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When you should go bespoke

Discussion in 'Classic Menswear' started by Blackhood, Jul 28, 2013.

  1. Blackhood

    Blackhood Well-Known Member

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    As some of you may know I have been in bespoke and OTR tailoring for about 10 years. While discussing the motivation for commissions we came up with a list that we believe roughly answers the question "should I be bespoke" that is so often asked of us (and asked online). Feel free to disagree with any of the points, expand, repudiate or request that I be lynched, as you see fit.

    Reasons to go bespoke

    Hard to fit off the rack
    This is probably the most obvious reason to go bespoke. Some people simply have a shape that lies outside of the middle ground that manufacturers cater to. Maybe years of hard labour has left you with a stoop, with shoulders rolling a long way forwards and a spine that is shaped like a question mark.

    More likely your prominent shoulderblades and fondness for cake has left you sticking out at the back and front, but in different directions. Maybe you are 5'0" and 230lbs or 6'8" and 170lbs, the chances are that you'll need a custom job.

    The most down to earth commission I've made was for a gent who was both wheelchair bound and required to be on television. He wanted a nicely fitting suit, but it couldn't have much of a back, and the front must be proportionate so as not to bunch up in his lap. We made him a jacket (and accompanying trousers) that he could never have had off the rack, and he looked good.

    Want a design no maker has done
    You want a lime green suit with purple lining and 13 buttons on the front? Macy's won't sell you that, but Ozwold Boeteng will.

    Traveling for an extended period in Casablanca or Jakarta? You might like a linen suit with two buttons or zips on each pocket to deter pickpockets.

    Have you simply seen a cloth in an old photo that you'd love to buy, but the original creator has long since shuffled off the mortal coil?

    This is where the magic of bespoke comes to life; if you have a whim then it can be indulged. If you have a mere spectre of an idea, there is a man who can flesh it out into reality.

    Hobbyist/neurotic
    This is the camp into which 99% of forum dwellers fall (myself included). There is absolutely zero shame in saying to yourself "I know my Jos A Bank suit fits me like a glove, but I want to choose the colour of my buttons and the shape of my pocket flaps BECAUSE I LOVE IT!"

    There is a simple pleasure in shaking the hand of a craftsman who makes an object you see as beautiful and desirable. There honour in contributing to the survival of a crippled and limping craft.

    Reasons not to go bespoke

    Good value
    Let us get one thing clear: bespoke clothes are not good value. Decent bespoke will run you £3,000/$5,000 (and why would you buy cheaper hand-made mediocre goods?) and will take 6 weeks from inception to delivery - assuming you live next door to your tailor and bribed him to make your suit quickly. More likely you will make a trip to see your suit at 1 month and 3 month intervals if you live nearby and every 6 months if you go overseas.

    Once you calculate your time, travel expense and the untold anxiousness that accompanies a daring commission you are well and truly out of pocket.

    Assuming that you have done your maths and decided that it still offers good value you must take into account that bespoke is a process - the first suit will be 90% perfect, the second will be 95% perfect and the subsequent ones will be between 98% and 100% perfect. Now we are three suits in, with little change from £10,000.

    Bespoke is not cheap. Do it because you love it. Do it because you need something special. Never do it because it is the more economic or better value. You will walk away feeling cheated, and neither you nor your tailor deserves that.


    Improving a perfect fit

    There is a myth that the bespoke process will make any many look like James Bond, and that a bespoke tailor will be able to weave literal magic to make a perfect garment.

    I may be thrown out of the Tailors Circle for telling you this but: we can't do magic.

    Ultimately the difference between OTR and Bespoke is that when both men sit down and cut some wool into a shape to be wrapped around a body the bespoke tailor has seen you before hand. They are still just men, cutting the outside layer of a sheep into a full body condom.

    If you find a garment OTR that looks perfect (and after a second and third look you can't see anything to improve) then really, I can't do anything to make you look better. You might want that fit in other choices, which is fine (see Style, above) but don't expect me to shave off that gut or add an inch to your height.



