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.)
(Photo via)

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.)

(Photo via)

“What seemed a useful action [per the admonition of Ghandi] to Gupta and his wife, Meenakshi, was simply to give away some of their clothes. The couple were not wealthy. But going through their wardrobe, selecting clothes they hadn’t worn for three years, they found 67 items. This raised the question: With India’s vast emerging middle class — and the explosion of consumerism in the country — how much clothing is gathering dust in wardrobes? More than can be imagined. So, in 1998, the Guptas started an organization, Goonj (meaning “echo”), to redistribute some of it to where it was most needed.” NYT: Bridging the Clothing Divide
Colonel Alexander Gardner, 1864
Now that’s what I call a Madras suit.
From Wikipedia:
Gardner was involved in numerous gun fights and sword fights during his career. He was described as being six foot, with a long beard, an all around warrior and fighter. Gardner was known to have saved the City of Lahore in 1841 when his comrades abandoned him and he fired the guns that killed 300 enemies. He is described by Keay as continuing to suffer the effects of 14 wounds in later life.
(Thanks, IM.)

Colonel Alexander Gardner, 1864

Now that’s what I call a Madras suit.

From Wikipedia:

Gardner was involved in numerous gun fights and sword fights during his career. He was described as being six foot, with a long beard, an all around warrior and fighter. Gardner was known to have saved the City of Lahore in 1841 when his comrades abandoned him and he fired the guns that killed 300 enemies. He is described by Keay as continuing to suffer the effects of 14 wounds in later life.


(Thanks, IM.)

Q and Answer: What’s the Difference Between Plaid, Tartan and Madras?

Michael asks: I have looked for an explanation of the difference (or relationship) between plaid, madras, and tartan. The results have been less informative than I had hoped for. I was also curious if there was a definitive way to tell the difference between the three.

Scotland has always been known for its weaving, and particularly its weaving of wool. Scotland is also known for Highland Dress, the combination of kilt and other elements that is the country’s national costume. Banned by King George II in the early 18th century, these outfits became a powerful symbol of Scottish and Celtic identity.

One of the most important characteristics of Highland Dress is the distinctive checked patterns of its woolens - tartans. These patterns came into vogue throughout the commonwealth in the early 19th century, and have stayed popular ever since.

The tartan emerged in Scotland in the 16th century. Over the course of the next three hundred years, these distinctive patterns gained symbolic associations. Today, a specific tartan pattern can “belong” to a clan, an organization, even a company. In the United States, when we say “tartan,” we’re usually referring to a pattern that has a specific association, like the famous Stewart tartan, above.

In Scotland, a “plaid” is a specific part of Highland Dress: a sort of pleated blanket-wrap that’s sometimes twice as long as its wearer is tall. This plaid is worn over one shoulder and under the opposite arm, as seen in the photo above. As you can see, the effect is quite impressive.

In the United States, the word plaid is a generic word that describes checked patterns of all kinds. Here in the States, we generally use “plaid” to describe pretty much any such pattern, and “tartan” to describe a pattern with a specific Scottish symbolic meaning. (We also tend to chuck out the window the symbolic meaning of the tartans, unless we’re in a Scottish person’s wedding or at a Highland Games.)

Madras is something else entirely. It refers to a type of cloth, originally made during the British colonial era in Madras, India, (now Chennai). The cloth is a very lightweight cotton, decorated with plaids that are typically in loud colors. The most famous madras fabrics were dyed with natural dyes, which bled when washed - “bleeding madras.” These fabrics were particularly prized by Americans in the middle of the 20th century, and the Ivy League revival has made them popular again today. Today’s madras, largely made with artificial dyes in places other than India, tends to be even brighter than its forbear.

An anonymous emailer brought these lovely longwings to my attention. They’re from a new venture by Florsheim called Florsheim Limited; the model is the Veblen. They’re Goodyear welted and unlike Florsheim’s regular longwings, they’re made with full-grain leather, not corrected grain. The particularly nice bit is that they’re only $160. They’re made in India, so don’t expect the world’s finest craftsmen to be working on these, but on paper they look like a superb value. They’re available from Endless and Zappos among other places, so you should be able to find a coupon to bring the price down even further.  Well done, Florsheim!

An anonymous emailer brought these lovely longwings to my attention. They’re from a new venture by Florsheim called Florsheim Limited; the model is the Veblen. They’re Goodyear welted and unlike Florsheim’s regular longwings, they’re made with full-grain leather, not corrected grain. The particularly nice bit is that they’re only $160. They’re made in India, so don’t expect the world’s finest craftsmen to be working on these, but on paper they look like a superb value. They’re available from Endless and Zappos among other places, so you should be able to find a coupon to bring the price down even further.  Well done, Florsheim!

Britain’s Prince Charles dances with villagers at Tolasar village  near Jodhpur in India’s state of Rajasthan October 5, 2010.   REUTERS/Sunil Verma
(via Kempt)

Britain’s Prince Charles dances with villagers at Tolasar village near Jodhpur in India’s state of Rajasthan October 5, 2010.  REUTERS/Sunil Verma

(via Kempt)

On the left is Jawaharlal Nehru, the legendary Indian leader, wearing his namesake collar.  Muhammad Ali Jinnah, on the right, was the founder of Pakistan.  They look wonderfully, elegant, don’t they?
(via The Naked Ape Gets Dressed)

On the left is Jawaharlal Nehru, the legendary Indian leader, wearing his namesake collar.  Muhammad Ali Jinnah, on the right, was the founder of Pakistan.  They look wonderfully, elegant, don’t they?

(via The Naked Ape Gets Dressed)