online custom suits nyc

The online made-to-measure suit, and the true custom suit: there are big differences

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This is the second part of our post about online custom versus classic tailoring. If you haven’t read part one I suggest you go back to our last post and do so before reading on. Check it out here - https://www.watsonellis.com/blog/2019/4/26/online-custom-suit-or-classic-tailor

Thanks!

So as I was saying, I do still think the old ways are by far and away best when it comes to custom tailoring. Because there are just so many subjective elements that go into making a true custom suit. Everyone has different preferences in terms of how they like their clothes to fit. For example, some clients prefer a pant with more ease in the waist and more leg width because they tend to sit down at work all day; and some clients prefer less ease in their jackets because they don’t generally fasten the buttons; and some clients prefer a shorter pant length because they like a tapered leg and don’t want a lot of break at the bottom.

These and many other highly subjective fit preferences are decisions that can really only be arrived at in consultation with an experienced tailor. No amount of data points or online questionnaires are ever going to cover these aspects in the same way, and by extension, no amount of data is ever going leave you with as good a fitting suit as that made by a real tailor. Also, a ‘tech’ driven fit will not be able to effectively account for unevenness from the left to right of the body, which is a common issue for clients. No one is perfectly symmetrical, after all!

And what about the customizable details of true custom compared to online custom? 

The fact is that your options are always going to be limited when working with the kinds of suit companies listed in my last post. Sure, they offer options when it comes to some things like lapel widths, back vents, pocket styles, pleats, button stances, etcetera. And for many people these options are enough. But ultimately the range is always going to be pretty limited across the board. 

The range of options has be limited because the process is strictly template-based. What this means is that the client is not dealing with a designer and tailor who can collaborate with them on nuanced design options. Instead, with online custom (or tech driven custom) the client is dealing with a very limited and rigid computer program that can only provide them with a narrow range of options. In Indochino's case, for example, that's four options when it comes to lapels - notch, notch slim, peak, wide peak.

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A true custom company like Watson Ellis can really do anything when it comes to these customizable details. The lapels can be any width, the button-stances any height, and so on. Because our designs are made in collaboration between the client and an expert designer, and our clothes are handmade by expert tailors.

What that essentially means is that we have the freedom to basically design, cut and sew how we please. To give you an example, I made a tuxedo jacket for a client where I designed the shawl collar shape to reflect a unique vintage style, but I tweaked it to a specific width in order to best flatter his frame.

In adopting current trends, I made a three piece suit with wide-leg pants for a woman client recently (see below). She didn’t like the generally accepted tapered leg pant style, so I designed a special leg-width for her pant that would hug her upper leg and then slightly flare at the hem. The long length was very important due to the height of the heels she wanted to wear.

Any company that can't provide a client with this kind of freedom is not really a custom / bespoke tailoring company, they are a made-to-measure company. It's an important distinction that prospective customers should know about.

And finally, there are crucial and distinct differences between what I'm calling made-to-measure companies and true custom companies when it comes to garment construction and manufacturing. 

They employ massive factories with thousands of employees who each sew separate parts of the garments together, meaning that each of the elements of any given garment are constructed in isolation. Expert tailors are not generally overseeing these manufacturing processes. To boil it down, the garments are constructed like ready-to-wear. In other words, you might think you’re buying slow-cooked custom, but you’re actually buying fast fashion.

Hand Stitching, not Machine Stitching. It really matters.

True custom suit manufacturing requires a lot of hand-sewing. Specifically, the canvas is padded by hand stitching the multiple layers of canvas together. From there the canvas is hand tacked to the shell outer fabric. What this means is that the garment over time will mold better to your body than it would if it were machine stitched. Having the sleeve set in by hand, which is a facet of true custom tailoring, will enhance a garment’s movability over time as well.

Are new-age and online custom suits a scam?

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There are several companies out there now that are offering to streamline the process of getting a custom / bespoke suit. The ceo of custom menswear brand Alton Lane, for example, calls it "an experience company that's powered by data and technology." 

On the experiential front, what he's referring to is the 'dedicated style expert' who will guide you through the process; along with the full bar, flat screen TVs, and 'secret rooms' you'll have access to during your one-on-one fitting and styling appointment. 

In terms of being "powered by data and technology," he's pointing to the body scanning tech that purportedly takes something like "300 measurements in about 30 seconds." In other words, way more measurements than a flesh and blood tailor could ever take, and in a fraction of the time. 

Can Tech replace the classic Tailor?

Another company, Acustom Apparel, even more impressively claims to take "2,000,000 data points" in their body-scanning procedure, thereby creating a more than comprehensive "3D body model." 

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Sounds pretty good. In and out in a few minutes after having your body thoroughly scanned and measured, and with a few drinks under your belt no less. Generally speaking, the product comes for a fraction of the price of what a classic bespoke suit company on savile row would charge as well. 

Beyond body-scanning, custom suit companies are streamlining the process in other ways too. 

Indochino asks you to complete the measuring process yourself by following their step-by-step online guide. It apparently only takes 10 minutes, and "you don't need a tailor, only a good friend (mom, girlfriend, sister, buddy)" to get the job done. After you complete the customization process - selecting fabrics, lapel styles, buttons, linings etc., all that's left for you to do is pay and hit submit, and 2-3 weeks later your suit will arrive in the mail. 

Black Lapel similarly claims that the whole process can be done online and takes only 15 minutes. Hockerty's custom suits start at just $269, and they'll arrive a mere 15 days after you've completed the speedy online tailoring process. 

What all of this seems to indicate is that the old tailoring methods are now redundant. There's no need for those 1-2 hour in-person appointments where someone fusses around you with a measuring tape, jotting down numbers on a scratch pad and talking you through the different weaves and densities of certain fabrics, the breathability of others, and so on. 

There's certainly no need for a muslin garment to be made in order to test the fit before the actual suit goes into production.

But is it really time to let the old ways die? (As one swashbuckling Bradley Cooper so exquisitely puts it). Or are these companies that claim to streamline and digitize the business of custom / bespoke garment-making really just cutting corners, and in the process offering a product that doesn't live up to its 'custom' billing? 

I'm sure there's nothing malicious going on here, and I definitely wouldn't suggest that any of the companies listed above are trying to scam people, or anything like that. They offer a product, you pay for it, and I'm sure you then receive the goods = no scam. I'm sure many of the clients are perfectly satisfied with these products, too.  And maybe it’s even the case that the prices they generally charge are fair for the products they are providing.

But even still, I don't think it's possible to cut corners like this and deliver a really high quality custom / bespoke suit. That is, it's not possible to speed up and 'streamline' the process through the use of body-scan technology or do-it-yourself online templates; nor is it possible to cut out the experienced fit and fabric specialist and / or the tailor who stitches the garments together.   

Of course I'd say that, I own a bespoke tailoring shop in the heart of one of the most expensive cities in the world! I'm definitely biased.. But nevertheless, I do really believe that the old ways are still essential when it comes to custom tailoring. In my next post I’ll explain why that’s the case.

online custom suit or classic tailor nyc