Today’s question comes from David L. 

“I’ve never got anything custom before. Is it worth it compared to buying something off the rack?”

Long-time readers will know my number 1 style rule: Good fit will solve 90% of your style problems. 

After working in this industry for 15 years, here’s my take on custom vs. OTR:

WHEN OFF THE RACK MAKES SENSE

1. IF YOU’RE SHORT ON TIME, SHOP OFF THE RACK

Custom clothing times have gotten dramatically faster (Suit Supply’s Suitsupply revised custom program, for example, has a turn-around time of about 2 – 3 weeks!)

But if you need something within the week, your best bet is to pick something off the rack. 

2. WHEN IT COMES TO FIT, YOU PROBABLY DON’T NEED TO GO CUSTOM

The truth is, most men can get something that fits well straight off the rack. 

Brands over the last 5 years have increased their size offerings – you have specialty brands for men under 5’7″, to really stylish, trendy collections for the big and tall. 

I can count on one hand the number of clients where we absolutely needed to go custom because of a unique body type.

Most men can probably get a 90-95% great fit off the rack. And if you’re starting out, this is more than enough to look 10x better than you did before.

3. IF YOU WANT TO HIT 98%, GET YOUR STUFF TAILORED

There is a good chance some of your OTR items might need some tweaking; in this case, a tailor is a great fast option. 

The most common tweaks I end up doing for a client’s OTR purchases are hemming pants and sleeves and slimming up the body of a shirt or sports coat. Most of these tweaks will take less than a week, compared to 2-12 weeks of getting something custom made. 

WHEN IT MAKES SENSE TO GO CUSTOM

1. IF YOU’RE LOOKING FOR SOMETHING SPECIFIC, GO CUSTOM

When Suitsupply invited me to try out their new in-store custom experience, I immediately knew what I wanted to make. My Dad’s peak lapel suit from the 80s.

My Dad played bass in a band in the 70s and 80s. And when he’d play a gig, he’d sport an Asian fro along with a light grey flannel, peak lapel 3-piece number with a tone-on-tone grey tie. 

It’s a suit I always wanted to have in my collection, but ones I would come across would never be right.

They’d be notch instead of peak lapels. The pants were too low. The shoulders of the jacket were wrong.

These are the type of alterations that would be so time-consuming and expensive that it’s better just to go custom.

With the help of Nish de Gruiter, we updated my Dad’s iconic suit. 

I went for a mid-grey all season wool instead of a light grey flannel for versatility.

We tweaked the rise of the pant. I prefer to wear my trousers higher on the waist, around my belly button. It’s a lot more flattering and, as a guy on the shorter side at 5’7″, elongates my legs and makes me appear taller.

Previously, I would sometimes buy my pants a size up and have the waist taken in. This is an easy “hack” to get the high rise look OTR, but you’ll sometimes need to taper the leg for it to look natural and avoid looking like a nerd hiking up his pants. This level of alternation can be costly over time. 

With Suit Supply’s Suitsupply’s new in-store program, Nish was able to tweak every little detail at the start. From the rise of the pants, along with the length of the waistcoat and jacket, to make sure it was proportionally balanced just how I like it.

When the suit came in 2 weeks later, all we needed to do were some standard, minor adjustments (hem the pants and nip the waist of the jacket), which only took about a day.

The end result?

A much more wearable homage to my Dad’s suit.

SO WHAT’S THE VERDICT? WHEN SHOULD YOU GO CUSTOM MADE AND WHEN SHOULD YOU BUY OFF THE RACK?

Go custom Made if:

  • • You don’t need the clothes for at least 2 weeks (3 to be safe) as custom clothes take time
  • • If you can’t find what you’re looking for off the rack – whether it’s a design detail or a specific color
  • • You have a bit more to invest in – a safe premium to expect when buying custom is 50% compared to OTR
  • • An expert (like a stylist or tailor) says you have a unique, hard to shop for body. Just like with a doctor, don’t try to self-diagnose, or you’ll end up wasting a lot of time and money!

Go off the rack if:

  • • You need the clothes for something coming up within a week or two
  • • You’re not looking for anything special
  • • You want to save money. You can get an amazing fit by getting your OTR pieces tailored.

INTERESTED IN GETTING SOMETHING CUSTOM MADE? 

If you’re ready to get something custom made, I highly recommend SuitSupply as a great entry to customizing the pieces you want.

They have over 100 shops worldwide and are staffed with the most knowledgable experts I’ve ever experienced outside generational speciality shops. If there’s a shop near you, I encourage you to stop by and have one of their expert staff members walk you through their custom made process.

Visit their Custom Made Program online or find the nearest shop

Special thanks for Suitsupply for working with me and gifting me my Dad’s suit! 

peter@theessentialman.com'
Author

Hi, I'm Peter. I spent 11 years as a menswear designer here in NYC. Now, I help some of the most successful men look really good as a Private Personal Stylist and writer of The Essential Man. You can learn more about what I do by clicking here

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