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Can You Tell The Difference Between Bespoke and Ready-to-Wear?

dieworkwear

Mahatma Jawndi
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A friend of mine and I were having an argument about whether someone can tell the difference between bespoke and RTW. He says the difference is night and day. I don't think it is.

One of the best articles I've read on this topic is by David Isle over at No Man Walks Alone. Here's a link:


As David notes, discussions of this topic are often complicated by people comparing different makers, fabrics, and even wearers. In his post, he compares a RTW Formosa sport coat to a bespoke one made from the same fabric (and made for him). Here is a photo from the post:


Screen Shot 2020-02-14 at 11.53.46 PM.png



As you can see, one of the main differences is in the right-left balance. The bespoke coat corrects for a dropped right shoulder. As I understand it, this can be corrected for in RTW as well, so long as you have a skilled tailor. They would just pick up the jacket from the shoulder seam. It should also be noted that not all bespoke tailors correct for this left-right balance issue, although they should.

Another issue is how the garment has been padded. Theoretically, "true" bespoke garments should be hand padded, although it's questionable whether all are. Here's a Henry Poole jacket (possibly made-to-measure) that has been machine-padded


I was talking to Salvo from I Sartri a few weeks ago about machine vs hand padding. Salvo is in a unique position since he offers handmade bespoke garments and runs a factory (I believe they do MTM and RTW through the factory). This is somewhat rare because most tailors are either in one area of this field or another. Bespoke tailors often don't know what are the latest technologies available to factories because they don't run factories. Someone at a factory may also not know how to make a bespoke suit -- they may only know how to do a couple of steps on the factory line.

Anyway, Salvo was telling me that there are machines now that can replicate the shaping in a hand-padded garment. I assume he means the Strobel roll-padding machine discussed in this post below. Basically, a machine stitches the garment while rolling the fabric, like on a drum.


Supposedly, the difference between machine and hand padding is only noticeable in very lightweight cloths (say, 8oz or so). In anything heavier, and certainly in the kind of heavy cloths StyleForum members here prefer, the difference is not noticeable.

What else? I suppose there's hand vs machine pressing. I once walked through Isaia's factory and saw a jacket come out of a machine press. It looked exactly like the hand-pressed garments my tailor gives me. (In terms of shaping). I imagine the machine is too expensive for a local dry cleaner, which is why most people are better off with a hand press after they've purchased a garment. But this is to say that machine-made RTW can get pretty close, if not exactly to the same point, as bespoke.

I also recently talked to another bespoke tailor who briefly worked with a Japanese factory to create a new MTM line. He said that, since the company was unwilling to buy new blocks, he found that certain figures were easier to tailor for when doing through the bespoke process. The whole point of MTM was to scale up and make a garment faster. But if someone has a very big stomach, for example, it would be easier for the tailor to correct for that front balance by hand, rather than trying to stick them through MTM. Since the block isn't created for someone with such a big stomach, it will just give them something that's too short at the front. So factory production, including MTM, is limited by what can be achieved through the blocks.

My impression is is that the value of bespoke is mostly in:

1) Symbolic Value: If you value craft for its own sake, then bespoke is nice because it represents a certain level of human achievement. For people who value tradition, it can also represent a certain old-world way of making things.

2) House Style: If you value a tailor's house style, then that may also only be achievable in bespoke.

3) Classic Style:
To a degree, it also seems easier to avoid trends when you go bespoke, assuming you don't inject a trend into the design yourself. You can get a lapel that's middle-of-the-road, rather than very wide or thin. You can get a jacket that's halfway between your collar and the floor, rather than zoot-suit long or very cropped and short. So on and so forth.

4) If You Have a Difficult Figure: And clearly, if you have a difficult figure, you will probably be best served in something that's custom-made, rather than ready-to-wear.

But assuming you're easy to fit, and you're comparing apples-to-apples (high-end RTW to bespoke), can you tell the difference between something that's custom-made and something that's off-the-rack? My sense is no, but my friend says it's as plain as the sun (he also has a lot of experience with high-end RTW and bespoke, so he has an informed opinion). I'm curious to hear people's thoughts.
 

Phileas Fogg

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As long as we are comparing apples to apples I get it. High end ready to wear, with lots of handwork, premium fabrics and expert construction would be hard to tell apart from bespoke.
I think the wearer, too, I’m figures in this. If the gentleman is of a fairly average physique and can fit into RTW with minor adjustments, then I don’t see the difference. On the other hand, if his dimensions are more extreme, some professional athletes for example, then I would think that the essence of bespoke would show forth more immediately.
 

