Don’t believe everything you read about suits going out of style or, worse, going away.
If our business is any indication, men’s suits in general and custom men’s suits in particular are making a comeback in business, both in businesses you might expect—legal, accounting, and consulting—and some business you might not.
This article is written for the man who believes how he presents himself at work—how he looks—is integral to how he performs.
You’ve heard the statement: If you look good you feel good. While technology is changing so many aspects of our business and personal lives, what hasn’t changed is the connection between our professional performance and how we feel about ourselves.
Part of that “feel” comes from how we dress.
My name is David Shockley and I started Savile Row Custom Clothier in St. Louis more than 30 years ago. I am gratified to be considered a best tailor in St. Louis. My business centers on helping the businessman be successful wherever the office takes him. Custom-made suits are the heart of our business, but we are also a custom shirtmaker.
What Kind of Suit Should You Wear for Business?
That’s a loaded question, but one that we are going to dive into with both feet.
Admittedly, I’m biased. Having owned Savile Row Custom Clothiers for more than 30 years, I realize the days of professionals wearing a suit every day to the office are well back in our rearview mirror.
That doesn’t mean suits—especially custom suits—don’t have an important place in a busy businessman’s wardrobe, and that’s what we’re going to attack in this article.
I will hit on every aspect of what you need to consider in your purchase process. The links below are active so bob and weave through the article based on your needs.
- How to Build a Hard Working, Stylish Wardrobe for the Office (and Stay Within Your Budget)
- Your Best Options for a Custom Suit
- Bespoke and Made to Measure: Two Worlds Colliding
- How Much Does a Custom Suit Cost?
- Pros and Cons of Buying a Custom Suit in a Store vs. Online?
- Where is the Best Place to Buy a Custom Suit?
- Wardrobe Planning and Management: How to Get Your Closet in Shape for the Office
Most of our customers at Savile Row Custom Clothier in St. Louis are hard-charging businessmen who believe clothes are a critical component to their success, no matter where the office takes them.
This article won’t go so far as to teach you how to sew, but you will walk away having a strong understanding of the core components of a custom-made Savile Row suit.
Our business is really not a mystery, and it’s no longer just for executives or the affluent. Fabric production and technology to construct suits has gone to levels I never could have imagined, allowing so many more to enjoy something that is very important to them: looking and feeling great.
Welcome to my world. Let’s get you dressed for your next big opportunity!
How to Build a Hard Working and Stylish Wardrobe for the Office.
Someone smart once said a bad plan is better than no plan.
Clothes for the office do double duty: they need to be well made to last, and they have to look great.
Getting both of those out of your clothes is harder than you might think.
Custom suit purchases are often triggered by an unplanned event. Sometimes it’s a special event at work. Other times the customer realizes what’s in their closet is simply tired. And, if the customer notices his suits are showing their age, imagine what those around him think.
We approach helping our customers probably a lot like you approach your customers: Ask questions and listen. To help you make the best decision for your situation, we need to know a few critical things about you, your work, and your wardrobe.
|Your Work||Your Wardrobe|
|What is your job?||How many suits do you regularly wear?|
|What’s a typical day like?||Describe your favorite colors and styles?|
|Describe the importance of fashion at work.||Where do you typically buy suits?|
|What situations should you consider wearing a suit or sport coat?||What have you liked and disliked about the experience?|
|What is the dress code for your biggest or most important 5-7 clients?||Have you purchased a custom suit before? If yes, how did it go? If no, why not?|
|How do your mentors/role models dress?||Are you a risk-taker when it comes to clothes? Provide examples.|
|Are you a trend setter or a trend follower and why?|
|What kind of shoes do you wear with your suits and how often do you shine/clean them?|
As you evolve down the path of considering a custom-made Savile Row suit, the answers to these questions will provide great information for the tailor you ultimately choose.
By the way, you might be wondering why we want to know about your shoes. The kind of shoe a man wears and how he takes care of them is an indication of how they will take care of their clothes. That helps me guide them toward the right kind of style and fabric.
David’s Two Cents: Be an active participant in the custom process. Things like style and color are personal and, in the absence of input from the customer, the tailor will make suggestions. If you’re uneasy then push back. I want you in the suit you want, not the suit I’m guessing you might want.
