As times change, so do our closets. We own less formalwear than ever, at least in the traditional sense. If we're wearing a suit, we want them to be an extension of how we actually dress, not a uniform for the masses.
Bespoke suits, however, aka ones that are fully custom, are expensive — like, really expensive. Made-to-measure suits, on the other hand, are the value proposition, with plenty of wiggle room, to boot. You see, a made-to-measure suit lets you apply different materials and colors, add-ons and accessories to existing patterns, which lets a tailor finish it faster (and with less overhead).
What Does Made to Measure Mean?
"Made to measure is going back to a way of dressing where people were more interested in having something fit well," says Sunee LaClaire, former Senior Fit Specialist at Indochino, says.
More literally, it's when a brand modifies its standard patterns to better suit the customer’s body. A customer’s measurements are sent to the manufacturer to produce the suit, and the result is much better fitting than ready-to-wear options. Unlike bespoke suits, which are made using an entirely unique pattern, made to measure is essentially a shortcut to a better-fitting suit.
How Long Do Made-to-Measure Suits Take?
Recently, I was granted the opportunity to experience Men's Wearhouse (hear me out) made-to-measure program. As expected, it required a trip to an actual Men's Wearhouse store. (There are several in Pittsburgh and probably plenty wherever you are, too.) I was measured for about 5-10 minutes, seated at an exclusive table within the store and shown a seemingly endless number of fabric swatches, example suits and customization tools.
After my suit was made, I was told it'd be about two weeks until it returned — fast but not Amazon-like. My suit was indeed ready in 13 days, just in time for me to take it with me to a wedding in another state. Your lead time might be much longer if you visit a busier store, go with a smaller maker or make insane adjustments to your chosen suit. It all depends, if you will.
Ordering Online vs. In-Person
Lots of brands now do made-to-measure suits online — and exclusively online. They don't ask for you to come in, because they either require that you input your own measurements or the sizes you wear from other brands. In other cases, the brand makes guesses based on your height, weight and age, as well as other factors like posture and body shape.
While ordering online is convenient, it'll never replace an in-person fitting. This way you get the truest possible measurements, leaving less to fix after the fact. In most cases, though, you won't ever meet with the person responsible for crafting your suit — that is unless you go to a super-small maker. Those you do meet are simply messengers, but they should be knowledgeable enough to guide you through the entire process and provide examples of what your suit will look like.
Components of a Suit
If you want to walk the walk, you need to learn how to talk the talk.
When you're talking with the specialist (or salesperson) responsible for guiding you through the made-to-order process, it's important to be familiar with what they're showing you. In every made-to-order, well, order, you'll have the opportunity to choose the number of buttons on your jacket, the pocket shapes, the vent options, the pant pleats and whether you want cuffs or not. For pricier made-to-order orders, you'll get to choose your interior liner, lapel width and shape and button configuration (aka button stance).
These slits are cut into the back of a suit jacket. Traditionally, you will find a single vent that sits on the middle seam of the jacket or a double vent — the two slits offer mobility on either side of the torso.
Functional Button Holes
This refers to the buttons on jacket cuffs actually being usable, not simply decorative. As a cost-cutting measure, many manufacturers will sew buttons on a sleeve where buttonholes are not open. If you have a jacket like this, a tailor can alter it to be functional.
The hemline of many suits is left unfinished and you need to have it tailored to your liking. First, you must decide if you want your trousers to have a slight break, a full break or no break. Trousers with no break stop around the ankle area (or higher) and don’t bunch up. Trousers with a slight break or medium break will hit the top of your shoes and slightly bunch on themselves. Trousers with a full break rest on top of your shoes and bunch up on themselves. If a trouser is unhemmed, you may also choose to have a cuff or no cuff (your choice here can complement your suit jacket).
The two flaps of fabric that sit beneath the collar of your suit jacket. They typically come in three different styles: notched, peak and shawl collar. A notched lapel has a triangular cut-out at the upper chest where the lapel meets the jacket collar. A peaked lapel is generally more formal. The lapel is wider than the jacket collar and forms a ‘peak’ where the two meet. Unlike the others, a shawl collar is typically only found on tuxedos and extends from the collar with no peak or notch.
