There was a time when you had to be from a family with a university or hospital wing named in your honor before custom clothing was accessible.
But the times have changed, technology has catapulted us forward, and wearing a monocle is no longer a prerequisite to wearing clothes that fit.
Even guys working their first full-time job right out of college or high school can now afford made-to-measure (MTM) clothing, with a little guidance.
And when you combine a love of lifting (Iron) with an interest in looking sharp (Tweed), it's no surprise that one of the more common questions I get from my readers is on the very subject of custom clothing, especially MTM shirts.
With our expanding chests and shrinking waistlines comes the need for anything-but-standard clothing.
What's your alternative to custom?
As Iron & Tweed readers, I know you're interested in getting a really good fit.
So chances are, you're going to at least look into getting off-the-rack (OTR) items tailored.
That's the natural first step, and it can work great in some scenarios. While in others, it can actually be a more expensive process than going custom in the first place.
Occasionally, you can get lucky and find an item in a specific fit from a specific brand that consistently works great for you.
But the manufacturers inevitably end up tweaking the design and render it useless for your purposes.
So even when you do find an item or two that happens to work for you in the present, it's still unreliable in the long-term.
With all that said, here are 6 reasons I think it's a great (and practical) idea to consider custom for at least a portion of your timeless wardrobe.
1. You're not average!
And that's a great thing.
OTR clothing is meant to fit as many different body types as possible.
Translation: everyone gets a generic fit.
It's like eating out at a restaurant.
If one of your friends is craving pasta, another prefers seafood, and a third wants fajitas, but no one wants to compromise, you'll all just end up at one of those diners with 150 items on the menu.
None of the options are going to knock your socks off, but at least no one's offended and everyone sorta gets what they wanted, right?
This same issue rears its head when it comes to clothing and body types.
Some guys have a big chest and small waist, others have a normal chest measurement with hulking shoulders and arms, and another group is under muscled with a big belly.
When all of these variations are factored in, manufacturer's opt to produce a garment that's shaped like a garbage bag that can be draped over most or all physiques.
No one gets a perfect fit and everyone needs to spend money on alterations.
2. No one is perfect
And by perfect, I mean symmetrical.
Recently, I had a couple pairs of pants cropped so that they were hovering just above my shoes.
But when I put them on, this narrow margin of visible socks made me realized that one pant leg was about 1/4-inch from my shoes and the other was a solid 1/2-inch.
Cursing my tailor's supposed incompetence, I took the pants off, held the inseams together, and sure enough, they were dead even. Hmm…
Then I took a look at my own frame and noticed that when my legs are extended, my knees don't exactly line up.
So I guess it's me who isn't even.
And for a long time, I thought that my left arm was longer than my right as I always had more cuff showing on the left side while wearing a shirt and jacket.
It wasn't until my fitting with Knot Standard that I learned that my arms are dead even, but my left shoulder slopes at a steeper angle, essentially causing that arm to hang 1/4-inch lower.
So even if I did somehow manage to find shirts and pants that fit my athletic frame, I would still have to get two alterations to correct for my own proportions.
Likewise, most guys have one or more aspects of their frame that isn't the same from one side to the other and will require some tweaking to get the fit just right.
These extra costs are just closing the price gap between OTR and MTM.
3. You're in control
With custom clothing, you can choose features such as side adjusters in place of belt loops.
This is perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of MTM clothing.
When you choose to buy OTR and then get alterations, you can really only have certain dimensions made smaller, and even then it's only to a limited extent (as I'll explain later).
Let's say you find a great dress shirt and all it needs is a little nip at the waist to fit perfectly. That's an easy fix.
But maybe you would prefer a spread collar over a cutaway. That's not an easy fix.
Of course, anything is possible with enough money, but that alteration would require finding an exact fabric match and would cost more that the shirt is worth.
When you go custom, not only are you in control of the fit, you can also choose many of the features and details.
Some common choices are:
- Collar style (standard point, spread, button down, etc.)
- Cuff style (french, single or double button barrel, etc.)
- Button color and material
- Contrast lining (inside cuffs, collar, or button placket)
- Pocket or no pocket
- Pleats (side, center, or none)
- Placket style
And those are just some of the stylistic choices for shirts!
You still have to consider all of the options that you can play around with when you get into jackets and pants.
So you really can make your clothing your very own.
4. It's an experience
Online MTM set aside, going in for a fitting stirs a certain feeling of nostalgia and accomplishment.
Maybe it's the aristocratic origins of custom clothing or maybe it's because we've seen important men in the movies taking part in this tradition, appraising themselves in a mirror as their tailor bustles around them.
