June 4th, 2008
Q: I want to purchase a bespoke suit. I’ve never purchased one before. What should I look out for? I’m willing to pay a huge premium, but only if I will definitely get my money’s worth.
by John Liu
A: One time I was at a fancy restaurant in San Francisco. It was the kind of place where you have to wear a jacket to get in, and if you show up without one, they give you one from their closet. I sat down and looked at the menu, which was pretty much completely inaccessible to anyone who’s not a Michelin-rated chef. Rather than try to decipher it, I asked the waiter as casually as I could, “So how is the steak?”
“Oh, it’s terrible,” he replied.
Now, he was being sarcastic, but I got the point: whatever I ordered, it was going to be great.
If you pick the right restaurant, you don’t have to know anything about food and can rest assured that you’ll get a good meal. Likewise, if you pick the right tailor, you don’t need to know anything about clothes, and you can rest assured that you’ll get a great suit.
Sure, I could give you a long laundry list of things to look out for. But if you’re going to the right place, I’m certain that the tailor will be doing these things anyways. My one piece of advice would be to know exactly what you want in terms of color, fabric, and style going in. The best tailors don’t give their input; rather, they simply do what you want them to do. Besides, the whole point of bespoke is to make a suit for exactly for you.
If you haven’t gone down the bespoke path before, you likely don’t have a good bespoke tailor you can trust. So do your homework. Search online for user reviews of tailors in your city. The bigger the city you live in, the pickier you can be, of course. When you find a tailor that gets consistently favorable reviews, go visit the tailor and ask to see his/her work. See if the tailor will let you talk to some of his/her customers and ask them about their experience.
Also, a “huge premium” can actually be really huge when talking about bespoke. The Kiton “K50,” aptly named because it takes approximately 50 hours to create, costs $30,000 to $50,000, and is made exclusively by Kiton’s chief tailor who personally measures and fits the client. If you already knew this and still are willing to pay this kind of premium, try Wilkes Bashford in San Francisco, which measures bespoke Kiton, or Kiton in New York. If you’re in London, check out Kilgour or any other fine tailor on Saville Row.
Finally, keep in mind that a true bespoke suit isn’t created overnight. A bespoke suit will take you a few visits to create. And a good bespoke tailor will allow you to wear the suit, get it cleaned a few times, and then go back for more tailoring for a perfect fit.
Style Tip 1: For more information on the bespoke process, and what you should expect to do (roughly) with each visit, be sure to read this discussion from Ask Andy About Clothes.
Style tip 2: If that answer didn’t satisfy you, here are five things to look out for:
- If it is “bespoke,” it should mean that the tailor is the actual cutter of the fabric. Ask him to make sure he is.
- The very best tailors also make their own garments. There aren’t too many of these tailors left, but if you find one, consider yourself lucky.
- The use of a sewing machine should be very limited. Bespoke suits should be hand-made, for the most part. That means, literally, the tailor sews the vast majority of the suit by hand.
- Make sure the canvas is hand-sewn or “floating.” If the answer is “no,” or the word “glue” is mentioned, run.
- Labels don’t mean much in bespoke.
Have a great tip about how to buy a bespoke suit? Share it with us in the comments!
Pictured: Kiton Bespoke Suit, courtesy of The Sartorialist on men.style.com.