The Meaning Of Custom Tailoring

May 7th, 2002


With retailer cutting back their slower-turning stocks of tailored clothing to bolster their cash flow, more stores than ever before are offering made-to-order clothes. And given the reduced selections and available sizes, more men are testing these waters. Because the price of a better designer or European hand-tailored, off-the-peg suit has, in some instances, surpassed that of one custom-made, the interest in bespoke clothing has increased. However, the first thing you must establish is to what degree the clothing you are about to order is genuinely custom-made.
The term “Custom-made,” when referring to tailored clothing is used so loosely today - particularly by those who have something to gain by its obfuscation – that it is now applied to almost any garment that has not been purchased off the rack. However, the criteria for judging whether a man’s tailored garment is authentically custom-made have changed little since the early part of this century. There produces must be observed if the product is to earn such a designation.
First, the individual parts must be cut from a paper pattern that has been created specifically for the wearer. In the old days, the tailor who measured the suit would cut the pattern immediately upon the client’s departure. This meant the wearer’s unique carriage and manner, elements that inform the garment’s character, were kept fresh in his mind’s eye. Second, all the work required to create the suit was to be executed on the premises where the measurements were taken. This insured authenticity and aesthetic consistency, and acted as a quality control. Finally, except for the straight seams of the trouser, all work was to be executed completely by hand.
The terminology presupposes that the material is of the highest caliber, the sewing thread of silk, the linings of fine silk or rayon Bamberg, and the buttons of genuine horn or a vegetable derivative. The entire process required at least two or three fittings to take the garment from its first to final stage. Any suit that went through these rigors was recognized for the Savile Row tailors who invented and refined this production process. The long-term advantage of having a suit made in this manner revolves around its original paper template. Once created, it can be adjusted to further perfect the next garment. Nothing controls the consistency of each subsequent suit’s fit and look more precisely than this finite individual pattern.
One step below custom-made is made-to-measure. Instead of a paper pattern being made expressly for the client, the manufacturer’s stock pattern being becomes the starting point. Various adjustments for fit and posture are incorporated into it to individualize the final garment. The coat is delivered to the store without buttonholes, allowing the shop’s fitter to position them correctly while the customer is wearing it. This technique for capturing a person’s fit works well for most men unless their posture or bone formation requires something more particular. How well it replicates the custom-made suit’s fit depends on the extent to which its base pattern can be manipulated to resemble an original pattern.
Since made-to-measure defines a process rather than the degree of craft, this product can vary widely in quality and cost. It can be made from a superior cloth or an inferior one, by hand or by machine. However, how closely it comes to matching the bespoke coat’s quality will depend on its ingredients and workmanship.
Last on the scale of individually cut clothing is something called a stock single. Too many suits represented today as custom-made are usually from this group. Though it doesn’t afford the same degree of customized fit as the made-to-measure, this creation in certainly a step up from ready-to-wear. Since a stock single is cut one at a time, it offers the wearer an opportunity to personalize a factory-produced suit. If you have an athletic build, say a forty-inch chest with a thirty-one-inch waist, the suit can be ordered with a smaller trouser and its jacket’s waist will be tapered accordingly. Or if your measurements indicate your jacket should be longer than a regular but shorter than a long, and, additionally, your trouser requires a longer rise, these adjustments can be made. However, under no circumstance should this be mistaken for anything other than what it is, and it is clearly not a custom-made suit.

The differences between the made-to-measure and stock single vary according to the manufacturer. Some makers permit various fitting adjustments on a stock single while others permit none at all. Today, a computer generates individual cutting instructions and a customer’s pattern is created and retained to record subsequent alterations. If the customer body reasonably approximates the stock pattern, the computer will provide a fit approximates the bespoke blueprint. However, if the customer requires significant adjustments, the computer-generated stock pattern will not measure up.
Most of the nuances that distinguish one top custom tailor from another are too esoteric to describe in mere words. Before engaging any tailor, you should ask to see a recent sample of his work, preferably something that is about to be collected by its owner. Unfortunately, inspecting the jacket’s cut or fit when it is not being worn by the body it was designed for won’t be of much benefit unless you are a tailor or bring a learned eye to such matters. Though its fabric, modeling, and detailing reflect the patron’s wishes and most of its tailoring craft is concealed beneath its linings or shell fabric, you can learn much by examining the buttonholes. The sensibility and execution of the buttonholes reflect the creator’s training and taste in a way that can be illuminating.
Examine the lapel buttonhole first. As the detail closest to the wearer’s face, it offers the most visible evidence of the tailor’s artistry. It is the last element of needlework to go into the garment before its final pressing. If its color, size, or placement is off, it can undo the forty or so hours of painstaking work invested in your garment. As founders of the woolen tailoring world, Savile Row tailors established the standards for high-class buttonhole decorum many years ago. Depending on where he apprenticed, each tailor on the Row may favor a different silhouette or style, but each jacket’s buttonholes are a consistent part of this legendary culture’s pedigree.
Creating a proper buttonhole is a dying art usually performed by trained women with excepting finger dexterity. The lapel buttonhole should be long enough (1”/ 1 1/8” ) to comfortably accommodate a flower, though you may never choose to wear one. There should be a keeper for the flower stem on the lapel’s underside. The buttonhole should be precisely angled on the same line as the slope of the lapel’s notch. If the coat has a peaked porting. If a flower were places in it, it would be framed by the lapel’s outer edges.
The buttonhole on the lapels and sleeves should be hand-sewn so skillfully that their individual stitches become hard to discern. Although there are sewing machines that try to simulate the look of a handmade buttonhole, legitimately custom-made clothes require that they be hand-sewn. Many tailors choose a machine-made buttonhole because their own hand-sewn buttonholes end up looking ragged, as if a dog had gnawed on them. A handmade buttonhole is clean on the both sides. When finished, the buttonhole should be supple to the touch.
Quite important is its color, which should disappear into the cloth. For example, a buttonhole on a black-and-white glen plaid suit should have an inconspicuous, medium gray tint. If I saw a color such as charcoal gray or even black, contrasting upon such a cloth, as is found in most middlebrow custom-tailored clothes, I would note the tailor’s lack of taste.
The jacket sleeve’s buttonholes should be aligned straight and close enough to one another so that the buttons appear to kiss. The distance from the edge of the jacket’s cuff to the middle of the first button should not exceed 1 1/8”. More than that, and they look as if they are floating on the sleeve and have abandoned their historical relationship to the cuff as its fastener.
If a tailor seems knowing about buttonholes, I would defer to his judgment in other matters. This is critical, since no matter how specifically you instruct any tailor, many aesthetic judgments concerning taste are going to be made by him in the course of his work with little input from you, and these are the ones that will ultimately infuse the clothing with a sense of class and character.

From Style and The Man by Alan Flusser


Mysuitshop News Archives

Links to more information of the custom tailors world of tailor made mens and womens clothing and apparel. Here you will find information on textiles, styles, designs and fabrics for custom tailored suits, shirts, pants, coats, jackets, leather and suede garments and more.