Keith Taylor

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While I, along with most SF members and others who care about clothing more than most, slightly fetishise bespoke the average man on the street wouldn’t notice the difference provided a jacket fits correctly at several points. If I turned up tomorrow in a RTW jacket that fit at the shoulders and sleeves, and wasn’t overly long or short, I don’t have a single friend who’d think to challenge me if I claimed it was bespoke. They’d have no idea how to tell. They wouldn’t care, either, but I suppose that’s a different story.

Simon Crompton of Permanent Style wrote a good article comparing a MTM vs RTW Eduardo de Simone jacket a couple of years ago, and while the differences were subtle they were definitely noticeable to those of us who care about this stuff. The big differences to my eye were in the stance and shoulder construction, along with a few minor style choices (especially pocket construction). It’s a bit clearer in David’s jacket as he has an imbalance that would probably carry across to any RTW, and it’s severe enough to affect everything from the lapel to the arms to the quarters, but both Simon and David look perfectly fine in the RTW.

At the end of the day I think the really big difference isn’t really about fit, assuming you don’t have a difficult figure, because for most people minor points of fit just aren’t immediately obvious. This stuff only matters to we weirdos and obsessives, but it’s about the way it makes you feel more than anything else. I don’t own anything bespoke as I live in a part of the world in which skilled tailors simply don’t exist, but if I walked down the street in something that was made specifically for my body, minutely designed to hide my flaws and highlight my strengths, I expect I’d carry myself with a confidence I don’t when I’m walking to the shops in my d’Avenza blazer with the quarter inch too wide shoulders, the half inch too high stance, the vents that never quite seem to sit right on my overly large ass and the lapel that I know would look fantastic if only it rolled like this rather than that. The difference isn’t in the jacket but in my head, and that matters because... well, because that’s where I live.
 

Encathol Epistemia

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I'm indubitably a type 1 and 4, especially the type 1, given that I just used the word, "indubitably," in cold blood like some kind of Jack-the-Ripper wannabe, which is odd, because he was almost surely an uneducated man with an unpretentious vocabulary.

I do have a stupid body: I'm a short fat guy, but not fat in the way that most commercial garments assume (they tend to be tight at the 'natural waist', but have excess room in the gut proper), short limbs and the world's dumbest shoulders (shockingly square and low on the right). I also tend to want ill-advised styles that most companies know better than to sell, manifesting chiefly in my hatred of notch lapels and demand for an extra, special buttonhole for my goddamned watch chain.

I think that I ultimately like bespoke because it's interesting to work with tailors who have stories to tell about how they learned their trade and how they do their work and credibly, although I cannot presently know if it's also accurately, affirm that they're making garments to last for decades, with proper care and alteration. Spending outrageous sums now to get just what I want, filtered through the thoughtful scolding not to have certain elements by a professional, and only deal with occasional alteration fees for the next thirty or so years appeals to me. This might be partially because I began twelve years ago with bespoke hats, which are about the only way to get a good hat as the Stetson or what-have-you off the rack is made of generally wanting materials in a cheapened construction (I.e. glued sweatbands), so this is all that I know. Besides, in a menswear store, you get assailed by 'helpful' salesmen regardless of what you want, whereas the terms of one's relationship with a tailor are better controlled and defined by nature, even if he does hustle a little for extra work. I enormously respect and admire the effort that it requires to learn how to make a suit, then effect that remarkable skill, so I like to feed it to do some part to keep it nourished. (Oddly, I suspect that I pay less than oligarch prices for better than crass oligarch clothes to people who are far from being oligarchs; both of the tailors whom I've worked with have families to support, after all)

Ultimately, the money spent on bespoke garments that I've had made are probably as unjustifiable as the money that I've spent on single-malt scotch, although easier on my liver as well as arguably more satisfying as they also don't run dry and need to be replaced. Of course, deep down I fear that using money beyond what's necessary to buy burlap sacks for cloths, tent under the Ben Franklin Bridge and gruel for anything but charity might be unjustifiable. Besides that, I also inexplicably like that idea that n year hence, some weirdo perpetual virgin will find my old cloths in a thrift store and orgasm as he otherwise only might by his own dominant hand at finding eccentric examples of the kind of thing that people of *achem* TASTE AND DISTINCTION wore before climate change rendered anything but diaphanous linen loincloths impractical.

