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Buying bespoke suits for dummies: What is the process, how long does it take and other questions answered

Nothing defines luxury acquisitions better than a suit made just right for your body type. Our guide to what you need to look out for while getting yourself a bespoke suit will have you covered on all fronts. 

January 02, 2021 / 10:01 AM IST

The word ‘bespoke’ translates to mean a luxury product that is customised to your specifications. Everything, from a watch to a shoe to a tie can be ‘Made to Order’. Of these, bespoke suits are unique and the greatest possessions a man can own.

Our dummies guide to owning a bespoke suit will take you through the paces of getting one made.

What is a bespoke suit?

To put it simply, it is a suit tailored to fit your body shape. Interestingly, the word ‘bespoke’ —with origins somewhere in 1538 — was applied to formal steps in the made-to-order production of hand-made suits and shoes involving measuring, cutting, fitting and final adjustments. Later, it came to be used to describe anything commissioned to a particular specification.

The fitted British fit. The fitted British fit.


In the late 1500s Robert Baker set up the first tailoring business in London’s Piccadilly area —named after the ‘pickadill’, an Elizabethan term for a shirt collar — becoming suit-maker to the court of King James I. As was commonplace then, craftspeople flocked together and the area from Jermyn Street to Savile Row became the epicentre of England’s menswear trade.

Tailoring may never have been quintessentially English — ‘tailor’ probably derives from ‘tailler’, the Medieval French for ‘to cut’ — but Savile Row came to be associated with the world’s best, winning a global influence such that the Japanese word for a suit, ‘sabburu’, is a corruption of the famed street’s name.

New cutting a suit

True ‘bespoke’ tailoring is one in which every detail is made from scratch to a customer’s specifications. Generally, for a bespoke suit, you would go to either one of the luxury brands such as Gucci, Ermenegildo Zegna and Giorgio Armani, one of the heritage tailors on Saville Row, or tailoring brands such as SS Homme, Akshata Bhojania, Camessi and Tailorman in India to get yourself a bespoke suit.

What is the difference between a bespoke suit and ‘Made to Measure’?

Often, people confused a bespoke suit with ‘Made to Measure’. While they both work with exact measurements, the latter has its measurements slotted into an existing pattern. Bespoke, on the other hand, is designed to your specifications. Do you want single-breasted or double-breasted? Do you want to wear it with a vest? Is the inner lining likely to be fun and flamboyant or staid and sophisticated? Do you like the Italian cut, the British cut or the American cut?

Peaked lapel. Courtesy: Zegna. Peaked lapel. Courtesy: Zegna.

The general rule of thumb for bespoke is that pretty much everything is unique, from the cut to the lining and lapels. “Ultimately there are only two reasons to buy bespoke: for the fit and the quality,” says Savile Row tailor Steven Hitchcock, who has several Indian clients on his roster. “You can just tell a bespoke suit, even if, on the surface, it’s just a plain blue suit. That’s because it’s been made for you and not for 50,000 people kind of like you.”

Ermenegildo Zegna bespoke suit. Ermenegildo Zegna bespoke suit.

What is the process of getting a tailored suit?

Bespoke tailors, and brands offering bespoke tailoring services, hire experts such as the designer who leads the operation, the measurers, cutters and tailors to create our bespoke designer dream. Oftentimes, the measurers take a minimum of 36 to 40 different measurements. The drawings and measurements are then sent to the cutter and the tailor.

desire-for-dummies2The most important part of the tailoring process is the first step: a chat with the tailor and/or the designers. Bespoke is a collaborative process. Those new to it may find the quiet examination of their posture, walk, sitting position and anatomy somewhat disconcerting, but it’s necessary for the tailor to make the best suit for you.

New measuring for a suit

The process of getting a bespoke suit requires you to pay attention to every aspect of the suit: from cut to fabric, pocket type to position. Once you are measured, the fabric chosen will go to expert cutters to cut it to your perfect body shape, before being sent to the tailor for the stitching.

How long does it take to make a suit?

Anywhere between six to eight weeks. Body measurements can change in six weeks, so often small changes and adjustments have to be made to the suit, which is why the tailors leave extra space. There are likely to be at least three sittings. A basic form of the suit is made and tried on at the first fitting. It’s here that the tailor makes the adjustments to get the suit right before a second (and sometimes even third) fitting is carried out.

Savile Row bespoke suit. Savile Row bespoke suit.

