In this article we’ll discuss the particulars of what a custom suit truly is. We hope to clear up any confusion around the term and shed light on how the clothing industry tends to misuse it.
The word “custom,” like “bespoke,” is often misused by people in the clothing industry. Many suits are sold as custom when they’re actually made-to-measure, and some companies even go so far as to refer to off-the-rack (OTR) suits that have been altered as “custom”! This is perhaps the most egregious offense of all, but that’s for a different discussion.
What Is A Custom Men’s Suit?
A suit can be defined as “custom” or “full custom” when it meets the following criteria:
- It’s based on a pattern created exclusively for the client in question
- The client has selected the aesthetic details of the suit in their entirety
- There’s at least one intermediary fitting between the initial measurements and final garment delivery (typically a scrap fitting)
Technically, a custom suit doesn’t have to be fully canvassed, but it would be silly to do anything else given the average price point (see below for more on pricing).
It’s important to note that there aren’t any requirements regarding ratio of hand work versus machine work or hours required to create the garment as there are with bespoke suits. Bespoke suiting requires just about everything to be sewn by hand, even “non-critical” areas such as lapels and buttonholes. This can all be done by machine on a custom suit.
In this sense, it can be said that all bespoke suits are custom, but not all custom suits are bespoke.
As is mentioned above, made-to-measure suits are not custom. Nor are off-the-rack suits that have been altered to fit properly.
There’s an industry-wide misuse of the term, and while we can’t be sure if it’s intentional or not, it’s important for consumers to be aware of it.
A custom suit is only custom when it meets the criteria we mention above.
Is Bespoke Better Than Full Custom?
Most aficionados will say yes. We say yes, but only incrementally, and it doesn’t necessarily justify the additional expense.
Due to the additional fittings in the bespoke process, one could argue that the fit will be superior. This is a logical argument, though having even one intermediate fitting as you do in the custom process will often be enough to get the fit where it needs to be. If further alterations are needed, they can typically be done on the finished garment as they’re minor.
The other differentiation is handwork, especially as it relates to lapels. A stitched lapel, found in both custom and bespoke suits, will always offer a superior roll to a fused lapel, found in cheaper suits. Either way, you’re going to look good.
So, is there a big difference between a hand-stitched lapel (bespoke) versus a machine-stitched one (custom)? Again, it’s an incremental difference. Aficionados claim that stitching a lapel by hand allows the tailor to more accurately and lovingly shape it, giving it a superior roll and thus making the wearer’s presentation optimal.
A machine-stitched lapel won’t be as “perfect,” it’s true. But it will still look fantastic, especially with a proper press. Below, a example of a machine-stitched lapel (note the neat rows of stitching):
Regarding hand-stitched versus machine-stitched buttonholes, there is simply no functional difference between the two. Stitching buttonholes by hand takes much longer than doing them by machine. Stitching eight buttonholes by hand takes around four hours, whereas doing the same amount of buttonholes by machine takes about twenty minutes. The only visible difference is demonstrated below:
Above left, we have machine-stitched buttonholes, and above right we have hand-stitched ones. You can see that the machine-stitched buttonholes are neater and rather perfect, whereas the hand-stitched ones are just a bit messier, particularly on the underside.
Hand-stitching is simply not economical for buttonholes, but for a man who appreciates a (nearly) 100% handmade garment, it’s necessary.
How Much Does A Custom Suit Cost?
Due to the decreased amount of handwork (and thus fewer man-hours put into the suit), custom suits tend to be less expensive than bespoke ones. You can generally expect to pay $1500-$3000 or so for an American-made suit, depending on the fabric you choose and the number of fittings.
Conclusion: Is A Custom Suit A Good Fit For You?
Pardon the pun, but we’d say yes indeed. This assumes, of course, that your budget allows for it.
The reasons for buying a custom suit are many, but we think they’re a particularly good idea for the guy who wants a better fit and more customization than he can get with a made-to-measure suit. It’s also a great alternative to bespoke for a guy who’s priced out, or who doesn’t have access to true bespoke where he lives.
Make sure you visit our suits homepage where you can find more information on custom suits, vintage suits, off-the-rack and more.