Tailored to you
Whether going bespoke, hiring, or for off the peg, it’s your big day too, so ensure you – and your attendants – are well suited with our expert advice.
Finding your perfect wedding suit can at times feel like an impossible task. If you have a clear idea of what you are after and have already ruled out hiring your attire, you have no choice but to hit the high streets in search of your sartorial companion.
Unsurprisingly however the high street is not geared up to cater for the flamboyant tastes of the affianced man, choosing instead to stock row upon row of hardy pinstripes and humdrum navy business suits.
If having trodden the pavement and surfed the web in vain for days you may find that the best solution perhaps is simply to pay a visit to your local tailor.
With new tailors springing up all the time and even some of the high street names such as Moss Bros and Austin Reed getting in on the act, your wedding presents you with the ideal opportunity to get measured up and buy your first bespoke suit.
The difference between the three main categories of suit – ready-to-wear (RTW), made-to-measure and bespoke – is really all about fit. But where do you start..?
Bespoke or made-to-measure?
This can at times be quite a contentious issue between the old guard and some of the newer tailoring outfits, but put simply – no, they are not the same.
Essentially a bespoke suit has been developed from scratch according to your measurements. An experienced pattern cutter will take your vital stats and produce a paper ‘pattern’ exclusive and unique to you. The fabric used for your suit is then cut from this one-of-a-kind paper template. This means that your suit will fit perfectly and hang properly from every part of the body, no matter what your shape.
Made-to-measure (MTM) on the other hand typically means that your suit will be produced using fabric cut from a standard block pattern, based on the average shape of the average man. Obviously it will be altered and tweaked here and there to provide a fit more in keeping with your measurements but it will not be custom made according to your exact body shape. Whilst this works well for ‘normal’ shaped people, you may find the outcome considerably less satisfactory if you have sloped shoulders, a particularly trim waist or are on the stouter side for example.
It goes without saying that there are price advantages in selecting the made-to-measure option, and this is the service offered by the likes of Moss Bros and Austin Reed. Whilst there is nothing wrong in doing this, you should be aware of the limitations.
A good tailor will tell you straight up if they are going to build your suit using a bespoke pattern or if it is made-to-measure. If they don’t, you should not be ashamed to ask the question – if they try to shirk around the issue or tell you that they are the same thing take this as your cue to walk away.
A little about fabric
Believe it or not, but it is in fact your choice of fabric that determines the price of the suit above anything else. This will be the first thing you are asked to decide upon during your initial consultation with your tailor and it is something that you want to get right; having a basic understanding of the range of fabrics used in gentleman’s tailoring is therefore extremely valuable.
First off, you should immediately discard any man-made or synthetic fibres. It is rare that you will even find these in a quality tailoring shop but if you do, stay well clear. If you are going for a fairly standard suit (i.e not one of cotton, linen or silk) then you will want to focus firmly on wool.
Generally speaking the wool used in tailoring is ‘worsted’. This refers to the type of woollen thread used to make the cloth; worsted wool is tightly spun resulting in a stronger, smoother fabric. The quality of the cloth is generally categorised using a number such as 80, 100 or Super 110 (and higher). This refers to the thickness of the thread used, with a higher number indicating a finer, thinner thread that results in a more luxuriant fabric. Be prepared to pay exponentially more as you climb through the fabric ranks however.
If you are planning a tropical wedding abroad then you may want to explore the possibility of linen, whilst tweed is also very fashionable at the moment as it makes for a quirky, country chic alternative.
The house style
One of the joys in ordering a tailored suit is that you get to pick out all the little details yourself. From the number of buttons and the colour of thread through to the shape of the lapels, you can pretty much customise it however you want.
Individual tailors do have their own house style however which you should take into account when choosing whom to use. The tailors of Savile Row tend to go for a boxier jacket with broader, rolled shoulders, whilst some of the more modern tailors prefer a waisted silhouette.
Ask the tailor directly if they have a house style then select a company whose style matches your own tastes.
How much does it really cost?
Put simply – how much do you want to pay? Good tailoring is an art form and it has taken years of training to get the best cutters and tailors to where they are today. Having the best will cost you though, and you should expect to pay anywhere upwards of £2,000 for a bespoke Savile Row suit.
At the other end of the spectrum, the high street made-to-measure options start from around £400, but once you have customised your design to the level most people want, the price heads towards the £600+ mark.
A large number of mid-range tailors have sprung up recently however, many offering the service and quality of their higher end cousins but often with Far East manufacturing. These tailors represent good value, especially if you find one with a well-regarded reputation. Obviously it depends on your fabric choice, but a fully bespoke suit should cost anywhere from £700-£1,200.
As with any artisan trade you should always seek reviews and recommendations from friends or family. A good tailor, if you find one, is a real asset and you are likely to go back to them again and again throughout your life.
Price doesn’t necessarily reflect the quality of a ready-to-wear suit. It’s more indicative of market positioning, branding and a manufacturer’s broader costs.
Understanding sizing is key to getting the most out of ready-to-wear (RTW). The sizes go back more than 100 years when Hart Schaffner & Marx (the company now famous for dressing former US President Barack Obama) was the first to produce proportioned suits in 1906. It analysed the male body and broke it down into generic sizes – tall, short, stout and thin.
Trying on a suit
If a RTW suit is what you want, or is all you can afford, you will need to have parts of it altered. To know what needs to be altered – indeed, to know whether it’s worth buying the suit in the first place – you will need to be able to analyse all aspects of fit. Of course, many of these points are subject to taste and fashion.
So here’s a rundown…
• Unfortunately jackets are not simple pieces of tailoring. The way the cloth looks across your back, for example, is affected by everything from the angle of the shoulder seam to the slope of your shoulders, and your natural posture to the height of the waist button. It is not just a question of doing it up and making sure you can breathe.
• Start with the waist. This is the fulcrum that the whole jacket has been designed on, anchoring the shoulders and revealing the
Fasten one button and tug it slightly to see how much excess there is. An inch or two is fine. You don’t want any stretch lines radiating from the button when it is fastened, but equally it should not be too loose.
Unlike a shirt, say, you will undo this button when you sit down (unless the jacket is double-breasted) so the jacket’s waist can follow yours quite closely.
• Next, look at the length of the jacket. There are many ways to assess whether this is correct, including it if matches your inside leg. But there are two simpler and more effective ways. Is the length of the jacket (from shoulder to jacket hem) roughly half the height of whole suit (from shoulder to trouser hem)? And does your jacket finish about halfway down your hands, so you can curl your fingers under it?
• The arms of the jacket should finish around your wrist bone – the point from which your hand flexes. If your shirt finishes at the base of the thumb, this should leave around half an inch of cuff showing (try to wear shirts that fit you well when trying on a suit, if possible).
• Most important to the fit of a suit, though, are the neck and shoulders as they are the hardest to get altered. The neck should sit flush on your collar when you are standing naturally (not dead straight as if you are on parade). If it stands away, the collar needs to be loosened.
• Finally, if the shoulders fit, then the jacket’s sleeve should just touch the muscle of your shoulder as it flows down the arm. Your shoulder should not create a bulge in the cloth, but nor should the sleeve hang loose beyond it. It should just touch.
Our extract is taken from Obsessions: Tailoring by Simon Crompton and published by Hardie Grant Books, £9.99 hardback. © Elwin Street Production Ltd 2016.
• Simon is founder and writer of Permanent Style, the most popular blog on men’s classic style in the UK, with more than 75,000 visitors a month.