The brand promise of the online made-to-measure suit company Indochino is exciting. The facts are disappointing. Vestis Legis explains his disappointment with the suit he ordered when he got his first office job.
A Word of Warning About Online Made-to-Measure
I get a lot of questions about online made-to-measure services. There’s been a proliferation of these outfits in the past few years, as (mostly Chinese) production has modernized and sped up to allow for factory one-offs, and the internet has allowed consumers to connect with makers.
These companies offer a compelling proposition: a custom suit for less than the price of an off-the-rack suit at Macy’s or The Men’s Wearhouse.
The reality is much more fraught. The value of custom clothing comes largely from the fitting expertise of an experienced tailor… and even an experienced tailor often requires two or three shirts or coats to get a pattern exactly right. A novice at home with a tape measure simply can’t replicate that skill.
The result, frankly, is ill-fitting clothing. There’s a thread of photographs of suits by Indochino, one of the leading purveyors of this type of service, at StyleForum. I’d say half to 3/4 of the suits fit poorly. Not just less-than-ideally, but poorly. Indochino pays for some alterations, but that’s no panacea.
The reality is that with online made-to-measure you should expect to go through a number of iterations - at least two, maybe three or four or five - before you get your pattern correct. Even yet, not every service is consistent in their production, so getting your measurements right still isn’t a guarantee.
It’s possible to get this right. I know my colleague Derek has had some good success with some shirtmakers, for example, and he’s not alone. Shirts are also relatively inexpensive, which makes errors less painful. Still, the advantages (cost, lack of geographic limitations) don’t necessarily outweigh the benefits.
If off-the-rack clothing altered by a local tailor fits you well, or if you have the access and budget to use a quality in-person service, there’s no compelling reason to use go online. The benefits are unlikely to outweigh the disadvantages. Frankly, 90% of American men are well-served by off-the-rack clothing.
If you can’t wear off-the-rack clothing, or find it very difficult to find, the pain may be worth the reward. If you’re 6’3”/150, or 5’1”, or if you’re a weightlifter or a serious swimmer with a very athletic figure, there’s tremendous benefit to online custom. If you don’t have the money for in-person, it may still be worth a couple failures to get to the point where you’re getting a product that fits at a reasonable price.
Similarly, for something like shirts, where the cost of failure is low, you can make a few mistakes before sorting out your exact preferences. In that case, you can benefit… especially if off-the-rack doesn’t fit.
Whether you fall into those categories, of course, is a question only you can answer.
We Got It For Free: Tailor4Less Sport Coat and Pants
Some men, like me, have a very difficult time fitting into off-the-rack garments. They may be too thin or heavy; too tall or short; or perhaps they are just unusually proportioned. For such men, custom clothing is usually the best solution. This is traditionally done by local or traveling tailors, or higher end brands, such as Ralph Lauren, who offer made-to-measure (MTM) programs in addition to their ready-to-wear lines.
In the last ten years or so, however, the internet has made it possible to reformulate the custom clothing business model. Customers can now place orders online, submit their own measurements, and have custom made garments sent to them anywhere in the world. The upside to this model is that it’s typically more affordable. The downside is that the garments are often not very well-made and the customer is ill-equipped to make important decisions. By ordering online, you don’t get to see how the fabrics feel or move in the light. You also risk measuring yourself poorly, or at least differently than the tailor would. Still, these companies have made custom clothing much more viable for most people and that’s to be applauded.
I was recently approached by one of these online MTM companies, Tailor4Less, to review some of their products. I’ll admit that I was pretty skeptical about the company from the name alone. There are few things I’m willing to trust a “4Less” on - Paintball4Less maybe, but tailoring, no. Their website didn’t inspire much confidence either. Nonetheless, I placed an order for a custom-made sport coat and pair of trousers, and they arrived remarkably quickly.
The results are a bit mixed. The sport coat buttons at the waist (which is great) and the lapels are well proportioned for the jacket’s size. The back fits nicely and the vents don’t flare. The sleeves are also made with non-functional buttonholes, which make them easy to alter. On the other hand, the collar doesn’t hug the neck as closely as it should and the shoulders are a bit boxy.
The pants fit slightly better, but they’re a bit too slim. The leg openings, for example, taper to a 7.5” opening, which is a good quarter to half an inch smaller than I think is recommendable for a guy my size. The material used for both garments are also pretty poor. The wool is cheap and the lining is polyester. Still, both garments are much better than what I thought I was going to end up with.
