Anyone interested in classic menswear in the Internet Age will find it impossible to ignore the behemoth SuitSupply, or the crowded market of largely online Made-to-Measure (MTM) companies like Indochino, Black Lapel, Knot Standard, Hockerty, iTailor, and many others. Many men may seek to improve their style by purchasing suits from one of these stores–but this article will argue that these retailers shouldn’t be the final destination in any man’s style journey.
Sven Raphael Schneider in an Indochino Jacket
While there’s nothing wrong with getting into the menswear realm by purchasing from any of these online retailers–they represent a convenient gateway into tailored style, after all–there comes a time when you need to upgrade your wardrobe and look elsewhere. Continuing in the same spirit as our article on the difference between a $100 and $500 suit, this article will cover why you’d want to move from “good” tailoring to something “great” (though it doesn’t necessarily have to reach the level of bespoke).
In Defense of SuitSupply, Indochino, and Online MTM Retailers
With over a hundred stores worldwide, SuitSupply is hard to miss. The brand has interesting and unique fabrics and a large selection of styles, as well as prices that are low (half-canvas wool suits from $359 and full-canvas from $688 to $1099). They also offer a range of fabrics as part of their made-to-measure service. As such, it’s hard to resist buying one of their suits if you need one for a job and don’t have a ton of money to spend. In this circumstance, we do believe that you can’t go wrong by turning to them. The online made-to-measure (MTM) companies, such as Indochino, are also tempting because they promise a precise fit that seems just a step down from bespoke. Why, then, would you ever need to upgrade?
A SuitSupply jacket; note the slightly short sleeves. Upgrading from Online MTM Means an Overall Increase in Quality
As Simon Crompton of Permanent Style has observed, there are two key considerations to tailored clothes: fit and make. Fit is obvious–either a suit fits well or it doesn’t (it’s too tight, too baggy, had uneven shoulders, et cetera). Make is essentially the quality of the materials and the amount of visible attention or effort put into manufacturing the piece. Even with decent quality, low-cost tailoring, you still sacrifice both.
Simon Crompton in a Bespoke Double-Breasted Suit The Fit of Online MTM Garments Can Vary (Even Within the Same Model)
For one thing, the results can be uneven in getting the correct fit. As the owner of multiple sport coats in the “Havana” model from SuitSupply, I can say that even though I like the jackets overall, the sleeve length and the fit vary from item to item. For example, I have an olive green linen version in a size 38 that buttons well, and a red linen in the same size that is obviously tighter in the chest.
Poorly fitting shoulder
You may also find that any non-standard aspects of your anatomy are not accommodated well by inexpensive RTW (or indeed, MTM). If one of your shoulders is a bit lower than the other, or if you have an especially upright posture or tend to slouch, these idiosyncrasies are more likely to be visible in the fit of a less expensive piece of tailoring. A particular issue I personally face is collar gap, where some sort of unevenness between the right and left sides of my body results in the jacket fabric pulling away from behind the right side of my neck. The interesting thing is, this is evident on many of my less expensive sport coats (whether slim or classic fit), but not on a $1350 Ring Jacket.
Collar gapping on a ready-to-wear jacket from an online MTM company
Such issues are sometimes addressed with online MTM, but ultimately it can be challenging to accommodate individual bodies without seeing and measuring someone in person. Besides, there are abundant stories online about sleeves being too short or chest measurements being too large (among other things), even for more “standard” builds. This is because, to keep prices down, the making of the suit is outsourced to factories in China or developing nations where the cost of labor is low–unfortunately along with quality control.
A Chinese clothing factory Upgrading Will Guarantee a Better Make
Odds are you’re aren’t reading The Gentleman’s Gazette because you settle for ordinary, run-of-the-mill clothes; rather, you appreciate a finely crafted garment, which is why you’ll really want more than standard tailoring. Upgrading to more expensive suits or sport coats will give you a higher overall quality of finishing: things like better buttons (genuine horn instead of plastic), or more hand-stitching on seams or buttonholes (perhaps a Milanese buttonhole).
