For most of us gents, finding a well-fitting and fashionable off-the-rack suit is not a simple feat. In fact, it can be damn near impossible. But, fortunately for those with bigger proportions and more unique fashion styles, made-to-measure tailoring enters the fray. So what exactly is the difference between an off-the-rack and made-to-measure?
The Difference in Fit
Off-the-rack means exactly that - a suit, jacket or shirt that one takes off a store's clothing rack and hopes desperately for a good fit. And, sometimes, if you're lucky enough to have the currently trending body shape, correct arm, leg, neck, waist, chest, hip and shoulder measurements, and Mars and Jupiter are perfectly aligned, you may have a suit that fits you.
But most of us aren't this lucky, and probably never will be. When we shop by a vague measurement such as neck or waist circumference, the results are doomed from the outset. Why?
Because off-the-rack is intended to fit (and I use the term loosely) the body shape of what will sell the most units for a brand, and for the most part, they do that well enough. To the untrained eye, a pair of trousers will 'fit', but on closer inspection will be too tight, too loose, too baggy or too long.
For in the creation of a suit many measurements are required: arm length, over-arm shoulder width, arm diameter, chest, waist and hips circumference, leg length, thigh size, and more. And despite, maybe, being more affordable than made-to-measure, it is here that off-the-rack starts to lose its appeal.
For a made-to-measure garment is exactly that: made to the measurements of the client. Allowances can be made for unique attributes of each body, such as large thighs, thick arms or a broader chest - features that would otherwise ruin the perfect fit of an off-the-rack competitor.
The Difference in Style
A made-to-measure suit offers a few perks over and above an off-the-rack garment beyond fit and cut. Many of the latter will be available in a limited variety of colours, fabrics and styles, and all certain to appeal to local, popular (and often negligently poor) fashion trends.
For a wider range of materials and styles, made-to-measure is the logical solution. Not only will your suit fit you perfectly, it will reflect on your individual style and personality far more easily than something mass produced.
The Hidden Costs
Because it didn't fit in the first place, an off-the-rack suit is a one-way ticket to an alterations tailor. And unless you can be utterly satisfied as to their competency and skill, you can never be sure of the prudence of having your suit taken apart by a stranger.
Some 'tailors' do not have the ability to alter a high fashion garment without destroying the quality of its cut and style. Whilst they may be able to technically hem trousers or take in a jacket panel at the side seam, in making your new off-the-rack suit 'fit' you, they may sacrifice the very essence of the garment itself.
Having had a luxury sports coat returned to me with crooked seams, asymmetrical panels and excess lining, I know exactly the heartbreak of having a beautiful off-the-rack item butchered by bad tailoring, and I wouldn't wish it upon anyone.