Your Options for a Men’s Custom Suit: Fit, Style, Fabric, Construction
There is a lot that goes into a man’s custom suit. It’s why we ask so many questions.
Fit and style are the centerpiece and where you will spend most of the time in the process. However, it’s worth noting that techniques have significantly improved in the last 10-15 years for the constructing of custom suits. The technology to “fuse” fabrics has improved to the point where a Savile Row suit starts for $895.
At Savile Row Custom Clothiers, we offer three distinct grades of tailoring for suits and sport coats, which you can pair with any grade of fabric:
- Silver… for those new to custom clothing or wanting to stay within a budget.
- Gold… combination of machine and hand-made touches; using half-canvas and fused construction make this an affordable, yet luxurious option.
- Platinum… our full canvas constructed suit coats line, using unmatched fabrics from around the world. And, yes, there are still great artists around the world who hand-make full canvas suits.
How to Get the Best Fit for a Custom Suit (Hint: Knee Bone Connected to the Hip Bone).
There is not one most important element of a great-fitting custom suit. All of the elements work together to produce a perfect fit for you.
For example, you’ve probably seen men whose suit coat simply doesn’t fit together well at the collar with their shirt. There’s a gap and obviously something is wrong. Everybody but the guy can see there is a problem.
Nine times out of 10 there’s nothing wrong with the suit (or shirt). What the man wearing the suit doesn’t know is that he likely has an unusual posture, causing the suit coat collar to pull away. This is something that 99 times out of 100 won’t be caught at a department store.
This statement is arguable, but I can make a strong case for fit being as important, if not more, than style. Let’s go a little deeper.
Sleeves: What is the Right Sleeve length for Dress Shirts?
No more than one-half inch of your shirt cuff should be exposed at the end of your coat sleeves. The shirt cuff should hit right around the large bone of your wrist when your arms are relaxed. When in doubt, err on the side of too long with your suit coat sleeves. It’s an easy adjustment for your tailor to make if needed.
What is the Right Length for a Man’s Suit Coat?
This is a much harder element to nail precisely than a few years ago. Today, suit coat and sport coat styles are going trimmer and shorter.
For a more traditional style, your suit coat should fall around the middle of the seat of your trousers, and the flare should be very subtle. If you’re noticing a more skirt-like flare, it’s likely your coat is too short. If it falls past your buttocks or hands when standing, it’s too long.
While classic, full-length suit coats are still the norm, we’re seeing more of these modern trim cuts pop up in office attire. You be the judge of whether it’s the right fit for you and, not unimportant, for your office.
When to Button or Unbutton a Suit Coat (or Sport Coat)
You know the guy… the one who gets up to present and doesn’t button his coat.
Is it because he can’t or just doesn’t know any better? One thing is for sure, when a suit coat doesn’t close properly, everyone notices, even if they don’t exactly know why.
The two sides of the coat should button easily, with the lapels smooth against your body. You should be able to put a flat hand against your chest under the lapel, and when you make a fist it should wrinkle and distort the suit coat fabric.
To test the fit, close just one button, either the top or middle one, and stand naturally. If you notice an X-shaped crease forming or the lower edges flare out like a skirt, then it’s too tight.
Conversely, if you can stash a safe deposit box under your suit coat, it’s probably too loose. A small opening at the bottom of the coat, just above the waist of your trousers, is perfectly fine, but very little, if any, of your shirt below the coat buttons should be visible.
How Suit Trousers Should Fit
A big problem with off-the-rack men’s suits is that we buy the suit based on the coat and hope the tailor can pull a rabbit out of the hat with the pants.
While pants should fit smoothly across your legs and buttocks, the drape shouldn’t form sagging wrinkles below the seat; an indication they’re too baggy. If the seat is too tight, you’ll typically see horizontal wrinkles under the buttocks.
While a baggy pair of trousers can be altered to a certain extent, the more oversized they are, the more likely the pockets will be distorted in the alteration process. And, there isn’t much a tailor can do if your pants are too tight.
The hem of your pants should fall just on the top of your shoes, with a slight crease where they hit. The back of the pant should fall no further than the top of the heel of your shoes.
