Forget Off-The-Rack

Made-to-measure suits are where it’s at

By J.A. Shapira

If you’ve ever bought a made-to-measure or bespoke suit you know you’ll never go back to buying off-the-rack. Why? Because it’s the difference between real Coke-a-Cola and that fake crap you get for 25c from the Walmart vending machine. The best part? It doesn’t cost a hell of a lot more than buying a basic off-the-rack suit from the bargain bin suit store. The best part is you won’t look like a tenth grader going to their first dance.

The fact is that while a good quality, made-to-measure suit will cost you at least a few hundred dollars more than an off-the-rack suit, you’re getting something that’s worth every penny. You might only spend $200 on a suit from the chain store, but you’ll end up having to spend at least another $50 or more on alterations. Even then, it’s doubtful the suit will fit properly, and the craftsmanship is often laughable.

Any sartorially-savvy gent worth his salt can walk down the street and immediately tell the difference between a made-to-measure suit and one that was bought off the rack. The made-to-measure (MTM) suit is exactly what it sounds like; it’s made according to your specific measurements. No more 42R, the 40S or 44L. Forget 34 pants, 38 or 28 for those smaller guys. An MTM suit doesn’t look at these numbers. The fitting for an MTM suit takes your full body into account. Does your right shoulder slope more than your left? Is your left leg shorter than your right? Perhaps you have a bit of a protruding tummy? It doesn’t matter how perfectly sculpted you are or if you have a bod that would make Tony Soprano look fit. You could have the oddest shaped body in the world, and a good quality MTM suit will fit flawlessly.

Aside from the perfect fit, the best part about a made-to-measure suit is that you get to take part in the design process. You pick the lapel. Will it be a modern peak, perhaps a wide peak or just the standard notch lapel? Do you want single breasted or double? Two buttons or three? What kind of lining do you want? Do you prefer a single vent or side vents? Pleats or flat front pants? Perhaps you’re picky about pockets. Do you want flaps or maybe slanted pockets without a flap? The details are what make the man but when it comes to basics, you still have plenty of options.

Making your suit is a very personal experience. You get to select the style, the pattern and the cut. Then it arrives, and you’ll put it on, look in the mirror and wonder why the hell you didn’t do this before. Why did you spend $400 on an off-the-rack suit and another $75 on alterations when you could have bought a suit made just for you for the same or a slightly higher price?

Most low-cost MTM outfits that make a decent suit are strictly online. They’ll send you the free tape measure like some Winnipeg companies do, but they cater to a much larger clientele and have less overhead.

If you’re spending $300 on a made-to-measure suit, anyone who has seen an episode of Dragons’ Den or Shark Tank knows the actual cost of that suit is probably in the double and not triple digits. That means there sure isn’t a 60-year-old, third-generation master tailor in Milan, hand crafting your suit from the finest quality worsted wool available.

Well, fortunately, in this wonderful world of online shopping, some very reputable and reasonably priced online clothiers have popped up to offer made-to-measure, entry-level suits. They’ll send you a tape measure, you send them your measurements, and they’ll send you the suit.

Here are the ones I’ve personally tried and recommend:

Black Lapel
Based in New York, BlackLapel.com is a relatively young company but with an ever-expanding clientele from all over the world. Their suits range in price, but you’re looking at spending around $700 for something of moderate quality. They offer free shipping to Canada, and they’ll accept returns at their expense if there’s anything about the fit or the suit that you don’t like.

Indochino
Indochino.com is arguably the biggest player in the online game. Their suits are slightly less expensive than the ones from Black Lapel, but they do offer two separate levels of quality marked as “Essentials” and “Premium,” which gives you two price points to choose from. Despite the premium line being a higher quality wool, the essential line is great for daily wear. It’s also a great way to build a wardrobe.
The best part about Indochino is that unlike Black Lapel, they don’t charge to turn it into a double breasted suit. They also offer some more unique options and, like other online clothiers, they provide free shipping to Canada.

Of course if you have a higher budget and are willing to travel, there are made-to-measure clothiers in Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto that are well worth visiting. For the most distinguished gentleman, there is nothing better than a visit to Saville Row for a bespoke suit, or to Italy. However, for most people new to the MTM market, the price is a factor, and if you’ve only bought off-the-rack, it can be daunting moving up by more than a few hundred dollars.

Spend the extra money and get a good quality suit that will last. If you don’t have that money, consider buying vintage. eBay always has high-quality suits from Saville Row for sale and a good tailor like Serafino Falvo on Corydon will be able to make it work for you.