YOUR FIRST BESPOKE SUIT: HOW TO TALK TO YOUR TAILOR
There is something–no, many things–to be said about a bespoke suit. A bespoke suit flatters every wearer, never goes out of style, and has the power all on its own to imbue a sense of confidence and prominence in even the meekest of gentlemen. When you don a bespoke suit, you will instantly feel like a king amongst men.
But no one ever said becoming king would be easy.
A unique, perfectly tailored suit is not an immediate thing. You cannot buy one off the racks. No, to get a perfect bespoke suit, you will have to work (with your tailor, of course) for it. And doing so means much more than just showing up to any old tailor down the street. Ask any sartorial pro, and he will tell you that your first visit to a tailor is akin to a rite of passage, much like your first first date or your first car, so you’ll have to do it right. And by that, we mean, you’re gonna have to know how to talk to your tailor so you can create the perfect suit. Read on for advice on everything you’ll need to know so you can see eye-to-eye with your tailor, ask for exactly what it is that you want, and ultimately, get an awesome garment as a result.
Decide What Kind of Suit You Need
What is the Purpose of this Suit? First, ask yourself what the purpose of this suit is. Are you seeking out a bespoke suit for a wedding? A funeral? A court appearance? A new job? Or just because? Tell your tailor.
Study Up On Fabrics. There are a lot of veritable suit fabrics out there waiting to be discovered. As overwhelming as that may sound, there are a few key fabrics you’ll want to stick to, especially for your first bespoke suit (which makes things a little easier). Your suit should be good for three seasons and be composed of a fabric lightweight enough that you won’t overheat but sturdy enough that you’ll also be comfortable if it’s a little chilly. Here are the best fabrics to look for:
Worsted Wool: Worsted wool is the most popular wool used for suits, as it is highly adaptable to temperature change, wears well, and gives off that slight shine that you find in most suits on the market. It is extremely versatile and great for solid-colored suits.
Super 120s: This fabric is a bit more of a luxurious lightweight wool. It’s extremely ideal for use in a three-season suit.
Mohair: This fabric is silky and a bit more textured than the first two options.
Flannel: Flannel is typically made out of worsted wool, and is similar to tweed and herringbone in terms of look, but tends to be softer to the touch. Most tailors will have a wide selection of colors and weights, meaning that you’ll most likely be able to find a nice, breathable flannel that you’ll be comfortable in during the spring and fall months.
Two- Or Three-Piece? Do you just care for the suit jacket and trousers, or would you like a matching vest to go with it? Traditionally, 2-piece suits are less formal (pictured above right), and 3-piece suits are more formal (pictured above left). 3-piece suits can be worn to high brow gatherings like weddings and dinner parties, will keep you warmer, and most importantly can become a 2-piece suit with ease (just remove the vest)! If you don’t need all the formality or live in a warmer climate, a standard 2-piece suit might be a better option. Plus, 2-piece suits are cheaper.
We recommend getting a 3-piece suit simply because it’s more versatile and can be worn with or without the vest. Again, it’s all up to you.
Study Up On the Lingo. When it comes to making a suit from scratch, there are a lot of little nuanced details to consider. In these situations, it’s helpful if you know a little bit about your tailor’s profession so you can speak the same language when discussing your suit. Now, the language that a tailor speaks is vast, but here are a few words you should study up on to not only impress your tailor but be able to ask for and describe exactly what it is you’re looking for.
Lapel: The part on each side of your suit jacket immediately below the collar that is folded back on either side. Lapels can be notched (the most common style), peaked (lapels with “peaks” that point upward), or shawl (a continuous lapel without a notch or peak breaking the outer line).
Cuff: Folding the bottom of your trousers up. This is not advisable.
Vent: The slits at the back of your jacket. Vents allow for both a tailored fit and easy mobility. Center vents are traditional, whereas two side vents are a bit more modern and ultimately while make a jacket look more fitted.
Break: This term refers to how much of the bottom of the trousers meet the shoes. A medium/half break is industry standard, and will result in just a little bit of foldover. If you want to err on the safe side, ask your tailor for a medium break. A full break offers at least one full fold or “break” over your shoes. A quarter break will just graze over the tops of your shoes. And finally, for the sartorially daring, trousers with no break will just meet the tops of your shoes. For your first suit, opt for a medium or quarter break.
Shoulders: Padding or spalla camicia? Do you want padded shoulders or shoulders without padding (A.K.A. spalla camicia). The former will create a broad appearance, while the latter will create a soft and natural transition from shoulder to arm. The latter is also more fashion-forward.
Taper: Basically, this means narrowing or gradually coming in (think of the opposite of bell bottoms). Having your jacket and trousers tapered slightly to fit your build is both more fashionable and more signature of bespoke.
Single- or Double-Breasted: Single-breasted suits have two or three buttons (pictured above left). Double-breasted jackets (pictured above right) have an outer row of functional buttons and an inner row of decorative buttons.
