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Men Going Fashion-Forward with Pricier Bespoke Suits

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February 6, 2015
Men Going Fashion-Forward with Pricier Bespoke Suits

If we learned anything from the blues-infused profundity of ZZ Top, it might be this: Every girl’s crazy ’bout a sharp-dressed man.

Okay, we know we’re not speaking for everyone. But even if your goal is not necessarily to drive a certain target audience wild, a so-called bespoke suit, or some other piece of custom-made apparel, can help a man dress for success.

As with other higher-end consumer goods, demand for custom-made clothing is picking up, retailers say, as the improving U.S. economy boosts disposable income. Some consider a hand-made suit an affordable luxury, meaning many guys have no problem plunking down $795 for an entry-level 100% wool suit at the Nicholas Joseph, Inc., store in Chicago, for example.

Mark Rector, a Chicago resident, said he started buying bespoke suits to wear at his office and found it worth the investment. He’s among upscale clothier customers who’ve come back for more.

“For that money, getting something extremely well-made and tailored to my body, it’s worth it,” Rector said. “I have a clothing guy now. I keep going back to expand my wardrobe.”

FIGURE 1: DUDE! Custom-made suits can add some juice to a man’s physical appearance and his attitude, clothiers say, as shown in these before and after photos of a client of Chicago’s Nicholas Joseph. Source: Nicholas Joseph, Inc.; Gladson, Ltd. For illustrative purposes only.

Bespoke suits can also be competitively priced compared with what’s found on the rack at department stores like Nordstrom or Macy’s, especially if you factor in extra costs for alterations.

At Astor & Black Custom Clothiers in Columbus, Ohio, suits start at $650, said Jamie Wells, director of merchandise marketing.

Part of the allure, retailers and customers say, is the personalized experience. When buying a hand-made suit for the first time, expect to spend some time getting fitted.

At both shops, tailors will take two dozen or more measurements, seeking out ways to hide sloping shoulders or other posture deficiencies, as well as to get a sense of how fabrics will drape on a man’s frame.

FIGURE 2: DRESS YOU UP. Bespoke apparel can be tailored to emphasize, or deemphasize, certain physical traits, clothiers say. Here is another “before” and “after” example from Nicholas Joseph. Source: Nicholas Joseph, Inc.; Gladson, Ltd. For illustrative purposes only.

Together, the client and the tailor will pick out the most flattering fabrics and custom designs, such as a specific collar length to complement facial structure, and also pore over different options for lapels, buttons, cuffs, stitching, and lining. The initial consultation may take one to two hours.

“Top-notch service is always expected,” Wells said. “You should never feel uncomfortable around your clothier.”

Some tailors will even come to homes or offices and bring fabric samples, while others have showrooms. Construction of the garment helps set bespoke suits apart and helps them last longer. Clothiers recommend canvas construction in the jacket, which “floats” between the suit fabric and the lining and, as the suit is worn, conforms to the wearer’s body, creating that perfect-fit look.

FIGURE 3: HELLO LADIES. Some custom suit-makers have tailors who make house calls and keep your measurements on file so you can avoid future trips to the store. Source: Nicholas Joseph, Inc.; Gladson, Ltd. For illustrative purposes only.

It can take anywhere from four to six weeks for a custom suit to be finished for delivery and final alterations. Inspect the garment during the final tailoring.

“It should have hand-sewn, functional button holes on the sleeves and cuffs and a hand-attached lining,” said Nicholas Hansen, owner of the Nicholas Joseph store. “If you have a pattern [fabric], check that the tailor took the time to make sure it matches up in certain areas, such as the top of the shoulder where the front and back meet. Big patterns are harder to match; smaller patterns are easier.”

Both Astor & Black and Nicholas Joseph offer custom-made business casual clothing, too. At Nicholas Joseph, a package of five shirts, three trousers, and a blazer will set you back about $1,600.

Customer service is the hallmark of the bespoke experience, clothiers say. And once a suit is made, the clients’ measurements stay on file, making it easier to order again, Hansen said. “You don’t have to go shopping,” he added.

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