    Prestige
    When getting into this game it is very easy to feel like a king in your new clothes. Online we may fawn for hours over Vox's Mystery Tailor or Spoo's latest feud-or-friend thread, but telling someone in the real world that your clothes are custom made rarely elicits a positive response. Either you are bragging, or wasting money, or more often engaging in a practice people don't understand at all. They care little about the time, or money or effort that went into your navy three piece suit, and if they knew the truth may be quite shocked.



    As a tailor and purveyor of suits for the last ten years I have observed the ups and downs of the new cult that is Internet iGents. It has brought new blood into the community and introduced the next generation of men to the previous generation of tailors. It has also set expectations that are so unrealistic that many are a little disappointed and disillusioned by their first commission.

    If you are an odd shape, I will make you an odd suit.
    If you like odd colours, I will make you a colourful suit.
    If you love a good suit, I will make you a good suit.

    If you wish to play gentry by ordering a good value suit that makes you look less fat to impress your friends, I will ask you to leave. I simply can't face your disappointment in the face of my hard work.
     
    9 people like this.
  2. David Reeves

    David Reeves Well-Known Member

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    Surely you can make people look less fat? That's a pretty basic thing to do when making men's tailored clothes right?
     
  3. poorsod

    poorsod Well-Known Member

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    1 person likes this.
  4. Grammaton Cleric

    Grammaton Cleric Well-Known Member

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    Great post, and I agree.

    David: I think you're missing the forest for the trees here. I don't think that the OP is implying that good bespoke cannot improve the customer's appearance, but that it can do so only in degrees (i.e. if you have a build like a sumo wrestler, don't expect to look like James Bond just because you're spending $$$ at Camps de Luca).
     
  5. VinnyMac

    VinnyMac Well-Known Member

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    This is an entertaining analysis. Thanks for sharing.

    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2013
  6. PapaRubbery

    PapaRubbery Well-Known Member

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    I think you'll find that David's tongue was so firmly in his cheek when he wrote that post, he must have previously nailed it there.
     
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  7. David Reeves

    David Reeves Well-Known Member

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    I wasn't trying to belittle the OP or be contentious. I'm wondering and would be interested to know what sparked the post and particularly the statements about proportions, because really you can do an awful lot and this is one of those skills that is integral to good bespoke.

    I almost felt like just posting:

    Alright, what happened?
     
  8. poorsod

    poorsod Well-Known Member

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    Really? I did get that sense at all in the OP. Just quite the opposite. I read this sentence as an absolute, not as a matter of degrees.

     
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2013
  9. jcmeyer

    jcmeyer Well-Known Member

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    From my own, rather limited (3 bespoke all from the same tailor) experience, I think this is a good level-set for people considering taking the plunge. And I echo this statement: "the first suit will be 90% perfect, the second will be 95% perfect..." -- and realistically the first one may be more like 80%, only you won't know it until you're finished with #2.

    Two more important points I believe belong here:

    1) Your tailor is just a tailor. He is not a clothing designer - at least the one's I've met haven't been. So just because it's custom clothing does not automatically mean it will be a great-looking piece, though certainly the superior fit should go a long way in making up for what it may lack in certain details. There were so many small choices to make in both fit and style that I had no idea about when I started, but each time I got a little bit more knowledgeable and aware of my options. Which leads to #2...

    2) Getting clothing made is an awesome, ongoing education. I know so much more about what I like and why certain fit and finish details matter now in terms of how I want to look. Part of what you're paying for is knowledge that extends into everything you buy, OTR as well. A blessing and a curse, for sure.

    Question mildly related to #1 for you gents... once you've found a tailor and are getting dialed in with him, do you tend to stick with that person or do you like to go elsewhere just as you would shop other brands to avoid heavying up too much on one?
     
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  10. David Reeves

    David Reeves Well-Known Member

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    Well I think any garment made for someone should be "correct" insomuch as it should fit cleanly, there should be nothing "wrong" with the fit of the suit no matter what you are paying for it, if it is made for you. 100% right for "you" in one go....maybe not, but we should be talking feelings and finesse here and this will evolve and change anyway.