Besom or Flap: Besom pockets are jacket pockets that are set into the jacket like a slit with a plain opening. Flap pockets are the exact same thing, except covered by flaps.
Working or Show Buttons: Show buttons are exactly as they sound–cuff buttons that are “just for show” and have no real functionality. Working buttons are functional, allow you to roll up your sleeves, and are indicative of a bespoke suit.
Side Tabs: Ditch the belt loops and opt for side tabs with a few buttons on the sides of your pants that will allow you to adjust your waist without needing to ever wear a belt. The end result is a nice, clean look around the waist.
Interior Buttons: If you enjoy the nostalgia and old school elegance of suspenders, consider getting interior buttons sewn into your trousers.
Inner Pockets: There are a plethora of inner pockets you can trick your suit out with. Ticket pockets are literally for tickets, and come in handy for never misplacing them when you’re seeing a show. Left and right inside pockets can be used for everything from money clips to iPads (however, if you’re gonna use them for an iPad, tell your tailor. He’ll customize the pocket size.). Finally, you’ll want to add a secret inner pocket somewhere for all those classified CIA files you’re carrying around (or, you know, like a passport or something).
Once you know these terms, you can make decisions such as besom or flap, medium break or none, and tapered or straight, and so on. All these little details will help your tailor understand what exactly it is that you’re looking for, down to the last button.
Now That You Know How to Talk to Your Tailor, Go Out and Find One
Look for a tailor that, first and foremost, uses the term bespoke. Custom suits are great and all, but bespoke is better because the term signifies that that particular suit is made for and owned by exactly one man, and that the suit was hand-drawn and crafted based on exact specifications from the wearer’s body. If a tailor does bespoke suits, you’ll know that he or she is an expert at taking the careful time and consideration to craft suits based on your body type, as opposed to altering a pre-made pattern to accommodate your size (also known as made-to-measure, or MTM). A bespoke suit will fit and be comfortable for you, will have as few or as many pockets and buttons as you desire, and will be crafted based on your wants and needs from start to finish. Bespoke, undoubtedly, is the way to go.
Other considerations to keep in mind when looking for the right tailor include consulting Google (Does he have good reviews? Bad reviews? No reviews?) and ultimately asking yourself if this person makes you feel comfortable.
Once you have gone through all of the above, you should further assess your potential tailor by first having alterations made on another garment of yours. Say, a pair of trousers or a blazer. Have an idea of what you’d like done, and if it’s done correctly, it should be a safe bet that you can move on to discussing a suit.
Other Noteworthy Tips
Visuals always help. If you’re a fan of the Savile Row style of Fred Astaire or appreciate the classy duds of George Clooney, find a picture of their suits that you wouldn’t mind emulating, and bring it in as inspiration for your tailor. If possible, try to explain what about this particular suit you like.
Honesty is the Best Policy
Don’t lie to your tailor. He isn’t there to judge you, he just wants to make a suit to fit your needs, whatever they may be. What occasion is this suit for? Be upfront about where the suit will be worn, and the frequency with which it will be worn. It may seem minor to you, but every little detail can be helpful in painting the big picture for him. So, tell him the circumstances, explain the kinds of people you work with, the temperature in your office, anything. At the very least, you’ll be building rapport with him, and a nice relationship with your tailor is tantamount.
Along the same lines, don’t feel pressure to act differently during your visit to the tailor. Just because you’re getting a suit does not mean you need to affect a certain degree of formality that you otherwise wouldn’t. If you don’t enjoy suits, or if this is your first time ever needing one, don’t be afraid to let him know.
Finally, don’t try to lie to the tape measure, either. Sucking in won’t fool anyone.
Get the Most Out of Your Fittings
When you finally do go in for your fittings, dress up! Wear the shoes you would normally wear with a suit, as well as a dress shirt. You’ll want to see exactly how your trousers break on your shoes, and how the sleeves and collar look under your jacket.
As you are doing your fittings, do not be afraid to speak up. If something isn’t fitting the way you imagined, tell your tailor immediately so that he can address the problem. Don’t just be passive and assume that that’s the way it’s supposed to look or feel. Remember, you’re spending big bucks (we’re talking thousands, here) on this garment. If you don’t speak up, ask questions, or voice your concerns, the only person to blame if you’re not happy with the end result is yourself.
Understand that a Good Thing Takes Time
Getting your first suit made will take a decent amount of time and a nice handful of fittings (at least 2). Accept that you can’t rush this process, and look at the bright side: next time you go in for a bespoke suit, your tailor will have all your measurements and details on file so he can get to work right away.
And there you have it. Now that you’ve read up on all you need to know, you’re well-equipped with the knowledge required for obtaining a bespoke suit. Understanding how to talk to your tailor and knowing a little about all the nuances and details that go into the process of making a bespoke suit are essential for having a good experience. Take this newfound knowledge, go out there, and be the dapper king that you are. Oh, and remember: behind every great man is a great tailor. Don’t forget to thank yours for helping you put your best foot forward.