The Top Seven Things to Consider When Buying a Custom Suit

A well-made bespoke suit is a fairly large investment: prices range from a few hundred all the way to a few thousand dollars. Preparation and research are key to maximizing your investment. Here are what I consider the top seven things to consider before buying a custom bespoke suit:

1.       Know what you want.

Take inventory of what you have in your closet and buy accordingly. This advice sounds super basic, but you’d be surprised at how many new clients come in winging it. Knowing what color you want is the most basic piece of data, but bringing reference pictures is always best. I always tell my clients to save any suit pics that catch their eye. When browsing through a magazine, walking through a store, or even walking down the street, keep your eyes peeled for suits you love—then put that smartphone to good use, snap a quick photo, and file it into a “Suits” folder on your phone. Knowing what you want and having reference pictures at hand goes a long way when buying a bespoke suit.

2.       Know your suit maker.

More specifically, know how he likes to cut his suits. Yeah, a bespoke suit offers far more flexibility than a made-to-measure or off-the-rack suit, but at the end of the day, every suit maker will have a certain cut to which all his suits more or less adhere. Taking the time to chat about what you’re looking for, cut-wise, and assessing whether you and a particular suit maker see eye to eye helps you avoid disappointment later. Again, reference pictures help a lot. A word of caution: remember that magazine photo shoots usually involve pinning suits up to make them appear more tailored—and then the images are Photoshopped, to boot.

3.       Think usability.

Hands down the biggest mistake most clients make is wanting their new bespoke suit to be “special.” They veer toward unique fabric patterns, finishes, or weaves and then pair them with eccentric details. ”I want it to look custom,” they say.

In a way, this desire makes total sense—you want your new suit to make a statement. But standing out can really limit how wearable your investment suit actually is. Most of us tend to wear a given suit once or twice a week; statements suits look repetitive when worn more than once or twice a month. The caveat: If you have a large rotation of high-quality, well-fitting suits (at least 12) by all means order any suit you want.

4.        Don’t be a slave to trends.

A bespoke suit is an investment piece. It should last years rather than a few seasons. Fashion in suiting is all about manipulating proportions, and trends exaggerate this manipulation. Lapels get extremely skinny or silly wide; shoulder pads get Frankenstein-like; pants start to look like Spandex, and so on. Don’t be tempted by extremes.

5.       Don’t think classic either.

The biggest myth in fashion is that a particular classic style will always be classic. That’s simply not true. While trends can make a suit look dated when they die down, failing to follow sweeping industry changes can make your new suit look instantly dated. For example, when a shift occurs from three-button to two-button suits, buying a three-button can make your new suit look ten years old. The key is moderation. Follow major updates, but skip drastic trends.

6.       Trust your suit maker.

Your chosen suit maker should be able to hold your hand and walk you through the process. And always be wary of a suit maker who doesn’t dress well. Sloppily fitted, mismatched clothing is a clear sign of a bad suit maker; he may make a technically great garment, but sewing skills are only one aspect of great suit making. Fit, style, details, and color coordination will make or break a suit. Because these aspects are more immediately visible than the sewing, they can arguably carry much more importance than technical tailoring skills (not that tailoring isn’t crucial).

7.       Build with a purpose.

Know what you’ll need the suit for. Do you need a workhorse suit that can be worn two or three times a week? Will you travel with it? Is it a summer suit? A winter suit?

These and other questions of use will determine many of your choices—fabric, details, cut, and so on. Understanding your needs and building the right suit to fit them is where a great suit maker can really make a difference.

The Cutting Room is a bespoke design house based in Orange County, CA, specializing in custom suits, shirts, and accessories.

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