Bespoke or Made-to-Measure

  • William Kissel

For the optimum fit and comfort, undoubtedly a custom-made suit is the first choice. But, if you're short on time or simply have a body type that doesn't require special-fit needs, a made-to-measure suit is another option. For even some well-heeled gentlemen, the difference between bespoke and made-to-measure can be confusing. Here are details to help you make the best wardrobe decision.

Made-to-measure clothing was first created three decades ago as a hybrid style of suit making that is a notch above ready-to-wear, but not as pricey and time consuming as a bespoke suit. Rather than creating a suit from scratch, clients are fitted from a selection of sample suit jackets and slacks that are tailored for their body type and then are given fabric and detail options. In contrast, a custom-made suit is measured and made for a client's specific body type, taking many nuances into consideration as well as personalizing the fabrics and all the details.

  • A true bespoke suit is constructed by hand by one tailor using measurements and patterns taken from a client's physical form. Oftentimes, the tailor will visit a client's home or office if an in-store visit isn't convenient. Since the tailor taking the measurements is the same person making the suit, every idiosyncratic nuance of a person's body is considered in the construction of the garment. After the initial measurements, it will take six to eight weeks for a prototype and the first fitting, and as long as six months to receive the final suit.
  • For made-to-measure suits, a client typically visits the store and selects a suit that is then tailored to suit his body type. The suit is produced in a factory and then customized by a team of tailors specializing in one component: the sleeve, the buttonholes, the pockets. The final suit is delivered, usually within six to eight weeks, and any adjustments are made by the in-store tailor.
  • With factory-made clothing, machines are computerized to sew the same stitch with the same tension throughout the garment. "With a custom suit, the tailor is able to adjust the tension in the seams where the body moves the most," points out Ciro Paone, the charismatic owner of Kiton, which has been making hand-made clothing for five decades. The result, he insists, is a much more comfortable suit.
  • Price shouldn't be a determining factor when choosing between custom and made-to-measure clothing because the costs are often comparable, depending upon the manufacturer. For example, a typical Kiton made-to-measure suit is a 50-hour labor of love and starts at about $5,000, whereas a bespoke suit from New York tailor Leonard Logsdail requires about 48 hours of work with a price of about $5,500. However, it's possible to get a well-constructed made-to-measure garment from Ravazzolo for as little as $2,000.
  • Not all custom tailors are created equal. A private tailor in your hometown may offer the same services of a Savile Row suit maker, from taking measurements and cutting the cloth to fitting the final garment. But technically capable doesn't mean he's trend savvy. Some tailors never leave their workshops to see how men's clothing has changed over the years. As Italian clothing maker Luciano Barbera points out, "It is possible to get a fantastically made suit that is ugly because the person who made it has no style or sense of proportion."
  • With a customized suit, the fabric and style options are limitless. With made-to-measure suits, clients are provided with a selection of fabrics to choose from. With bespoke clothing you can request any extravagant detail you desire, from cashmere under the collar and personalized linings to mother-of-pearl buttons and unlimited pockets inside and outside of the garment. You can even alter the shape of the shoulder and the cut of the armhole to your liking.
  • Made-to-measure suits typically come with a preset list of options: working or nonworking buttonholes; flap, patch, or besom pockets; pleated or non-pleated trousers. However, there are different levels of made-to-measure clothing. Some suit makers will lengthen the jacket, shorten the sleeve, and narrow the waist and call it made-to-measure. Others go much further, taking extra measurements to create clothing that disguises physical shortcomings such as lowered shoulders, high waists, and extended bellies. Some made-to-measure is only 5 percent handmade; others can be as much as 60 percent. Always ask how each maker defines made-to-measure.

Both custom and made-to-measure are obviously more expensive compared with the standard off-the-rack suit, as it's a time-consuming proposition requiring the service of seasoned tailors. Aside from labor, the cost is based on the fabric selection and the number of special-request details. With so many options, it's important to determine your wardrobe needs before engaging a tailor in the process, be it bespoke or made-to-measure.

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