Average-quality stitching, as evidenced by unneveness and loose threads
The fabric itself will be both more interesting and more durable, while the internal construction (such as the canvas and any shoulder padding) will be made with greater sophistication that will be reflected in the external appearance. Because of the quality, the item will also have greater longevity–the buttons won’t fall off, the elbows won’t wear out as easily, and the edges won’t fray. So, with a more expensive suit, you’re getting more from the make in terms of functional importance and visual attractiveness.
Finely stitched Milanese buttonhole on a lapel
Given the quality of a higher-end garment, you also have more assurance that the workers who constructed your suit were paid fairly for their labor. You’ll appreciate the workmanship of the item, and will therefore take greater care of it, such as brushing and pressing it carefully, adding to its lifespan. Yet, perhaps the greatest reward of spending more on an item of quality is the feeling of confidence and pleasure you get from wearing what you know is a true work of art, rather than something mass-produced.
Better quality garments invite better care from their owners Higher Quality Garments (Usually) Go Hand-in-Hand with Better Style
As an offshoot of higher quality comes better style. In the case of many brands (including SuitSupply) that offer solid ready-to-wear, the “house cut” is nonetheless slim fitting and skewed toward a younger demographic; the same applies to online MTM. Perhaps because their marketing relies heavily on social media, and/or because of their price point, a 20-something demographic is usually their audience. That’s fine if you’re slim and youthful, but if you’re considerably older or have a body shape that’s not suited to slim fit, you may be out of luck. Conversely, more expensive suits usually provide more classic fits, because their customer base is primarily composed of older men established in their professions.
The typically tight fit of SuitSupply
Meanwhile, slim fits lean toward trendiness and fashion rather than timeless style, projecting more of a “lean and hungry” look than the appearance of someone who has “arrived.” Additionally, styles for less expensive tailoring tend to be more ordinary. Many online MTM suits look like exactly what you would expect on any businessman in any conservative office. At SuitSupply, even though the fabric textures and patterns are fairly unique, the styles aren’t. For instance, the “Havana” model is a standard two-button, with average-size lapels and closed quarters on the front. If you want something with more panache, like more open quarters or three-roll-two buttoning, it’s easier to find these by going higher end.
Dr. Lee in a three-roll-two glen check with contrast button gimp. Upgrading Will Mean a Better Buying Experience & Customer Service
Finally, you won’t get the same level of attention and service at a chain or online store as you would visiting a small haberdashery or tailor shop. While there are certainly very effective salespeople at SuitSupply, you may find it difficult to get hold of them when there are a number of clients in the store. Some are fairly new to menswear, and may not be experts at measuring you. In the end, the experience will be similar to what you’d get if you were to visit a department store. The customer service at a purely online MTM retailer may be even worse, as you’ll have to communicate via email or chat, and your exchange of information occurs digitally rather than in-person. You won’t be measured personally in most cases, but will need to rely on sending photographs and self-measurements to get the correct fit.
A high-end tailoring experience
By contrast, if you go to a small menswear boutique, the relationship you’ll have with the staff (usually including the owner) is more human and intimate. There likely won’t be much turnover of the staff, so you’ll have a more consistent experience each time. You know you’ll be measured properly, because the owner and staff may have decades of experience. Besides that, you can relax in a pleasant environment, and may even be served a scotch or other preferred drink from the bar. You may even look forward to combining your visits with some sartorial travel.
Standard-looking suits from iTailor
Many a customer would even say that the tailor or staff member from whom they regularly buy their clothes has become their friend. Of course, at the bespoke level, when you’re shelling out thousands of bucks, you’d expect such service; however, the relationship tends to be more authentic, with no hard selling in any smaller menswear boutique where you would look to shop for an upgrade.