I’ve had a hard time deciding whether I should recommend this company. On one hand, I think you should just save up for a better custom garment, but a well-made custom sport coat can cost between $1,000 and $1,500. Even then, you’re not guaranteed to get something satisfying if you don’t know what you’re doing. Tailor4Less, on the other hand, will make you a sport coat for $150 or so. Yes - the material isn’t very good, the jackets are fused, and the fit is a bit boxy. However, if you’re impossible to fit with an off-the-rack garment, and you can’t spend $1,000+ for a jacket, then you might want to consider trying something like this. If you decide to, I would leave you with four tips:
- Get lots of measurements: Though I took my own measurements for the pants, I had the benefit of having fairly reliable measurements for the sport coat. I’ve been to seven or eight custom tailors, and through those experiences, have honed down on a set of measurements that I think translate pretty well to an online MTM order. If this is your first time getting a custom garment, I recommend you get measured by seven or ten different people - most of whom should be professional tailors. The more data you can get, the better. Weed out the anomalies and figure out the averages.
- Keep it simple: When people get their first custom garment, they often hang themselves by over customizing. You should keep it simple. Skip the wacky linings, hacking pockets, monograms, etc. until you really know your preferences.
- Know your other options: Though I haven’t tried them, you might want to also check out Indochino. They also do this sort of thing. You should also know that some suits fit very, very slim. A 36R in some lines actually fits like a 34R, and if you’re smaller than that, you might be able to find something in the boy’s section (this is not to be insulting).
- Know your fabrics: In my opinion, if you’re going to get a more structured jacket, it’s better to go with a heavier fabric than a lighter one. Tweeds and heavy wools will work better than linens and tropical wools. Of course, this is just a stylistic opinion, so take it for what it’s worth. At the very least, if you can, try to get fabric swatches. It’s easier to pick between fabrics once you’re able to handle them.
Collar Gaps & Shoulder Divots: An Explanation
There seems to have been some confusion about this post, in which our pal GW criticized some catalog photos for Indochino, and we agreed, wholeheartedly. GW looked at the photo (the undecorated version of which is in the above slideshow) and complained about a variety of fit problems: lapels that were too small, a “lifeless” shirt, collar gaps and shoulder divots. I agreed with all, and I’d add a poor fit at the waist to the list. Overall, the photo’s a perplexing sales pitch for a brand built on custom fit.
So, let’s address these issues. First of all: what is a collar gap?
A “collar gap” is a gap between your jacket’s lapels and your shirt’s collar. It’s bad. You want the line of your coat’s neck to follow the line of your shirt collar around your neck. When it doesn’t, you get a gap. A gap is particularly bad in the back of the neck. where the collar of the jacket should be in contact with your shirt collar, and naturally sit about half an inch below the top of the collar.
In the photos above, you can see a photograph of Kanye West, usually a well-dressed guy, in a jacket with a huge collar gap. Notice how the jacket doesn’t follow the collar of the shirt? Instead, it’s pulled up and away. Part of this is his position (a well-cut jacket lapel will stay put as you move). Part of it is that this jacket just doesn’t fit him - probably in the upper back and across the chest.
In the photo of Cary Grant, you can see how a jacket should relate to a shirt. Even with what looks like it may be a button-down collar, the jacket follows the lines of the shirt. It fits snugly around the neck, hugging the curve around the neck and down into the chest. There’s also a bit of shirt visible at the back of the neck. The shirt collar and jacket lapel are in contact all the way around his neck.
Now, let’s turn our attention to the Indochino promotional picture the GW was annoyed by. I’ve provided both an untouched version of the picture (taken from Indochino’s website), and one with my own elegant retouching added. (I used a tool called “pencil” in a high-powered prosumer software called “Adobe Photoshop Elements 2.0”).
In the Indochino photo, you can see the jacket pulling out and away from the shirt collar. Only the fact that the collar is open and spreading hides this. I’ve pointed out an area where you can see this separation nonetheless.
There’s also trouble with shoulder divots, both across the top and front. See how the shoulders look like craggy mountains? That’s because they don’t fit. They appear to extend well beyond his shoulder line, and that plus a lousy fit in the chest and possibly the upper back have made the whole area look like an Excitebike course. I’ve added lines to show the awkward contour across the top and the weird dimpling in the front.
The shoulder line should be straight (or at least not bumpy), and the shoulder shouldn’t extend too much past the wearer’s actual shoulder. Most importantly, the shoulder and upper chest should look smooth and placid. A jacket that fits in the shoulders will smooth out and improve the appearance of the lumpiness and bumpiness up there. This one seems to add new lumps and bumps.
