Suit you, sir! How to get a tailored look on a budget.

Posted on February 24, 2010


Above, Bond wonders how Vesper managed to tailor him a bespoke suit just by looking at him. Oddly, his character’s feelings mirror my own.

Clothes maketh the man and most agree that a man looks his best in a suit, so it makes sense to put a little care and consideration into purchasing one.

Now, I recognise that we’re not all made of money and that a bespoke suit from Savile Row is beyond our means for many of us, however, this doesn’t mean we have to resort to wearing something that looks cheap and unflattering. But with bespoke suits running around a couple of grand or more and made-to-measure starting around £800, how can one get a “tailored” look for a lot less than the price of a bespoke or made-to-measure?

The answer is to look in the boutiques, go for the higher end of off-the-peg, and then pencil in a swift visit to a tailor.

Now, as I’m sure you know, off-the-peg is literally the finished suits hanging on the peg in the stores. They are in the manufacturers choice of fabric, in a limited range of styles and cuts, and are constructed usually in bulk by machine. However, you can find very decent off-the-peg suits.  Get into the higher end of the market and you can find suits with flattering cuts, directional detailing and more traditional features, such as working button cuffs.

Remember, the key to buying an off-the-peg suit that will look good on you is to know your frame and know what works for your shape. Be honest with yourself. Personally, I’m a pretty slim guy,  but it’s no good trying to pour yourself into a slim fitting, one-button suit if you’re carrying the weight of one too many three Martini lunches. The idea is to look your best and feel confident – and that won’t happen if you’re putting additional duress on your seat seams. If you’ve got a bigger frame, buy a more forgiving suit with two vents in the jacket and you will have literally and figuratively covered your ass.

However, once you’ve found the suit that looks best, you will need to get it altered. The truth is that, unless you have the perfect dimensions of a house model (and few of us do) the suit is going to need some adjustment. Just mentally add this to your price tag when buying it. It’s not an additional luxury, nor is it an optional expense; you aren’t saving money if you don’t get it altered and if the suit doesn’t fit properly then you have wasted the money you’ve already paid.

Tailors are really not all that expensive and you are likely to be looking at only a few minor alterations anyway.

Look to pay around £15-20 for your hems and remember that they will look different on different shoes, so don’t wear a pair of trainers to the tailors. I’d recommend buying a suit with unfinished hems. This will give a tailor much more to work with and allow him to get your trouser break just right.

Anything from £20-30 is reasonable for your cuffs, but remember cuffs can really only be shortened, not lengthened and if the cuff has working buttonholes, generally the alteration has to be made at the shoulder – a significantly more complex and expensive alteration.

The waistband should allow for the expansion and contraction of your stomach before and after meals. A good test is to put your index and middle finger together down the front of the waistband and turn them ninety degrees. If they fit snugly, then you’ve got a pretty decent fit. Any tighter and you might feel uncomfortable after a good lunch. Again about £20 -30 is reasonable.

If it needs it, take the suit jacket (or coat) in. The most important thing in buying a coat is to get the shoulders right first of all and take the back or side seams as appropriate. Don’t get something that fits your body better but is too tight or loose in the shoulders. Conversely don’t get something with too much excess. You’ll either end up looking like you’re wearing a suit that’s shrunk, or that you have. Allow around £30 for this.

So, overall, you might end up paying another £150 or there abouts on alterations. However, if you’re purchasing a £600 off-the-peg suit, you might think about just making the step up to made-to-measure at this point. Again, this won’t be a false economy.

At the end of the day, there is no substitute for a suit that has been cut to fit you specifically, but you can still look and feel a million dollars without having to spend it.