Whatever the case, you can't help but feel like a boss when you're having clothes designed specifically for you.
And I can't overstate the value of having someone who is supremely knowledgeable and skilled in their industry guiding you through the process.
Just as you can shave yourself in front of your bathroom sink, but going into the barber for a straight razor shave is a luxurious experience.
I would rank the experience right up there with other masculine milestones such as moving out on your own or securing your first promotion.
I think it's impossible not to feel like a man on top of his game when you're going through the custom process.
5. It's so damn affordable
I think I must be getting old.
I spend my days sipping black coffee, grumbling about apps I don't understand, and scoffing at the price of regular clothing items.
Really, while I don't mind shelling out whatever it takes to invest in quality clothing, the price of the department store and mall brand items is out of control.
It's hard for me to believe that unoriginal, middle-of-the-road brands have the gall to sell their shirts for $50-$70 when superior fitting, custom shirts can be had for the same price.
And on top of that up front cost, you'll have to spend another $20-$50 at a tailor to hone the fit.
Soon, I'll be reviewing a service that makes MTM shirts for $69 and that's before you apply my $20 discount.
Getting a MTM shirt for $49 is outstanding – you won't find anything better at your local department store.
For suits, the only OTR option that's affordable, high quality, and actually worth consideration is Suitsupply and their suits range from $400 to almost $1,200.
In some upcoming posts, I'll be showing you how to go completely custom within that price point.
6. Tailoring has its limits
It sounds reasonable enough to assume that you could take just about any garment to a tailor and have them make it work for you.
But let's consider pants as an example.
If you have unbelievably massive quads and need to buy a 38-inch waist even though you wear a 32, you might think that you can just buy the pants and have the waist altered.
While it is possible, certain details would end up unacceptably skewed.
Think about the back pockets. If you take in too much material at the seat seam, you're back pockets will end up “kissing” in the center.
If you take material from the outseam, your back pockets will be creeping too close to the front pockets.
The same is true for jackets. If you need to have the waist taken in dramatically because your chest is so large, the front pockets will end up near your sides by the time you get a proper fit.
So for these cases, it's best to have the item built correctly in the first place, rather than spending a fortune on a poorly adapted alternative.
Skip custom and opt for alterations if…
Now, I don't think custom is the answer to everything.
There are certainly scenarios when a simple trip to the tailor will be all you need to have a perfect fit.
As is the case when…
1. You already own the item
Let's say that your body is changing for the better (and I hope I'm helping in that department).
In that case, it doesn't make sense to throw out all of your existing clothing if only minor alterations are needed.
This is especially true if you have a long way to go in both your body and your wardrobe.
If you're in the process of losing a massive amount of weight, alter what you have and experiment with affordable clothing items until you land at a bodyweight you're happy with.
2. You score a crazy thrift store deal
One of my favorite pieces is a pair of 100% wool, micro-houndstooth trousers made by Banana Republic.
They were several years old (explains the better quality) when I found them at a local thrift store.
I paid $12 for them and they were perfect in every aspect, apart from begin too wide at the ankle.
So I took them in to a tailor, paid $30 to have them tapered from the knee down, and now they're absolutely perfect.
This means I paid $42 for a pair of pants that would typically retail at $150-$250.
If you have a keen eye and a little know-how about what alterations can cost, you can really come out on top with the right thrift store buy.
3. OTR just happens to work for you
Most guys (myself included) look terrible in the majority of OTR clothing.
However, a few months back, I was helping a friend shop for a new work wardrobe following a recent promotion.
We walked into J.Crew, he picked up a medium slim fit shirt, tried it on, and it was a perfect fit.
He then grabbed five in various colors and patterns and he was done.
So for my friend, custom clothing doesn't make much sense unless he's just itching for the creative experience.
If you happen to find that perfect manufacturer, brand and fit, consider yourself lucky, stock up, and enjoy the simplicity!
MTM sounds great, but where should I buy?
If you've had any interest in custom clothing, I'm sure you've already done a little research on the subject.
Maybe some options seemed a little too good to be true (like the fabled Bangkok tailors) or maybe you didn't understand all of the lingo.
And I understand the confusion.
Now that I've finally settled on a body weight that I'm happy with, I've started experimenting with custom clothing myself.
I've done the research, contacted the companies, and secured pieces from some of the better choices out there.
And I'm going to be detailing my experience, as well as the final products, so you can find a maker that works best for you and jump in without hesitation.
I've even managed to secure a couple discounts for Iron & Tweed readers.