Caraceni bespoke suit
 
The process of commissioning a bespoke suit is a nerve-wracking and, of course, expensive one. Permanent Style has provided extensive advice on this process over the years, particularly in posts covering suits from more than 20 tailors.

But a reader comment last week suggested that it might be good to condense a few of those into one of our top fives. And of course they are relevant to buying a made-to-measure or even ready-to-wear suit as well.

1 Be conservative

It is so tempting to commission something outrageous for a first bespoke suit. You have so much more choice, after all. A big check you haven’t seen in the shops; a bright lining; an unusual button style.

But the biggest advantage of bespoke is always fit. And assuming this is a big investment, I’d recommend starting with something conservative. It doesn’t have to be a navy single-breasted two-piece – try experimenting with just one thing, like flannel rather than worsted. But make sure it’s something you are going to wear. (A three-piece shooting suit was, retrospect, not the most practical choice.)

2 Browse designs, like you would in a shop

The biggest reason it’s so hard to buy bespoke is that you can’t see the finished suit until it’s, well, finished. It is perhaps the biggest contrast with shopping for ready-to-wear, and the most frustrating.

Try to mitigate this as much as you can, by asking to see examples of the work and assessing them as you would in a shop – not by whether they fit, but whether you like the style. Most tailors will have a few things hanging around. Some will have more variety of designs and ideas you can consider. (My Cifonelli tweed was inspired by Lorenzo’s own jacket, minus about five design details.)

3 Consider all your choices in advance

Commissioning bespoke involves a huge number of choices you’ve probably never considered – vents, notches, pockets – but most of these are fairly simple when explained. There is guidance around this site, and you can also wear a suit to the appointment that you like, to use it as a reference.

Those questions at the first appointment are actually fairly easy though. The harder thing is knowing what you ‘like’ in terms of button height, fit in the waist, or trouser width, which come up during the fittings. Point 2, above, can be helpful here, but wearing that suit you like will be more helpful. What is the leg width on that? Do you like that? Remember, some things can be changed easily at each fitting, and others can’t. And there’s nothing wrong with going away and checking other suits you have, before going back to confirm.  (I did that with my Richard Anderson tux, and it was a good move.)

4 Reconsider an unlined jacket

I like unlined jackets, but purely from an aesthetic point of view – as in, it’s nice to see the inside of the cloth and all the edges nicely finished. But except for very lightweight clothing, it doesn’t make much difference to breathability.

And there are disadvantages: the friction of the cloth is more likely to make it stick on places and ruin the line. Unlined sleeves are a particular pain. So unless it’s intended for the height of summer, go with a standard lining. (I’ve relined my Rubinacci’s sleeves since I had it made.)

5  Ignore the cloth brands

As explained in posts on the various English and Italian mills, the label on the bunch of cloth doesn’t mean much. It could be an actual mill, a merchant, one of a merchant’s many brands, a re-seller or a combination.

Consider the weight of the cloth, the material and the colour. If you’re very into cloth, you might be able to tell a difference in finish, but it’s unlikely. Don’t go for a very fine cloth, unless it will hardly be worn (Super 100s number). And don’t buy the brand. Just buy something you like. (My Solito blazer is in Zegna cashmere but only because no one else did that weight.)

[Image: fitting at F Caraceni last week. Photo by Luke Carby]

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mike

i wish i had taken your advice on the first point – my first bespoke i felt like a kid in a candy store, and ended up with a suit i barely wore as i hadn’t properly considered where i would wear it (mid blue with a giant pink check and skinny lapels – i was young!)

Paul Weide

Another ‘Amen’ on your first tip. As you’ve written, “The most expensive suit you buy is the one that you’ll never wear.” I went with the tailor’s suggestion for a burgundy-colored lining for my navy three-piece suit and often wish that I’d opted for black.

Paul Weide

And it is unfortunate that you cannot wear the three-piece shooting suit when you receive your OBE.

