The Measure of a Man
Made-to-measure offers an attractive middle ground for clients who don’t want the full complexity of bespoke, writes Josh Sims.
‘You do get a lot of very direct people who know exactly what they want,’ says Thomas Blatch, made-to-measure consultant at Gieves & Hawkes. ‘You also get a lot of indecisive people – and they tend to end up being able to find a ready-to-wear suit close to what they want to work from. But very rarely does a customer come in for a made-to-measure suit and leave without placing an order.’
That, perhaps, is small wonder. Much as Goldilock's porridge had to be neither too hot, nor too cold, but just right, so the made-to-measure suit marks that happy space between the difficulties some men experience with ready-to-wear, and the undoubted luxury of bespoke. ‘One analogy has it that, if bespoke is going to the Porsche factory to have absolutely everything exactly as you want it, then made-to-measure is buying a Porsche and then having its interior outfitted to your liking,’ says Blatch. ‘With bespoke everything is done from scratch. With made-to-measure, we work with a base suit and then adjust it to fit better, and to the client’s liking.'
That means making many choices. First, the type of construction of suit wanted: half-canvassed and machine-made; fully-canvassed and hand-finished in Italy; or fully-canvassed and hand-made in England – the latter, obviously, being more expensive. Then, over an hour-long consultation, the client is measured – chest, waist, seat and so forth – and adjustments to a kind of template suit are noted and pinned into place. These both reflect the client’s style references – a higher rise on the trousers, a more tapered trouser leg, or whatever – but, more importantly, what makes the suit fit best, according to their particular bodily ‘imperfections’, such as we all have. Some men just fall awkwardly between standard ready-to-wear sizing.
‘That’s what it’s all about really,’ says Sam Underhill, player for the Bath rugby squad, which Gieves & Hawkes sponsors with the team’s match suits, but who’s also a private client of the company. ‘It can be difficult for bigger guys to fit into ready-to-wear. We tend to be broad or narrow where we shouldn’t be, and size is rarely proportionate to height in players. But then you get all shapes and sizes in all types of men. There’s an element of “choice anxiety” in getting a made-to-measure suit – but ultimately it’s about getting the fit right.’
These choices aren’t limitless. There’s a sufficiently overwhelming selection of some 2,400 cloths to choose from – select according to the climate you’ll be wearing the suit in, and the regularity of wear, with an 11/12oz cloth a good all-rounder. But there are many, many more if you’re going bespoke. You can select most details of your made-to-measure suit – lapel shape, buttons, cuffs and braces fastenings, side-adjusters, linings and all the rest; you could even have your initials or a date embroidered.
‘But if you want something very particular – a hidden pocket, for example – again, you’ll need to go bespoke,’ explains Blatch. ‘There are limits as to what can be altered for made-to-measure too, but the parameters in which we can work allow for most things. When it comes to it, made-to-measure really does suit most men’s needs.'
Indeed, the process can be fast for regular users – they may know what they need for business use and just need to keep measurements up to date, or perhaps have a certain style that the regular fashion changes to ready-to-wear suiting doesn’t chime with. But it’s also suitably flexible enough to allow for the creation of a special suit for a special occasion.
Naturally, relative to ready-to-wear, made-to-measure does take time – at Gieves & Hawkes the process from first consultation to final delivery might typically take around 10 weeks, including a 15-minute fitting around the eight week mark. And it does come at a cost – at Gieves it’s likely to be somewhere between £1,200 and £4,000, depending on cloth and construction.
‘But the fact is that it’s cheaper than bespoke and a lot less hassle than trying to find a ready-to-wear suit that fits as well,’ says Underhill. ‘Made-to-measure is often perceived as a luxury still, but it’s an ideal middle ground and good value for what it is. What’s more, because the suit fits well it feels that much more comfortable. I’ve hated wearing suits before – they always gave me that school uniform feeling. But when a suit is comfortable it becomes a pleasure to wear.
‘That’s particularly important for those men in a job who still have to wear a suit,’ Underhill adds. ‘That’s not the case in rugby. We’re not known for wearing formal clothing at work.’
From start to finish
Breaking down the process of acquiring a made-to-measure Gieves & Hawkes suit
Pick the fabric
First the client selects his choice of cloth and construction from a number of options, depending on usage – everyday or special occasion, for example - and preferred expenditure – machine or hand-made.
Find a template
The client then tries on a ready to wear suit as a form of template for the tailor to work with; key measurements are taken; then begins adjustments to the fit, according to the client’s body shape and preferences.
Check your options
The client then selects from a number of options for the various details that make the suit his choice aesthetically: notch or peak lapel, belt loops or side-adjusters, pocket flaps or none, and so on.
Making the suit
These measurements and preferences are then taken to the workshop for the suit to be made. A deposit of around 50 per cent of the final cost is paid in advance. The client receives confirmation of the order by email.
Fixtures and fittings
Some six to eight weeks later the client returns for the final fitting. Adjustments are made if necessary, plus the trouser and sleeve length finally settled on. The balance is paid.
Wear it away
Some two weeks later the final suit is ready for collection.