for in a wedding suit, and it’s something I know I’ll wear going forward.
Though I bought the suit from INDOCHINO at their West Edmonton Mall location, this is not a review or endorsement of them in particular. They are one of many made-to-measure options.
Before we get into the details, let’s define a few terms:
Off-the-rack: 95% of suits fit into this category. This is the ready-to-wear suit that you go into a store, find the one in your size, try it on, and buy it. You may (and should) take it to a tailor to adjust the fit, but they will usually come in enough sizes that you’re likely to find a suit that fits fairly well. Off-the-rack suits range in quality from super cheap >$100 options, to luxury thousand, or tens of thousand dollar items.
Made-to-measure: Suits are cut and produced using a standard pattern and template, but made according to your specifications and measurements. There are still elements of standardization, like with an off-the-rack suit, but allow for a high level of individualized choices and details. Made-to-measure suits often take a few weeks to produce and deliver, and will cost at least a few hundred dollars.
Bespoke: the highest level of quality and luxury. Bespoke clothing is made from scratch to meet your needs. The tailor works with you during every step of the process, and nothing is off limits when it comes to customization. A bespoke suit will fit you the best, by far, because there is no standardized template involved at any step of the process. A bespoke suit will take months to produce, including several fitting and design appointments, and likely cost into the thousands of dollars.
Okay, let’s get the obvious one out of the way first.
My Made-to-measure suit fits me better than every single other suit in my closet. The tailor was able to adjust the suit to precisely match my measurements, even accommodating small details like my left shoulder being slightly lower than my right — details that even I don’t notice, and an off-the-rack suit would never have.
With off-the-rack suits, I find that I’m always willing to get 90% of the way to a perfect fit. I’ll find a suit that is in my size (or the closet size that the store has to my size), and maybe I’ll take it to the tailor to fix the sleeve length. So the 9.5% between “fits really good” and “fits almost perfect” really makes a difference.
That being said, there is still .5% that even a made-to-measure suit won’t hit. To get any better, you’ll need to shell out the big bucks and go bespoke.
Fitting More Than Just My Measurements
Fit is about more than just making sure the sleeves are the right length and the chest is not too tight. My tailor made sure that everything about the suit fit me, and fit what I needed the suit for. For example, the retailer offered three different shoulder options, part of the suit I didn’t even know I could customize. Even with identical measurements, these three shoulder options would fit differently.
My tailor recommended the shoulder option that would work best with my body, and it really did make a difference. That level of detail is impossible to adapt with an off-the-rack suit.
The tailor also walked me through my ideas for my wedding to make sure all of the details fit with what we’re envisioning. That level of service is rare in your standard off-the-rack store.
It’s all in the Details
Now that the suit fits my body like a glove, we can get into what the suit actually is. My made-to-measure suit has almost everything I could ask for.
I was able to select pick stitching on the lapel, which is a small detail that I always notice on other suits. I also selected functional buttonholes, another sure sign of a quality suit.
Everything from the pattern of the lining on the inside of the suit, to the types of buttons, to the style of pockets, everything was handpicked to match my vision. Even with the best quality off-the-rack suit, you’re stuck with what the designer originally intended.
Do you like peak lapels? You’re out of luck if the off-the-rack suit only comes with notched. Do you wish your favourite suit came with a vest? Made-to-measure has you covered. Want to set yourself apart with a double-breasted jacket? Make it happen.
Of course, there’s a limit to how much customization a made-to-measure retailer can offer. For example, I’m a big fan of (style of pocket) in dress pants, but dress pants pockets weren’t customizable in this case. I also felt that the button options were fairly limited — though I was still able to find several options I liked to pick between. Again, like fit, only a bespoke option will provide more choices.
Is a made-to-measure suit for you?
I’ll be honest, as much as I love my new made-to-measure suit, I don’t think this type of suit is for everybody.
If you’re someone who doesn’t own a suit, or owns one suit that you never wear, and you are looking to replace the ratty old outfit in your closet that doesn't quite fit anymore with an updated suit that you’ll still never wear, do yourself a favor and buy off the rack at your nearest men’s fashion store. You won’t notice the difference between a made-to-measure and an off-the-rack, but you’ll certainly notice the price difference.
Likewise, if you’re still young and growing, and maybe you are buying a suit for a graduation or first job interview, I would steer clear of made-to-measure. If you’re going to invest that much time and effort into making your perfect suit, you should at least be sure you’ll get a few years wear out of it.
The details that make a made-to-measure suit stand out from an off-the-rack suit are similar to the details that make a high-end off-the-rack suit stand out from a more economical suit. If you’re someone who can’t tell the difference between a $100 suit and a $1,000 suit, if you’re someone who has never heard of pick stitching, if you’re someone who doesn’t know the difference between a peak lapel and a notched lapel, you won’t get the enjoyment out of a made-to-measure suit that others might.
Finally, if you’re someone who needs a suit now, maybe for a last minute event or after a unforeseen wardrobe issue, save made-to-measure for another day, as suits may take weeks to be prepared.
It’s not a bad thing, if a made-to-measure suit isn’t right for you.
But if you’re someone who already has a handful of suits and formal clothing that you enjoy wearing, and if you’re someone who eyes a nice suit and enjoys noticing the finer details that make it stand out, I highly suggest a made-to-measure suit.
I wasn’t even finished designing my first made-to-measure suit when I already started plans for my second, and third after that. I’m positive this won’t be my last made-to-measure experience, and I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in formal clothing.
Justin Draper is a Canadian fiction and non-fiction writer who focuses on themes of politics and culture. He is currently completing his Masters degree in Communication and Technology at the University of Alberta.
Follow Justin on Twitter at @JustinDraperYEG