Q & Answer: When Shouldn’t You Go Bespoke?
Philip asks: I’m considering how I should spend $400 to buy a suit. I can either purchase one from a shop in Washington, DC, have one custom made for me in Florence or Rome when I visit this fall, or have one made in Bangkok or Hong Kong when I visit SE Asia in April. What would you recommend for receiving the best suit with the limited funds I have?
We get this question a lot at Put This On. Folks say they’re headed to Bangkok or Mumbai for a week, and should they buy their first suit there? Alternately, they ask if they should buy their first suit from a low-cost online custom maker.
The answer, generally, is no. Unless off-the-rack clothes don’t fit you, just buy off the rack.
Why shouldn’t you go bespoke?
- Unless you have a very unusual body, an off-the-rack suit will fit you well, particularly with alterations. You can and should try on a variety of models to get a sense of which brands and styles fit you best, but for men who aren’t 6’6” or 300 pounds, off-the-rack will fit.
- Bespoke tailoring, and custom tailoring generally, is never right the first time. Getting a perfect fit requires a long-term relationship and typically at least two or three garments, even for a great tailor.
- Inexpensive tailors in second and third-world countries are rarely great tailors. There simply isn’t demand for great tailoring at their price point, and so good enough tailoring suffices. There are certainly exceptions, but you should ask yourself if you have the time and cultural skills to figure out who those exceptions are.
- Fashion in the first world is very different than it is in the third world. One generally can’t rely on a tailor for fashion tips, but this is particularly true in, say, Thailand. If you don’t want an awkwardly designed (as opposed to tailored) suit, you’ll have to have a very, very specific idea of what you want, and communicate it effectively.
- Buying bespoke involves a lot of choices, and those choices are best left to a professional clothing designer, rather than a guy buying his first suit.
- High-quality fabrics are tough to get in the third world. You’ll find a lot of Chinese polyester blends in the fabric market in Bangkok, and not a lot of English woolens.
Of course, there are situations in which you can and should buy custom garments. If your body is unusual and you can’t get a good fit off the rack, go for it. If you live in a tailor-rich country, and can effectively judge who’s good and who’s not, and have the money to experiment and import fabric, go for it.
Generally, though, you’ll be better off at Suit Supply or Brooks Brothers or even H&M than with a tailor you don’t know whom you will see only once.
(One side note: shirts are a different story. If you can find decent fabric, there are tailors who can make affordable custom shirts in tons of places.)