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Personal Best

A Slew of Custom Tailoring Choices Adds Up to One Thing: A Suit to Fit Each Individual
G. Bruce Boyer
From the Print Edition:
Orlando Hernandez, Mar/Apr 99

Men used to have but one clothing decision: they bought off-the-rack, from a men's or department store, or had suits custom made by a tailor. Today a panorama of personalized clothing options--bench-made, custom-made, made-to-measure and special order--make the choices wider but a bit confusing.

In an effort to clear things up, let's define the terminology.

The term bench-made generally indicates that clothes are made in a shop that has the tailor's name on the door; further, that he is a master tailor (meaning an expert pattern maker, cutter and fitter). The work is done on the premises, an individual pattern is constructed for the exclusive use of each customer, and there is a maximum of handwork.

Most of the same criteria apply to the term custom-made, except that the work is not always done on the premises, and the name above the door is not always that of a master tailor. More often than not, the head of the establishment is someone--such as a designer--whose reputation is based on his taste and who is capable of providing excellent advice.

"Made-to-measure" clothing differs from bench- or custom-made apparel in that tailors use stock patterns that are modified to fit an individual customer. Construction and fabrics of made-to-measure garments may be of very high quality, but, because no individual pattern has to be created, prices can be considerably less.

"Special-order" suits (which we will not cover beyond this point) are made from unaltered stock patterns, but offer a selection of fabrics stocked by the manufacturer and a choice of two or three basic style models. The customer usually pays a premium of 10 percent.

The procedure for the customer is much the same whether the construction is bench-made, custom-made, or made-to-measure. All three processes afford measures of personalization and individuality that are otherwise unavailable.

First, styling--which includes general silhouette and specific details--is discussed. The customer will be asked if he favors a built-up look or a more relaxed one. Italian, English or American interpretations are typical options. Of course, the customer's preferences for fit and feel are also solicited: For example, will the jacket and trousers sit close to the body or have an easier, fuller fit? Does he prefer a higher or lower shoulder? Will the jacket have a soft or firm feel?

The customer chooses the basic form--single- or double-breasted, two-button or three. From there a plethora of details can be ordered. Should the jacket be side, center or unvented? Will the customer prefer flapped, besom, patch or hacking pockets? A ticket pocket perhaps? How many buttons on the sleeve (with working buttonholes, of course)? How many interior pockets? Lapel width or trouser rise may be an issue.

The trousers type must be specified. Will they have pleats or plain front, cuffs or plain bottoms? On-seam or off-seam side pockets, and how many back pockets? A change pocket, a watch pocket? Swelled side seams? Self-supporting waist, belt loops or suspender buttons?

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