For years one of the most obvious signifiers of success was a gentleman‘s ability to invest in a custom-made suit.
From surgeon’s cuffs—the haberdasher’s name for a jacket sleeve that ends in four or more working buttons—to a boutonniere with a hand-sewn strap to hold the stem of a real flower, custom suits are distinguished by a flurry of carefully thought out details rarely available in ready to wear clothing.
Unfortunately, they were also distinguished by prices that range from expensive to astronomical.
But a combination of just-in-time manufacturing, advances in computer modeling and the relatively inexpensive cost of international shipping has finally put the custom or semi-custom suit within reach of most consumers. In short, the market for online custom clothing, like so many other direct-to-consumer outlets, follows the path blazed by innovative retailers like Warby Parker.
Whether you’re adding a suit for the workweek, for Saturday nights out or for a once-in-a-lifetime occasion, today’s custom suits start around $200 and can be delivered to your door in as little as two weeks.
What You Get With a Custom Suit
Custom suits come in two basic varieties: made-to-measure, and the full custom suit, which is generally referred to as bespoke.
What’s the difference? A made-to-measure suit begins with a pattern similar to patterns used to manufacture the kinds of suits you see in large department and specialty men’s stores, but allows some minimal alterations to the pattern.
Made-to-measure is perfect for those gentlemen who have hard to fit physiques, especially those who have athletic body types that pair a more prominent chest and upper back with a slim waist.
Bespoke tailoring means that a suit is built specifically for the individual who purchased it, with the customer choosing every option, and sitting for a number of individual fittings. The downside is simple. A bespoke suit requires time, requires the purchaser to be physically present for a number of fittings, and can run upwards of $5,000.
With most online made-to-measure companies offering options at around five percent of that cost, it’s easy to understand the proliferation of online suit makers.
Made-to-measure gained some traction as most major clothing companies, among them Hickey-Freeman, Hugo Boss and Hart, Schaffner and Marx, beefed up their semi-custom offerings at higher end department stores.
Here, a quick ranking of the top 5 online retailers of made-to-measure suits.
Founded in 2007 and headquartered in Vancouver, British Columbia, Indochino manufactures most of their goods in China, but what sets them apart is their selection and their genuine enthusiasm to help ease the new customer into their first custom wardrobe piece.
They offer a stunning selection of fabrics (including 69 choices in blue alone) that range from traditional business selections to options more suited for a Hollywood premiere or the VIP area of your city’s best nightclub (think this purple velvet tuxedo).
Their selection includes the ability to further individualize their suits with custom linings, a wide range of lapel and pocket styles, and minor custom choices for pants. They also offer shirts, blazers, and raincoats. What ultimately gives Indochino the top ranking, however, is their over 30 nationwide showrooms, where you can get measured under the guidance of an in-house tailor.
Indochino offers regular seasonal sales, and most suits hover around the $400 price point, but many are available for less.
Another leader in the market, what sets Black Lapel apart is their generous return policy and customer service. If your custom garment needs alterations, Black Lapel will actually pay for you to have alterations and adjustments performed locally up to a $75 maximum per suit.
And they also offer a re-make option for garments that just can’t be made to fit. Despite having only a single showroom in New York City, Black Lapel also has proven to be customer-centered, tracking satisfaction and recording your measurements (including whether or not your garment required local alterations) to ensure that your second garment fits even better than your first.
The company’s beginnings came from a group of finance professionals who wanted to find better fitting garments at a fair price; their Chinese factory allows them to offer a reasonably quick turnaround, and the website Bespoke Unit named Black Lapel the best-made online suit in a recent post.
The only reason Institchu finished third in our rankings is the fact that most of their suits come at a price point dangerously close to department store made-to-measure programs. They also offer a handful of choices in their customization menu (such as having the jacket constructed with a full canvas inner) that can drive the price of a suit close to $1,000. While their selection is limited to suits and shirts, this Australian company offers some top notch fabrics and one of the largest arrays of customization options.
Hockerty gets high marks for its wide array of products, starting with suits and shirts but ranging to other menswear classics like polo shirts and even a custom take on the classic safari or field jacket, available with a number of different pocket styles. Hockerty started in 2008 as a discount online tailor (Tailor4less).
As the business has grown and as demand for made-to-measure products increased, what started as a business run by three friends from Barcelona has become a large retail presence, having sold over one million garments in its first decade.
Hockerty’s web presence also provides a kind of guided tutorial in the form of interactive videos to help customers measure correctly. Hockerty’s sister site, Sumissura, offers custom dresses, suits, slacks and blouses for women as well.
While their website has certainly improved in the last year, iTailor still has the look and feel of a more discount company in its digital showroom.
That’s unfortunate, because the company offers the widest range of entry-level products, including over 800 fabrics. iTailor claims to have made garments for customers in 166 countries, and routinely offers a “Suit of the Day” that can be purchased for less than $200.
You might also be interested in: The 19 Best Undershirts For Men [Ranked]
Steve Kistulentzview post
Steve Kistulentz is the author of the novel Panorama, a must read selected by publications as diverse as Entertainment Weekly and the New York Post. He is also the author of two collections of poetry, Little Black Daydream (2012), an editor’s choice selection in the University of Akron Press Series in Poetry, and The Luckless Age (2010), selected from over 700 manuscripts as the winner of the Benjamin Saltman Award. He teaches at Saint Leo University in Florida, where he serves as director of the graduate creative writing program.view post