    I'm stunned when I hear about other people's experience with MTM and bespoke. Last week I was talking to a lady who ordered a rather cheap MTM. The vest was apparently way too short, I said what did you do? And she said; well they shrugged their shoulders and said well we can't do anything, so I left it. If that was me I would take the hit and order a remake, that's just what you do. The thing is all these MTMs are doing things on the cheap so when it goes wrong they just come out with the line "suit, is fine!!" And people have to take it because their margins cant.That's a big mistake people and businesses make with MTM or bespoke, charging too little or in the clients case paying to little. I don't charge the most, but my suits aren't inexpensive, my MTM is $1500, but you can bet if you want that sleeve shortening 1/4" I will do it. You can bet that the lapel won't be the wrong width or the pockets won't be in a weird place and ultimately if you hate it for some reason, you will get a refund or a remake.

    I'm sorry but a tailor should be a clothing designer or he should employ or work for one if he's doing the whole deal, I mean who is going to design it? In most cases the client certainly cant as we see many, many times.

    In this day and age having clothing made for you is a luxury, this is a luxury business and it can't be done on the cheap. Businesses and clients need to understand and respect that if they are expecting great garments.
     
  11. JubeiSpiegel

    JubeiSpiegel Well-Known Member

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    I have also wondered if most people stick with the same tailor or indulge in an iGent-like wish list of tailors to commission.

    Based on the above, it would seem prudent to stick to a couple of tailors at most, to dial down that eventual perfect fit. But how does one make that ever important choice of choosing the right tailor in the first place?
     
  12. David Reeves

    David Reeves Well-Known Member

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    I think it's simply just about looking at what's produced. If you like it, go for it. It's bizarre though the amount of times people will be in front of me in my office and they say what do your suits look like? I just say well I'm wearing one now and there's one on the mannequin, do you like them? If you do, you can have one made for you if you like. I say that in a tongue in cheek way but it's basically what it boils down to I think.
     
  13. unbelragazzo

    unbelragazzo Well-Known Member

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    In addition to how the suits look on display or on the tailor himself, I think having a good rapport with the tailor is important too. You want to feel like he understands you and what you want.

    A good way to start might be to come in wearing a jacket you have that you think fits pretty well, and ask him how his bespoke or MTM might fit differently. If he just gives you the whole, "it'll be bespoke so it'll be however you want it!" routine, then I don't really trust it. If he says, "that jacket isn't a bad fit, but I usually like to do a little more fullness in the chest and I think you'd benefit from some more extended shoulders" (just as a for instance) then I know he's serious.
     
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  14. David Reeves

    David Reeves Well-Known Member

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    Thats good advice. I don't know why tailors talk like that to people, it just seems arrogant and well very inexperienced.
     
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2013
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  15. jcmeyer

    jcmeyer Well-Known Member

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    Agreed. Percentages of "correctness" are probably the wrong way to explain how your first suit will strike you in comparison to subsequent attempts, or in terms of the image you had in your head of how it should look based on some picture you found on style forum of someone else looking like you wanted to look. It will also certainly depend on the first-timer's overall knowledge and experience with suits and with what "proper fit/styling" means to him when rating the finished product against expectations. For example, the jacket of my first suit is a little longer than I like it to be, but I didn't know that until later and it certainly isn't wrong; it's just not ideal.


    I should clarify what I meant and maybe you or others can dispel any incorrect assumptions I'm making. I would assume that there is such a thing as the "house cut;" a pre-existing pattern that is followed for all of the elements that the customer does not specifically ask for. So while there is certainly a starting design, the tweaks you make don't necessarily change the other elements. I would imagine the safe bet for most tailors is finding the closest thing to the middle of the road possible to ensure the most people like the finished result. How did you decide what your standard suit would look like?