Alternatively, falling in line with the trim look of the times, some men are shaking things up with slimmer fits and shorter lengths. It can be a challenging look to pull off, but when done correctly, it can fit nicely at the office.
David’s Two Cents: There is quite a divide today in men’s clothing. The new wave of trimmer-fitting and shorter suits (shorter coats and shorter pants) has caught on, especially with men in their 20s and 30s. Make sure your tailor is experienced with this style.
Style: Current Styles for Men’s Suits is About What You Want.
While external factors such as your work environment play into the style decision, I find the customers who go with what they love, rather than trying to emulate others, are much happier with the finished product.
There are many options, which give you free reign to create something that screams who you are.
Single- or Double-Breasted Suit Coat?
Single-breasted is what you will see most often at any office. It is the most easily produced, and typically has two to three buttons and a notch lapel. Single-breasted is also probably 98% of what you will find when buying a suit off-the-rack.
Double-breasted is considered more formal. Your body shape could have an impact on whether or not double-breasted will help or hurt you; the tailor can help with that. You will have options with buttons from four to eight, eight being the most formal. Double-breasted suit coats typically have peak lapels.
When are Two-Piece or Three-Piece Suits Appropriate?
The vest is the question. Vests have never gone out of style but have come and gone in the office setting over the last few decades.
But, there’s no question today that vests are back.
Our customers generally go with two-piece custom suits for the office because they are less formal than three-piece. That said, if the vest figuratively fits you, go with it. You can have a lot of fun with dressing a Savile Row suit up or down with a vest.
Which Type of Suit Coat Vent is Right for You?
Today, there are basically three styles: no vent, center vent and side vent:
- Center vent. Started in America, it is the predominant style in off-the-rack suits. In some circles, it is considered less formal and not as sophisticated, partly because it’s the least expensive of the vent options to produce.
- Side vent. It is the most expensive vent to produce, so by that fact alone you don’t see many double-vented suits coats This style is most often used in custom-made suits. Your body type will determine if this is right for you. A double-vented coat is the cream of the crop in my opinion.
- No vent. You see this style mostly from European manufacturers. Your body style will determine if you can handle no vent.
What are Right Number of Buttons on a Suit Coat?
For being so little, buttons can have a big impact:
- One button. Used mostly for tuxedos, but it’s not unusual with custom-made coats to see this style, typically on peak lapel suit coats.
- Two buttons. This style, in my opinion, works best for most men. Always button just the top button. Off-the-rack coats will almost always be two-button.
- Three buttons. This is an older style for suit coats. You can either button the top two buttons or just the middle button.
What Lapels Should You Choose for Your Custom Suit?
Most of my customers prefer a notch lapel. The “notch” is where the bottom of the suit coat collar and the top of the lapel connect. It’s a clean, simple look.
The peak lapel, once a staple on double-breasted suit coats, is now popular on single-breasted as well.
Fabric: What Type of Suit Fabric is Right for the Office?
Fabric might not make the man, but it sure makes a man’s custom suit.
Custom suits are made from a wide variety of fabrics: wool, cotton, linen, silk and a range of artificial fabrics. And, for most fabrics, there are multiple types and weights.
At Savile Row Custom Clothier, I seldom sell anything but wool. There are many reasons for this:
- It has natural properties that allow it to breathe and shape to your body.
- It is long lasting.
- It can be warm in the winter and comfortable in the summer.
- It can be woven into many different levels of quality, from sturdy flannel to paper-thin Super 200 fabric.
The Super Number is an industry-accepted way to define different grades of wool. In simple terms, the Super Number tells you the weight of the fabric, or as some say, the thread count. Super Numbers start at 80 and go to 250. Super 250 fabric is some of the finest wool in the world.
While the Super Number is often how custom clothiers and retailers merchandise different price ranges of suits, it’s important to know that a higher Super Number does not always mean it is higher quality wool. There are other considerations beyond the Super Number like, for example, the source of the wool and the expected life of the fabric.
So, while a Super 250 fabric may feel amazingly soft—and will likely be the most expensive suit in the store—be sure to dig deeper so you fully understand what you’re buying.