J

Re: super 100s…
I know this topic has been done to death, but I have just bought a few cloth lengths. One was super something or other (it’s not something I ever willingly choose, I just go by what I like the look and feel of at the time) I don’t think it’s especially fine. … Or are you more of a thick and heavy only cloth kinda guy?

Alan

RE: The Weight of the Cloth
When commissioning a suit that is going to be worn into the ground (at least once/twice a week for 8+ hours at a time) – what cloth would you recommend? I’m very heavy on my suits and don’t want to spend on bespoke if its not going to last.

Ashford

Living in Australia it is hot for usually a third of a year and so the prospect of an unlined jacket appeals greatly.

Would it make sense to have the sleeves lined but the rest unlined? Or would that make the jacket out of proportion/have a negative effect on aesthetic?

Matt Spaiser

Are you saying that Super 100s is something we should consider, or is it one of the finer cloths you are saying to avoid? I’m not used to seeing anything below Super 120s.

Balfour

Much wisdom in this post.

Nik

As Balfour says, sage advice Simon. Over the years I’ve bought a few pieces that I’ve regretted because they tended to wear me rather than the other way round and I never really felt comfortable or confident in them. It’s a painful process! That Huntsman tweed was very bold – have you every worn it???

Christopher

The three piece probably works out as more expensive per mile than buying a Lamborghini as a first car!

still, as a Norwegian colleague once said, “you’ve got to have a little rock and roll in your wardrobe…”

Chris Charlesworth

I decided to commission my first bespoke jacket this year after trying on numerous examples off the peg and finding nothing that fit properly. The last straw was being told that a jacket I tried which was too small was “The way they are wearing them this year sir, a little more fitted” by a salesman… good grief.

I can only say it’s been a pleasure I wish I’d had long ago.

I walked into the tailors wearing a much loved but ill fitting jacket and basically created a new version. This might sound boring but for a first try I wanted to be sure that I would get something I would wear. The cloth and cut are different so it’s in no way a replica but using it as a guide was helpful and gave me confidence in making some of those new decisions based on something I had experience of rather than heading off into the realms of fantasy when faced with the entire contents of the sweet shop.

As the jacket is an informal blazer/sport jacket, I chose a dark blue wool/mohair nailhead with a texture that resembles linen to an extent and should be cool in summer but wear from spring to autumn as well. Brown horn buttons and brown button hole stitching on the sleeves also help the informal feel along with a lighter canvas than a formal jacket. Linings are a subtle silver and pale blue paisley which also appear on the flash cuffs to break up the overall conservative look. I’ve never had these before but they are a feature used by the tailor I chose so I was happy to give it a try. The breast pocket is also lined in the same paisley and made to pull up as a faux pocket square if needed.

In choosing the cloth I made no reference to the names on the labels and was simply guided by the tailor who listened to what I wanted, picking out some options for me which worked very well. Happily they come from, or close to my hometown of Huddersfield. I drive past WT Johnsons finishers every morning heading for work and wonder if the fabric I chose came through their doors. Ogden and Bateman and Dugdales are the merchants.

I collect the finished article in a week or two and already have ideas for a couple more jackets with which, I can be a little more adventurous having played it safe with this first try. The tailor has a file of emailed images I send over when I see something I like the look of and we’ll have a chat about options for the next when I collect this first one. Looking forward to seeing it finally finished.

So after all that I have to thank Simon for the blog, it’s a great source of information and inspiration and I’ve learned an awful lot from browsing the pages here.

John C

Why not start out with a jacket only. (Being less formal, may be more forgiving, both in choice of cloth and cut.) A good place to work the bugs out before proceeding to a suit.

Jerrell

Hi Simon,

Do you plan on doing 5 tips for commissioning bespoke shoes?

John C

Excellent suggestion.

Jerrell

Addendum:

Since you mentioned your green Cifonelli jacket: What is the name for the style of cuff on it? Is that a casual touch only for sport coats, or could adopt it for a more formal jacket?

Regards

Jerrell

Thanks Simon. I’ve seen photos of Lorenzo with that style of cuff and, predictably, he makes it look very cool.