    My tailor will certainly step in if he thinks I'm asking for something that will throw the piece out of balance, but there must be a reason that people shell out thousands more than it would cost to get a suit made (not counting the highest levels of bespoke perhaps) for the sake of putting on a Tom Ford suit or any other recognized brand. Or maybe not. :)
     
  16. David Reeves

    David Reeves Well-Known Member

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    Well we must always remember we are only talking about suits here, it's not some avante garde piece by issey miyake, stylistically and in many ways you can say one suit is pretty much the same as another so from a design perspective it's not too tricky for a designer to put on a ticket pocket, it won't set the world on fire. However, and this is why I like designing suits, you have these constraints and you have to work within them so it's all about subtlety and this is what is hard for people to get their head around and I think it takes years of experience and a certain innate knack to get it right.

    I have worked all my adult life with bench tailors and no one will respect what they do more than me, you can be a tailor making the best hand worked garment in the world, but if that breast welt is 3/4" too low or that button stance is wrong you've killed that garment and often clients and tailors just don't get this until its too late.

    How did I come up with my basic suit? My suits are actually purposefully quite simple in style I think, I try to make truly classic, timeless pieces as much as I can. After 15 years of producing suits I think I've boiled things down to placements that just "work" but this is a style in itself. I try to calibrate it all so it sits on that fence of being chic but classic. Understanding like muscle memory what makes a suit look boring, or young or ugly or stylish allows me to do this.

    Add to that great cloths and trimmings and then make sure that the fit is good and you don't have to reinvent the wheel because quality is always in style. Whether you think I'm succesful at doing these things well that's up to you but this is my honest take on how I approach my suits.

    Now there is variation in what I do in terms of style sometimes. I may want to make the suit look a touch 60s or 70s. I play around with the basics just trying to stay on that knife edge to keep it classic Savile row, but give it a feeling that is evocative of the era, while being careful not too be too authentic to it, because then your creating costume.

    Does any of that make sense? It's late for me.
     
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2013
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  17. jcmeyer

    jcmeyer Well-Known Member

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    :nodding: Absolutely. I very much appreciate it as I think at some point this question probably runs through most people's heads if they've been involved with commissioning a suit. And no worries, it's late here too and we're talking in generalities but you added some really great context to the tailor/customer interaction.

    There is no doubt a wide spectrum of eye for design among tailors, and I'm genuinely happy with my guy but that's why I asked about trying out others, same as you would stroll into several different stores while out shopping -- you don't know what will catch your eye until you see it, and that's a lot more difficult when it comes to custom clothing. The question then becomes, is there enough difference between similarly-priced bespoke options to warrant losing the momentum you've built up with one tailor to try another, if the general pattern for a classic piece such as a suit is not going to vary widely enough to matter. Might not even really be an answerable question; just one that strikes me from time to time.

    Thanks again for the reply.
     
  18. Blackhood

    Blackhood Well-Known Member

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    No once incident, just a culmination of recent advice on SF/AAAC and customers walking in and using the phrase "I read some advice on-line and bespoke seems to be the way to go..."

    I feel very passionately that we are on a knife edge of tailoring; on the one hand the generation of men for whom it was standard practice to have their suit made is gone and the trade is on it's knees. On the other hand we are working in an age where information spreads like wildfire, and the right advice in the right location can support multiple businesses and cause a resurgence. I think it is important that instead of allowing bespoke tailoring to be mythologised by armchair sartorialists we must be frank and honest about what can be achieved, and what cannot. Setting ourselves (both tailors and consumers) a realistic bar is the only way to make sure that this interest in the very highest level of custom clothing doesn't burn out because a few too many people didn't come away with what they were expecting.

    I'm not trying to make any real point with what I wrote, I just feel that it is the kind of thing that should be said occasionally, especially when we are in an environment that advocates going bespoke so readily. Bringing balance to the force, if you will :hide:
     
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  19. Blackhood

    Blackhood Well-Known Member

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    [​IMG]
     
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  20. archibaldleach

    archibaldleach Well-Known Member

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