In addition, you can see that there are lines radiating out from the waist button. The dimples go almost all the way to the side seam. This is a sign of an ill-fitting jacket. A well-shaped and balanced jacket will have little stress at that point. A tiny bit of pulling is OK… this fella has what amounts to an X-Men symbol on his midsection.
And yeah, the less said about that fountain of pocket square, the better.
(One note: some people use the phrase “collar gap” to describe the space between the blades of a shirt collar - the place where the tie knot goes. That’s not what we’re talking about here.)
THIS IS BAD.. As in CRAP..
Shoulders with divots
Shirt collar has no life
& that origami peacock in the breast pocket..
What’s worse is that indochino.com is using this as advertising..
As you were
I have nothing to add, other than to say that PG is absolutely right. Those shoulder divots are particularly disconcerting.
Q and Answer: What should I wear to the prom?
Matt writes: So, I’m a high school senior, and I’m having trouble thinking of ways to out-do my peers at the prom. Help me out?
The prom is one of the most difficult events for which to dress. A lady is expected to be buying a dress for the night, not to mention shoes and accessories and an expensive hairdo. A fella, not so much. So: what to do?
Most proms are black-tie affairs, and I don’t see any reason to buck that. Attempts to dress it down, with say a black suit, are unlikely to look anything but slightly dumpy. At my own prom, a few friends wore matching Run DMC-style Adidas sweatsuits, with matching sneakers and hats. That was kind of good. But they also didn’t have dates. I suppose the O’Jays tux is always an choice, but prom is important. Why make it a joke?
The default option is to rent a tuxedo. We have a pretty extensive black tie guide that can guide you if this is what you choose, but the results are unlikely to be pretty. It’s nearly impossible to find rental tuxedos that are anything other than polyester-blend monstrosities, and since you can’t alter it, it’s unlikely to fit well. Every piece of your wardrobe will end up being slightly off, and the result will be an outfit that would best be described as barely passable.
So what are your other options?
We mentioned Indochino in a recent post. With the current coupon, an Indochino custom tux would only cost you about three or four hundred dollars. That’s a lot of scratch for most high school students, but it also means you’ll have a tuxedo for life (if you’re done growing). I wore the dinner jacket from my senior prom to an evening wedding a year ago - almost ten years later. The durability issues you might find with lower-end made-to-measure are minimized in a tux, since you won’t be wearing it very often.
If that seems like a lot to you, go vintage. Tuxedos from the 30s through 60s will look just as sharp today. Avoid anything newer, as you’re likely going to end up with polyester. Remember to tie your own tie, and look hard, starting now, for something that fits you - and budget $50-100 for tailoring once you’ve found what you want. Don’t try to buy separates (unless you live somewhere warm and want a white dinner jacket), and try to match the elements aesthetically. A narrow-lapel 60s tux with a smaller bow tie, and so forth. And tie your own bow. A new or new-er shirt from someplace like Brooks Brothers or Jos. A. Bank will work fine. Your tux can come from eBay or, if you’re lucky enough to live in a cool city, a vintage store. You should be able to find something for less than $100, with enough careful looking.
Besides that, we recommend bringing a pretty girl. That really jazzes the whole thing up.
Q and Answer: Indochino Suits - Worth Buying?
Michael writes: Have you heard of Indochino? The prices are tempting, as is the customization. Any thoughts?
There’s been a lot of back-and-forth about Indochino on the men’s clothing message boards lately. They offer a pretty compelling proposition: a made-to-measure suit, over the web, for less than $400 (or even less, given their frequent sales).
I haven’t tried any of Indochino’s pieces myself (not that I’d turn one down, hint hint), but a consensus seems to be building on the forums. The suits are made from fabric that would best be described as of “fair” quality, and their workmanship is similarly acceptable-but-unremarkable. That said, they do offer at least surface-level markers of quality (horn buttons, full canvassing), I’ve read nothing but great things about their customer service, and they offer a credit to have a local tailor adjust your suit if it isn’t to your liking when it arrives. There are certainly things that you might not be able to measure on yourself, like say shoulder pitch, that are tough to adjust post-facto, but most fit issues should be addressable either in the measuring or by an in-person tailor.
So: if you’re comfortable hunting for bargains, and you’re not too tough to fit, there are probably better values out there. At that price point, you can probably get a better-made suit at a discounter like the Nordstrom Rack or Saks Off 5th. However, if you’re particularly tough to fit, and working with a tight budget, this looks like a great option for you. I think it’s also a good option for more casual and summer suits - cotton and seersucker, for example - an alternative to the usual J-Crew-on-sale and H&M options for knockaround suits.
(note: as of this writing, Indochino are running a 25% off special, plus one free shirt and one free accessory, with the code REDFLAGDEAL)