Last Updated Oct 2, 2008 7:36 PM EDT
Sure, casual dress is on the rise in the workplace. But there
are many work environments, such as Wall Street firms, where formal business
attire is still the norm and looking the part still matters. In some
organizations, nothing sends a clearer message about your status and self worth
than a custom-made suit. "If you want to look like the boss, or a guy
who's made money, the natural evolution is to get your suits custom
made," says Alan Flusser, the New York tailor who made Michael
Douglas' authority-oozing power suits for the 1987 film Wall
If your idea of workplace style is a pair of khakis and a blue
button-down, you might consider: Tailor-made suits can convey subtle qualities
like intelligence, attention to detail, and creativity. "It signals
that I take myself and my work seriously, and that when I care about something,
I dedicate myself to learning the ins and outs," says Zachary Tyler, the
director of business development at Creative Marketing Concepts in San
Francisco who has been wearing custom suits for the past
Like all exclusive realms, the world of custom tailoring can be
intimidating, not to mention expensive. So if you don't know the
difference between bespoke and made to measure, don't worry —
we explain in this Crash Course how it all works. Female readers, please note
that we're focusing on men's suits for a couple reasons: 1)
They tend to be more rule-bound and therefore more complicated than women's
suits; and 2) Let's face it, men need more help in the fashion
Bone Up on Bespoke
Goal: Understand what a custom suit is and whether it’s
Ordering a custom suit involves getting measured by a tailor,
who then creates a pattern specific to your body. He or she uses that pattern
to cut the fabric and then sews the suit by hand. Custom tailoring is
often referred to as “bespoke,” an old tailoring term
meaning that a certain fabric has been “spoken for” by a
customer and is therefore no longer for sale.
What makes a bespoke suit different from one bought at a
department store may be imperceptible at first glance: It’s all in
the fit and the details. Just about every man looks better in clothing that was
made just for him, because custom tailoring takes into consideration the
asymmetry of the wearer’s body. Most men have one shoulder or hip
that’s higher than the other, or one arm or leg that’s
longer, for example. If your weight fluctuates wildly, however, custom-made may
be a bad investment.
In addition to perfect fit, custom suits also have these
buttonholes on the sleeve, also called “surgeon cuffs”
A real silk interior, in the color and pattern of your choice
Slightly imperfect (compared to a machine) stitching, which
indicates that the garment was made by hand
A hand-stitched canvas lining
The hand-stitched canvas lining is the most important of these
details. In most readymade suits, the lining is a piece of synthetic material
fused to the fabric with vegetable glue, resulting in a lifeless shape prone to
puckering. A custom suit’s lining is made of canvas stitched in by
hand, giving the suit a more defined structure in addition to longevity and greater comfort.
What others will most notice in your suit is the cut or line. “You’ll
look like a better version of you,” Flusser says.
The Hierarchy of Fit
Why spend so much on a custom suit when you could pick
something up for a fraction of the price at Men’s Wearhouse? Here’s
the difference between the degrees of haberdashery and what you get for your
|Suit Type||What It Means||Price Range|
Fully custom made with multiple fittings; best fit
Made to Measure
Adjustments made to a standard pattern according to your
measurements; more alterations upon delivery; very good fit
Off the Rack, Altered
Manufactured to a standard pattern; altered after
purchase; pretty good fit
Off the Rack, No Alterations
Bought and tossed on; fit can be OK if you’re a
Choose a Style
GOAL: Pick a cut of jacket and pants that will suit
your personality — and flatter your body type.
If you’re going to spend the money on your first custom
suit, you’ll want to choose colors and fabrics that are the most
versatile. Flusser suggests starting with a medium charcoal gray. “It
does the most: It’s a business suit, great for interviews, but is
also very elegant for the evening,” he says.
While your tailor can make suggestions regarding the cut, you’ll
have a better experience during your first meeting if you consider what style
of suit you want beforehand. The following come down to body type and personal
Single- or Double-Breasted Jacket
jackets are more common, but some prefer href="http://www.bnet.com/2346-6547_23-212771-2.html">double-breasted jackets because they make the wearer look slimmer. On single-breasted suits, a two- or
three-button closure is standard. The taller you are, the more buttons you’ll
want (though never more than three). Four- or six-button closure is standard
for DBs, though six is considered the more elegant.
Two- or Three-Piece
A coat and trousers with a shirt and tie is the standard uniform
among businessmen and politicians today (“the business suit”).
This is considered the most no-nonsense look for men in finance, law, and other
traditional professions. A coat and trousers worn with a vest is considered the
most formal, but also a little more fanciful in some circles. It’s an
outfit you’re more likely to see on a museum director or university
dean than on a manager or C-suite exec.
