The MANual: Formal Wear

The Manly Art Of Buying A Bespoke Suit

A bespoke suit is the ultimate wedding formalwear power move. But before and during the process, you need to ask yourself some questions. The answers will decide your suit’s fate–and yours.

First off, let’s just take a moment to reflect on how god-damn manly you’re going to feel getting a suit custom made. Reclining on a leather Chesterfield, you flip through swatches of sumptuous fabric while sipping an espresso or single malt. Screw wandering between menswear outlets at the mall: this is what shopping should be. Maybe you should get married more often?

Even if you don’t know the first thing about tailoring, going bespoke should be a cause for celebration; a rite of passage, not an ordeal. And it won’t be if you pick carefully. Simply ask yourself the following questions before you make the second most important decision of your life and “Commission Impossible” will seem a lot less daunting.

QUESTION #1. HAVE YOU COME TO THE RIGHT PLACE?

In theory, a bespoke tailor can make anything that you want. But in practise, all tailors have their own distinct house style, and even specialties (e.g. tuxedos). So while you could ask a tailor who has honed the art of razor-sharp, shoulder-padded garments to make you a drapey, unstructured number, you’ll probably get a better result elsewhere.

Typically, a tailor will have some examples of their style in the store window so that you can to get a sense of the vibe. (Don’t worry about color or fabric at this point.) If not, ask to see some. Also, do you like how the tailor and their employees are dressed?

QUESTION #2: DO YOU WANT TO WEAR THIS SUIT MORE THAN ONCE?

One of the first questions that a good tailor will ask is what you want the suit for–your work, a wedding, a Reservoir Dogs-like heist. This in turn helps them to steer you towards suitable designs and fabrics based on the formality of the setting, the time of year, and so on.

Because you’re suiting up for your big day, the temptation may be to go big: bright colours, loud patterns or details such as contrast buttonholes or linings brighter than the inside of an MA-1 bomber jacket.

Don’t go big.

Firstly, you really don’t need to. Yes, you want something special, but what makes a bespoke suit stand out from the ready-to-wear crowd is the subtly superior fit.

Secondly, you really don’t want to. All of those flourishes will just make your suit less versatile in the long run. Unlike the bride, you have the option of wearing your wedding rig again – and having invested so much time and money, it’d be a damn shame not to. Every time you pull out the suit you got married in, you’ll get a little kick.

Of course, if you already have an extensive suit wardrobe, and a swimming pool full of money like Scrooge McDuck, then feel free to disregard the above.

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QUESTION #3: ARE YOU HITTING IT OFF?

Like getting a haircut, creating a suit is a collaborative process. It’s imperative that you get along with the person doing it – if nothing else, to avoid awkward silences.

If this is your first time, don’t be intimidated: tailors deal with customers from all walks of life, from big shots to small fry. In fact, most tailors actively love making for “bespoke virgins:” it’s an honor for them to be involved in your special occasion, and a pleasure to introduce you to the ways of the needle. Plus you’re usually more grateful—and less fussy—than a custom suit veteran.

Don’t pretend that you’re an expert either. You’ll be asked for your preferences on things that you’ve likely never even considered. If you don’t know, say so.

A good tailor will explain the pros and cons of the various options, and nudge you like a Jedi into selecting the best one. In fact, you should be able to be completely honest, from problems you’ve had with suits in the past to how much you sweat and what side you dress on.

While a tailor will prevent you making costly mistakes though, they shouldn’t railroad you either, or insist that you dress like an old geezer. And they definitely shouldn’t make you feel shitty because you don’t have enough knowledge. Or money.

QUESTION #4: ARE YOU DRESSED APPROPRIATELY

You don’t have to put on a suit, shirt and shoes before you darken a tailor’s door. But it can be advisable, and not just so that you don’t get snooty looks when you walk in wearing flip-flops.

For starters, it helps with measuring, and deciding things like how much shirt – or mankle – you want to be visible. (Pro-tip: when getting measured, don’t stand to attention or suck your stomach: you’ll wind up with a suit that doesn’t fit.)

The tailor will probably have a shirt and maybe even shoes that you can borrow for the fitting. But they won’t necessarily be the right size or style. If you have the actual shirt or shoes that you intend to wear with the suit, even better.

Wearing a suit that you already own and like can also give the tailor a sense of the kind of thing you want, and help you answer questions about lapels, pockets and vents by pointing and saying, “Um, like that.”

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QUESTION #5. HAVE YOU LEFT YOURSELF ENOUGH TIME?

You can’t just fly to London for the weekend and come back with a garment bag from Savile Row. A bespoke suit typically takes at least six weeks to make, and sometimes double that, plus a minimum of three in-person fittings. And frankly, if it doesn’t, then you should be worried. So make sure that you leave plenty of leeway.

Finally, you don’t have to decide everything on the spot (unless you didn’t leave enough leeway). So if you’re not sure, go away and think about it. Window-shop other suits, or compare the ones in your wardrobe to articulate your tastes. Sometimes you can even take pieces of fabric home so you can hold them up against your shirts and ties (or just stroke them like a fancy comfort blanket).

Bottom Line

Like picking a spouse, “bespeaking” a suit is a serious commitment. Choose carefully, ask the right questions, and throw yourself into the process. You’ll have a blast, and step up to the altar looking like a prince.

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