I ask about shoes because, the Kiton suit I am wearing today fits well enough…but my shoes are just killing my feet!

Regards

Ian

For someone who has been relocated to Singapore from London, I am wondering if I would be better going for Kiton MTM as their high level bespoke seems inferior in terms of construction, amount and quality of handwork. Even those from Hong Kong’s WW Chan on my colleagues does not seem as well made as a Kiton mtm or Brioni mtm. What are your thought on this? But I am sure the fit of those bespoke from Singapore would fit better than a Kiton or Brioni mtm

Peter

Your article is very good because you express your own experience.

RDP

Great read. Thank you

stephen

Slightly unrelated but on the subject of tailoring… I wondered whether you had ever considered commissioning anything from Dege. I have seen some great bespoke vintage pieces of theirs. It would be good to know of your thoughts on their work and House style (a cross between Huntsman and Gieve..firm shoulder with a military influence ?).

Green

Hi Simon, as someone relatively new to the appreciation of tailoring I’m wondering how big a mistake it is to start out made-to-measure with a fused suit jacket. If the biggest benefit is ultimately fit, and with a limited budget, would it be worth paying a 50%+premium for half/full canvassing? The cloth options in either case seem to be a selection of nice Vitale Barberis or Loro Piana. Thanks

Ari

One thing I wish that I had fully appreciated before commissioning bespoke suits was fabric color. It’s easy to underestimate the brightness of the cloth when you’re only looking at a swatch. My advice would be to intentionally choose a color tone that looks a shade or two too dull at first blush. It’s going to look a lot more vibrant when you see it in greater quantity on your finished product.

Anonymous

Dear Simon,

Apologies that this question comes to the forum so late. I just wanted to ask how easy it is to emotionally detach from a bespoke garment you’ve saved, planned, and waited months for, so that you can wear it with carefree style?

Recently I had a conversation with a man who said that you shouldn’t buy a bespoke suit until you can afford 5. Otherwise one runs the risk of looking too careful and fussy in a garment. Clearly everyone is different, but do you think there is anything to this?

Thank you for the excellent blog. Regards,

Robert

Rob

I am about to enter the world of Bespoke, and have a question about house styles…
Descriptions very from source to source but the two houses that I have been struck by are Richard Anderson & Kilgour. I am not a fan of the single button (Apart from Dinner Jackets) preferring 2 button Jackets,roped Sleeve heads and some structure in the shoulder. A&S is too loose visually for me and Huntsman is too rigid,the look I am going for is classically understated. I have seen some great Dinner Jackets by Kilgour as well as lovely suits from Richard Anderson. Is Kilgour really married to the idea of unstructured Jackets? Cost is not so much the issue. Would you be so kind as to compare and contrast the two houses?

Rob

Dear Simon,
Many thanks for your reply, fashion forward was precisely what I am trying to avoid. I salute those who choose to wear it, however by upbringing and inclination, I lean much more towards traditional elegance. By the way I wanted to say how much I enjoy reading Permanent Style, keep up the good work.

Pepe

Hi Simon

I am planning on having a bespoke Neapolitan suit made for my wedding, which will be taking place in Portugal next June. The average high temperature for that time of year in Lisbon is approximately 25c.

I am unsure whether to go for linen or a mohair blend, although for the best part I prefer the appearance (and lack of sheen) of linen, save for the inevitable creases!

Could you advise what you think would be the best option? The start of the wedding will be in the late afternoon but will go into the early hours.

Many thanks

Leo

Hi Simon,
I have have recently discovered your blog, and really enjoy your insights. I live in Boston, which isn’t exactly a fashion mecca—it’s home to the frayed ill fitting khakis and an equally ill fitting vineyard vines tshirt. And while NYC is not too far away, it’s still far enough to be a pain in the ass when I commission a mtm or bespoke garment.

