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January 27, 2005

If you can’t afford bespoke...

[Me holding a piece of tailor's chalk. Shaped roughly like a guitar pick, I use it for marking the lines on the cloth before cutting.]

If you can’t afford bespoke...

I happen to believe that a bespoke suit is worth its high asking price, or else I wouldn't bother selling them. They look better, they fit better, and they last years longer than their competition. It's really that simple.

Even so, £2000 [about $4000 USD, at time of writing] is a lot of money, let's not kid ourselves.

Luckily for suit lovers everywhere, with modern technology there are now some really good ready-to-wear, manufactured suits being made, starting at only a few hundred pounds. Fifty years ago, suits that were both good and cheap did not exist. The tech simply wasn't there.

So regardless of your budget, you have a lot of options. Here's the basic hierarchy to consider:

1. A totally machine made, off-the-peg suit.

These cost around £100 to £600. The production systems for these is so slick, a suit is literally made in minutes. My first boss, Mike Wigglesworth of Redmayne once very kindly took me to visit a clothing factory to witness this mechanization. What sticks in my mind the most about that day, apart from the disconcerting efficiency of the machines, was the fact that designer-label brands were coming off the same production line as the “apparently” far less exclusive makes, such as Marks & Spencer [For the money, the British high street retailer, Marks & Spencer makes as good a suit as anyone. I rate them highly].

With machine-made, all manufacturers have pattern designers who create a basic pattern which, in “their” interpretation, would fit most people. So what you’ve got to do is be guided by the fit and the feel of a jacket around the neck and shoulders. Make this your priority.

If you’re in-between sizes, get the larger size and pay a high street alteration tailor £20-£30 to have it taken in or whatever. Don’t fool yourself that just because it's a Hugo Boss or Armani it’s a better fit than than the Marks & Spencer. Doesn't work that way. Forget the cost, just be honest with yourself. Like I said, pay attention round the neck and shoulders.

2. Made-to-measure.

Not to be confused with "bespoke". What you're getting is the same machine-made as Number One, but the basic pattern will have slight alterations made at the factory to improve the overall fit. Expect to pay anywhere between £450 to £800. You will also get more possibilities to personalize the suit, pocket details, style etc.

Bear in mind the guy who measures you may only have been in the job for a few weeks, or even a few hours. He’s only running a tape around you and ticking style boxes on the order form. So don’t expect miracles.

There are high street chains that offer this service, and even proper tailors as well. A.J. Hewitt, an excellent tailor, is a good example. The principals, Tony Hewitt and Ravi Tailor (yes, his real name) offer true bespoke that's up there with the best. However they also offer made-to-measure. This in no way compromises their bespoke suits, they’re just simply allowing their customers the option of only climbing halfway up the sartorial ladder.

Ultimately with made-to-measure, your suit is at the mercy of the manufacturer. But at least with having an experienced cutter like Tony or Ravi to measure you, there’s far less chance of disappointment.

3. Hand Made Off-the-peg.

These are made by hand, and yes, the quality is generally very high. But it is still an assembly line. It's just using humans instead of machines, cutting from generic, standardised patterns, not your own individual measurements.

Yes, the button holes will be hand-sewn, just like "bespoke". Yes, your coat will be made with a "floating" canvas, just like bespoke. But the assembly line will still be cranking out twenty five "Size 40s" in a single shift, unlike bespoke.

That being said, it's still quality stuff. And you can order the suit in the morning, and be wearing it by the afternoon. The fit won't be half bad, either.

[DISCLAIMER:] This area is of personal interest to me as I have recently finished designing the ready-to-wear suits of Reuben Alexander. I had made bespoke for the owners of Reuben's for several years. Then one day they phoned me up and said they wanted to put the same soft look as my bespoke into a ready-to-wear. The rest is history.

Their new shop has recently opened in central London. At around £1000 Reuben's is one of the best. I’m not saying you’ll like them (not everybody likes me, either), but they're definitely worth a look.

In this category, there's quite a good selection out there- Chester Barrie, Brioni or Oxxford Clothes etc. These are good clothes, ranging from around £1000, up to £3000.

Frankly, I think the expensive end of this category is asking a lot of money for something that comes off an assembly line. I’m really not convinced it’s money well spent. These companies also do a form of bespoke, which involves things being sent away to base manufacturers. Again, for that kind of money, I really don't think it's personal enough.

4. True "Bespoke".

Congratulations. You've arrived. The highest rung on the ladder. Keep reading English Cut and I'll tell you all about it, or for instant gratification, go read my "How To Pick A Bespoke Tailor" here.


[BACKGROUND READING:] "Thomas' Top Ten". The most popular and informative English Cut articles.

Posted by tom at January 27, 2005 4:33 PM

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I live at 16804 Commonwealth in Seattle. Been up here before?

Posted by: Mike Flacklestein at June 17, 2006 5:52 AM

finally, I could find this post once again. You have few useful tips for my school project. This time, I won't forget to bookmark it. :)

Posted by: get tips at January 19, 2010 5:06 PM

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