David’s Two Cents: Worsted wool is the best overall type of wool fabric. Use the Super Number as a starting point. From an overall performance standpoint, I start a discussion in the 120 – 140 Super Number range. That range provides great value for the price.
What’s the Best Type of Construction for a Man’s Custom Suit?
What’s between the layers of a custom-made Savile Row suit can be the difference between looking great and just looking good.
There are two types of suit coat construction (this doesn’t apply to the pants): fused and canvassed, and they couldn’t be more different.
Canvassed construction is the highest quality you can buy. In short, a fine piece of canvas material—often a combination of wool and horse or camel hair—is layered between the outer wool fabric and the inner lining.
The canvas is hand-sewn to both layers and becomes a structural component of the coat to help the outer fabric retain its shape and to further aid the coat in conforming to your body and fitting you better.
There are two levels of canvassed construction:
- Full canvas. A layer of canvas is used for the entire front panels (both sides) and the lapels. Full canvas provides the best protection for the outer fabric and will help the coat conform to your body. It is the most expensive of the two options.
- Half canvas. This option combines canvas fabric with fused construction on the front panels. It is less expensive to produce (e.g. no hand stitching), but the coat will likely be slightly stiffer and, over time, won’t conform to your body as well.
Fused construction utilizes what is called inter-liner (rather than a piece of canvas) that is glued to the outer fabric. This process gives the coat structure and shape, but it is much stiffer and will not conform to your body nearly as well as a coat with canvas construction. A fused coat is much less expensive to produce (and is the vast majority of what you see in off-the-rack clothing stores).
Customers of Savile Row Custom Clothier have all of these options for a custom suit.
David’s Two Cents: Nothing can match the feel of a full canvas custom suit. And, when it’s on, it’s almost like the suit isn’t even there it is so supple and flexible. A full canvas suit is more expensive.
The Little Things: What Kind of Accessories are Best for a Man’s Suit?
Like custom shirts, there are many options that can make a custom suit truly a work of art for you. Here are a few:
- Buttons. I love to use buttons from natural products such as bone versus plastic. They can be stunning additions. You can also use custom colors for stitching of the buttons, another fun option.
- Surgeon Cuffs (working button holes). A few of our customers request this. Some will leave the last button unbuttoned to show, in a not so subtle way, that the suit is custom-made. To each his own.
- Custom Silk lining. This can be a spectacular feature which sometimes says as much about you as the outer fabric you chose.
- Personalization. Our suits at Savile Row come with your name stitched in the lining. I believe this is the ultimate label for a man.”
David’s Two Cents: I love working with customers who enjoy using the little things to make their suit unique. Sometimes it can go too far, but most times it is a very satisfying outcome for the customers.
Bespoke vs. Made to Measure: Two Worlds Colliding.
Most of us don’t like to hear about computers replacing people.
Especially when they replace craftsmen.
There aren’t many industries with a richer heritage of craftsmen than custom clothing. Bespoke, as the industry refers to it, is dying. While the product is excellent, today’s businessman has neither the time or the interest in paying thousands of dollars for a hand-made suit that will take 12-16 weeks to make and require him to go through several sessions with the tailor during that time.
Enter the computer taking the made to measure business to a new place. In the last 10 years computerization has evolved to a point where it can nearly replicate the precision and quality of a bespoke tailor. The laser cutting of fabric based on precise tailor measurements will produce an amazing custom suit that will stand up to most great bespoke tailors.
Will a great custom clothing craftsman agree with my previous statement: absolutely not. But, we can’t be surprised that a computer today can drive a car (without a driver) but can’t produce a custom suit.
David’s Two Cents: Savile Row Custom Clothiers uses the made to measure process exclusively. It meets the time requirements of our customers and provides more than enough quality options for even the most particular taste.
How Much Does a Custom Suit Cost?
Buying a suit off the rack can be more expensive than you think… sometimes much more.
Think about that off the rack suit you bought. It was likely $800 or more. Add in alterations and you’re quickly north of $1,000. Go to another store and they have off-the-rack suits for $10,000 or more.
On the other side of the discussion is bespoke suits. I’ve heard of suits going for $25,000 or more. And, I know there are companies who say they can produce a bespoke suit for as little as $1,500.
I know what you’re thinking: What’s up with that?
