Buying a bespoke suit

October 17, 2013 | Last updated on October 17, 2013
4 min read

They say the experience of wearing a custom tailored suit is tantamount to driving a Rolls-Royce. (And slipping back into an off-the-rack? Just as unsatisfying as being behind the wheel of your prefab compact again.)

What makes a bespoke suit so special is the good old-fashioned human touch, of course. “A tailor uses his hands to make every single cut, to mould every single stitch, which creates a different softer, more pliable feel, not to mention a perfect fit that moulds to your body over time,” explains Jeff Farbstein, executive fashion director at Harry Rosen in Toronto.

You do have to pay for the experience, anywhere from $4,000 to $15,000, depending on your fabric choice and degree of customization: Left-handed? Long wallet carrier? Push up your jacket sleeves? For that, you get design and style guidance through an initial measure and at least one fitting. You’ll have to wait six to eight weeks for your gem, but here’s what you have to look forward to:

  • A three-dimensional lapel that rolls beautifully instead of puckering embarrassingly.
  • No more feeling like you’re wearing the coat hangar in your dinner jacket; hand-cut, hand-sewn, natural-looking shoulders follow the God-given drape that’s your very own (even in an English cut, which is typically more square-shouldered).
  • What a strange concept, working pockets instead of fake ones. What’s more, you can have any kind of pocket built on the left-hand side of the jacket—unheard of in off-the-rack suits. It can fit your BlackBerry, your pen, your passport, or your iPod.
  • Hand-sewn buttonholes and a boutonnière into which you can actually slip a flower stem are the details that spell luxury.
  • Don’t worry about losing all that extra room in the chest and stomach as a result of your new moulded silhouette; custom fitting and shaping (read: enhancing) courtesy of breathable horsehair canvas pieces sewn between the fabric and lining mean you look better even if you carry too much weight in the middle. Bonus: the chest of the jacket won’t lose its “lift” over repeat dry cleaning (the hand stitching and materials are much more resilient than prêt-à-porter’s interface, which is fused and glued).
  • Ripple-free sleeves because the jacket accommodates your one arm that pitches slightly forward.
  • Surgeon’s cuffs (buttons you can actually undo) are signature bespoke; be super stylish this summer and push up your sleeves.
  • While you’re at it, have a couple of dress shirts made to the same measurements they take for the suit. Nothing beats consistently being able to show that perfect quarter-inch of cuff.
  • A fitted derriere means you can finally take off the jacket and not be self-conscious.
  • An “even falling” suit jacket assured if you tend to shift your body slightly forward (which always makes the front gap in a ready-to-wear version).
  • A way to express your personality through a veritable treasure trove of custom flourishes: a powder-pink lining perhaps; monograms inside your jacket. Some unique examples from our experts sources: “Call me, 555-6767,” “This one’s for you, Matt Damon,” and “Live every week like Shark Week.” And just because you can, add suspender buttons and some pick stitching around the lapels.
  • A suitable pant break will shorten those longer legs or elongate shorter ones. It’s all about pant length: a break, which is created by allowing for a little bunching on the top of shoe, should occur about six inches up the pant.

bespoke tailoring principles for women

Maid to measure

While tailoring principles are the same regardless of gender—accentuate the positive and minimize the negative—bespoke clothing for women follows a few of its own rules:

Don’t confuse it with couture

Custom-made women’s business attire comes under the heading of tailoring, or in some cases dressmaking. Couture refers to eveningwear.

Darts and laurels

A woman’s shape gives a custom clothier more to work with, and those who make a living forming cloth relish the challenge. Custom women’s garments make more liberal use of darting (a V-shaped seaming technique that creates a cinching effect) to follow body contours in the bodice of a jacket.

Pleats or pencil

Sewing devices like pleating or penciling creates a skirt or trouser that provides just the right amount of flattery, based on the wearer’s preferred silhouette.

Pocket rocket

One of the most frequent complaints women log about off-the-rack clothing is its consistent lack of pockets. A tailor can add both conventional cubbies as well as personalized ones to fit phones, electronic pass cards, and even specialized equipment like a stethoscope.

A tailor will construct a garment that supports the weight of the item and still looks perfect on the wearer, says Don Lee, owner of Trend Custom Tailors in Toronto.

Measuring up

Getting fitted for custom clothing is, to say the least, an intimate experience. It requires a lot of touching, so if you’re not comfortable with the idea, stick with an upscale boutique. Or, if you prefer to be measured by someone of the same gender, ensure you’ll have that option before choosing fabrics.