Here’s a bit of my sartorial history…
For 10+ years I wore Oxxford (thank you Filene’s Basement) and fit into an OTR 40r like a glove. But I shrunk, and Oxxford’s style shifted to a much boxier look. Over the last five years I tried Samuelson mtm—and even though I did the styling all wrong, I wasn’t that impressed (felt very heavy, and stiff); I commissioned seven different garments with Manolo Costa—what a complete disaster—despite the “handmade” label, there is a ton of fusing; and the look he provided was akin to a Suit Supply storefront mannequin—to short, too tight, too cheap; I bought two mtm suits from a another private label in New England, but they took too many liberties in stitching, pocket placement, and button placement—I just had to cut my losses and spare myself the hour commute to address every issue; I also bought a suit and sport coat at Caruso in NYC—even though they are a little too structured in the shoulders, I really like the garments—too bad they closed down a few months ago.

So what I’m trying to do now is replace the remaining Manolo Costa garbage that dominates my closet. I am going for the classic Neapolitan look. I have weighed a ton of options—going back to mtm through a very reputable Boston store with Samuelsohn or Trands; looking for a Kiton or Cesare Attolini suit through one of the many discounted websites/eBay; or holding my breath and doing another NYC adventure, maybe a Neapolitan tailor that frequents NYC 5-6 times a year. I would prefer to be in the $2500-3500 range, which somewhat limits the offering.
So between a full canvas mtm Trands at ~$1800-2500, a full canvas mtm Samuelsohn at ~$2500, or going full custom with someone with a NYC visiting Neapolitan tailor for ~$3500-4000, which offers the best value?
Do you have any other makers you think I should consider?
Two other caveats..I am adamant that I have single pleat pants, and the coat length needs to be 28.75-29 inches, no more and no less. Hence my draw towards either mtm or bespoke.

Regards,
Leo

Rups

This sounds like a tough journey. Can I ask why you commissioned several garments from the same bad tailor? LoL You did them all at the same time? Never do this again! There are few risk aversion tactics you should take advantage of … 1) Only commission one piece initially, and I would say for the first few pieces, to test if you like them at all and to tweak what you want exactly 2) Never pay full amount initially, insist on a ‘deposit’, half and if you can even less 3) If you don’t like something complain immediately before wearing it out of the door, if they fob you off with ‘see how it wears’ or ‘it needs to break in’ refuse the offer.

I think your problem is that you are looking for something in a pool of very small potential usual suspects in East Coast States. You’ve got some trunk shows which visit and that’s it. I would in your position choose a style I liked the look of and would suit my body shape (decide English or Italian; Roman, Florentine or Neapolitan) then book a ‘holiday’ to location where tailors in that style operate. I think you could have a suit made in two trips (in you make the first a longer stay otherwise it would be three). I get suits made by KHL in London and can recommend them if you like a fairly soft but lean English silhouette.

Bernie

Hi Simon,

When commissioning a bespoke suit, how should the jacket collar feel? I read that it should be tight/snug and feel like your best friend’s arms are over hugging you.

In general, do you prefer a taller/higher jacket collar? Based on logic, I think it would be good for jacket drape as the hanging point is higher.

Bernie

So aiming for proportion and desired shirt collar visibility, thanks!

Sam Tucker

I have a few questions I hope you don’t mind answering.

For a bespoke blazer, what fabric would you recommend? I very much like the look and breathability of hopsack, but I’m wondering if it wouldn’t be better to go with something stronger if it’s your first bespoke garment. What do you think of this?

As for the super numbers, what would you recommend for a first suit?

Finally, do you think you’d get more use out of your shooting suit if you’d gone with regular trousers instead of plus-fours? Then it would look more like a regular tweed suit you could wear casually, instead of a specialised hunting suit.

Levi Armstrong

I like your advice about browsing designs first and asking a tailor if I could see examples of their work when having a bespoke suit made. My husband needs to have a custom bespoke suit tailored for him soon because he’s presenting at an international convention early next year. I’ll share this advice with him later so he can start looking for suit designs he likes in advance. Thanks!