Finding your perfect wedding suit can at times feel like an impossible task. If you have a clear idea of what you are after and have already ruled out hiring your attire, you have no choice but to hit the high streets of Great Britain in search of your sartorial companion. Unsurprisingly however the high street is not geared up to cater for the flamboyant tastes of the affianced man, choosing instead to stock row upon row of hardy pinstripes and humdrum navy business suits. If having trodden the pavement and surfed the web in vain for days you may find that the best solution perhaps is simply to pay a visit to your local tailor.
With new tailors springing up all the time and even some of the high street names such as Moss Bros and Austin Reed getting in on the act, your wedding presents you the ideal opportunity to get measured up and buy your first bespoke suit. But where do you start and how do you go about choosing which tailor to use?
If you have never had a suit made for you before, you may find the whole idea of going to a stuffy tailoring shop a bit intimidating. Fear not however, for the Groom List is here to guide you through the seemingly alien world of suiting sales pitches and technical jargon.
Bespoke or made to measure?
This can at times be quite a contentious issue between the old guard and some of the newer tailoring outfits, but put simply – no, they are not the same.
Essentially a bespoke suit has been developed from scratch according to your measurements. An experienced pattern cutter will take your vital stats and produce paper ‘pattern’ exclusive and unique to you. The fabric used for your suit is then cut from this one-of-a-kind paper template. This means that your suit will fit perfectly and hang properly from every part of the body, no matter what your shape.
Made-to-measure on the other hand typically means that your suit will be produced using fabric cut from a standard block pattern, based on the average shape of the average man. Obviously it will be altered and tweaked here and there to provide a fit more in keeping with your measurements but it will not be custom made according to your exact body shape. Whilst this works well for ‘normal’ shaped people, you may find the outcome considerably less satisfactory if you have sloped shoulders, a particularly trim waist or are on the stouter side for example.
It goes without saying that there are price advantages in selecting the made-to-measure option, and this is the service offered by the likes of Moss and Austin Reed. Whilst there is nothing wrong in doing this, you should be aware of the limitations.
A good tailor will tell you straight up if they are going to build your suit using a bespoke pattern or if it is made-to-measure. If they don’t, you should not be ashamed to ask the question – if they try to shirk around the issue or tell you that they are the same thing take this as your cue to walk away.
A little about fabric
Believe it or not, but it is in fact your choice of fabric that determines the price of the suit above anything else. This will be the first thing you are asked to decide upon during your initial consultation with your tailor and it is something that you want to get right; having a basic understanding of the range of fabrics used in gentleman’s tailoring is therefore extremely valuable.
First off, you should immediately discard any man-made or synthetic fibres. It is rare that you will even find these in a quality tailoring shop but if you do, stay well clear. If you are going for a fairly standard suit (i.e not one of cotton, linen or silk) then you will want to focus firmly on wool.
Generally speaking the wool used in tailoring is ‘worsted’. This refers to the type of woollen thread used to make the cloth; worsted wool is tightly spun resulting in a stronger, smoother fabric. The quality of the cloth is generally categorised using a number as 80, 100 or Super 110 (and higher). This refers to the thickness of the thread used, with a higher number indicating a finer, thinner thread that results in a more luxuriant fabric. Be prepared to pay exponentially more as you climb through the fabric ranks however.
If you are planning a tropical wedding abroad then you may want to explore the possibility of linen, whilst tweed is also very fashionable at the moment as it makes for a quirky, country chic alternative.
Floating or Fused Canvas
Finding out how your suit jacket will be constructed is probably the second most important thing to ask after the whole bespoke/made-to-measure thing.
Traditionally, the front of a jacket is given its shape using a piece of horsehair canvas that floats loosely between the two layers of fabric that form the outer and inner shell. This canvas prevents the jacket from sagging or deforming – much like how the foundation of a house keeps it upright. As the canvas is only loosely stitched to the fabric it is allowed to move independent of the shell. This allows the fabric to drape naturally over the body resulting in a clean, well put-together finish.
An alternative method of construction does not involve any natural canvas at all, but rather a synthetic material that is glued (or fused) to the rest of the suit. Whilst this provides firm internal support and does an adequate job in helping the jacket keep its shape, it often creates an unnatural stiffness that makes the jacket appear lifeless and flat. The glue used is also susceptible to degradation during the dry cleaning process which may significantly reduce the life of the jacket.
