How To: Shop for Tailored Clothing

By George Manley | Dec 19th, 2008

In the past month, I have reviewed three outstanding new American menswear brands.  These brands represent everything cool in American styling, yet they are just as well-made as many of the world’s most fashionable brands.  I am proud to see strong American designers representing fine made-in-the-USA quality and workmanship.  Dare I say fashionable American tailored clothing is back?

Tailored clothing is the center of a strong wardrobe.  Quite simply, tailored clothing is any structured garment, which is manufactured to allow for alterations.  Suits, tuxedos, overcoats, and dress trousers all have linings in them, right?  Well, this lining is there for your comfort; however, the lining also hides the unfinished seams, which allow the garment to be altered.

When you are shopping for quality tailored pieces to add to your wardrobe, inspect the garment carefully.  Not only is tailored clothing typically the largest investment in your wardrobe, but also tailored clothing is highly constructed, so there are many areas to view for potential flaws.  Inspect tailored garments for snags in the fabric or linings, loose threads, weak or open seams, and puckering.  Ensure all the pockets are functional and durable (particularly if you are a guy, who uses all his pockets).  Remember, no matter what you see or don’t see when you first purchase a tailored garment, any reputable company will repair any flaws or damages before and after you own the garment.

How does one tell the difference between tailored pieces of various qualities and price points?  For example, many people are curious why some suits cost $200 and some cost $2000.  What are the things I need to look for to determine if I am getting my money’s worth?  The cost of a suit comes from two major sources: the cost of the fabric and the cost of the manufacturing process, called CMT (cut, make, and trim).

The more luxurious the fabric, the pricier the suit; and the more steps in the process to create the suit, the pricier the suit.  One more item to think about when determining a suit’s value is the amount of units produced; if 1000 suits of the same type were produced for a store, than that store paid less for each suit than they would to produce one suit at a time.  On an obvious level, this is why custom, made-to-measure, or bespoke suits are more expensive.

For those of you who are curious, a “custom” suit is typically constructed as a “one-off” suit either because they did not have your size available in stock, or because you wanted a special feature not available in the off-the-rack model.  A made-to-measure suit is a suit constructed from an available pattern; however, you choose the fabric, features, and fit (within the limits of the program).  A bespoke suit is a fully hand-made suit, which is not created from an available pattern, but rather from a pattern created from the measurements of your body.  The bespoke process can last several months before the final product is wearable; however, this is the best way to ensure your suit fits perfectly and will last for years.

The fabric of a tailored clothing item is something to consider.  For example, if you buy a suit to add to your regular rotation, I would purchase a fabric you can wear year-round.  Typically, this would be a wool suit with fabric between 9 and 11 ounces per square yard; however, not everyone has the same sensitivity to hot and cold weather, so purchase a suit constructed of fabric which you can wear comfortably year-round.  If you are particularly hard on your clothes, you may want to consider a wool fabric blended with synthetic fibers, such as polyester.

When considering the construction of a tailored garment, talk to the sales person about the “make” of the garment.  With tailored jackets, the most important component in the jacket is the chest piece.  The chest piece of the garment runs from the shoulders to the bottom of the lapel (typically), and the amount of canvas used in the chest piece determines the jackets strength and overall weight.  The more canvas used in the construction of the chest piece, the higher quality the jacket, and the longer the jacket will hold the proper shape.

As with any garment purchase, if you do not understand something, ask questions of the sales people before you buy.  You will not understand why some of the things you buy last longer than others without asking questions.  If the answer you are provided by the sales person sounds wrong, it probably is wrong…shoot me an email, and I will do my best to clarify the response: