Custom Suits Vs Ready to Wear: Considering the Pros and Cons
Updated: Jul 17
Looking to expand your wardrobe of business attire, but unsure whether to go for custom suits or ready-to-wear? How you answer this question will depend on a number of factors; from body-type and lifestyle to budget and personal tastes. To help you choose the best fit, in this guide we discuss the main advantages and disadvantages of custom tailoring when compared with prêt-à-porter. Read on for the full low-down.
As any true gentleman knows, custom suits are a mark of refinement and success. Yet a custom suit has a lot more to offer the wearer than mere prestige. Indeed, with its superior fit, a well tailored suit will bring out the best in any man. And nothing boosts sartorial confidence like being able to choose from a closet full of custom suits especially made to fit both your body and personal tastes.
Nonetheless, custom tailoring isn’t necessarily the right choice for everyone. And in certain circumstances a ready-to-wear suit can sometimes turn out to be the better option.
Considering investing in custom suits? But still unsure what advantages they offer over the ready-to-wear variety? In this article we weigh up the pros and cons of custom tailoring vs off-the-rack garments.
WHAT IS A READY-TO-WEAR SUIT?
At one time all suits were produced to order, specifically for the wearer. And members of every social class would make regular trips to the local tailor. But as manufacturing in general shifted to more industrial methods after WWII, most clothing also came to be produced on a large scale and in a highly impersonal manner. The ready-to-wear suit is a result of these changes, and today the majority of suits are still made in exactly this manner.
Sometimes also referred to as off-the-rack (OTR), or prêt-à-porter, a ready-to-wear (RTW) suit is one that has been manufactured to a standard design, and to standard sizing, long before you entered the store. Consequently the designer had no idea of your body type or measurements.; nor of your preferences for fit, fabric, or finishing. You take the suit off the rack exactly as it comes, and either you like what you see and purchase it, or you put it back and keep looking - no negotiation.
The Advantages of Ready-to-Wear Suits
Available to wear right away
Lower end RTW suits are affordably priced
Try before you buy
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the primary advantage of a ready to wear suit is precisely the fact that it is ready to wear. You pay your money, and you put it on. Done.
And because RTW clothing is produced by industrial means, and often in countries with low labor costs, some off-the-rack suits can be found at a very accessible price point, too.
Ready-to-wear suits also offer the advantage that they can be readily purchased all over the world from well-known and reputable brands. And although it might not be advisable, it’s also possible to order a suit online (in practice, though, the high risk of having to return the garment due to poor fit may offset much of this advantage).
Aside from this, for an inexperienced dresser a ready-to-wear suit comes with another major benefit; you know exactly what you are getting before you part with your money. If you like what you see in the fitting room mirror, then you’ll probably be fairly satisfied with the suit when wearing it from day to day. No surprises.
The Disadvantages of Ready-to-Wear Suits
Only come in fixed sizes and fits
Confusing variation in fit between different models and brands
Often made using inferior fabrics
Even a good fit will usually require professional adjustment before it can be worn
For most people, though, the main problem with ready-to-wear suits is precisely that they don’t like what they see in the mirror when they try them on. Simply because the item wasn’t made with their body in mind.
Of course, manufacturers of ready-to-wear clothing invariably produce a range of sizes. And sometimes they will even offer some variations in fit within each of these standardized sizes (e.g. slim or relaxed fit etc.). Yet these options still come in dimensions far removed from those of most men’s bodies.
This is because RTW suits are designed to fit the body of a mysterious being called the “average male.” Very few people have seen this elusive creature in the wild, and yet for some reason all off-the-rack suits continue to be made specifically for him.
If your body shape roughly corresponds to that of the “average male,” you’re in luck; with a few adjustments by a skilled alterations tailor you may end up with a suit that fits you reasonably well. In practice, though, most men’s bodies differ significantly from this ideal.
To make matters worse, there is very little standardization between suit brands and models - or even between seasons within the same brand. So should you be lucky enough to identify a suit that looks good on you, there’s unfortunately no guarantee you’ll be able to find the same fit again at a later date.
Also keep in mind that because ready to wear garments tend to be targeted at a more budget-conscious customer, they typically aren’t made from the same high quality materials as custom suits.
Finally, although on the face of it may RTW models appear cheaper than custom suits, even for an “average male” it would be very unusual for a suit to fit perfectly right off the peg. This means that any consideration of pricing must also factor in the cost of adjustments by a professional tailor (e.g. to pants, sleeves, and possibly the waist of the jacket).
In short, finding a stylish and correctly fitting ready-to-wear suit can be a real challenge. As a result this is unlikely to be the best option for the majority of men.
ARE READY-TO-WEAR SUITS RIGHT FOR YOU?
Despite the numerous disadvantages listed above, in certain circumstances a ready-to-wear suit can actually be a good option for some people. Consider going with ready to wear if you meet all of the following criteria:
Your build is tall and slim like a fashion model
You have good posture
You don’t mind settling for the manufacturer’s design rather than choosing your own
You have access to a good alterations tailor who can further adapt the suit to your body shape
For most other men, however, ready-to-wear suits will not be the best solution. In this case you should instead consider commissioning a reputable tailor to make custom suits for you.
