What’s the difference between off the rack, made to measure and bespoke? Which type of suit is right for you?
You have probably often come across many terms in regards to tailoring and how clothing is made, such as bespoke, made-to-measure and off-the-rack, but do you know what they all mean? If not, you are in the right place. In this article, we will take a look at each of these methods, explain what they mean and show how they compare to each other.
Let’s start at the bottom of the chain – off-the-rack or ready-to-wear suits. As the name implies, these are suits that have been pre-made and displayed on the rack in department stores and small garment shops. They are highly standardized, come in several sizes and fits and only fabrics and styles ordered by the store. There’s little to no customization available and oftentimes, they don’t fit perfectly, which is where to store’s tailor can help. Minor alterations usually involve shortening the hems of the pants or shirt sleeves. Since off-the-rack suits are the most affordable option, they are usually the go-to option for first-time suit buyers and younger men (most of us have probably been there). The development of the RTW suit was pioneered in the 1950s, when manufacturers segmented the male form into different sizes for mass production. The vast majority of the world’s suits are now made this way.
Whether you buy online and submit your own measurements, or go to a showroom to get measured by a professional, most modern “custom suit” brands are selling made-to-measure (MTM) suits.
Made-to-measure suits are a healthy middle ground between off-the-rack and bespoke suits. On the one hand, they allow for more customization and are better tailored to the wearer, but on the other hand, they involve some form of standardization in the pattern and manufacturing, which is machine-operated.
The fit of a made-to-measure suit is superior to that of an off-the-rack suit because they are constructed to fit each customer individually based on a few body measurements to customize the pre-existing pattern. Crafted from a basic pattern and modified based on a handful of measurements, these suits take time to be made. You will still have to try them on when they arrive to make final adjustments. Made-to-measure is more expensive than the most off-the-rack suit and less expensive than bespoke.
I’d always wanted to buy a bespoke suit, but the price point is prohibitive. We’re talking at least $3,000, potentially much more, for one suit. One reason for the high price tag is the labor. Making a suit from scratch is very labor-intensive, and it requires a lot of experience. Then you have the fabric. A suit requires 3-4 yards of fabric, plus all of the trimmings (buttons, lining, collar felt, etc.). So the “cost of goods” is high, compared to a RTW or even a MTM suit.
Bespoke suits are made specifically for you (from scratch) with a high level of expertise and hand construction. Bespoke tailoring involves paying far more attention to minute fit details than, for example, you would find in a made-to-measure suit. Typically, the tailor will set up multiple fittings during the construction process to achieve the ultimate fit for the customer. An extreme example, a bespoke suit is a fully hand-stitched suit that can have more than 1,000 hand stitches in the lapel and results in a perfect hand-rolled lapel that stays in place, hugs the body and never needs to be pressed. Overall, bespoke suits are the most expensive option, as the craftsmanship requires a very high level of skill and the attention of hand sewers.
Where the three overlap
While I’ve outlined three distinct categories, the difference is not always clear cut.
Some RTW is made better than some bespoke. MTM comes at hugely varying price points and quality levels (anywhere from £300 to £4000). Bespoke also varies a lot in quality of finishing and design.
But in the end, you buy RTW for the design and the price.
You choose MTM when you want to change the fit and to personalize the suit.
And you choose bespoke when you want a mixture of the best fit and the best quality.
For me, fit is always the most important thing about a suit, as it has such possibility to flatter a man – to make him look leaner, stronger and sharper. That is the biggest reason to choose bespoke. Quality and design should be considered separately.