What Does It Mean When A Suit Is 'Custom'?-Made to Measure vs Semi-Bespoke vs Bespoke

There are so many details that go into creating a well-constructed suit. Often we get caught up in the quality of the materials, but that is not always the most critical detail. There is an expression in the Sartorial world that says, "Fit is king." This expression means that the quality of a garment can mean very little it doesn't fit properly. Today we are going to cover what it means when a suit says it is 'custom' as there are three main varieties.


Made-to-Measure (MTM)

Made-to-Measure is the most common type of 'custom' suit you will find online and in many clothiers. The details and effort required in this type of construction are the least extensive of the three types. Mainly a fit sample is made, think of the shape of an off-the-rack suit you find in a department store, and it is altered to fit you. Fundamentally the pattern is not changed, but some measurements in the pattern are. The garment is cut with these minor alterations considered at the beginning of the process, and the garment is sewn entirely by a machine.


When first hearing how made-to-measure is customized, it might sound like this will provide a perfectly fitting suit, but that or may not be an ill-conceived notion. While there is a group of men who will fit perfectly into a fit sample, a majority will have 'fit-issues' not addressed by the fit sample. For those who can wear an off-the-rack suit with a few minor alterations, such as sleeve length or taking in the waist slightly, this will provide a perfect fit and will likely be preferable to spending more money. There is one significant downside to this type of custom suit, even if you are an ideal match for the fit sample. Since the outfit is sewn entirely by a machine, the suit will be more 'rigid' in the seams and will not move with you as well as if it were done by hand.

For those of you who fit well into made-to-measure, it is a great way to get substantial value for your money. We would recommend getting at least one suit that from either of the following categories to see how much comfort hand finishing adds to your suit, but you may find MTM is the way to go for you.


Recommendation: This fit works for many men, and we recommend it for the budget-conscious individual and those who are a close match to the fit samples of the company. Here at Chalk Mark, we have many entry-level suit options in this type of construction. As you read on, though, you will see the benefits behind spending a little more money up front to get an entirely custom fit. You might find that the benefits of hand-sewn seams may be worth it to you.


Semi-Bespoke

Semi-Bespoke is NOT a Full Bespoke fitting process (we will delve into those details shortly) but yields a similar garment in many aspects. This build is for the somewhat budget-conscious client who wants more from the fit, fabric, and construction of their new clothing. A Semi-Bespoke suit is constructed by machine and finished by hand, meaning the following items are finished via hand-stitching:

-Hand-sewn buttonholes
-Hand sewn pick stitching
-Hand attached sleeves
-Hand attached buttons
-Hand attached collar


There are several benefits of having hand stitching in certain places. For example, hand attached sleeves provide stretch and allow for more shoulder mobility than a machine stitch does. Hand stitched buttonholes are a unique talking point and show the care taken in providing a garment that matches your tastes.
Combining the unique pattern hand cut pattern developed from your measurements creates a truly one of a kind fit and a beautiful garment that you can wear for years to come. Another benefit here is that your unique pattern can always be adjusted should your build change.

Overall a semi-bespoke made suit feels better. It wears more comfortably and is uniquely yours in detail and construction. A semi-bespoke suit made with the right materials for the season is very comfortable to wear in all but the most extreme of climates.

Recommendation: For most of you this is the standard we would hope you hold your suits too. This type of custom suit will make you feel like a million bucks while being one of the most comfortable suits you will ever wear.


Full Bespoke

A full bespoke suit takes the hand-drawn and cut pattern and increases the amount of hand sewing to the highest logical degree. What this means is that every seam is sewn by hand, with a few small exceptions. There are a few seams that benefit from being extra durable, for example, the outseam on a pair of trousers, and a machine does these to ensure durability. Do not mistake; hand-sewn stitching does not lack in durability; there are just a small few instances where using a sewing machine provides a more significant benefit.


Now, a little history lesson, traditionally a bespoke suit is defined as the following:


-A customer would “speak” for a cloth that the actual tailor displays, making it spoken for or 'bespoke.'
-The tailor himself does the measuring and notes structural anomalies to adjust on his pattern, creating the perfect fit.
-The tailor hand draws a pattern specific to those notes and measurements.
-The tailor created a basted fitting and meets with the client to try on and discuss and correct any fit issues.
-The tailor then deconstructs the basted fitting and does possibly 1-2 more fittings to hone in anything else that needs to be fixed.
-The tailor does everything from measuring, creating the pattern, and the finished garment himself and delivers it personally.

As you can see the pattern here is that the tailor personally handles every step of the Full Bespoke process. Doing this causes the cost of a fully bespoke suit to be higher, but the fit of the suit and how it moves with you cannot be fully appreciated without owning one for yourself. This process has changed very little, historically speaking. Today first a basted fitting is created, the black marked jacket and trousers, then this is adjusted in multiple fittings to ensure the garment reflects the persons build. The final suit is then produced by a master tailor and is a marvelous work of art. This will be a suit that will bring you joy to wear for years to come.


Here at Chalk Mark, we only offer this make in person as the detail required is an art and something that cannot be duplicated online. We have been able to keep the cost down somewhat by training our representatives to take the initial measurements and fit photos. Combining this with modern technology, we can provide our tailor with a visual of exactly how the clothing looks on you through each fitting. Our process is no less involved and provides the same fit you should expect if the tailor were here doing all the fittings.
We encourage all of our customers to try this at least once so you can experience the fantastic build full bespoke offers.

Recommendation: This is the kind of suit we wish every man owned. Though not the most cost-effective, it is the gold standard when it comes to the fit and finish in suiting. If you can afford it, we highly recommend it. If cost is a consideration, stick with semi-bespoke and save some money toward your next piece of tailored clothing.

The sad truth is that 'custom' is not always all that custom. Often online, you will be buying a made-to-measure suit, which can often leave something to be desired. Here at Chalk Mark, we want you to know what you are getting and that your suit is perfect for you. We take pride in the fit and design of all of our suit makes. We are passionate about the art of suiting and want to bring every man the joy of owning a fully bespoke suit.

3 comments

I like how you said that a man that is on a budget would best benefit from a made-to-measure custom suit. I want to get a custom suit but I am on a tight budget so I will keep your advice as I look for a tailor. Thank you for this helpful advice on buying a custom suit.
https://gcclothiers.com/pages/custom-tailored-suits

David Norriss November 14, 2019

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