How to Upgrade Your Wardrobe
The number one objection to upgrading from mid-quality to higher-end tailoring is, without doubt, the cost. Phrased another way, many men find the mid-range is “good enough” for them. That’s perfectly okay, but keep in mind our advice to build a wardrobe with the best quality items you can afford. If you’re starting a job that requires suits and you don’t own any, of course you may need to take the less expensive route in order to have a decent weekly rotation. If, like me, you are also tempted by the skillful combinations you see on the internet and want to have a lot of different options to wear right away, you may need to go mid-range in order to afford the required number of pieces.
Instagram can tempt you to expand your wardrobe, so you may need to go the inexpensive route at first
Be aware that if you are a true connoisseur, you’ll eventually find issues with your less expensive items and want to upgrade at least some of your wardrobe–especially the colors or patterns you like the most. This means that you’ll spending more by repurchasing the same sort of item in a higher quality, such as a navy sport coat or a grey glen check suit. However, you can treat your first purchase as a kind of “rental,” a form of practice or learning experience. Indeed, if you’re new to classic style and aren’t fully confident in your knowledge of what you like and what looks best on you, it may be better to start off at a lower price point, so your mistakes aren’t as costly. Then, read more of our articles on The Gentleman’s Gazette and upgrade your wardrobe accordingly!
You will discover your preferences with experimentation, like a three-piece suit with pleated pants
As a counterargument, most higher-end tailoring will not be outrageous in style, so the likelihood of making errors can be reduced–though you may still eventually realize you prefer pleated pants instead of flat fronts, or enjoy open jacket quarters instead of closed ones. Therefore, if you can’t wait, start with a place like SuitSupply and then work in an upgraded replacement for your favorites, one-by-one as you can afford them. Or you can start on a smaller scale, with higher quality accessories like those from Fort Belvedere, or more expensive and well-made shirts, before you go all-in with sport coats and suits. Depending on your budget, you could save a certain amount each month to purchase a $1500 sport coat or a $2000 suit once a year, and mix it into your wardrobe.
Gun Club Ring Jacket from the Armoury
My personal go-to exactly in this price range has been Ring Jacket, a Japanese company that makes well-fitting tailored items in durable and interesting fabrics. Their pieces are sold by the company’s international arm in North America and Europe, as well as at a variety of retailers including Barneys and The Armoury (who offer their own variation on the Ring Jacket style). You’re not in the territory of $6000 bespoke or $3000 Attolini jackets, so this represents a solid upgrade without breaking the bank. Next, resell your cheaper item on eBay to make up some of the cost.
A very high-end Cesare Attolini jacket
If you’re lucky, you might also be able to get your new stuff on sale, though higher-end brands run sales rarely or not at all For casual items, like summer linen sport coats, you may be just fine staying put, as they may be “good enough.” However, do realize that once you try something better, it’ll be difficult to go back. Think of it like driving a Lexus or staying at a Four Seasons hotel; you likely won’t want to go back to a Toyota or staying at a Holiday Inn afterwards. In the end, as your wardrobe is stocked, you’ll find yourself following the approach of “buy less, buy better.”
With the resurgence of classic menswear, and especially the explosion of online companies selling it, items that you wouldn’t be able to find ten years ago (like functioning sleeve buttons on a suit jacket and full canvas makes) are available standard, for less. Despite this, there will be specific fabrics, cuts, and details of tailoring that you can only get if you go with higher-end brands. We’re not advocating that you purge your closet of mid-range items all at once, but rather that you gradually work in higher-quality pieces that will ultimately give you more pride and confidence in what you’re wearing. You may have chosen SuitSupply or online made-to-measure to step up your wardrobe at first, but the maxim of “you get what you pay for” holds true, and anyone serious about style will eventually want to upgrade again.
What’s your take on upgrading from SuitSupply or online MTM? What do you look for in terms of quality? Share with us in the comments below! #Clothing