what if you only have £200?

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( A hankie, simply tucked in)

Earlier this year, I wrote “If you can’t afford bespoke”, which covers the main hierarchies of tailoring: “ready to wear”, “made to measure”, “bespoke” etc.

After receiving a lot of e-mails from English Cut readers, it’s pretty obvious that there’s plenty of people out there who would love to have a handmade suit from any of the wonderful tailors on Savile Row. But the reality is; they don’t come cheap. Not everybody has £2000 to spend on a garment.

What if you have only £200 to spend? [approx. $350-400 US] For that money, I’m afraid all you’ll get on Savile Row is a very good meal for you and your friends at Sartoria, a lovely restaurant on the corner of Savile Row & New Burlington Street.

Realistically, for £200 you’ll probably have to settle for a standard ready-to-wear, unless you get very lucky and find a good second-hand bespoke in a charity shop (which does happen occasionally), or you happen to know the name of a good tailor in the Far East.

That being said, for £200 you actually can get a ready-to-wear decent enough to convince us in the trade that you spent more around the £600-700 mark (approx. $1000 US). Just as long as you ignore the labels and follow these points:

1. Cloth.

Pick a classic, grey or blue worsted, pin or chalk stripe in classic colours. Dreadful dark maroons and semi-turquoise blue stripes would never come from a decent tailoring company. Make sure it’s wool, not polyester or any other weird-sounding fabric, the latter being usually just a disguise for cheap, synthetic rubbish.

2. Style.

Make sure you pick a classic, single-breasted, two or three button front. Never choose those dreadful four-buttons or nehru style collar suits- they reek of cheap designer rubbish and look totally stupid once you’re over twenty years old. A double breasted is cool, but try to find a six button (two fastening , and only fasten the top button).

3. Detail.

Little things to look for are important; those in the know will spot them a mile off. Make sure that the lapel has a decent lapel hole. Straight and of a decent length. Ours are 1 & 1/8” long , you are unlikely to find that but still, the longer, the better.

Avoid at all costs a “keyhole lapel” hole. This is an awful clanger that’s dropped by even the most expensive designer labels. Always try to to get four buttons on the cuff and make sure they have button holes- I know they won’t be actual, functioning buttonholes at that price point, but they’ll look the part. Never pick the type that just sew the buttons on to the cuff, that’s a serious faux pas.

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(Photo from Marks & Spencer website)

Make sure the pockets have flaps, and that there’s an out breast pocket. You often don’t spot this until you notice you’ve nowhere for your handkerchief.

4. Trousers.

There aren’t as many things to go wrong here, but if possible I’d try to avoid belt loops. We’re not fans of them in the business and it can look really untidy, especially when you’re wearing your favorite Harley Davidson buckle. Try to find the trousers with those side strap adjusters, fastened with a buckle or buttons (in the trade they’re called “Daks tops”).

Plain fronts are fine but if you want pleats, try to make sure they have four, and not two. Sadly, 95% of ready-to-wears have the pleats going the wrong way, i.e. reversed. I know our Italian cousins would argue the opposite, but on The Row our pleats go forward. It makes for a more flattering line on the leg. This is unlike the continental way, which throws a lot of fullness behind the thigh, which can look baggy.

5. Fit.

As it’s not pure bespoke, the fit will of course be a compromise. However, you can still look pretty good, very good if you’re lucky. Again, ignore the labels- just because it’s claiming to be a “posh” product doesn’t mean it’s going to fit you the best. A ready-to-wear is a pattern cutter’s interpretation of which shape fits most people. A 40 Reg. from two different manufacturers can look totally different, so try them all on, and be honest with yourself. As I said in an earlier post, if you’re in between sizes, then get the larger size and have it altered for a small cost at a high street alteration specialist.

6. Accessories.

If you follow the above advice you should be looking pretty good, so don’t shoot yourself in the foot by wearing a paisley shirt with your favorite kipper tie. I know I’m being personal here, but I don’t think you can beat a clean white or pale blue shirt with a double cuff and cufflinks. Again, make sure the fit is generous; you should show cuff. Skimpy shirt sleeves are awful. Well-chosen cuff links or silk knots only cost a couple of pounds and look superb.

The tie should be silk and, like as the suit, don’t even consider polyester (I hate the word, let alone the material). Printed designs are fine, but woven is better. Again, you’re not talking a fortune here if you look around. It’s not mandatory, but I do like a handkerchief, silk or just plain white cotton. You can fold these or, like me, just pinch it in the middle and stuff it in, as simple as that.

Shoes and socks are not rocket science. Again, keep it classic, and above all keep them polished and shining.

