I have encountered a good deal of confusion from readers who have questions regarding what is "bespoke" or "tailor-made" clothing and how it differs from "made-to-measure" clothing.
Unlike many tailors, I find that there is tremendous use for both. Especially if you are, as I am, a size that is difficult to find on store racks. Made-to-measure clothing may get you a slightly better fit and, more importantly, a better selection of fabric/style combinations than might be available to you in the mainstream market. The sizing and fit is essentially that which is available off the rack, but rather than trusting the sizing information from company A or company B to be true to size, you provide the makers with your dimensions, and the garments fit.
Made-to-measureMade-to-measure services are great for garments that do not need to have a close and perfect fit, such as topcoats, jeans and shirts, or garments that you are comfortable with a less than ideal fit, such as your #3 blue blazer. I am still searching for a made-to-measure provider that will make me a blue denim shirt with a spread collar and French cuffs!
The limiting factor in made-to-measure clothing is that you generally have to provide your measurements to the maker, and you and the maker need to be speaking the same language when you communicate those measurements to him/her. The first time that I ordered khakis from a Southeast Asian made-to-measure provider, I received two pair of beautifully made trousers that would not fit any creature born of woman. This was not the fault of the maker in any way – the garments were made with the exact dimensions that I had provided, but the expertise in taking those measurements was lacking. I now generally prefer to take my measurements from a well-fitting garment that I own rather than try to take (or have a friend take) my measurements.
I love made-to-measure dress shirts. They are not much more, if any more, expensive than good quality off-the-rack shirts, and I can get what I really want.
Here are a few great providers of made-to-measure clothing:
– It is true. The great mall-giant also offers made-to-measure services in their gentlemen's clothing department. Price is more than the Nordstrom off-the-rack offerings, but it is in line with their over-all product line. Good for sport coats, dress trousers and suits.
- Brooks Brothers – Also true. That icon of American men's clothing will make you their famous shirts to your specific dimensions for a price not much different from their offerings on their shelves. The quality is the same and the fit is all yours.
- Makeyourownjeans.com – Huh? This is an offshore maker of jeans and casual shirts. They will replicate your favorite trousers for you as well. Shirt styles tend to be trendier than what we, as young but impoverished gentlemen, are seeking, but this is a good source for decent quality blue jeans.
- Bookster – Beautiful tweeds from the British Isles and from Europe. Cuts of jackets and suits in a slightly antiquated British taste. You can see these being worn with Coke hats on Derby Day.
- Paul Fredrick – For dress shirts only. Paul Fredrick used to be the manufacturer of dress shirts for a number of the best department stores to sell under their own labels, and they may still be. The catalogue at Paul Fredrick offers a great selection of very nice quality dress shirts and their made-to-measure area offers even more. This is the first made-to-measure service that I ever used and it remains among my favorites.
- Magnoli Clothiers – A touch on the cheesy side, but they make replicas of many of the clothes that you have seen in the movies. They are probably best known for their suit that replicates the light grey rig that James Bond wore in Goldfinger.
- Liste Rouge Paris – OK, you want to feel a bit like a million bucks? It can be done, but it ain't cheap. Liste Rouge is a premium made-to-measure operation where your whim is their command. They use the most premium of fabrics to create shirts as art. This is not the shirt that you are going to retire to gardening after a couple of years of heavy wear. Worth it? Perhaps, though by the time you are spending this kind of dough on a shirt you might just want to take the trip to Paris and get a truly custom shirt.
BespokeThis is the topic of numerous books and blogs. You will find tons of information on the Internet about it. Bespoke clothing is what we in America call tailor-made clothing, though the term "bespoke" implies a bit more.
To find this, your first task is to find a tailor, something that in the 21st century is becoming more and more difficult. When in London, pay a visit to Anderson & Sheppard, makers of suits to the crowned heads of Europe and Hollywood. Though, if you live in a city of some age and substance, you are sure to find a good quality local tailor in your own town.
Bespoke clothing is made of the fabric that you desire. You want a braided pinstripe? Yes, sir. You want an antiquated cut? Perhaps an Edwardian cut to compliment your, may I say, spectacular figure? Of course, sir.
For your money you get an expert in the clothing making business to take your measurements for you. Whilst he is taking your measurements, he will also be asking you questions about your tastes: what you like and what you dislike. Do you really want an English cut suit, or would something a touch more relaxed fit your manner of living a bit more. He is getting to know you. "Only my tailor knows" is a truism for a reason – your tailor is someone who you talk to and who really learns your tastes better than just about anyone else. He will show you a selection of fabrics on hand, and may be able to order you something that is not in the shop. He will tell you honestly that you should not wear cuffs on your slacks because your legs are proportionately short, and cuffs will make them look stumpier. He will tell you frankly that you are too plump to wear double breasted suits. His business is honesty, and he knows what looks right. He will assist in the selection of colors and fabrics and will recommend shoes. And socks. And, possibly, undergarments.
He may make a mock-up of your first suit with him in muslin. He will certainly make an appointment for you once he gets the suit cut and put together. You will then go in for a fitting – at this point the suit will have chalk marks and loose seams and will look nothing like the suit you ordered, but the tailor will make a few more marks and pin a few seams and look thoughtfully at the lapels and send you on your way.
When you go in for your final fitting, you will don your new rig, look at yourself in the mirror and be stunned. There is truly nothing like a good tailor made suit to make you look your very best.
If you are fit and have the wallet for it, bespoke clothing especially suits and formal clothes are what are to be aspired to. For your information: The bottom of Anderson & Sheppard's suit line will run you around £3000. At today's exchange rate, that comes to around $4600. $4600 very well spent.