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  • Writer's pictureNiels Strohkirch

What is the difference between Bespoke Suits, Made-To-Measure Suits and Off The Rack Suits?

#BespokeSuits #CustomSuits #OffTheRackSuits

Yes, yes, yes, there are many descriptions, phrases or words out to describe how a suit or shirt/blouse should have been made. It is simply confusing and not clear at all and using French wording simply complicates the matter further especially to those who do not speak French. Having this in mind here is my interpretation of these words/phrases when it comes to suits and/or shirts/blouses or anything else we manufacture, knowing though, that many out there may vastly disagree with me, then again everyone is entitled to their opinion and with this here’s what I understand under these words/phrases.

What do Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton ,Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig have in common besides playing the role of Agent 007 James Bond? Besides being dashing individuals involved in heroic missions, gadgets and all, they always wore immaculate custom made bespoke suits. Yes, always a cut above the rest. Well that’s Hollywood, in real life though this is what you could end up getting should you choose to engage a tailor to professionally deal with your fashion needs. Now that we have a light glimpse of how clothes can actually define a person. Let’s explore the various terms used.

Off The Rack, or also named in French as Prêt-à-Porter simply means ready-to-wear. It describes apparels you can find off the rack that may or may not fit your body. It is usually based on sizing e.g. as S = small or an L = Large or numbers. Unfortunately, these sizing’s are not standardized and very more often than not may vary depending on the cut and also the company you buy it from. Sometimes the company may even decide to change their sizing logically from one collection to another for various reasons. For example, it is essential for one to note that whilst an "L" on a sizing chart may be a perfect fit for you it may be too big from another brand and vice versa.

Coming back to how apparels could be made for you, rather than just by sizing for the masses you can also have apparels which are made to the measurements of your body. This can be called made-to-measure and should be the dashing James Bond fit. Tailoring simply means the art of achieving the perfect fit in the garment industry. A tailor or in today’s time an automatic measuring machine or even an app on your ipad using your webcam is taking the measurements of your body. These measurements are then taken to tailor an apparel hopefully exactly to your body and your fashion taste. Hence rather than having something off the rack, hoping it would fit, very often one is seen tangled in the web of impulsive buying and in the end having to deal with altering the apparel or having to find someone who could do the altering. The bottom line is that the apparel should simply been the perfect fit to begin with. So what are the differences here between made-to-measure, custom made and bespoke tailoring? It simply depends to whom you talk to. I use the term made-to-measure for any suit, shirt or gown where ideally one of our tailors is taking the exact measurements of your body by hand. The tailor will not only write down the measurements but he/she will also have an intense look at the shape of your body. Do you have slanting shoulder? Strong arm muscles? Do you wear a big watch on your wrist and need a bigger cuff on one side of your arm compared to the other side of your arm? (Yes guys, this is possible) Do you prefer features such as double cuffs on your shirt? All these kind of things will be pre-discussed and the respective apparel will be made to your measurements. A good suit needs up to four fittings before the tailor will hand it over to you despite being able to make a 90% to 95% fit with the first round. Ladies tailor made fitting can even require more fittings. You also need to bring time for a bespoke suit as it easily can take up to 4-6 weeks from ordering till you can take your new suit home.

So, but what is the difference to a bespoke suit? With me a bespoke suit is measured as a made-to-measure suit with one important difference: we add specific features to the suit which will typically not be seen at any off the rack suit (even the more expensive ones, except you go very expensive) and will also typically be over and above a “normal” or standard made-to-measure suit. For us it starts with different inner linings. While your tailor normally automatically puts a colour matching to your suit fabric as inner lining e.g. a dark grey to mid grey lining for a charcoal grey suit I dare you to be different in that and seek to encourage you to take up a striking red with patterns or a strong blue to have a contra point in your “charcoal grey suit”. We do also add hand stitching features to different parts of the outer jacket or provide piping where the inner lining is hitting the suit fabric. Further features are handmade button holes in comparison to machine cut and sewn button holes for most of the rack suits and made-to-measure suits plus working buttons an your arm sleeves. Check the sleeves on your actual suit jackets. Almost all are only sewn on the jacket and do not have any function. In bespoke tailoring you can open and close them and you can even define the thread colour. These are all small, but important features to show that your are the proud owner of a bespoke suit and that this suit is most probably unique in the world (yes, a unicum) while you have a good chance to find your colleague wearing the exact same suit from the same fashion brand which you both just bought at a local department store. Further and above, the trick is to choose a reasonable fabric and “pimp it up” with bespoke features. Your 600 dollar suit will look like 2600 dollar suit! Who does not want that?

If you talk to older tailors they will definitely tell you that a bespoke suit jacket needs a canvass rather than having a fused jacket. I do not fully disagree here as a canvass jacket is definitely the high art of a bespoke suit and years ago fusing was not as light and nice as in today’s time. But taking into consideration that modern fusing is as light as a canvas and that you cannot see the canvas (you can only feel it when you tweak the material between the cloth and the inner lining of your suit. If you can feel a third layer in-between it is a canvass) and taking the huge additional cost into consideration as it needs quite substantial tedious hand work, it is may not the best value for money feature.

In conclusion, the difference between tailored apparel and apparel off the rack should be clear. But, in case you are not clear about the terminology your tailor or the sales person in the local store uses just ask very specifically. And whenever it is mentioned that something is tailor made, or custom made or even bespoke tailored ask who is doing it and where are they doing it. How much experience do they have and the best is to ask to show the difference in workmanship. Especially in case you invest a serious amount of money into a suit it makes a difference to understand the workmanship quality. Using tailors in China or Vietnam does not necessarily mean bad and cheap work, but ensure you have a clear benchmark for the quality features you expect, but don’t be fooled by cheap & quick deals. Most important is to makes sure that you have a perfect fitting suit or shirt/blouse with quality and value for money. This is only possible when you have someone locally taking care of it.

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