Made-to-measure tailoring in its modern incarnation began in the late 90s to the early 2000s. Advances in information technology allowed the creation of a class of shops/tailors that could measure customers in their showrooms and then pass this information on to manufacturing partners anywhere from Yorkshire to China with relative ease. As 2010 rolled around, more and more tailors adopted this model and each began to bring their own style and take on MTM tailoring. As of 2021, MTM tailors have become prolific in most modern metropolises, and this proliferation of tailors has led to the wide variety of price points, quality and style options that now exist.
Made-to-measure has often been compared to bespoke tailoring, a comparison that often irks many traditional West End (London) bespoke tailors. Made-to-measure and bespoke are similar in many ways; the garments being made are unique (one of ones) that have been created to a customer’s specifications where they can choose fabric, detail and fit. Where the important distinction between the two lies is how the garments are measured and constructed. Bespoke garments are made from a pattern that is specifically drafted just for that particular garment and customer. Measuring and drafting in this form requires a lot of skill and is the job of a ‘cutter’ within a bespoke house. Bespoke is often said to provide a near-perfect fit to customers because of this method. With MTM, on the other hand, garments are made from an existing pattern that is adjusted to the particular customer’s measurements. A ‘good’ MTM system and well-trained fitter can lead to a very good fit, and the very top end of MTM offers a somewhat comparable outcome to bespoke. That said, MTM will never be able to touch a good bespoke tailor. MTM tailors also have a large list of detailing options that would satisfy nearly anyone’s desires but they do not provide the near-infinite possibilities of a bespoke garment. Lastly, in the area of construction, a well-constructed bespoke garment is often made entirely from hand, which provides greater strength, flexibility and life to garments, whereas most MTM is machine-finished. However, to complicate matters, at the top end of MTM, collars and lapels are often still hand-stitched and attached as these are seen as the place where the most value is added for customers.
MTM tailors have a fairly standard process that doesn’t vary much from tailor to tailor. The process begins with an initial consolation where the customer is measured and selects fabric and detailing options for their garment. 1st and 2nd fittings follow, usually once a complete garment comes back from the tailor’s factory, and adjustments are made depending on how the garment is fitting. The process will vary slightly depending on the tailor and can take anywhere from 3-4 weeks to 12+ weeks for a complete garment.
Construction methods of MTM garments, in particular suiting, varies widely depending on the tailor, and this is often the point of difference between tailors. There are three main methods of constructing MTM suiting: fused, half-canvas and full Canvas. There is also a level of finishing work done on MTM garments that we have previously touched on, including hand-sewing lapels, collars, pick stitching and other detailing that some MTM tailors do better than others. It is hard to quantify these additional details and their effects on the garment; this level of detail in the finishing of garments is often only seen at high end MTM tailors.
A fused construction of a MTM jacket/suit is the cheapest and least desirable form of MTM construction. It involves using a ‘fusible’ layer between the jacket cloth and lining. It is the least labour-intensive method of suit construction. When jackets are constructed using this method they are less breathable, more ridged and over time as the glue melts the jacket begins to bubble, making it un-wearable. A fused construction is easy to spot in a jacket, the lapel looks like it has been pressed down and does not have a nice “roll”. Ultimately, you should try to avoid a fused suit at all costs. MTM suits with a fused construction will often cost between £150-400 in London.
A half-canvas construction occupies the middle ground between a fused construction and full-canvas. A half “canvas” is usually made from horsehair, sometimes mixed with cotton, linen or other natural fibres. The LMTMSR won’t get into the nitty-gritty of different canvasing blends, but English tailoring tends to have a heavier canvas, while Italian, especially Neapolitan canvasing, is often lighter. The advantages of a half-canvas construction is that it breathes well, moulds to your body over time and is longer lived than a fused construction. A lot of MTM tailors tend to use it as their default option as it is a solid form of construction but doesn’t carry the cost of a full canvas. A full canvas construction often adds £50-£150 to the cost of making a jacket, depending on the manufacturer/atelier the tailor is using.
A full canvas construction is the most desirable method of making a MTM suit, although it does come with a steeper price tag. The advantage that a full canvas has over a half canvas is that the canvassing extends through the full body of the jacket. This creates a better overall shape and silhouette to the jacket, and it also makes it far sturdier. Often you can get 3-8 years out of a good full canvas jacket compared to 1-3 years for half canvas and about 1 year for a fused jacket.
After construction, fabric is the second most important choice in a MTM suit. Choosing a fabric is often a daunting prospect for the first time MTM buyer, who will have to quickly get their head around an array of options and jargon. Decisions will need to be made about super numbers (what are they?), weaves, composition, weight and what mill is a fabric from. This multitude of factors creates the perfect environment in which confusion can run rife. Below is an attempt to demystify the process of choosing a fabric.
