Looking Like a Lawyer, Revisited: Bespoke, Made to Measure, and Off the Rack
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. But, we have assumed that young lawyers’ budgets will require them to buy off-the-rack suits and shirts. But, 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 attention by consumers and the media 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.
For example, Indochino, an aggressive player in this market, charges 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 convenience-in-mailorder move, they even guarantee satsifaction and will pay for $75 in alterations if your suit doesn’t arrive fitting to your satisfaction. I took advantage of a promotional offer recently to give them a try. Although it ended up being a good value, even though I did take the suit to a tailor for some tweaks, 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. 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. 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.