Constructing a fully floating canvas can only be done by hand and is as such an expensive process to complete. It should be a standard feature of bespoke suits however, but make sure to double check with you tailor.
Where is it made
You may have thought that because you are visiting a tailors shop in the UK that your suit will be manufactured in the UK too. Whilst this is still the case with the majority of Savile Row and other premium tailoring houses, increasingly more and more companies rely on foreign labour to actually cut and produce your suit.
Often the measurements will be taken by a trained sales man in the UK, who will then send on your details – and a description of the style and fabric you have ordered – to a factory in the Far East or sub-continent. Your suit will then be produced before being sent back to the UK for fitting. Any adjustments or tweaks are usually completed here by a qualified tailor.
There is no shame in your suit being made abroad, and there is nothing to say that one made in the UK will be any better. There are those out there who say that only an English made suit will do, but they are often stuck in the past and are no doubt paying a premium for their prejudice. Bad tailors can be found all over the world so it is perhaps more prudent to ask what level of training and experience the tailoring staff have over where they happen to live.
The house style
One of the joys in ordering a tailored suit is that you get to pick out all the little details yourself. From the number of buttons and the colour of thread through to the shape of the lapels, you can pretty much customise it however you want.
Individual tailors do have their own house style however which you should take into account when choosing who to use. The tailors of Savile Row tend to go for a boxier jacket with broader, rolled shoulders; whilst some of the more modern tailors prefer a waisted silhouette.
Ask the tailor directly if they have a house style then select a company whose style matches your own tastes.
The buying process
There are about as many different ways to buy a tailored suit as there are tailors, however they should all follow a roughly similar ordering procedure.
Usually the process starts with an initial consultation where you will be asked about what sort of look and style you want to achieve, as well as choosing your fabric. The tailor should be able to do some drawings for you, and perhaps show you photos of similar styles they have made. Make sure they have a clear understanding of your vision to avoid any problems further down the line. They will be able to give you a quote for the whole suit there and then – don’t feel pressured to buy at this stage however, take your time before making a decision.
When you have settled on a tailor and paid your deposit, they will then normally conduct an initial measuring session. This only takes about ten minutes to do properly, so stop worrying if you think they are not being thorough enough.
The suit will then be loosely constructed and you should be invited back in to have a ‘basted’ fitting. Here the tailor will put the semi-constructed suit on you and make alterations (usually with some pins and chalk) where they see fit. Not all tailors offer this service as standard, but it is an important step in achieving a perfect finish.
The suit will then be constructed in full ahead of the final fitting. At the final fitting you will get to try on the completed outfit. The tailor may suggest some minor alterations, which they will do for you free of charge until you are completely happy with the final result.
All in the process usually takes up to eight weeks from start to finish, so give yourself plenty of time to order your suit ahead of the wedding.
Some of the best value tailors operate in an online only environment, requiring you to measure yourself and plug your vital statistics into a website. They then use these to manufacture and mail order your suit. The Groom List advises you avoid this kind of operation however as there is a lot that can go wrong – especially if you measure yourself incorrectly – and you may not have a right of recourse. Some of these online tailors do offer the option to get measured by one of their staff in person however, which would always be a preferable option – especially if they guarantee the fit.
How much does it really cost
Put simply – how much do you want to pay? Good tailoring is an art form and it has taken years of training to get the best cutters and tailors to where they are today. Having the best will cost you though, and you should expect to pay anywhere upwards of £2,000 for a bespoke Savile Row suit.
At the other end of the spectrum, the high street made-to-measure options start from around £400, but once you have customised your design to the level most people want the price heads towards the £600+ mark.
A large number of mid-range tailors have sprung up recently however, many offering the service and quality of their higher end cousins but often with Far East manufacturing. These tailors represent good value, especially if you find one with a well-regarded reputation. Obviously it depends on your fabric choice, but a fully bespoke suit should cost anywhere from £700 – £1,200.
As with any artisan trade you should always seek reviews and recommendations from friends or family. A good tailor, if you find one, is a real asset and you are likely to go back to them again and again throughout your life.