First, a brief overview of what fabrics can be made up of. Suiting fabric can be made from wool, merino wool, silk, cashmere, linen, cotton and mohair. There are other fibres out there but these are the main ones.
Wool/Merino Wool is the best fibre to make a suit fabric from; it can be woven in a variety of ways and weights that enables it to be both the perfect summer and winter fabric. The nature of wool means that it wicks moisture away from the body, creating a natural cooling effect. It is also a great insulator for the colder months of the year. The other great thing about wool is that it’s a low-maintenance fabric. Suits simply need to be hung up and given a light steam to remove odours, decreasing the need for dry cleaning and washing. Finally, wool is less prone to creasing than most other fibres, meaning you still look presentable after a long day. The flexibility of this fibre means that it is by far the most popular for suiting fabrics the world round.
Cotton is probably the next most popular choice for suiting and trousers. The word cotton comes from ‘kutan’, an Arabic word, the use of which dates back more than 6000 years. Cotton is hard wearing and can be woven in different weights and weaves to create either summer or winter fabrics. There are some drawbacks, however; it creases easily, and tends to shrink and fade. Cotton suits, trousers or blazers are becoming an increasingly acceptable look in formal and informal environments and is a great choice as long as its properties and limitations are properly understood.
Linen, derived from flax, is an ancient fibre used to weave fabrics and it origins can be traced to the ancient Swiss and Egyptians. Linen has since become a mainstay of summer clothing due to its relaxed look, breathability and durability. Its uses are, however, limited due to its tendency to crease. It is often used nowadays for pure linen suiting or trousers and is also often blended with wool, cashmere or silk to create luxurious summer fabrics.
Cashmere is a luxurious fibre dating back to the Mongol Empire (13th century). It is collected from the under-hair on goats. If you’ve previously owned a cashmere garment such as scarves or knitwear, you will know it is an exceedingly soft and warm fibre. This quality carries over to its use in suiting, trousers and blazers. The fibre is softer and has greater drape than traditional wool but has less strength. Often, you will see cashmere mixed with wool and or silk to create great fabrics. Given cashmere’s scarcity, it is more expensive than other options, but if your budget can stretch to it, it is a great choice.
It is rare in tailoring to find fabrics made only from silk; it is often blended with linen, cashmere or wool to create luxurious fabrics for both the summer and winter seasons. Silk often adds lustre, strength and vibrancy to other fibres it is blended with. It is also commonly used for ties and for contrast lapels in evening wear – think of a dinner jacket lapel with a satin silk contrast. Silk can also be used to line jackets but it is rare these compared to the much more common synthetics that are used.
Mohair is stiffer than traditional wool and is the most durable of all animal fibres. It’s an attractive option for its dirt and dust resistance and its anti-wrinkle properties. It also has great dye retention, meaning colours will take much longer to fade than with some other fibres. Mohair also has a natural sheen to it, and for this reason it is often blended with wool. Getting a work suit with 25% mohair content is a great option for your first MTM suit.
Super numbers are a common marketing tactic employed by tailors and their fabric suppliers to denote the quality of a fabric and the fineness of the fibres of the yarn. Put simply, wool is said to be a super 100 if 1kg of the fibre can be spun into 100km of yarn, a super 120 into 120km of yarn, and so on. A good range for an everyday suit is 100-140. The higher the super number the less wear you will tend to get out of it, so it’s best to stick in that range, at least for your initial purchase. Bear in mind that super numbers can be cheated, so when looking at super numbers make sure to also consider the brand name of the fabric supplier as well as its country of origin.
Fabric Supplier Brands
Fabric supplier brands play a large part in the MTM suit industry now. There is a plethora of suppliers to choose from when you go into a MTM tailor. Like most of the fashion world, the industry is dominated by several large groups that own many brands. Often, numerous different brands are made in the same factory. There is also a great selection of small independent operators out there, but unfortunately they are dwindling in number. When choosing a branded fabric it often best to take your tailor’s advice; they know the cloths well and can guide you through what can be a daunting decision. When buying a well-known brand the quality is often assured, as well as the super number. Tailors also often have a selection of house fabrics, which can be great value and sometimes made in the same factories as branded fabrics, but this differs from tailor to tailor. The last thing to consider is country of origin of the fabric. LMTMSR always recommends buying a British- or Italian-made suit cloth. This isn’t out of snobbery, but rather the simple fact that there is a large difference in quality between Italy and Britain and the rest of the world. Challenges to this notion are welcome.
