Made to measure suits (also known as personal tailoring)
As I look back at my YouTube videos from 2006 I have noticed one major difference… I used to be a lot thinner. Oddly as I have gotten older and fatter, people still ask whether I am a recent graduate. I even got asked for ID when buying a £10 meal deal from M&S recently. I’m pretty sure that I don’t look 18 anymore let alone younger but it appears that many do! I figure that some of this is down to my ultra laid back casual look.
In an attempt to turn forward the age clock or perhaps the respectability factor, I am going to turn back to the tried and trusted male staple of the suit to bring me back some professional pride. When I started out working in investment banking over a decade ago, I used to wear a suit every day. Back then there was little choice in what to splash the cash on when it came to suit buying. Basically, you went with a nasty cheap suit from a store that fit really badly or you went bespoke from a tailor down Savile Row. There was the ready to wear option but the suits were really naff.
Made to measure
Savile Row began offering off the peg suits from tailors including Ozwald Boateng, Mark Marengo and Richard James who gave a young audience an alternative to expensive bespoke options. Today there is another option that sits somewhere in between and that is the made to measure suit. Made to measure is also marketed as personal tailoring or even wrongly as bespoke. Trust me when I say that you will never get a decent bespoke suit for £400. A bespoke suit is one that is made from a tailor who you personally consult with. They design your suit according to what would look good on you and then they will hand cut and stitch the entire suit from your chosen materials. the suit will normally have a full floating canvas too.
With a made to measure suit, you would normally pick an existing design that is mass produced in a factory where stitching is done by machine but you have a level of customisation in the design process. This may consist of picking different cloths, lapels, pockets, buttons, cuffs and much more. The biggest difference in the process is the person taking your measurements. They will probably not be a tailor used to taking a multitude of measurements. You will be lucky if they take more than 10 at best. Most places will get you to try on a suit similar to the one you are likely to purchase and let out or take in fabric from that design. The measurement person will then jot that down on an ordering form to be sent off to the mass produced factory which then chops up and stitches your ‘block’ of suits holding yours ask with the special adjustments. A bespoke suit can take absolutely ages to get made because you will normally visit the tailor for loads of adjustments over several visits. With made to measure, the expectation is that the suit will fit well but not to the same extent as bespoke. There are rarely more than 2 extra visits for alterations to get your suit right. It is also very rare that you will have a full canvas suit. Most made to measure will come back with a half canvas. Definitely don’t splash the cash if the place only offers a fused canvas because it will look rubbish after a couple of trips to the dry cleaners.
Don’t dry clean your suit
A great tip for those of you who are new to suit buying is to have a few suits to rotate so that you never wear the same suit 2 days in a row. If you are buying made to measure, hopefully you will have a breathable lining and breathable outer wool/mohair so that you will not stink out the suit. You really want to limit your dry cleaning trips to 3 times a year per suit. Be sure to visit a good dry cleaner that won’t over press your new suit or it will go super shiny and super ruined! If you are a heavy sweater, then perhaps choose a very breathable material like mohair and get a second pair of trousers which will be dry cleaned together with the first pair of trousers and the jacket so the colour still matches over time. To clean your suits over the course of the year, use a good suit like the Kent C220 to get rid of puddle stains and dandruff.
The made to measure experiment
To really highlight the difference between all the different types of suit at a budget of less than £1,000 per suit, I am going through the process of buying the different variations of suits that you can get for that kind of money. I am after a one button suit suitable for a short guy 5ft 8in with a huge belly (yep, that’s me)! For this process (which I will document over my twitter feed), I have purchased a Mark & Spencer’s Autograph half canvas suit for £349 (extra trousers cost £150), a Reiss personal tailoring suit for £595 (extra trousers cost £225), a Mark Marengo suit in the sale altered to fit for £570 (extra trousers cost £180) and finally a suit at Cad &the Dandy bespoke sit for £950 (extra trousers cost £185).
The tailors who didn’t make the cut
I looked at plenty of other tailors to review in my process which I will list below alongside the reasons why I chose not to go with them:
Suit Supply – They only do 2 or 3 button suits unless it is an evening suit. I think is is pretty stupid. The saleswoman on Vigo street was really arrogant too assuming that I knew nothing about suits. The first question the woman asked me was how quickly I needed the suit followed by whether it was linen I was after. She then suggested that I go for a grey suit in 110 or 120 superwool without asking me anything which I just found ridiculous.