What are the things to keep in mind while deciding to go bespoke?

Here are a few:

  • Know your budget: You can buy a bespoke suit from anywhere between Rs 1 lakh to Rs 40 lakh. The important thing is to know what you want, rather than how expensive it should be.

  • Colour: If you are looking at the versatility and regular wear, stick to classic colours such as navy blue or grey. If you are putting together a large wardrobe of bespoke suits, then besides the classics, you can choose white, sky powder blue …you can be as whimsical as you want.

  • The fit: The Italian fit is the slim fit. The traditional British suiting is far more ‘fitted’ look, while the loose, casual style is emblematic of American fit. In British style, higher armholes make for closer-fitting sleeves. More elaborate, and expensive, construction lends the Italian suit a tapered look. A classic suit is a two-buttoned suit jacket. Three-button jackets are somewhat old hat. You need to put in a little thought into what you want from your suit. Should it be sharp and stiff-shouldered or softer and more relaxed? Generally, a well-tailored suit is characterised by strongly tapered sides and minimal shoulders – an exact opposite to the off-the-rack suits that often come with generous shoulder padding.

The relaxed America fit. Relaxed America fit.

  • The choice of fabric: Fabric wise, the most versatile is lightweight worsted wool, which can be worn all-year-round. For a winter suit, thicker, more insulating wools, flannels or tweed work best. For summer, you should opt for breathable fabrics such as cotton, linen or silk-blends. While the outer fabric is commonly made up of wool, cotton, linen or microfibre, or their combination, the inner lining is silk or Bemberg (regenerated cellulose fibre derived from cotton).

  • Lapels: Notch lapels are a tad traditional and formal, while peak lapels are flamboyant and channel Italian flair. The notched or step lapel is when the lapel is sewn onto the collar of a jacket at an angle, creating a triangle between the two. Shawl lapels are usually seen in a bespoke tuxedo.

  • Inner lining: The inner lining fabric comes in with contact with your body and adds structure and weight to your suit. There are three options to choose from unlined, half-lined and fully-lined. The benefits of a full-lined suit jacket are greater insulation and thickness so it is best for colder weather. In warmer weather, half-lined or unlined suit may be more breathable.

Inner lining. Inner lining.

What is fused suit jacket and a half-canvassed suit jacket? 

A jacket determines how your suit drapes around your body. A better construction directly translates to the longevity of your suit, though it will cost higher for the workmanship.

Double-breasted suit. Double-breasted suit.

  • Ø Fused suit jacket: A fused, non-canvassed jacket features has an inner lining that’s glued to the visible outer fabric of the suit, both in the front panels and the lapels. A fused suit jacket doesn’t conform to a man’s body perfectly and can be rather stiff.

  • Ø Half-canvassed suit jacket: The half-canvassed construction is made up of a thin, fused layer covering the entire area of the front panel of the jacket and a piece of canvassing material stitched to the upper half of the jacket – from the shoulders down to the chest. It drapes naturally around the chest and lapel area.

  • Ø Full-canvassed suit jacket: Considered the pinnacle of bespoke tailoring, in a full-canvassed construction, the canvass comprised of wool and horse or camel hair spans across the entire area of the front panel of the suit jacket, including lapels. It is hand-stitched to the outer fabric in a loose manner, allowing greater mobility and range of movement.

Linen suit for summers. Linen suit for summers.

 How do I take care of my bespoke suit? 

Don’t dry-clean them too often or the fabric will quickly deteriorate. Generally, you only want to get it washed following a spill or once you have worn them a couple of times, particularly if they are your winter suits. You do probably want to get out the wrinkles each time, a service that any good dry cleaner will perform. The other important thing: Get a great hanger. A strong hanger is supportive of the jacket’s shoulders and is worth the investment. Suit hangers with wide shoulders are an effective way to help your jackets maintain their shape.

Zober hangars. Zober hangars.

The best hangers are typically made from wood. Zober’s wooden suit hangars have a wide stance, which means they’ll stretch to the corners of the shoulders, if not fill them out completely. Amber hangars are made from high-grade American cedar. The cedar will ward off any carpet beetles and moth larvae. Their wide stance and rounded shoulders are supportive enough to preserve the structure of your jackets.
Deepali Nandwani is a journalist who keeps a close watch on the world of luxury.
first published: Jan 2, 2021 07:12 am

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