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Looking Like a Lawyer, Revisited: Bespoke, Made to Measure, and Off the Rack

September 12, 2012

As the blog has been making its way through a multi-part primer on dressing like a lawyer, we’ve touched repeatedly on the importance of tailoring. The axiom is: if the suit doesn’t fit, don’t wear it. We have assumed that young lawyers’ budgets will require them to buy off-the-rack suits and shirts and tailor as needed. But now slimmed-down styles, inspired by the custom tailoring of London’s famed Savile Row, have come into vogue, shouldering out the boxier styling traditional to the U.S. With that trend has come a surge of interest in skilled custom tailoring. So, it seems appropriate that we briefly review the full spectrum of business attire customization.

Beyond off-the-rack suits and shirts are made-to-measure (built from a pattern adapted to your measurements) and bespoke (custom-built from scratch). As NPR has broken down graphically, each category varies not only in the degree of customization but also in the type of materials utilized and the amount, skill and kind of labor required — not to mention price. These more customized options can easily costs hundreds for shirts and thousands for suits. But, as the New York Times recently noted, cheap overseas labor, inexpensive material bought in bulk, and better gluing has led to intense price pressures in the made-to-measure arena.

Internet-based companies charge a fraction of what a high-end menswear store or independent tailor would charge, making their suits competitive with virtually any name-brand ready-to-wear suit. Indeed, in a Zappo’s-like mail-order-convenience move, they often guarantee satisfaction and will pay for alterations if your suit doesn’t arrive fitting to your satisfaction. I took advantage of a couple of promotional offers recently to give them a try. It ended up being a good value, even though I did have to take both suits to a tailor for some tweaks, but neither the materials nor the workmanship could be considered high-end. At the end of the day, you still get what you pay for, it seems. It costs a lot to make a great suit. Indeed, given the skill, labor and pricey materials that go into a fine bespoke suit, even selling them for $4,000+ a pop isn’t a lucrative proposition for vendors. But, if you have the money to spend for the genuine article, it’s the surest way to end up in professional attire that is both flattering and comfortable.

For more in the “Looking Like a Lawyer” series, see prior posts on: Tips for Female Lawyers, Suits, Men’s Shirts, and Men’s Accessories.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. NYtransplant permalink
    September 12, 2012 4:23 pm

    It seems that the label “made-to-measure” is developing into two distinct categories. On the one hand, services such as Indochino and Suitsupply do actually create garments adjusted to your measurements, (“technical made-to-measure,” if you will), but fit, despite it’s importance, is only one aspect of a garment.

    On the other hand, traditional “made-to-measure” services go far beyond mere personalized measurements to encompass increased quality of construction, as well as better quality and choice of fabrics, and even more creative input on details, (“holistic made-to-measure). The difference between glued and basted garments alluded to above is night and day, and it is most notable in the drape of the chest, (glue will never fail to make a jacket look stiff and unnatural). If for no other reason than to get a basted-canvas chestpiece, upgrade to holistic made to measure.

    Belated disclaimer, I am a law student who has spent a considerable amount of time reading and learning about suiting. After lengthy deliberation and finding a shop that I trusted, I recently ordered my first holistic made-to-measure suit, a level of service that is perhaps the best value in suiting but harmed by a lack of price transparency. Many commentators in the recent media hype have focused on numbers at the low/high ends of the market – what’s the cheapest/most extravagant – but miss a valuable segment in between. My suit was neither $400 nor $4,000, but in the ballpark of $1,300. For that price, I got many of the benefits of bespoke: measurements adapted to my athletic build, a choice of hundreds of fabrics from England and Italy, input on lapel/vent/button style, a choice of linings, functional buttoning cuffs, construction guaranteed to last, and full-canvas construction to take the whole thing from farm team to major league. At the same time, I avoided all the pitfalls of off-the-rack: unnatural-looking glued/fused construction, likely incorrect fit, lack of personal input, and cheap fabric, (even if the fabric is higher quality on several off-the-rack designer brands, you still can’t dodge the first three issues).

    Conclusion, if you’ve only ever purchased off-the-rack, stop into a nicer mens shop and ask about made-to-measure. The price/quality value of Canadian makers like Coppley (around $1,000+ with half-canvas construction) or Samuelsohn ($1,300+ for full-canvas) is exceptionally good at the moment.

  2. Toby permalink
    September 12, 2012 4:56 pm

    A good mid-range offering that I’ve found is 9tailors in Boston – you get measured in the US, the initial work is done in China and shipped over, and then the second round of alterations is done after an in-person fitting. It costs about 50% more than Indochino, but you get a higher degree of customization, you can actually feel the fabrics before you order the suit or the shirt, and having an actual professional measure you is a lot less error-prone than having one of your friends do it.

    As another option, some of the Hong Kong tailors (who do actual real bespoke stuff for about half the price of the US-based tailors) make trips to the US. WWChan is a name that has popped up a *ton* in my research as a high-level HK tailor that does “tours” of the States, and they visit several major cities. They’d compete on price with the Coppley and Samuelsohn companies that NYtransplant mentions.

  3. October 18, 2012 12:51 pm

    Great article- couldn’t agree more. A few people I know had their suits custom made, and the finished product was consistently first-class and unique. When I needed more suits, I realized that cost of going to a mid or high end department store (and then tailoring the suit) was not far from having one made. If anyone is interested in a recommendation, I used Morroni Fino Toccare- by Dan Morroni, out of New Jersey. He came to my office with numerous fabrics/patterns and took my measurements. In addition to choosing the fabric- I then chose what type of lapel, jacket vent (if any), pockets (type, number and placement), liner, etc. I had no idea the construction of a suit included this much detail. The end result was incredible- when the suits and shirts were completed, he personally delivered them to my office and made sure I was satisfied. Considering the convenience, price and the quality- you really can’t go wrong.

  4. October 31, 2012 2:04 pm

    Great post, as say when you wear a top-quality suit and made to measure shirt that has been designed for you, you don’t just look great, you feel great too, and it’s reflected in everything you do.

  5. Angelina permalink
    May 4, 2013 1:43 pm

    Hello.. Amazing post.. The feeling of styling your clothes online is just too good…. While browsing for custom clothing, I found a very good site which helps you to design your clothing online.. Just have a glance at it.. http://www.zimba-customtailor.com

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