Apsley – I read mixed reviews about this place. There were some good reviews from women who wanted dresses made up but I didn’t see much from many guys who requested suits. They advised special offers for bespoke suits from £399 in the Metro which didn’t tie up with the pricing information on their website which stated that suits started from £650.
Brooks Brothers – The suits at Brooks Brothers are just a little old school for me. I don’t really like the cut there.
Richard James – One of my favourite suit shops on the Row but made to measure starts at £1,300 which wouldn’t be fair for this review. My wedding suit was made there in fine white mohair.
Oswald Boeteng – A really good place to find contemporary suits if you are a tall bloke with good proportions for an off the peg suit. The guy who served me kept ribbing me for being overweight and making me feel as bad as possible about it. When I told the guy that I wasn’t interested in paying £1,300 for an off the peg suit that fit really badly, he told me to run around the block a few times every day until I could fit into a smaller pair of trousers. Made to measure starts at £2,500 there which is slightly surreal.
Moss Bros – I read about their made to measure service which they call bespoke but I have never been much of a fan of their store in general. I may give them a chance in future but I didn’t really want to shine my cash their way this time around.
A suit that fits – I have read so many bad reviews in the comments section of blog posts that I got majorly put off. They have no normal stores and all visits are by appointment only. I went online one Sunday to try and book in that same day but their site had Thursday as the earliest booking time. I left my details for a call back which they did on the Tuesday at about 6.30pm. I think that is pretty poor as a first impression to leave it a couple of days to contact someone who is looking to part ways with over £500 in any industry. Imagine if I had a fault with my suit later down the line, would I have to wait as long?
Austin Reed – I first found out about their made to measure service in their Bluewater store. They have 3 cloth books that allow customers to have any suit made up to any pattern that exists in their current range for only £399. The person taking measurements was a female who admitted that she hadn’t done much training and that I would be better off visiting their Regent Street store. On visiting the Regent Street branch, the sales guy told me that they all got trained the same way at any store and that he was nothing special. He had loads of cloth books which started at £650 with all suits ordered being bespoke from that price point. When I asked about the £399 suits, he was reluctant to show me any of the books and told me that most cloths in that price range were out of stock. I thought it was a pretty poor experience. The guy kept walking off too so I walked out too.
Hugo Boss – I heard about their personal tailoring service at their London flagship store online but I couldn’t find any information on their website in English so I tweeted them about it. They gave me a link to their English version on their UK website which was great but it offered no indication of pricing so I tweeted Hugo Boss again. They tried loads of deflection techniques to avoid giving me any indication of pricing and then stopped replying to me altogether. I found this to be a pretty poor representation of their brand and took it no further. I have never found an issue talking money upfront with any other suit maker to date.
Raja Fashions – This outfit had by far the worst reputation online. Reading a ton of blog posts about other brands bought up Raja Fashions as one of the worst experiences you could possibly encounter when buying a suit. They do have a store, but it is based in Hong Kong on Cameron Road which is pretty rotten and not exactly the row. It’s not really an issue, and they do advertise their address, but the image portrayed is that they are on exclusive premises with heritage. Here is the Googe streetview image of Raja Fashions in Hong Kong
Selling to people located in the UK without a store means that they instead use London hotels a lot with some selected visits across the year available for the rest of the UK. They currently advertise in The Metro a special package for men which consists of 2 suits, 2 shirts, 2 extra trousers from £590. It doesn’t really matter whether a suit is made in China or the UK, but you are not going to get any decent wool for that kind of money let alone have enough left over to make the suit and pocket any profit, essential really for running a successful business! If you do go to see them, expect to haggle hard Asian style and expect to be buying no less than 2 suits. From online feedback, also expect many visits to hotels for several alterations. You have been warned!
