Off-the-rack vs. ready-made vs. custom-made

Off-the-rack vs. ready-made vs. custom-made

Q. I am starting a new job and it is a straight-laced company, suits daily and tuxedo for the company Christmas party (probably with black masks this year). I have a couple of suits but will need a tuxedo and probably a nice gray suit (my old one is loose now that I’ve gotten in shape entering my 40’s). I am considering having one or both of them custom made. Is that worth the cost? 

A. Before answering your question, it might help to explain the different categories of suit buying. There are three: Ready-made, also called off-the-rack; Made-to-measure or special order; and Custom-made or bespoke. Knowing the differences between them can help you choose a tuxedo and suit that best suit your needs.

Ready-made or off-the-rack is the least expensive. It is what the average man thinks of and sees in stores. Suits can range from $169 (online and in discount shops) to $500 and on up significantly (in fine stores). Price depends both on quality and where you shop.

Since you mentioned that you are in good shape, you probably don’t have any major fit problems that would make it difficult for you to find something ready to wear that would make you happy. A tuxedo is a garment that you will wear only a few times a year and that allows very few acceptable variations. I see no reason not to go into a first-class store and buy one that you find there. You will be able to try a few on, get a sense of what you like best, and save your money for diamond encrusted cuff links . . . just kidding, please don’t!

Custom-made is a whole world of suits and suit making in which the atmosphere is considerably rarefied, even more than merely shopping in a first-class store. This timeless world of bespoke tailoring is one where you are measured – every inch of you – consulted by the tailor about such details as the width of lapels and dimensions of pocket flaps. Here you get to try on a hand-sewn masterpiece every step of the way.

The finest men’s clothing establishments will make you a two-piece suit in the super fine fabric of your choice and cut along whatever variations you specify for prices starting at around $3,500 and going on up (way up!). The tailor cuts a pattern to your exact measurements. These suits require time . . . three to five fittings over a period of several weeks. A true bespoke suit in your choice of a perfectly splendid fabric made by a true custom tailor will cost you a lot in time and money.

Do I recommend a custom-made suit for your nice gray suit? No, since you do not have a severe fit problem. Perhaps twenty or more years from now, if some fit problem arises, it might make sense. But for now it does not seem at all necessary.

Made-to-measure lies between ready-made and true custom-made. This category is many rungs above the utility of off-the-rack clothing, and a rung or two below the luxury of bespoke tailoring, with key differences. Here, the company measures you and orders the closest fitting existing suit pattern to your body; then makes small adjustments to their standard pattern. Only better suit manufacturers offer this service because only they can do it right.

Made-to-measure suits are expensive, but nowhere near the stratospheric prices of custom-made clothing. Made-to-measure still offers you a large range of options and also gives you that great feeling of having a suit made specifically to your requirements. It takes less time, and you need fewer fittings. The big plus is that you get exactly what you want and that is quite close to true bespoke for a great deal less expense. Yes, you’re paying a few hundred dollars more than for ready-made, but not outrageously so, for a Porsche or Maserati among suits.

You should note that some companies these days use “Custom” and “Made-to-Measure” interchangeably, it is not correct to do so. If they call it custom but provide the made-to-measure service, you should only be paying that price. (You also may want to be a bit leery of their professionalism).

To sum it up: I would advise you to buy a ready-made tuxedo and have a handsome gray suit (perhaps in a beautiful Prince of Wales glen plaid) made-to-measure for you. Enjoy them both!

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