In this article, we’ll talk about off-the-rack and ready-to-wear suits. You will learn about their history, why you should wear one and how to buy one. We’ll be using common abbreviations such as RTW and OTR throughout this article.
Chances are very good that you own an off-the-rack suit. Most, if not all of us, have one or two in the closet. Thanks to the Industrial Revolution, suits become affordable and not just a commodity for the upper classes.
You can use the following menu to jump ahead:
- What Is An Off-The-Rack Suit?
- Off-The-Rack Suit History
- Why Buy A Ready-To-Wear Suit
- Reasons Not To Buy A Ready-To-Wear Suit
- Average Off-The-Rack Suit Cost
- What To Expect From A Suit
- Ready-To-Wear Suit Alterations
- Top 10 Best Ready-To-Wear Suit Brands
Alternatively, scroll down to keep reading.
Off-The-Rack & Ready-To-Wear Suit Guide
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What Is An Off-The-Rack Suit?
A child of the Industrial Revolution, an “OTR” suit is a pre-finished suit that the customer purchases for immediate wear. It offers little -often nothing- in the way of customization and requires alterations 99% of the time.
However, as the most ubiquitous style of suit on the market, they’re easy to buy and available in a very wide range of price points.
Off-the-rack suits are made from block patterns, and their relatively low price point is a result of the less expensive construction techniques used.
They’re often made from fused canvasses where they’re glued together instead of sewn and made entirely by machinery and computers.
This approach maximizes savings during the production process, which are then passed on to the customer.
Additionally, ready to wear suits are always sold as one of two types: sets or separates.
What Are Sets & Seperates?
Sets are pre-matched jackets and trousers that cannot be purchased separately. This is a more old-school way to sell an RTW suit.
The garments are mated based on their chest and pant waist sizes, typically with a six-inch difference between them (referred to as a “drop”). For example, if you buy a suit with a 42″ jacket, it will automatically come with trousers in a 36″ waist.
Therefore, if you’re an athletic man whose body is shaped like a capital “V,” this arrangement will likely not work.
Separates are jackets and trousers of matching fabric that are sold separately. If you wanted just a jacket or just trousers, you could buy them a la carte. Buying separates is a better option for most men as it offers greater leeway to get accurate sizing.
Many department stores and speciality stores offer suit separates, whereas selling suits in pre-matched jacket/trouser pairs tends to be the way more old-fashioned menswear retailers go.
As a result, it’s helpful for athletic men who often have chests much larger than their waists or those with irregular body types.
What Is A Fused Canvas?
As mentioned above, ready-to-wear suits are generally made using a fused canvas.
Unlike higher-end canvasses, fused canvas is made from synthetic, rather than natural, materials. These are glued or “fused” to the inside of the garment as opposed to tacked. The upside is that it keeps costs low, which is another consequence of the Industrial Revolution.
Meanwhile, the downside is that glue breaks down over time with wear, heat, and cleaning solvents. For instance, dry cleaners use both heat and cleaning solvents to clean your suits.
When glue breaks down on a fused lapel, it can delaminate and bubbles will form. This is the suiting equivalent of totalling a car. There is nothing you can do to fix the problem except buy a new one.
Half-canvassed and full-canvas suits won’t do this because there’s no glue in the lapel. Therefore, be mindful of the cost of an off-the-rack suit and make sure that its price reflects the construction.
Off-The-Rack Suit Fabrics
As we previously you’ll learn in our dedicated fabric guides, their “Super” numbers increase with fineness and not quality. Don’t let a salesperson try to get more of your money by selling you a Super 180’s wool.
For RTW suits, the very first thing to check is that the fabric of the suit itself is completely made of natural materials. Usually, this is 100% wool, but it could theoretically be a blend of wool, cotton, linen, or even silk and still make the grade.
Quick Off-The-Rack Suit History
The first-ever RTW garments were actually military uniforms. Given that much of what we in the Western world wear is military-inspired, this isn’t at all surprising.
The War of 1812 between Britain and the United States was when we saw the first mass production of military uniforms, again as a result of the technological advances made by the Industrial Revolution.
Although this translated into RTW clothes shortly thereafter, mass-produced tailored clothing wasn’t really popularized until 37 years later, at least in the United States.
Brooks Brothers & Mass Suit Production
Ten years after launching its garments, the company was described as “The first to embark on what is now a leading commercial pursuit” by Carroll’s New York City Directory.
Since then RTW has been adopted all over the world, as mass production means cheaper production, which translates into lower prices for the consumer.
In 1901, Brooks Brothers released its No. 1 Sack Suit. It was a three-button, center-vented, dartless, plain-front number. Its loose, boxy fit truly epitomized the ready-to-wear mindset as it was a suit that was, by virtue of how it fit, made for everyone.