My chosen suit makers
So on to the places that I did pick in the end going in price order:
Mark & Spencer’s Autograph 110 superwool RADA half canvas suit for £349 (extra trousers cost £150)
Marks & Spencer’s are one of the only high street shops I can visit that makes suits in short sizes for both trousers and jackets. It is also a place where jackets and trousers can be mixed and matched. It is rare that I will have a Marks & Spencer suit last very long though as their fabrics tend to be budget conscious and the stitching can be poor. The fit is very inconsistent too. Their Richard James line of trousers have no room for my supersized thighs! Their cuts tend to be fairly conservative unless you go for their most expensive suits which is the case with the one button number I picked up. Kwai Chi wearing a Marks & Spencer one button suit
Along with the better cloth and better cut comes the half canvas framework. My suit was one of the only present in store with 110 superwool and it was only one of about 5 suits that had a half canvas. Because the fit is so inconsistent, it is a bit of a lottery in the changing rooms and I find myself spending hours fishing out possible suits and then trying them on endlessly. You get what you pay for but at £350, the suit is pretty well made and fits well generally. The made to measure suits should easily beat the experience, the quality and the fit of an off the peg Marks & Spencer suit. If they don’t then they wills have been money better spent flushing down a drain!
Mark Marengo suit in the sale altered to fit for £570 (extra trousers cost £180)
I first went into the Mark Marengo store on Savile Row 3 years ago when I was looking to have a suit made up for my wedding. They were the only store that made suits in white Mohair apart from Richard James. I went with Richard James at the end because the cut was better at the time. Budget wise, Marengo were holding a late June summer sale and they had loads of one button silver kid mohair suits on offer which looked great off the peg.
The service there is friendly with very knowledgable staff to take measurements for alteration and fit. The whole process only took half an hour and I am confident that the results will be great once the alterations are done. The fabric is amazing and the finish is really good too so I have high expectations. Off the peg they have jackets matched up with trousers but they are making me up a second pair of trousers once I get my alteration finished provided they have the cloth in stock. It is the cheapest second pair of trousers after Marks and Spencers which is pretty good. I very much hope that there is little to do after my next visit!
Reiss personal tailoring suit for £595 (extra trousers cost £225)
I have never bothered going into Reiss much as their stuff never comes in my size ie. short. Their made to measure service is quite new which shows in the uncertain approach by Jesse, my sales/measuring guy in the One New Change store. First off went through the Reiss cloths. There weren’t many but I found a nice charcoal grey which draped really nicely. I had to wait for Jesse to look through his list to confirm that it was a 110 superwool as the extent of his knowledge seemed to stop at the fact that all the cloths were made out of wool. My cloth meant that the suit came in at just shy of £600 with the extra pair of trousers coming in a vey steep £225, the most out of all the places I bought a suit from. Cloths run from £550 to £850.
We then went page by page through each of the Reiss 17 steps book choosing things like lapel, buttons (1 or 2), cuffs (1 or 4), half lining or full lining and trims. Jesse had to phone his personal tailor manager who looks after all of personal tailoring in the UK to confirm that the suit was half canvas and not a fully fused suit. Expected alteration visit is 4-5 weeks from ordering with another week for completion.
I had to try on several jackets and several trousers to find which block would be better to alter from. Once we found an oversized jacket and an oversized pair of trousers to take in, Jesse then went on to pin the hell out of both. Although it looked as if this was a brilliant use of time, I found that Jesse only filled in one box on his checking form for each set of pinning. Jesse also had a nasty habit of taking measurements in inches before converting in his head into cm for the form which was fully metric. The funny thing was that he had cm lines on his tape measure in parallel to inches. I had to step in and insist he take the more precise cm reading directly from the tape measure! Taking up the bottom of the jacket, sleeves, trousers and width of leg below the knee, I was delayed again. Jesse had to phone up about how they know where my knee is. Jesse spent a lot of time pinning my trousers from the foot up to the knee and moving the width in and out again until I could sit easily with the pins in. That only worked from a certain distance from the leg up though as I have thunder thighs from my days of endless Tae Kwon Do kicking with my relatively tiny calves. The HQ guy looked as if he had a proper go at Jesse judging by his reactions over the phone as Jesse relayed that they “Just know” where my knees are. The measurement across my back wasn’t taken to be left for my alteration stage as Jesse wasn’t sure where the single button would sit on my torso which I felt was fair enough.