There are few rules when it comes to the pricing of suits.
All the things we’ve discussed in this article come into play. You can purchase suits made of amazing wool at retail stores, or you can purchase average wool fabrics from a bench tailor. Which one is better: that depends on you.
What surprises a lot of people is that custom Savile Row suits can easily fall into the same price range as a medium-priced off-the-rack suit.
At Savile Row Custom Clothiers, our custom made to measure suits start at $895, and there are no alteration costs. From there, the price goes up based on your wants, needs and imagination. Our average suit price is in the $1,295 – $1,500 range. At that price point, you will walk away feeling amazing. If you want a suit for $20,000, we can make that happen, too.
As for the time to produce your suit, ours typically take four to six weeks, sometimes longer depending on the season. You will find tailors who tout how quickly they can make suits. We can certainly get it done faster than four weeks, but I would argue unless you are in a situation where you don’t have the time, I would not rush this process.
Pros and Cons of Buying a Custom Suit in a Store vs. Online
Just two or three years ago my answer to this would have been different than today.
While I have had a retail store for more than 30 years, I realize interest in purchasing custom clothes online is growing.
That said, buying anything that is custom made, clothes or other products, you have to consider the risks associated with purchasing something you can’t touch.
I’m sure some of you reading this are already buying online. Good for you… I mean that.
But, let’s go back to what I said at the beginning: fit is as important, if not more, than style. Make sure the online store has a battle-tested process to make sure your custom suit fits perfectly.
That said, I guarantee your custom suit from Savile Row Custom Clothiers will fit perfectly.
Where is the Best Place to Buy a Custom Suit?
The choice of a tailor should be personal. While you probably won’t go on vacations with them, it is important they get to know you, and you them.
Like any business dependent on people, a great tailor can produce a great product from just about any fabric. A not so great tailor… buyer beware.
I recommend customers new to custom clothing do some research before simply diving into the custom-made deep end. The first time I meet with a customer can take some time because I need to get comfortable with where they are coming from—what they want and need—and they need to be comfortable I know my stuff.
I still have many customers who started with me more than 30 years ago. It’s a combination of consistent performance and trust.
David’s Two Cents: Do your homework. Shop at several stores. It will be time well spent.
Wardrobe Planning and Management: How to Get Your Closet in Shape for the Office.
Most guys don’t plan their wardrobe like they plan their career. I get it.
That said, a little thought can go a long way to create a well-rounded wardrobe.
Savile Row Custom Clothier has developed a five-step wardrobe planning process for men that literally does everything for the man who doesn’t have the time to give to clothes that he gives to the office.
We call it the Wardrobe Management Solution. Our consultants analyze your wardrobe, break it down, and then put it back together in a systematic way. It could take a year to get where you want; it could take five.
Just like your projects at the office, our process identifies gaps and weaknesses in your current wardrobe, our version of a SWOT analysis. The goal is to help you put your wardrobe on autopilot, with only periodic involvement from you. Here’s a quick look at each step:
- Analyze: We evaluate your closet based on factors, such as age, condition, style, appropriateness for your goals and, not unimportant, your likes and dislikes.
- Vision: This is the fun part. We help you define what you want your wardrobe to be. Who are your wardrobe role models? What do you want your clothes to say about you? We’ll use your aspirations to set the direction for your perfect wardrobe.
- Plan: We do all the work in wardrobe planning. We create a 12-month, step-by-step plan with detailed recommendations and budget options.
- Implement: It’s go time… we’ve planned the work, now we work the plan.
- Update: At six months we will review and, if necessary, update your plan based on what worked and what didn’t.
David’s Two Cents: Not everyone needs the level of service our program provides. But, the successful businessman must prioritize the spots in his wardrobe that will help him the most at the office. Just like your business, put your money where it will bring the most value.
Stars Aligning to Make Custom Suits Accessible to More Men
Better late than never if you ask me.
Everything about a custom-made suit is getting better: fabric, manufacturing, options and price. However, some custom clothiers refuse to acknowledge the disruptive changes going through this business—even when it benefits customers.
We at Savile Row embrace the changes and welcome being able to serve a much bigger slice of those who believe they can differentiate themselves at the office by looking their best.
No matter where the office takes them
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