Why Buy An Off-The-Rack Suit
We’re big fans of customization and perfect fit, so why would we want to talk about buying an OTR suit? There are actually some very good reasons to do so:
- You have an easy body type to fit. If you’re an average guy, chances are you can fit into most off-the-rack suits with few alterations. If you find a brand whose cut and aesthetic you like, there’s no reason to not make your life easy and just buy their suits.
- You’re price point-driven. The reality for many of us is that we simply can’t afford to buy expensive suits. RTW suits give us the product we need at a price that won’t break the bank. Another way to get around price issues is to shop second-hand or vintage.
- Turnaround time. You don’t have to wait for an RTW suit to be specially made for you. The most you should wait is about a week for any alterations to get taken care of. That’s it.
- You rarely wear suits. If you only wear a suit to the occasional job interview or family function, it doesn’t make sense to spend a ton of money on a bespoke (or even high-end OTR) suit. Minimize your expense but don’t skimp on the alterations!
- Jump-starting your suit wardrobe. Those of us just graduating from college or business school don’t have enough professional clothing to get us through a workweek. In this case, quantity has more value than quality, and it makes sense to buy three or four inexpensive OTR suits than one higher-end MTM one.
Reasons Not To Buy An Ready-To-Wear Suit
Now that we’ve outlined the reasons that you would buy an RTW suit, let’s quickly counterpoint each one for the sake of argument.
Firstly, few men have an easy body type to fit. Although you probably feel about right when you look in the mirror, virtually everybody has his own irregularities. Needless to say, off-the-rack suits don’t take this factor into account. Very rarely will an off-the-rack suit fit a man as well as something made for him.
With regards to pricing, the made-to-measure industry has become unbelievably competitive. Although these services sound expensive, brands like Indochino and Black Lapel now offer prices that can match and even beat ready-to-wear suits.
Indeed, the turnaround time for ready-to-wear suits is inevitably quicker than made-to-measure. However, if you’re getting alterations, it won’t be by as much as you think. While you will need to plan further ahead for made-to-measure suits, the difference can be marginal unless you have a very efficient tailor.
Even if you rarely wear suits, you’ll need at least one that fits well and is versatile enough for a variety of occasions. If you’ll just be buying one suit, we suggest maximising your investment with one that is made for you.
Finally, if you’re just getting started in building a wardrobe and, for instance, need several to kick start it on a budget, off-the-rack may be a better choice. Indeed, you can buy one or two cheap off-the-rack suits to tide you over.
However, unless you have unwavering loyalty to a brand, we suggest investing in made-to-measure suits as soon as your budget allows it. To get started, check out our guide to the best online made-to-measure suit brands.
Average Cost For Ready-To-Wear Suits
Because construction techniques and materials used vary widely, an OTR suit can cost as little as $150 and go north of $2000! While it’s true that a $2000 off-the-rack suit is certainly going to be a beautiful addition to your wardrobe, we don’t recommend spending more than about $600 on an off-the-rack suit unless you’re under such a time crunch that you have to.
MTM Versus OTR: Closing The Price Gap
As mentioned above, the suiting industry nowadays is such that made-to-measure (MTM) suits have seen a reduction in the average price that often brings them in line with many off-the-rack options.
This definitely hurts the case for buying RTW clothing. If you can have something made specifically for you at a similar price to something made for everyone, why not do it?
The only reason we can think of is turnaround time. Sometimes you just run out of time before an event and you need a suit right now. Speed is the one untouchable value add of buying OTR, but if that’s not terribly important to you, we advise buying MTM.
What To Expect When Buying A Ready-To-Wear Suit
The process is much less intensive than buying an MTM or bespoke suit. Broken down into steps, it is:
- Walk into a store
- Select and purchase a suit
- Make use of the store’s in-house tailor, or bring the suit to your own tailor for alterations
- Wear the suit
Point three above is bolded due to its importance. Just because a suit is already made and is your size doesn’t mean that it fits you as it should. It’s extremely important that you invest the time and additional expense in tailoring an RTW suit.
Alterations For Off-The-Rack Suits
A well-altered $200 suit will look much better than a poorly-fitted $2,000 one! Your best approach will be to start by taking your measurements to see how well they line up with what you’ll find in stores.
If you have a drop that will match a set, then you’ll have much more freedom. However, if it’s not the standard 6″ difference, you’re better off shopping separates.
Once you have a suit that fits as closely as possible, take note of where you’ll need alterations. Our guide to men’s tailoring breaks down a variety of different alterations to explain their difficulty and cost. You can then decide whether it’s going to match your budget or simply cost too much.
As a general rule, unless the alteration is extremely small, it’s better to buy something that’s too big. If it’s too small, there may not be enough excess material in the suit to take it out. However, off-the-rack suits tend to be a little more generous with fabric than custom-made garments for this very reason.