My Reiss visit was by far my longest out of any store I visited clocking up an hour and a half of my life but at least I felt more reassured that Jesse double checked anything he didn’t know instead of simply lying to me. I am booked in to see Jesse again in the last week of July.
This service is available at the following locations:
Market Place, W1H 7AJ
Barrett Street, W1U 1BA
Regent Street, W1H 4JH
Long Acre, WC2E 9PA
Kings Road, SW3 4TX
10-11 Vigo Street, W1S 3EJ
One New Change, EC4M 9AD
Westfield White City
Bluewater Shopping Centre, Kent, DA9 9SN
Reiss Mens Shop, Victoria Quarter, Leeds, LS1 6BH
Birmingham Bull Ring, B5 4BG
Cad &the Dandy bespoke suit for £950 (extra trousers cost £185)
This was by far the most expensive suit on review and that was because I chose to spend the extra £300 on top of my £650 chosen 110 superwool in navy to have my suit fully hand stitched and with a full canvas with baste session all in the UK. The basic no added fee option would see my suit being made fully by machine in China and shipped over to the UK for alterations. An extra £150 would see the suit half machine stitched and then half hand stitched back in the UK. The two cheaper options offer a half canvas suit.
Ian was my sales guy for the afternoon, he’s a very tall chap which meant I spent a lot of my hour with him staring at his chest! Ian was slightly on the pushy side with upscaling the selection process to the most expensive cloths and also the construction of the suit. There were times when he was a little insistent with what he thought would look best on a suit, one example being to have no back pockets on the trousers. His name dropping of celebrity customers was annoying and he asked a few too many personal questions for my liking but I guess the city boys in the area like that sort of thing. The trade off was his competent knowledge about every detail of what goes into making a suit. Information was upfront, where the materials were made, who made them, the construction, the stitching process, the height of armpits, the quality of lining and much, much more.
The selection of wools start at £550 and go up to £850 a base machine stitch. I wanted a dark blue and I was given a £650, a £750 and an £850 book to look at in and outside in natural light. I had to ask to see the £550 book before he bought it out and it was clear why. The £550 cloths are pretty poor in thread count and weave. When made, they would look a bit cheap. The £650 cloths and up draped well and started at the 110 superwools and went up to the 130s. Once selected, I got measured up and asked whether I would consider braces so that the trousers would fit better. I had to push for a lower sitting trouser before Ian gave in. I think he went a little far with pushing his dress sense onto me above what I wanted out of my suit. Once we got that out of the way, everything went absolutely fine.
All of the measurements went straight on to a computer where there was a mock up of what the suit would look like as we went. The service stopped short of being truly bespoke as there were limitations on options but not many. An example would be that you couldn’t have a monk style lapel enters into the system. Also I did say hi to the tailor but I didn’t get measured by him for the initial template. He will be doing my baste session though in 4 weeks. A final note was that Cad & the Dandy don’t take American Express. That is always my preferred method of payment and it is lucky that I had other cards on me to pay my half deposit.
All in all, the experience was efficient and by far the best out of all the suit makers I chose. I very much hope that the suit made matches the service and the money I have forked out for the suit!
Cad & the Dandy have stores in:
Savile Row, W1S 3PR
Castle Court, EC3V 9DL
One Canada Square, E14 5DY
How did they compare digitally?
I didn’t try communicating with Marks and Spencer on Twitter so I have no idea about how well they respond to comments but they do have a comprehensive ecommerce platform to buy suits online. They also have a made to measure shirt service but you have to pop in your own measurements and there is limited material to choose from.
Mark Marengo have no Twitter account or even a website but I could contact them directly by email on Neil@markmarengo.com. Response by email was very quick.
Reiss explain the made to measure process very well on their website and they replied within 2 hours on Twitter to my queries. They didn’t follow up with any comments when I tweeted that I had just bought a suit from there though.
Cad & the Dandy took a day to get back to me on Twitter initially but then had a consistent stream of communication across that channel. I am my booking on their website which clearly defined all the processes, construction and prices up front in simple to understand language.
Follow my progress on Twitter @kwaichi or check back on my blog at the beginning of August when I should have received my Marengo suit and also had my baste and alteration sessions at Cad & the Dandy and Reiss respectively.
Read the next chapter about the basted fitting at Cad & the Dandy and the alteration results from Mark Marengo here