So my point is I commission bespoke clothes because I'm evil, but not fun evil like Hans Gruber in Die Hard or crazy, but not the fun crazy like Gary Busey without looking into the underlying sad tragedy of his life.
 
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FlyingHorker

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Well I think the picture alone you posted helps support his argument. The right one looks comparatively sloppy.
 

WSW

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I think that the main difference is in how the garment feels on you since it was made to fit you specifically versus a standard pattern. Even after alterations, there will be small snags or pulls that while not entirely uncomfortable, they appear more so once you begin wearing good bespoke.

I also like how you can specify details such as the shape, types and position of pockets, buttoning stance, fabric, lining etc. These all contribute to making the bespoke garment yours only, which feels much more special.
 

dieworkwear

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Well I think the picture alone you posted helps support his argument. The right one looks comparatively sloppy.

I don't think the left-right balance issue is inherent to bespoke. As far as I know, you can fix it through an alterations tailor. But also, not all bespoke tailors account for this.

I think that the main difference is in how the garment feels on you since it was made to fit you specifically versus a standard pattern. Even after alterations, there will be small snags or pulls that while not entirely uncomfortable, they appear more so once you begin wearing good bespoke.

Do you mean psychologically or physically? Aside from drape, I haven't noticed any difference in how bespoke feels from RTW. I have Neapolitan coats that are a bit slim, so they're a little constricting. I also have drape cut coats there are roomy, so they feel more comfortable.
 
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dieworkwear

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Really? How is this done? I'm curious now if this ever pops up.

@jefferyd

As far as I know, you would pick up the jacket at the shoulder seam. I've had this done to finished bespoke garments, and I've heard of it being done in finished MTM. Since these are finished garments, and you're not letting anything out, I assume the same can be done to RTW. It may be an expensive alteration, but probably not as expensive as getting bespoke.

In other words, in the photo of David above, you could adjust the RTW jacket. With a left-right issue corrected, I'm not sure how anyone would be able to tell the difference between the bespoke Formosa and RTW Formosa.
 

FlyingHorker

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As far as I know, you would pick up the jacket at the shoulder seam. I've had this done to finished bespoke garments, and I've heard of it being done in finished MTM. Since these are finished garments, and you're not letting anything out, I assume the same can be done to RTW. It may be an expensive alteration, but probably not as expensive as getting bespoke.

In other words, in the photo of David above, you could adjust the RTW jacket. With a left-right issue corrected, I'm not sure how anyone would be able to tell the difference between the bespoke Formosa and RTW Formosa.
Eh, sorry I don't understand the bolded. Like reducing the shoulder on one side?
 

dieworkwear

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Eh, sorry I don't understand the bolded. Like reducing the shoulder on one side?

An actual tailor such as @Despos or @jefferyd can say better than me, but this is how I understand it

If you have a dropped shoulder, the left-right balance will be off. You can see this when you put on the jacket. The hems will be slightly uneven on the two sides. If you fasten the coat, you will also notice a bit of dragging at the buttoning point, as you see in David's coat.

Notably, not all tailors correct for this. The left-right panels of the coat are often cut from the same pattern. Meaning, a tailor folds the cloth over and on top of itself. Then chalks up the cloth using the pattern. And then cuts the cloth, so that he/ she has identical patterns for both sides. To correct for the dropped shoulder, he/ she would then have to correct for one of the panels. But not everyone does this (one of the assumptions of bespoke is that everything always goes right, but of course that is rarely the case).

Anyway, obviously, for ready-to-wear, this will never be adjusted for you off-the-rack. So you will see the left-right balance issue because most people have asymmetrically sloped shoulders.

To fix this, you will need to shorten the coat on the dropped side by "picking up" the coat at the shoulder seam. Essentially, you're cutting a wedge out. This will pull the coat up, which then fixes the issue.

Here are David's two coats. Bespoke is on the left. RTW is on the right. If a tailor cuts a wedge out at the shoulder seam, he/ she would be correcting for the dropped shoulder issue.
'
Chris or Jeffery can correct me if I'm wrong.

Screen Shot 2020-02-14 at 11.53.46 PM (1).png
 

FlyingHorker

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An actual tailor such as @Despos or @jefferyd can say better than me, but this is how I understand it

If you have a dropped shoulder, the left-right balance will be off. You can see this when you put on the jacket. The hems will be slightly uneven on the two sides. If you fasten the coat, you will also notice a bit of dragging at the buttoning point, as you see in David's coat.