There are three base categories of weave: twill, satin and plain weaves. Twill is probably one of the most common of these weaves found in suiting fabrics. The twill weave is a strong, drapey weave with a diagonal line pattern that has a front and back of the fabric. Twill is a very strong type of fabric weave, and is used for everything from denim to military wear. It is often woven into suit fabrics in Herringbones, Plain Twills, Sharkins and Houndstooths. The next most commonly used weave is a plain weave. These consist of an interlocking structure that doesn’t have a back or front and sits consistently throughout a fabric. The most common types of suiting fabrics that employ a plain weave are fresco (tropical), basket weaves and canvases. The main advantages of a plain weave are that it is more breathable than twill and has a matt finish. Finally, satin weaves are mainly used in formal wear when thinking about suit fabrics. Satin has a high-sheen finish that is used for contrasting dinner jacket lapels, etc. Aside from these three base categories there are sub-weaves; subtle variations on the above weaves to create different effects. An example of this is a flannel, a soft-to-touch fabric that is often weaved using a twill structure to create great winter fabrics. We have attached a great dive into these subtle variations and there most common types in suiting.
Country of origin has become increasingly important in the garment industry. This is due to several reasons, including environmental impact, workers’ rights, safety, and product quality. Buying a product that has been made in a certain country means in most instances workers’ rights and environmental standards have been adhered to. Although of course this doesn’t provide blanket guarantees, as both poor and outstanding work practices can exist anywhere, it is nevertheless something that should be taken into consideration. This also applies to product quality. Just because something is made in the UK or Italy, for example, does not necessarily mean it is of high quality. In saying this, however, weight has to be put on country of origin to a degree due to industry expertise and knowledge. Portugal, Italy, Spain and the UK have a rich history in tailoring that has extended into modern times. So when looking for a MTM suit ask the tailor where there factory or atelier is. Italy & the UK should be consider the most desirable followed by Spain and Portugal then the rest of the EU. Often MTM tailors are evasive about this question as they make in the far east and wish to hide this fact. Often tailors will say we make ‘some’ of our product in the UK but in reality ‘most’ 95%+ is made in the far east. There is also some who will say they make in Yorkshire for example but the company they buy off is simply located in Yorkshire and the real factory is located in India. Although not all tailors use these deceptive practices it is prevalent in the industry and should be challenged and clarified before you buy a suit to ensure the product you are buying is what is being sold to you.
Tips for First Time Buyers of Made-to-Measure
MTM can be a daunting experience for first timers, so we have put together a couple of helpful tips. This advice should be taken as a rough guide and not rules:
• Keep it simple. Although it is exciting to be able to pick so many details of your MTM garment, it is often best to keep it simple for your first purchase. A good MTM fitter will help you with this process.
• Go for a simple house fabric. Keep the colour simple, weight and weave fairly standard. This is so that you can get the maximum wearability out of the suit, matching as much as possible with your existing wardrobe.
• Avoid a fused suit. It is better to buy an off the rack half-canvas suit and get some alterations done. Fused never lasts and makes for a horrible wearing experience.
• If you can, wait and pay the extra for a full canvas. It is hard to appreciate how much of a difference a full canvas makes in a jacket until you wear it for months. Investing in a full canvas will pay you dividends in the years to come.
• When comparing tailors and price point it is often better to go to a tailor that has better construction quality and get a house fabric than go to a tailor that has worse construction quality and get an expensive Loro Piana fabric. The suit will look & fit better as well as last longer.
• Research the style you are after. MTM tailors have different patterns, designed mainly for the two groups of tailoring: heavy, hard-shouldered British tailoring or softer, lighter Neapolitan tailoring. It is commonplace these days for customers to walk into a British-styled tailor and expect them produce you a Neapolitan suit you have seen online. This often leads to a suit that isn’t quite right. An example of this is Anglo Italian; they have invested a lot of time and money into their house style, a Neapolitan style with touches of English tailoring. It would be a waste of time and money to go into their showroom and expect them to produce something for you outside that style.
• Trust your tailor. You’re not only going into a MTM tailor for them to make you a suit, but also for advice on how it should feel and look. Fitters in MTM have years of experience and often have good advice about points of style, fit and fabric choice. This advice is invaluable and should be taken into consideration.
• Hold your line. This is slightly contrary to the last point, but if you want a certain look or features, convey this as clearly as possible to your tailor. This will prevent the dreaded arrival of a suit that isn’t what you pictured or wanted.
• Get two trousers. Buying two trousers with a suit is something your dad tells you to do, but with good reason. Trousers often wear much quicker than jackets, and having two greatly extends the life of your suit. It also enables you to wear the suit twice in a work week.
• Have fun! Enjoy the process with your tailor, it should be a fun experience that you both gain from!