It seems appropriate at Easter to turn one’s attention to the heavens. But those of us lacking angelic wings must turn to other garments to lend us an aura of contentment.
I’ve previously discussed how to define personal style, and the symbolism of different modes of dressing (see the list of related articles at the end of this post). This theoretical framework lets you have a clear concept of the image you wish to project to the world and how to feel comfortable with that. There then comes the tricky practical task of buying the right items.
Suppose you want to buy a navy suit. There are a myriad of options to acquire this item. You could go to the local shopping centre. Or a thrift/charity shop. Or a high-end boutique. Or you could shop those places online. Or browse eBay and other discount channels. You can get it made-to-measure (MTM) by entering your self-measured details at an online maker, or be fitted in person at a local branch. Or you could get it bespoke, with a personalised paper pattern cut for you alone, from either a cheaper Far Eastern tailor, or an established – if potentially more expensive – tailor in your own country.
With so many options, there is a tendency in our commercial world to oversimplify the choices to two axes: cost and fit, and to assume there should be a positive linear correlation between these variables. This is a very incomplete picture.
MTM and bespoke do offer potentially better fit than ready-to-wear (RTW), with bespoke offering the best fit due to the extreme degree of personalisation to your measurements. And, yes, they do tend to be more expensive than RTW, but there are also many high-end RTW makers that are more expensive than cheaper custom options. It’s crucial to remember that MTM and bespoke are processes directed towards achieving a more personalised fit, not clothes in and of themselves. The fabric, cut, and construction are all independent of the measuring process used to get a garment that fit well.
Now, the higher-end MTM and bespoke makers do often give you access to nice fabrics and better construction but you are still left with the issue of the cut. In this narrower arena you have more flexibility with bespoke than MTM, but most high-end bespoke tailors have long-standing aesthetic preferences that they’ve reached over many years of training and practice. A moment’s glance at the typical suit cut by, say, Kilgour compared to Anderson & Sheppard will tell you that. Both houses have the potential to cut you a wonderful suit, but each will look dramatically different on you even if you chose the same fabric and both fit equally well.
Choosing wrongly when going bespoke can result in as much compromise of your ideal self-image as would going to your local Marks & Spencers and buying a RTW suit. In fact, if you choose particularly badly, you might be unhappier with the bespoke. While the compromises made in bespoke are narrower than in RTW, they are in some ways more rigid for that, and this can be more of a “dealbreaker” than a more generic suit.
It is important to find a tailor or house with whom you can have a good working relationship and whose style is already fairly similar to your own. If you can do that (and have the patience required to cope with the long lead times) bespoke and MTM can be very good value despite its high initial expense, and can result in greater net happiness than RTW, because what you wear every day will harmonise with your inner feelings and thoughts.
But if you find some item of RTW that you’re genuinely happy with, then don’t be churlish to spend money on it instead. Of course, finding RTW items that you’re genuinely happy with is also a process of trial and error, which requires patience of a different sort, and a degree of willingness to spend some money. No method of acquisition is without that compromise.
- Keep your goal in mind; the self-image concept that you want to project outwards.
- Focus on the item itself, not the process (RTW/MTM/bespoke) of acquiring it.
- Get the item right, accepting the costs (time and money) involved, and the Sartorial Promised Land awaits.