Notably, not all tailors correct for this. The left-right panels of the coat are often cut from the same pattern. Meaning, a tailor folds the cloth over and on top of itself. Then chalks up the cloth using the pattern. And then cuts the cloth, so that he/ she has identical patterns for both sides. To correct for the dropped shoulder, he/ she would then have to correct for one of the panels. But not everyone does this (one of the assumptions of bespoke is that everything always goes right, but of course that is rarely the case).

Anyway, obviously, for ready-to-wear, this will never be adjusted for you off-the-rack. So you will see the left-right balance issue because most people have asymmetrically sloped shoulders.

To fix this, you will need to shorten the coat on the dropped side by "picking up" the coat at the shoulder seam. Essentially, you're cutting a wedge out. This will pull the coat up, which then fixes the issue.

Here are David's two coats. Bespoke is on the left. RTW is on the right. If a tailor cuts a wedge out at the shoulder seam, he/ she would be correcting for the dropped shoulder issue.
'
Chris or Jeffery can correct me if I'm wrong.

View attachment 1337892
Ok, I think I got it now. The wedge cutting out description and the picture makes sense.
 

Keith Taylor

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You could also probably address the issue (as long as it’s minor) by adding a little extra padding to the dropped shoulder. This might be the simpler solution, especially with a jacket like David’s where pattern matching with the sleeve cap might make recutting the fabric a problem.
 

Andy57

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Briefly, Ready-to-wear jackets are like tents. They are made to fit, well, I'm not entirely sure who they're made to fit, but not me, for sure.

After the first couple of bespoke items I had made, the real pleasure of bespoke, for me, comes in commissioning something that simply doesn't exist off-the-rack. Like, for example, a suit made from a custom cloth, say, oh, I don't know, @dieworkwear's Summer Tweed. And then have it made in a style that just would never be found ready-made.

I also don't care if no one else knows if I'm wearing bespoke or ready-to-wear. I know and that's all that matters. I once wore one of my Steed suits to a local council meeting. A very nice lady complimented me on the suit, for which I thanked her. Then she asked me what size the suit was. All I could reply was "my size".
 

dieworkwear

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Briefly, Ready-to-wear jackets are like tents. They are made to fit, well, I'm not entirely sure who they're made to fit, but not me, for sure.

After the first couple of bespoke items I had made, the real pleasure of bespoke, for me, comes in commissioning something that simply doesn't exist off-the-rack. Like, for example, a suit made from a custom cloth, say, oh, I don't know, @dieworkwear's Summer Tweed. And then have it made in a style that just would never be found ready-made.

I also don't care if no one else knows if I'm wearing bespoke or ready-to-wear. I know and that's all that matters. I once wore one of my Steed suits to a local council meeting. A very nice lady complimented me on the suit, for which I thanked her. Then she asked me what size the suit was. All I could reply was "my size".

I agree, there's something enjoyable about bespoke. Even if I found a RTW brand that fit me perfectly off the rack, I think I'd still stay with bespoke. That's even with all the hassles and potential pitfalls that can come with custom-made goods. I don't really know why, but I get a lot more joy out of wearing garments from certain makers. At a certain point, a wardrobe gets so big, adding one more jacket or pair of trousers doesn't do that much. So if I'm going to add something, it should be something I genuinely love wearing.

I think I may have told this story to Andy, but the best analogy I've heard on the difference between MTM and bespoke was from @jefferyd, who's working on a new MTM project that allows the company to draft a custom pattern from scratch. At the moment, I'm not totally sure there's a practical difference between machine- and hand-sewing. The main limitation of machine-made goods seems to be about the limitation of having to stick to a block pattern. But if you're drafting a pattern from scratch, maybe that doesn't matter anymore.

When I asked Jeffery if he thought MTM would ever replace bespoke, he said he hopes not. And that he thinks bespoke occupies a very special place in this world. As he put it, "would you rather have a hand-painted Mona Lisa or a machine-made replica?" I imagine most people would want the hand-painted version, even if the replica was perfect in every regard.

I get the symbolic value of bespoke. But if someone is an easy fit, and they're not wearing one of the few silhouettes that's easily identifiable to a tailoring house, I'm not sure if I could tell whether their coat is high-end RTW or bespoke.
 

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