Before we go any further let’s take a minute to ensure we understand the primary attribute of bespoke clothing; it is unique. Each garment is made to the specifications of the client, and therefore a list of determining factors would have to be infinite to be accurate. If you’ve ever had a bespoke garment made you’ll know that it’s an evolutionary process through conversation with your tailor.
Having said that, there are a few things that by tradition are standard practice for bespoke suits.
#1 Floating Chest Piece
First, a bespoke suit would never use anything but a horsehair chest piece! And if it’s not done entirely by hand or there’s fusing in it’s place you’re dealing with a lazy tailor. You can check the underside of the lapel for tiny (really, microscopic) stitches holding the horse hair in place. You should also be able to feel separate layers of fabric over the chest area. If you’re unsure ask your tailor to show you how the chest piece is shaped and attached. You’re forking out good money here, it’s his job to ensure you understand why.
#2 Unique Pattern
Depending on the uniqueness of your body, basic patterns can serve as a template to cut your suit. However, the pattern is drawn directly onto the fabric, with every seam placed according to your measurements. This differs significantly from off-the-peg and made-to-measure as there is no portion of the garment that is pre-shaped. The ‘pattern’ is also obliterated by the cutting process, making it impossible to replicate.
If you’ve gone through this process with a pro you know there are multiple fittings, adjusting and re-adjusting everything to ensure that it fits, moves and looks perfect. Fittings also give you the opportunity to chat about specific details as you go, being able to visualize it more easily as the garment evolves. The final garment is the result of decisions made along the way, rather than a pre-determined plan.
Traditionally the entire garment is put together with a basting stitch (i.e. done by hand) for the first fitting. It’s then taken apart and re-assembled numerous times, each time with less basting as the garment reaches completion. If there’s no hand stitching during the fittings you’re being sold snake oil. If you can’t tell the difference between machine and hand stitching ask your tailor to explain, it’s actually quite interesting.
Hate it when inflation makes your favorite pants too embarrassing to wear? Bespoke clothes are meant to last ten to twenty years, WITH weight fluctuations. A smartly tailored jacket (for example) can hide around 20cm of extra fabric in the seams . When your suit gets a bit tight, your tailor can simply adjust it for your new girth. This process does unfortunately puts a bit of strain on the fabric each time it’s adjusted, so be ready to hear your tailor tell you to rather just suck in your gut until it’s a real problem.
#5 Stitch Tension
No matter what kind of innovations happen in the machine world, there remain a number of skills solely belonging to human hands. Varying stitch styles and tensions is one of these. Although some stitches can be mimicked by machinery, the effect is nowhere near as wonderful as hand stitching, especially when dealing with varying tensions.
Because different parts of your body move differently, different amounts of strain are put on different parts of the garment. Using different stitches and varying tensions allows bespoke tailors to mould garments that mimic the movement of the body more naturally.
#6 Hand Finishes
An important feature of bespoke clothing is that there’s a great deal of hand work. This is most of the reason you’re paying so much. As an ode to the masters of old, obsessive tailors often craft visible details by hand as a statement about their art. Button holes, prick stitches, secure pocket edges; the minute inconsistency of the stitching make each suit a uniquely beautiful garment.
#7 Emotional Support
The most important thing about bespoke clothes is that it’s a unique bond between a man and his tailor. It’s an interesting friendship and I’m glad to be a part of so many people’s lives. Helping gents look their best in their everyday lives, or for special occasions like their weddings, is a really awesome job to have!
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You can also hit me up in the comments, or come and get a bespoke suit for yourself 😉 If you’re feeling a bit lost check out the rest of this blog series:
Brief History of Suits: “Let there be light [coloured fabrics to cover the body]”
Basic Suit Fit: “Do these pants make me look fat?”
Off the Peg Suits: “If you can make one you can make a million”
Made-to-Measure Suits: “We have ways and seams”
Common Suit Mistakes: “Money can’t buy Class”