Natural or Padded Shoulders
Your choice here depends on the natural broadness of your
shoulders, but in general, you’ll want your suit to follow the line
of your body. Overdo it and you’ll end up looking like a 1930s
gangster or a televangelist.
Single or Double Vent
Single vented is classic American, while double vented (with the
vents off to the sides) is classic English, although side vents are becoming
more common in American fashion these days.
Peaked or Notched Lapels
lapels are considered standard on the American single-breasted business
suit, though peaked lapels are the more elegant. Peaked lapels give the
illusion of added height. Keep in mind that double-breasted suits should always
have peaked lapels.
Finding the Perfect Fit
Going custom allows you to get a suit that fits just right.
But what exactly is a perfect fit? The primary considerations are:
Length: Your suit jacket should be long enough to
cover the posterior with a half inch to spare.
Collar: The collar should fit snugly around the back
of the neck and not hover in the air above it.
Lapels: When buttoned, lapels should lie flat against
the chest and not pucker outward.
Sleeves: Sleeves should fall in a straight line over
the shoulders, not stick out an extra inch beyond the shoulders, and they
should not form a dent of extra fabric at the top of the sleeve. Sleeve length
should fall to the wrist bone, not the beginning of the hand. A small amount of
shirt cuff should show.
Fall: Pants should fall straight from the waist with
no wrinkles or pulling over the belly and no tugging in the crotch. If pleated,
the pleats should not pull apart.
Length: The inseam of pants should break slightly on
the shoe, but excess fabric should not bunch up around the ankles.
Find a Tailor
Goal: Hire someone who knows what they’re
Once you decide to give custom a try, your biggest challenge
lies in finding a tailor with a stellar reputation. Your more dapper associates
may have a recommendation for you, or visit the Custom Tailors and Designers
Association, which can direct you to a competent practitioner.
Here’s a list of some of the best custom tailors in
the United States, compiled in part by the Robb Report:
Joe Centofanti, Ardmore, Pa. (610-642-1926)
Chris Despos, Chicago (312-944-8833)
William Fioravanti, New York (212-355-1540)
Christian Garcia, Coral Gables, Fla. (305-567-1324)
Leonard Logsdail, New York (212-752-5030)
Manuel Martinez, Baton Rouge, La. (225-928-9107)
Tony Maurizio, New York (212-759-3230)
Frank Shattuck, New York
Giacomo Trabalza, Los Angeles (310-652-6396)
In addition to local tailors, there are also “itinerant
tailors” — those who are usually based in countries where
labor is cheap and who make seasonal trips to cities across the world to take
commissions and arrange fittings. These tailors can be a less expensive
alternative to American or European tailors. They include:
What Not to Do
Once you get your custom suit, you may be tempted to leave
the bottom button on your sleeve undone to show that it has working buttonholes
and is therefore custom made. This may impress the plebes below you, but those
in the know will consider it attention-seeking. Most custom-suit aficionados
rely on cut and quality to convey their suit’s bespoke origin, and
save this gauche gesture for the arrivistes.
Prep for Your Fitting
GOAL: Know what to expect when commissioning your
Tailors generally prefer you to wear your best suit to your
first fitting, since it gives them a sense of what you’re used to. If
you always carry a thick wallet and a cell phone, then you should wear those to
the fitting so the tailor can plan to accommodate them.
Think of choosing your suit as a collaboration between you and
the tailor. It’s a business arrangement not unlike the arrangements
you probably have with other vendors. Plan on spending at least an hour at the
first fitting, and realize that top tailors require multiple fittings (usually
two or three) before they’re satisfied with the job they’ve
done. Don’t expect to walk in before lunch and walk out with a suit
after. The entire process usually takes 8 to 10 weeks.
These books offer more on custom suits and dressing for
href="http://www.amazon.com/Suit-Machiavellian-Approach-Mens-Style/dp/0060891866/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1213743978&sr=1-1">The Suit: A Machiavellian Approach to
Men's Style by Nicholas Antongiavanni
href="http://www.amazon.com/Elegant-Man-Construct-Ideal-Wardrobe/dp/0679421017/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1213744165&sr=1-1">The Elegant Man: How to Construct the
Ideal Wardrobe by Riccardo Villarosa
But perhaps the greatest wealth of information can be found
on the Internet’s top men’s clothing forums, whose
collective knowledge is unbeatable:
The London Lounge. A
free-for-all forum where users discuss classic men’s clothing.
Ask Andy About Clothes. A resource and forum guided by men’s classic
style consultant Andy Gilchrist. Its members are exacting and can be scathing
Men’s Style Forum. Cond Nast’s men’s fashion forum, for
the younger crowd.
Film Noir Buff. A blog and
forum that explores classic men’s clothes in detail.
Christian Chensvold is a freelance writer based in
Southern California and the editor of Dandyism.net.