The pockets on a suit jacket come in a range of styles that fit different settings. A jet pocket is a simple pocket sewn into the suit lining with an unadorned slit opening — it is the most formal. In a similar style, a flap pocket just adds an extra flap of fabric that hangs over the pocket opening. A welt pocket, similar to a jet pocket, is finished with an extra piece of fabric around the opening which reinforces the pocket. The most casual pocket is the patch pocket, sewn onto the exterior of the jacket like a patch would be.
Trouser Seat and Rise
The seat of a trouser typically refers to the width and the rise refers to the distance between the crotch and the waistband. The rise dictates where your pants will sit between the waist and the hips.
Understanding Suit Construction
No two suits are made equal, but there's a foundation that informs each one. Learn the foundation.
In order to produce more affordable suit jackets, brands sometimes glue a fusible interlining to the fabric of the suit. This is far less expensive than hand-stitching a canvas inside the jacket and does help to keep the jacket’s shape. Over time, though, the interlining can become unstuck, giving the jacket an appearance of bubbling or rippling. This jacket also won’t conform to your body over time like jackets with traditional horsehair canvases, and it is less flexible in day-to-day wear.
In this style of construction, a fusible interlining runs the length of the coat, but the material is stitched to a canvas that covers the chest and extends to the top of the pockets. This partial canvassing gives the jacket a more natural shape that helps it age.
The full-canvas construction relies on a canvas that runs the entire length of the jacket. The fabric is stitched directly to the canvas and the jacket will move with you as you wear it. It will also age more gracefully than fused or half canvas styles because canvas distributes tension at stress points like the shoulders and chest and allows the suit to breathe.
Unconstructed or Unstructured
As the name implies, this jacket has no interlining. It is the most casual type of construction. It is not designed to hang like a traditional suit jacket and the outer fabric conforms to your body and drapes naturally.
Understanding Suiting Fabrics
Want to know more about suiting fabrics? Read our material breakdown, which has expert insight from Jake Mueser, owner of high-end suiting shop J.Mueser Bespoke.
Consider the setting and time of year you will wear a particular suit when considering fabric weight. Lightweight fabric, between seven and nine ounces per square yard, are typically worn in warm climates and summer weather. Mid-weight fabric, normally around 11 to 12 ounces, is good for the majority of the year in a range of climates. Heavyweight fabrics, though rare at 14 to 19 ounces, are made for colder climates and winter wear.
Wool is the most common suiting fabric because it is breathable, versatile and wrinkle-free. It can be blended with a range of other fibers including cashmere, silk, cotton and linen to produce different textures. Worsted wool, made from fibers that have been combed to ensure uniformity in the spinning process, is also common in suits. Labels like Super 100s, 140s, 160s or 180s denote the number of times the worsted wool has been twisted when it’s made. Generally, the higher the number, the lighter and smoother the cloth.
Another popular fabric for suiting, cotton is breathable but wrinkles and creases more easily than wool. These fabrics are great for more casual settings and are appropriate for unconstructed jackets.
Lightweight and breathable, this fabric is great for tropical temperatures. Like cotton, linen wrinkles easily, so it is best utilized in a casual setting.
Incredibly soft and very breathable, cashmere is a luxury fabric when used on its own. Many brands incorporate cashmere into blends to soften the feel while not inflating the price tag.
Silk is naturally breathable, temperature regulating and durable. While not often used on its own, it adds a soft touch along with the aforementioned qualities when applied to a blend.
This synthetic fiber is inexpensive and used in a variety of suits at low prices. It doesn’t breathe well and wrinkles more easily than wool. Many brands try to split the difference and use a wool-poly blend to incorporate some of the benefits of wool into an inexpensive fabric.
Where to Order a Made-to-Measure Suit
On Indochino, you can either order a suit as is or customize it to your liking. That means the suits that form its made-to-measure program can also be bought ready-made — for when you're in a rush, you know?
The online customization process is easy, but the measurements are a little tougher to add. Unlike Hockerty, for example, Indochino asks you to take your own. They do provide easy-to-follow videos that help you measure yourself just as a tailor would, but it's still work — and anxious folks will always feel like they've somehow gotten a measurement wrong. All you'll really need is 10 free minutes and a measuring tape. Don't have one? They'll ship you one for $1.