Some of the links I’ve put in above show where you can get some decent products without spending all of your hard-earned cash. So choose wisely and I reckon you should look a regular James Bond. Keep dressing like that, and you’ll soon get a promotion and be able to enjoy more than just dinner on The Row.

[TIP:] I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. For the money, the British high street retailer, Marks & Spencer’s makes as good a suit as anyone. I rate them highly. [NB: I do not have any business dealings with them. Just one tailor's opinion etc.]

Comments

  1. Lee says

    Hello, I find your site very interesting, it makes a change from the over-hyped armani et al rubbish. However I am a student and low on funds so a bespoke suit from a saville row is currently out of my reach making off the peg numbers my only option, that is until i saw this site http://www.kingandallen.co.uk . I would be grateful if you could give me your opinion on these tailors.

  2. says

    I find your advice here both useful and reassuring. While many of my friends are label junkies when it comes to suits, I’ve always looked more at the material, cut and fit, yet I’ve never really known why I like what I do. I am just learning about suits, so after reading this entry I took a look at my own favorite off-the-rack number with a more critical eye. I was delighted to find that it generally conforms to the guidelines you’ve set out. Thank you.

  3. Steve says

    A very useful style guide to return to now and again. In my search for the best suit I could find for £300 I discovered TM Lewin, the Jermyn St shirtmaker turned high street taylor. The best thing about the is that they stock half-sizes which can make all the difference when finding something that fits properly. Also, their trousers are un-hemmed and finishing these is included in the price. Look out for their regular promotions.

  4. Dan says

    As I am a university student with a limited budget, this article is extremely appreciated. Could you possibly recommend an alteration specialist in London that could help make my Marks & Spencers suit look iit’s best? I live in Central London. Thank you for your informative site. I look forward to being able to purchase my first bespoke suit,

  5. Hamid says

    Dear Mr. Mohan,
    Your articles provide great insight into the bespoke tailoring – Very many thanks for your input.
    I am currently looking to order a bespoke suit for my wedding. My budget is under £1000 for two piece suite and hence Savile Row tailors are way out of my reach. However, have come across Cad & the Dandy (www.cadandthedandy.co.uk) who are offering me worsted wool (100-120), fully hand stitched, that comes with basted fitting, suit at the aforementioned price range.
    As I will wear this suit on my wedding day, I want to make sure that I won’t come across unpleasant surprises on my big day

    I would be very grateful if you could give me your opinion on these tailors

    Looking forward to your reply

    Kind Regards,
    Hamid

  6. Saqib says

    Great article!
    I am currently looking to order a two piece bespoke suit for my wedding. My budget is under £1000 and hence Savile Row tailors are way out of my reach. However, have come across Cad & the Dandy (www.cadandthedandy.co.uk) who are offering me worsted wool (100-120), fully hand stitched, that comes with basted fitting, suit at the aforementioned price range.
    As I will wear this suit on my wedding day, I want to make sure that I won’t come across unpleasant surprises on my big day

    I would be very grateful if you could give me your opinion on these tailors – Thank you

  7. francisco okwesa says

    for those with a small budget try chester barrie ready to wear from savile row or harrods not chester by barrie which is cheap but not cheerful.for the best bespoke shoe makers try costas of tooting mitchum road london sw17 wonderful folks.alexander boyd london e1 for shirts.most jermyn street “shirtmakers” are just shopfronts for cheap shirts from god knows where.turnbull and asser,emma willis,boyd and some of hilditch and key are still the real deal.britain has fine craftsmen that need our support.you cannot go wrong with john smedley.if you are flushed with cash you cannot do better than visit charvet for shirts.yes its french but we are still relatives,are’nt we?great chap mr mahon

  8. Grey says

    your articles are always amazing. i cannot wait until you visit New York again. If you could share advice about the correct shoes I’d be delighted (oxfords, laces or loafers/slip ons, etc).

    as always, thank you

  9. Nirav says

    Heading to Sydney, Australia anytime soon ? If not, what will it take for you to make the journey out here ?

    Big Fan of your work.

  10. says

    I agree with your wise words but to look totally English one must avoid designer trash altogther (who is armani for goodness sake – someone catering for the italian noveau riche amd sold at Harrods no doubt ) if you want to be English go for rolled 1920s, 1930s and 40s style peak lapels (not 1970s although early 1980s almost got it right ) , turn- ups are a must and if you are doing it properly avoid belts and go for striped or piped braces – jermyn street tailors can usually help here. shoes – has to be a black oxford or half brogue – full brogues esp in brown are for country wear along side tweed suits, norfolk and barbour jackets. hope this helps. oh and gentlemen also use accessories – tie pins , collar studs, kercheifs but I am sure you already know that

  11. Tim says

    Is it possible to re-shape the shoulders or shoulder pads on my suit jacket? The pads are too big even though the jacket fits me properly.

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