In this article, we’ll talk about off-the-rack suits (also known as “ready-to-wear”) including their history, why you should own one and how to buy one.
Please note that 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.
They’re easy to buy, the most ubiquitous style of suit on the market, and available in a very wide range of price points.
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.
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, (that is, they’re glued together instead of sewn), and made entirely by machinery and computers. This 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.
Sets are pre-matched jackets and trousers that cannot be purchased separately. This is a more old-school way to sell a 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.
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. It’s also helpful for athletic guys who often have chests much larger than their waists.
Brooks Brothers & Mass Suit Production
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. The Sack Suit later saw huge popularity in the 1950’s among the Ivy League set, and it continues to be a staple of America’s East Coast elite.
Top Five Reasons To 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 a 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 work week. 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.
Average Cost For Off The Rack 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
The suiting industry nowadays is such that made-to-measure (MTM) suits have seen a reduction in 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 a 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 a RTW suit. A well-altered $200 suit will look much better than a poorly-fitted $2000 one!
Check out our guide to men’s tailoring to learn about how to get the most out of an off-the-rack suit.
Conclusion: Pros & Cons
Though not the best (figurative) fit for everyone, RTW suits have their place. In conclusion, we’ll leave you with some 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