In-person is also an option. It's the safer route for folks with the patience to visit the store and really get the measurements right. The process is just about the same there, though, except you'll be relaying your choices to a salesperson to be put into the system.
Turnaround: 4-6 weeks
Hockerty does not have a single brick-and-mortar store. The brand says it avoids retail to keep costs low. They've put the entire made-to-measure process online, and use a proprietary system to estimate your measurements. That way, if you really can't measure yourself, you don't have to. However, it's probably smart to double check the brand's work. For me, they had the sleeve length wrong but the suit's total width was exactly right.
Turnaround: 2 weeks
Suitsupply offers brick-and-mortar and online options, and, unlike a few other brands on this list, the experiences are nearly equal. When you reach the measurements stage online, Suitsupply creates a "size passport," which you can reuse for as many custom suits as you'd like. It's a set of numbers derived from your standard suit size — like 42R. If a 42R works for you, it'll put the basic measurements in for you. You can make edits if you know your sleeves are usually too short, etc.
You can also order online but complete the measurements in person, saving you the hassle of explaining your insane combination to the clerk working the sales desk.
Turnaround: 2-5 weeks
Opened in 2010, J Mueser is a refined formalwear shop in New York City. There, Jake Mueser makes bespoke and made-to-measure suits, all by appointment only. He has his own preferences, but he's open to making something you truly want. He's also a hell of a tailor, for both suits he made and those found in thrift shops.
"You can use beautiful fabric and make a terrible suit, and you can use cheap fabrics and make an incredible suit," he says.
Learn more about Mueser's process in our guide to turning a $500 suit into a $5,000 one.
As Drake's slowly grows into a full-blown menswear brand, they've shifted their focus from suits exclusively to, well, other things. Suits are still a core part of the Drake's brand, though.
To start the process, pay them a visit, or simply email their lead stylist, Liam (firstname.lastname@example.org).
"Drake’s MTO tailoring is based on the same soft and relaxed silhouette that you'll find ‘off the rack’, but you are not limited to what you can see in store," he says. "If you have a different fabrication or colour in mind, we can make it a reality. The MTO service allows you to tweak the proportions and fit of the garment for something a little more personal and appropriate for any occasion."
Ah, Men's Wearhouse, a mall anchor and a standalone strip staple. Written off as a place for last-minute tux rentals and attire for school functions (like graduation or prom), the Wearhouse has a number of solid options when it comes to made-to-measure suits.
You can't order one online, but that's okay. Paying your local store a visit is easy, especially since there are probably a few where you live. In under 30 minutes, you can get fitted for your suit, customize it to your liking, check out and receive confirmation it's already being worked on.
During my visit, I had a seemingly endless number of fabrics to choose from and there are shirts, ties, belts and shoes on hand for envisioning exactly how you'd wear it.
Turnaround: 2-4 weeks
Like SuitSupply, Alton Lane gives you the option of ordering the suits you see either as is or made to measure. Made to measure costs more, but it's almost just as fast. They say they can get a made-to-measure suit done and to your doorstep in two weeks, a feat for even the biggest brands.
Alton Lane's online service lets you put in your height, weight and shape, as well as your desired fit (tailored, slim or fit). From there, you can make adjustments to the canvassing, colors, materials, button stance and beyond. Alterations can be made to fully customize the fit after it's been delivered — you just need to take it into Alton Lane. If you're far from a brick and mortar, any other tailor will do it — it just won't be free.
Turnaround: 2-6 weeks
Gieves and Hawkes
Gieves and Hawkes is one of the most storied tailors on London's biggest sartorial hotspot, Savile Row. The shop has endured development, plus major changes in how we dress and outfitted everyone from British royalty to American music icons.
All made-to-measure orders start in Gieves and Hawkes' showroom, where they'll take measurements, walk you through the fabric library and show you examples of what's possible (plus what's not).
Turnaround: 6-8 weeks
Commonwealth Proper has stores in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Atlanta. They do all of their made-to-measure orders there, no matter whether you're local or in from out of town. They'll pour you a drink, take your measurements, walk you through different materials and finishes and place your unique order.
It'll arrive back in the shop, where you'll return to get officially fitted. They can make alterations if needed, or you can leave with your suit then. It simply depends on the level of customization you choose (and how comfortable you are with the final product).