Your First Bespoke Suit How to tell your tailor exactly what you need

Man getting a suit tailored

[Feature image by Permanent Style]

A bespoke suit has the power all on its own to imbue a sense of confidence and prominence in any man who wears it. 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. It takes meticulous care, precision in language, and sartorial knowledge to bring your first bespoke suit to fruition.

What is a Bespoke Suit?

To “bespeak” means to give an order. In terms of fashion, the definition of a “bespoke suit” is a suit that the tailor crafts out of someone’s vision. It is an original, one-of-a-kind garment made to the wearer’s preference, to a T. That particular suit is made for and owned by exactly one man, and the suit was hand-drawn and crafted based on exact specifications from the wearer’s body.

bespoke suit

JH Cutler

Degrees of Suit Tailoring:

Ready-to-wear suit: A mass-produced suit, made in a factory, that you can find in department stores. You can wear the suit almost immediately after purchase, save for some minor tailoring adjustments.

Made-to-measure Suit: A standard suit pattern is made to fit your measurements. Though not factory-made, this suit comes from a pre-existing design.

Bespoke suit: The entire suit is created without a pre-existing pattern or design.

A unique, perfectly tailored suit is not an immediate thing. You will have to work with your tailor for it, which entails much more than going to the nearest clothier that comes up on Yelp. Your first tailor visit is akin to a rite of passage, much like your first date or your first car, so you’ll want to do it right. You’ll have to know about suiting construction and tailoring terminology to convey exactly what you want.

What Kind of Suit Do You Need?

All things brought onto this earth deserve a purpose. Save your suit from a painful existence of confusion. First, ask yourself: where is this suit meant to be worn? A wedding? A funeral? A court appearance? A new job? Everywhere, simply to impress the public? Tell your suit tailor.

Suit vs. Tux

A tuxedo is considered more formal, or flashy, than a suit. The main difference is that a tux has satin lapels, and they are often worn with bowties.

bespoke suit vs tux
You can order a bespoke tuxedo, but tuxes run at higher prices, and there are fewer occasions to wear them. A bespoke suit costs thousands of dollars, and a bespoke tuxedo would cost about 30-40% more. Other than weddings, galas, operas, award shows, etc. you can’t wear a tuxedo to a business meeting or just walking down a fashionable street. You can, however, wear a suit to any of those formal events.

Study Up on Fabric

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 in tailored suits:

Worsted Wool

  • Most popular wool used for suits
  • Highly adaptable to temperature change
  • Slight sheen
  • Extremely versatile
  • Great for solid-colored suits

SUPER 120s Wool

  • Very fine wool, 17.75 Microns in diameter
  • Luxurious and lightweight
  • Ideal for three-season suits

Mohair

  • Angora goat hair
  • Silky luster, more texturized
  • Insulating
  • Naturally wrinkle-resistant

Flannel

  • A soft, brushed worsted wool
  • Resembles tweed and herringbone
  • Wide selection of colors and weights
  • Breathable, perfect for spring and fall

Two-Piece Suit Or Three-Piece Suit?

Do you want a matching vest with your suit jacket and trousers? Traditionally, two-piece suits are less formal. Three-piece suits are appropriate for high brow gatherings like weddings and dinner parties, and they will keep you warmer. Most importantly, they can be worn as a two-piece suit when you remove the vest. On the other hand, a two-piece suit can’t become a three-piece unless you have that third matching piece.

bespoke suit two piece vs three piece

If you don’t need all that formality, or you live in a warmer climate, a standard two-piece suit might be a better option. Plus, two-piece suits are cheaper. But we recommend getting a three-piece suit simply because it’s more versatile and can be worn with or without the vest. Again, it’s all up to you.

Learn the Lingo: Tailor Terminology

When it comes to making a suit from scratch, there are a lot of nuanced details to consider. Now, the language of a tailor is vast, but here are a few basic terms and components you should study up on.

Suit Jacket Lapel

The part on each side of your suit jacket immediately below the collar that is folded back on either side.

bespoke suit lapel style

Lapel Styles

Notched Lapels: the standard lapel

Peaked Lapels: have “peaks” that point upward

Shawl Lapels: a continuous piece without notches or peaks

Pants Cuff

The cuff is optional. It’s the bit of fabric on your suit pants that is folded up and pressed. Though cuffless pants are more popular, we love and recommend a 1.5-inch cuff.

bespoke suit pants cuff

Suit Jacket Vent

These slits at the back of your jacket allow for a tailored fit and easy mobility. Center vents are traditional, whereas two side vents are a bit more modern, and they make the jacket look more fitted.

bespoke suit jacket vents

Pant Break

This term refers to how much if the pant leg meets the shoes.

bespoke suit pants break

Medium/Half Pant Break:  the industry-standard that results in just a little foldover. If you want to err on the safe side, ask for a medium break

Full Pant Break: offers at least one full fold or “break” over your shoes.

Quarter Pant Break: just grazes over the tops of your shoes

No Break: just meets the tops of your shoes. This is for the sartorially daring.

(For more, read our guide on trouser length (opens in new window).)

Spalla Camicia

Padding or spalla camicia? Do you want padded shoulders or shoulders without padding (spalla camicia) on your custom suit? 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 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 custom suits.

Single-Breasted or Double-Breasted

Single-breasted jackets have one column of two to three buttons down the center. Double-breasted jackets have an outer column of functional buttons and an inner column of decorative buttons.

bespoke suit single breasted vs double breasted

Besom or Flap Pockets

Besom Pockets: pockets that are set into the jacket like a slit with a plain opening.  Flap Pockets: pockets set into the jacket, but they are covered by flaps.

bespoke suit pockets besom vs. flap

Working or Show Buttons

Show buttons are exactly what they sound like: cuff buttons that are “just for show” and have no real functionality.  Working Buttons are functional buttons that allow you to roll up your sleeves and are indicative of a bespoke suit.

bespoke suit buttons

Gentleman’s Gazette

Side Tabs on Pants

Ditch the belt loops and opt for side tabs with a few buttons on the sides of your pants that allow you to adjust your waist without ever needing to wear a belt. We like this look, but some may think of it as “retro.”

bespoke suit side tabs

Articles of Style

Interior Buttons

If you enjoy the nostalgia and old-school elegance of suspenders, consider getting interior buttons sewn into your trousers.

(Read: Everything You Need to Know about Suspenders (opens in new window))

Inner Pockets

There are a plethora of inner pockets you can trick out your suit 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 about besom or flap pockets, a medium break or no break, and tapered or straight pants, and so on. All these little details will help your tailor understand what exactly you’re looking for, down to the last button.

(For more terminology, read our tailoring guide (opens in new window).)

Now Find a Great Suit Tailor

Your First Bespoke Suit

Look for a tailor that, first and foremost, uses the term “bespoke” (not just “custom”). If a tailor actually does bespoke suits, you’ll know that he or she is an expert at crafting suits to your body type, as opposed to altering a pre-made pattern to accommodate your size (also known as made-to-measure, or MTM).

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.

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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, you can move on to discussing a suit.

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Other Noteworthy Tips

Bring Pictures

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 you wouldn’t mind emulating. 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; it’s his profession to make a suit that fits whatever your needs 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. Just because you’re getting a suit does not mean you should 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. Accuracy is how to measure for a suit.

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.

Speak Up

As you’re doing 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.

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Don’t 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.

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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.

Be Patient

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 to embark on your mission for the perfect bespoke suit. Understanding how to talk to your tailor and knowing a little about the nuances that go into the process 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.

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