Suit Yourself

Why you should make the tailor your best friend

Written by Camilla Cornell

Looking for an easy way to make a great impression, boost your confidence and spruce up your look? Leave the cookie-cutter, ready-to-wear suits on the rack and go custom. Whether you’re a man or a woman, you’ll get a great-fitting garment that matches your needs, shape, personality and taste. A custom suit can help you look—and feel—fantastic, which can lead to greater business success. What’s more, you might be surprised to learn how affordable this “luxury” really is.

“A suit is the strongest statement of power, authority and excellence that someone can wear,” says Larry Rosen, chairman and CEO of Toronto-based men’s clothier Harry Rosen Inc. Dress too casually or wear an ill-fitting, poorly designed or unkempt suit, he says, and you’ll diminish people’s confidence in your professionalism and abilities. “That’s just the way it is,” says Rosen. “If you’ve got the goods, you’ve got to have the packaging too — it’s about marketing yourself.”

While you can make alterations to ready-to-wear suits, there are limits to the changes tailors can make. That means some body types are forced to go custom. But even if you’re not built like Michael Jordan or Boss Hogg, you’ll probably feel more comfortable in either of the two types of custom-made suits: “made-to-measure,” which is cut from manufacturers’ existing patterns and tailored to fit your dimensions and posture, or “bespoke,” the Rolls Royce of suits, which is handmade from scratch, using a pattern that’s developed, measured and cut especially for you.

Besides a perfect fit, the biggest benefit of going custom is options. “Stores carry a selection of suits. But fabric-wise and style-wise, it’s all the same sauce,” says Frank Blaeser, president of Vancouver-based Townline Tailors Inc. and a master tailor who has been in the clothing industry for more than 57 years. By going custom, “you can choose from 1,000 fabrics or more,” select higher-quality materials and get your preferred style and detailing. For example, would you like a fun-coloured lining? Side or front vents? Single or double-breasted? A pleated hemline? Perhaps a stem holder on the lapel to hold a boutonniere? It’s up to you.

“It’s a chance to be your own designer,” says Rosen, and to make a unique, personal statement with your clothes.

Custom suits aren’t as expensive as you might think. Rosen, who notes that custom suits have grown to represent about 15% of his firm’s business, says made-to-measure suits cost just 10% to15% more than off-the-rack suits. Bespoke suits average $5,000 to $6,000, though Rosen’s company has sold them for as little as $3,500 and as much as $20,000.

The process doesn’t have to be intimidating. “You have this image of Savile Row in London where Lord So-and-So is being cared for, but it’s really much more accessible,” says Rosen. Find a reputable tailor or suit shop and ask for the made-to-measure expert. The key is working with someone you trust and feel comfortable with. Set aside an hour for the initial consultation, where you’ll be measured and guided through fabric and style options. An experienced tailor will offer a keen eye and sage advice, considering your physique, your desired impression, where and why you’ll be wearing the suit (Hard-wearing or light duty? Daytime? Formal events?) and in what season. If you’re unsure about style decisions, always pick what flatters you rather than what’s trendy, advises Blaeser: “That’s really the secret of getting a nice suit.”

You’ll need to return for additional fittings. Generally, one for made-to-measure and two for bespoke, each lasting 30 minutes. Stand naturally during measurements and fittings. Women should wear well-fitted undergarments to obtain the most accurate and flattering finished suit. Depending on the manufacturer, you’ll typically have your custom suit in three to six weeks, says Rosen. Most tailors keep your specs on file, so remeasuring for another suit isn’t necessary — unless your measurements have changed dramatically. Tweaks can be made when the suit is completed.

Once you’ve gone the custom route, you’ll be hooked, says Rosen. “It’s addictive. When you design your own suit, you enjoy wearing it a lot more.”

Originally appeared on