WHAT ARE MADE TO MEASURE OR CUSTOM SUITS?
As the name suggests, custom suits are produced specifically to meet the needs of a particular customer. Taking into account not only his preferences with regards to style and budget, but most importantly also his body shape.
Indeed, unlike off-the-rack models, custom suits are not produced following standardized industrial measurements, but instead are based on the actual dimensions of the customer’s body; from chest and waist circumference, to the length of arms and legs, and the breadth and slope of shoulders and other important postural considerations. This leads to a beautifully fitting suit that will be flattering for the wearer - no matter his body shape.
A further difference from RTW is that custom suits provide the opportunity for considerable modification according to the customer’s preferences. Whereas a prêt-à-porter suit may come in just a couple of different fabrics, and offer no scope for customization at all, the design of a custom suit is largely only limited by the client’s budget and imagination.
For example, custom suit tailors invariably offer their clients a wide range of fabrics to choose from, covering everything from heavy winter woolens to more summer-weight fabrics such as fresco di lana, cotton, or linen. The cut of lapels, number of vents, type of buttons, and the style of pockets, too, can usually be varied according to the customer’s preferences.
The Advantages of a Custom Suit
Size and shape of the suit are dictated by your own physique
Don’t need to waste time looking for a suit that fits
High degree of customization possible
Usually made using superior materials
As should already be very clear by now, the main advantage of custom suits over ready-to-wear options is simply improved fit. A suit that was made expressly for your body shape, posture, and lifestyle will always be more comfortable and flattering than one designed by someone who has never met you.
What’s more, custom tailoring cuts right to the chase. By commissioning a tailor to make custom suits especially for you, you potentially avoid many hours of wasted time spent in store changing rooms looking for a RTW suit that actually fits. If you’re as averse to clothes shopping as most men are, this is clearly a major advantage.
Beyond fit, though, many men also prefer to take the made to measure route because of the degree of choice and customization this allows. RTW is fine if you just want a standard, generic design, and are happy to risk showing up at a meeting or social event knowing that somebody else might be wearing the exact same suit as you. But for those who value their appearance, and appreciate the difference that superior craftsmanship and materials make to a suit, custom tailoring is the only way to go.
Yet this advantage is not only about superficial impressions. RTW garments tend to be made with standard industrially-produced fabrics and trimmings. In contrast, a reputable tailor of custom suits will stock bolts of suiting cloth from many of the world’s most luxurious fabric mills, and use superior mother of pearl buttons and other high quality materials in the construction of your suit. This means that a custom suit is likely to outlast its RTW siblings.
The Disadvantages of a Custom Suit
Must wait for the suit to be made
Some people may find the number of options intimidating
Let’s start by saying that the greatest disadvantage of custom suits is the fact that you can’t just walk out of the tailor’s showroom with your purchase under your arm. Producing a suit to a client’s specifications and measurements takes time. And although the waiting period can vary slightly between different tailors, typically you should expect to wait around 3-4 weeks before you will receive your completed custom suit. So if you need a new suit for an important event three days from now, ordering a custom suit is simply not an option.
Clearly one of the biggest draws of custom suits is the degree to which they can be customized to taste. But it’s important to keep in mind that this is only an advantage if you know what you want. For less experienced customers, or those without a clear idea of how they would like their finished suit to look, so much choice can sometimes seem more like a disadvantage.
Of course, there’s a simple solution to this problem; be sure to only order your custom suits from a tailor that you trust to provide solid, impartial advice.
Here at Eighth Lining we are committed to delivering suits that truly meet our clients’ needs. We understand that the custom suit-making process can sometimes be confusing for first-time customers. For this reason we go out of our way to guide you through each stage; helping you to choose the right design, fabric, and finishings for your suit.
Finally, although you might imagine that custom suits would be more expensive than the ready to wear variety, keep in mind that with RTW the price frequently does not reflect actual quality. Instead the high sales price of RTW is often simply due to the designer’s brand name.
But if we compare off-the-rack and custom suits of a comparable quality, you’ll usually find that the final cost of a custom suit is actually very similar to the RTW model. If not in fact cheaper. So while we might expect custom suits to be at a disadvantage when compared with RTW options, in practice the quality to cost ratio of a custom suit is usually much better.
ARE CUSTOM SUITS RIGHT FOR YOU?
Are custom suits the right solution for you? For a few people, off-the-rack suits can actually work out quite well. For most men, though, a made to measure suit will be the better option. Consider ordering custom suits from a tailor if you meet any of the following criteria:
You care about both comfort and fit
Your body type or posture do not exactly match the industry standard
You’re looking for a unique garment that expresses your personal style
You appreciate fine quality materials and craftsmanship
You want a suit that will last
You do not have time for, or do not enjoy, shopping around for clothes
Both ready-to-wear and custom suits offer certain advantages and disadvantages. For the majority of men, though, ordering custom suits will likely work out being the most advantageous solution. Hopefully by reading our guide to the pros and cons of custom suits vs ready to wear you now have a clear idea of which approach will work best for you.