If you are in the market for a great fitting suit, you’ve probably heard the terms Off the Rack, Made to Measure, and Bespoke. What’s the difference? A lot, actually. Here’s a quick guide to men’s suit options and some advice on how to make an informed decision on what will work best for you and your budget.
Off The Rack
Off the rack suits are what you most commonly see. They are machine made, mass produced, and vary widely in terms of quality and standards. You will pay a premium for a suit by a big-name designer despite the fact that it takes the same amount of time for the machine to make a designer suit than a no-name label. Sizes are standardized and unless you can find a brand that nails or gets very close to the fit you prefer, you should plan to invest some money with your tailor.
PROS: Affordable, wide availability.
CONS: Designed for mass market (one size doesn’t fit all), which means you will have to invest some extra time and money with your tailor if you want a great fit. Limited choice with regard to quality, fabrics, and construction. In the case of a workhorse suit, this could lead to the suit deteriorating quickly.
He Spoke Style Advice: If off the rack is where you want to go, make sure the suit jacket fits your shoulders properly and be willing to throw a little money your tailor’s way to get the best fit possible.
Made To Measure
A made to measure suit is cut from a pre-existing pattern but with more variations to get closer to a proper fit. It is still being manufactured by a machine for the most part though some made to measure programs will offer handmade options for certain parts of the suit. With made to measure you have much more control. You choose the fabric, the details, and so on, though the amount of control will vary from program to program. Some may allow you a choice of only a few options, while others are more comprehensive and may offer up to 15 or more choices on details. Made to measure has advanced considerably in recent years and you can definitely get extremely close to a perfect fit from a made to measure program. Made to measure is sometimes referred to as custom suiting.
PROS: More control, higher quality, a more custom fit.
CONS: A bit more expensive, 4-8 week delivery time, plus allowances for any alterations needed once the garment arrives and you are fitted.
He Spoke Style Advice: If Made to Measure fits your budget, I definitely recommend it. Not only are you getting a higher quality garment, but depending on the program, you will have much more control over customization of your suit. And if the program you are working with offers a high level of control, be sure to go all out on the custom details. You want your suit to be your own, to stand out, and to say something about you. Don’t try to design a suit you saw on the rack in a department store. Not sure where to make a statement? Choosing an interesting lining for your suit jacket is a great place to start.
The true custom option and the highest expression of sartorial craftsmanship and quality. Unlike a made to measure suit, which is cut from a pre-existing pattern, a bespoke suit uses a pattern that is unique to the individual. It is truly your own personal pattern. The term ‘bespoke’ comes from the days when a tailor had bolts of cloth and the client would choose a particular cloth. That cloth was then said to have “been spoken for.” Bespoke suits are generally completely handmade, though depending on the program, machines may play a role at some point in the process.
PROS: One of a kind, complete control over design and options, superior quality, superior fit.
CONS: Cost prohibitive, longer delivery time.
He Spoke Style Advice: There really is nothing like a bespoke suit. Custom clothing is an entirely different experience in terms of fit, quality, and feel. However, you pay a premium for that level of suiting; and for good reason. Budget-wise, bespoke is not for everyone. If you can afford it, do it. You definitely won’t regret it.
If you are serious about investing in your wardrobe, try to avoid purchasing your suits off the rack. An off the rack suit will almost always require some sort of tailoring and depending on what needs to be done, could end up costing more than you paid for the suit. Instead, find a reputable made to measure or custom suiting (or bespoke, if your budget allows) program to work with. Remember, a great fitting suit is an investment that should be a staple of your wardrobe for years.
What are your experiences with off the rack, made to measure/custom, or bespoke suiting?
Thanks for reading.
He Spoke Style
Photography by Rob McIver Photo.