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. 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.