Slipping into a custom-made suit is simply the sine qua non of dressing sensations—a thrill that could be compared with sliding behind the wheel of your very own Ferrari. If 100 of the world’s legitimately best-dressed men gathered, the majority surely would sport ensembles that are either partly or completely custom made. Bespoke historically has been the common language of men of style—from the legendary 19th-century dandies Count d’Orsay and Beau Brummell to the 20th century’s Duke of Windsor and Cary Grant, as well as Agnelli, Givenchy, and Lauren, who followed. Highbrow men’s fashion always has been an expression of the dialogue between man and tailor. And it’s no different today.
In ascending the fashion ladder, gentlemen who aspire to the pinnacle of taste and elegance eventually will arrive at its highest rung—a level where other like-minded blades are busy cultivating their own sense of style as an extension of their emerging selves. Any man who has crossed over the mass-production Rubicon into the world of one-offs understands just how difficult it would be to return to the off-the-rack empire. Having a master tailor minister to every fashion whim is intoxicatingly seductive for those pooh-bahs who are accustomed to micromanaging other areas of their lives.
A fine custom-made suit always will trump the best ready-made one, which makes perfect sense since more time, effort, and money are required from both sides of the tape measure. The custom tailor employs more expensive fabrics and invests hours meticulously hand-sewing and manually preparing each stage of the garment. Likewise, the custom client must commit his own time and focus to the numerous indispensable fittings that are the nuts and bolts behind bespoke’s ultimate superiority.
It may be harder to find true custom tailors these days, especially ones with above-working-class tastes, however they do exist. The man who takes your measurements and then personally cuts and creates your own pattern ranks as the intelligentsia of the tailoring trade. Under his classically trained eyes, the ambitious swell can begin to appreciate what generations of cognoscenti before him have long understood and practiced: The bottom line of all personal style begins and ends with the correct proportion of one’s clothes.
From shirt collar to shoe toe, shoulder width to cuff width—before color, quality, fashion, or personal taste enter the equation—you must learn how best to frame your unique scaffolding. No amount of clothing will enable a man who lacks this fundamental knowledge to assemble a long-term personal style or wardrobe. Not only do these building blocks remain constant, they radically shorten the fashion learning curve. For example, instead of trying to keep up with each season’s latest trend in necktie width, you need only know which is the most flattering necktie width for you—which, by the way, should take its cue from your jacket’s lapel width, which in turn, takes its direction from the width of your shoulders.
When you stand in front of the fitting mirror with a custom tailor, it’s easy to see how subtle manipulations can make you look better or worse. Once accustomed to the banter about shoulder expressions, sleeve lengths, and trouser leg widths, you suddenly realize that you’ve developed some pretty strong opinions about how your clothes should or should not fit. And then comes the day when your eyes momentarily avert to the jacket collar of the man who is seated across from you, and you mentally register that it does not fit his neck very well. And at that moment, you realize that you’re hooked.
Alan Flusser is an award-winning men’s fashion designer who has authored four books on men’s style and operates the Alan Flusser Custom Shop in New York City.