Top 10 Off-The-Rack Suit Brands
Now that you have learned everything that you need to know about off-the-rack suits, we’ll present you with some of our favourite brands. We already may have mentioned a few of these brands above but we think it’s worth covering them again here in detail.
Currently, we recommend the following ready-to-wear suit brands:
- Brooks Brothers
- Charles Tyrwhitt
- Hawes & Curtis
- Turnbull & Asser
- Ted Baker
- Kenneth Cole
- Hugo Boss
- Stacy Adams
- JC Penney
Feel free to use the links above to jump ahead or scroll down to discover them all!
As mentioned above, Brooks Brothers is often credited as the architect of modern off-the-rack tailoring. Given its centuries of experience, the brand has effortlessly transformed the industry into an art-form.
Although Brooks Brothers is known for being pricey with suits over $1,000, there are some more affordable options. For instance, they have plenty of suit separates with the trousers on sale for $140 and matching jackets at $358. Therefore, you can find yourself with a Brooks Brothers suit for less than $500!
"An American classic, it's hard to beat Brooks Brothers when looking for ready-to-wear suits."
Nick Wheeler launched Charles Tyrwhitt in 1986 when he was a student. Therefore, it shares a similar origin story with Suitsupply below. However, Charles Tyrwhitt is a little different in that its often sat among other heritage Jermyn Street brands.
Like Hawes & Curtis, Charles Tyrwhitt is a shirtmaker. Nevertheless, it has a solid variety of suits, which are 100% woolmark merino wool at the very least. Consequently, it’s one to consider when shopping for ready-to-wear suits.
Although best known as a heritage shirtmaker from London’s Jermyn Street, Hawes & Curtis produces a rich selection of suits, too. It was founded in 1913 and still operates on Jermyn Street. However, its wares are easily available online.
Hawes & Curtis suits are contemporary and elegant while embodying its British tailoring tradition. Their suits can be quite affordable and its online shop frequently launches promotional offers and sales.
As mentioned above, Suitsupply first started as a student project when it was launched by Fokke de Jong in 2000. We often wonder whether he knew that it would go on to be one of the most famous menswear brands and a staple of many red carpets.
Suitsupply focuses on contemporary design without succumbing to the pitfalls of Fast Fashion. Its elegant suits are inspired by heritage style from all over the western world with clear influences from Italy, Britain, and the USA.
Turnbull & Asser is the ultimate expression of British heritage and tailoring. While other brands have long outsourced production abroad, its wares are still made in a Gloucester workshop in England.
Therefore, while indeed a very premium brand, it offers authentic garments that have found the fine balance between industrialisation and artisanal craftsmanship.
Despite the “London” moniker, Ted Baker is actually from Glasgow, Scotland. Since its creation in 1988, Ted Baker has grown into one of Britain’s most popular designer labels.
Ted Baker focuses on contemporary styles and modern cuts but refrains from stepping too close towards fashion-forward. Consequently, Ted Baker exudes a youthful and energetic image.
If you’re budget conscious and need a functional suit while staying near the $100 price point, Kenneth Cole is an excellent option. A no-nonsense professional men’s brand that produces affordable and cleanly-presented garments.
Therefore, if you just need a classic suit for occasional use, it’s a solid choice to ensure that you have something close to hand.
Hugo Boss is one of the more affordable designer brands. Similarly, its suits refrain from being overly stylish but instead offer clean and elegantly-cut tailoring. Therefore, if you’re on a budget but want to wear a designer label, it would be our first recommendation.
Unlike other High Street brands, Hugo Boss remains grounded and continues to produce balanced styles that refer to traditional tailoring while still having a modern attitude.
Stacy Adams is the antithesis of brands like Kenneth Cole and Hugo Boss. Why settle for a classic suit on a budget when you can instead opt for something a little more outgoing?
Indeed, Stacy Adams is an iconic brand that occasionally borders on controversial. Its rebellious styles may not be to everyone’s tastes but it should be applauded for rendering individuality and formal style more affordable.
- Pricing: From $140
- Where To Buy: JCPenney
Although JCPenney may not feel like the most stylish place to pick up a suit, a lot has to be said for its approach. JCPenney focuses on suit separates at very competitive prices. Therefore, it makes it easy and affordable to start building a professional wardrobe.
Conclusion: Pros & Cons
Although not the best fit for everyone, RTW suits certainly have their place in menswear. As some parting thoughts, we’ll leave you with some simplified pros and cons:
- Quick turnaround time
- Fit will likely be inferior to MTM or bespoke
- Quality can be low and makes more sense to go with MTM or bespoke if looking at higher quality versions
Now that you have read our guide to off-the-rack suits, consider reading some of our related content: