Tips from A Top Tailor on How to Buy a Bespoke Suit

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In the market for a new bespoke / custom suit? It's not always easy to know where to turn these days. There are so many options in NYC alone, and just about all of them seem to be offering the same things -- custom or bespoke suits perfectly tailored to your body, along with design options personalized to your particular style.

We thought it might be helpful to fill you in on a few things you should be looking out for if you are shopping around for what we'd call a classic, or 'true', bespoke suit.

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What is a Bespoke Suit?

In suiting terms, bespoke basically means handmade to your unique specifications. That's the first thing to be aware of -- is the suit you're looking at buying handmade by one tailor from start to finish, or is it factory-line made, piece by piece by many sets of hands. If it's the latter then it's not a bespoke suit or garment. It might be what's called a made-to-measure suit, but it's not bespoke or true custom.

Price of a Bespoke Suit

The second thing you should be looking out for is, to be blunt, the price. We see lots of ads these days for $400 or $500 'custom' suits. The bottom line is they're not actually custom or bespoke.

It's impossible, in the US at least, to offer a truly bespoke suit for that price. I mean, it's not impossible, but you wouldn't be in business for very long if you did it. A suit at that price is made-to-measure, at best. What that means is that in addition to offering only a very narrow range of fabric types for that price, there will be a limited array of design options to choose from. In other words, you can't go putting the buttons wherever you want; nor can you craft a lapel however you damn well please. These are just a few of the many examples. Basically, for that price you will be limited to the few variables in terms of sizing and design that factory-line made-to-measure production is capable of performing.

Design Limitations

Third, you need to be looking out for those design limitations. True custom / bespoke suiting implies that everything is on the table in terms of design. If you want an absurdly wide peak lapel that reaches all the way to the edges of your shoulders, or a ridiculously exaggerated drop-crotch in your tuxedo pants, then you should be allowed to have it. The designer and / or tailor you're working with might (and possibly should??) advise against such choices, but the point is that under the rules of bespoke you should be able to do whatever you like with your garments.

If it's a flat no to your design ideas for a suit, then you probably need to question whether it's actually a true bespoke / custom process.

The Fitting Process

A true bespoke or custom suit requires an in-person fitting process. It also usually requires a muslin, or test, garment to be made before the real thing is produced. There should be several steps (multiple appointments) to this fitting process as well.

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To put it as simply as we can, the bespoke process means a tailor will be fussing around you while you stand in your test garment. They'll be taking measurements, securing pins where alterations need to be made, jotting down notes. After alterations are made you'll go back and see the tailor again, and you'll keep going back until everything is perfect and no more changes need to be made, at which point you'll take the garment home.

It can be a little time consuming and tedious (though not at Watson Ellis because we're excellent conversationalists, ha), but the end result will be a garment that'll feel better than anything you've ever put on straight off-the-rack.

If all you're doing is entering a series of measurements into an online form, then it's not bespoke / custom. Or if your fit specialist is simply putting you in the closest fitting template without noting or making any adjustments and / or alterations to the fit before the order is submitted, then it's not bespoke / custom either. Or if it's just a one-and-done fit session, followed by final delivery of your garment/s, then it's not bespoke.

At Watson Ellis, we work with the world's best mills and manufacturers to bring you handmade luxury custom clothing. That's what we do. No half measures. We also offer the most modern and fashion-forward approaches to the design of your custom suit, overcoat, shirt and blazer. Learn More