Simone Abbarchi bespoke shirts Florence
Re-fitting for a Simone Abbarchi shirt, Florence

In comments to Friday’s post on my ‘go-to’ clothing, readers said they would like to see a post suggesting which types of clothing it is most worth having made bespoke.

In order to set out my views on this, I have listed five items that are often made bespoke, and explain where I see the relative value – both to other bespoke items and to ready-made.

  1. Bespoke jacket

The standard by which everything else must be judged.

A jacket is worth having bespoke more than any other item, both in terms of cut and of construction. The three-dimensional nature of a bespoke cut, dealing as it does with pitch, angle and curve, is of greatest benefit on the torso, which is far more irregular than the legs. This is a major reason why a bespoke jacket looks so good.

Bespoke construction then creates structure around this torso. A hand-padded chest creates a flattering yet natural shape, while a structured collar keeps the jacket closely around the neck, anchoring the jacket. No other bespoke item has this difference in quality compared to RTW.

  1. Bespoke coat

A coat is the second-most valuable thing to have made bespoke. Largely, this is because it has the same benefits of a jacket, above. It is usually in a heavier cloth, which might appear to be more forgiving RTW, but then we all know how great bespoke looks in a heavy cloth. Like pure sculpture.

An overcoat is also superior to a jacket in its greater proportions. An overcoat sweeps. Usually from a strong shoulder, though a wider lapel than a suit, across a double-breasted fastening, and out into a very long skirt. Nothing is as dramatic.

Corthay bespoke shoes basement Paris
The Corthay bespoke basement, Paris
  1. Bespoke shoes

Bespoke shoes don’t have many advantages over RTW in terms of construction any more. Several brands offer hand-welting (Saint Crispin’s, Stefano Bemer) and others have top-end uppers, oak-bark soles and tight waists (Gaziano & Girling among others).

There are some more differences in terms of fit. No matter how many sizes and widths a brand offers, a bespoke fit always has the potential to be better. But then more brands are now offering altered lasts as well – such as Saint Crispin’s -that approach bespoke.

Yet I would still place bespoke shoes above bespoke shirts, bespoke knitwear and many other items. This is because although the differences between bespoke and RTW shoes are small, they are among the most beautiful things in menswear. The perfect segue from heel cup to heel stack; the sinuous irregularity of a bespoke sole. Men, including myself, treasure such things.

  1. Bespoke shirt

There are no construction advantages to a bespoke shirt; it is all about fit.

And while a bespoke fit is often superior, this is largely in the body of the shirt – which creases; which often remains hidden; and which has to be looser than a jacket to allow one to sit down. A good fit in a shirt is important, but it can often be achieved made-to-measure, or even altered RTW.

The most important thing in a shirt is the collar, which may be better in bespoke or may not. If you can find a RTW collar you like, that sits gracefully with tie and without, and is the right height for your neck, you’re most of the way there.

  1. Bespoke knitwear

I’ve always said more brands should do bespoke knitwear. Or made-to-order with alterations. Where you can try on a few sizes in the shop, then order it in any colour with slightly longer arms and a slightly slimmer waist. Well-fitted knitwear is so flattering on a man, and has broader uses than tailoring.

But knitwear still belongs at the bottom of this list, because there are no differences in make and because the alterations required are more akin to made-to-measure.

Lorenzo Cifonelli bespoke suit fitting
Lorenzo Cifonelli fitting a bespoke suit

61 Comments

  1. No mention of trousers? given that most of us spend the day at work with our jacket off, a pair of well made and fitting trousers can well worth the investment.

  2. Simon Crompton

    Yes, though I would argue they probably don’t make it into this top five, unless you have a particularly awkward figure. One reason is they can be adjusted more completely and easily than anything else on the list, from waist to fork to leg

  3. simon, great list. this is very valuable information. one question: where can one get bespoke or MTM knitwear??

  4. Simon Crompton

    Aha. Not many places unfortunately. Loro Piana does it, but that’s obviously expensive (I’ve trialled and written about that on the blog previously). Anderson & Sheppard were looking at it, but I believe that’s now on hold.

  5. Simon, Zegna, just started doing custom cashmere knitwear,but only with crewneck and quarter zip models. The company also makes custom ties which are fantastic.

  6. Yes, I also need bespoke knitwear.
    Nothing crazy design wise, but being tall and with broad shoulders I often need to succumb to buying the dreaded XXL with the ever present swampy waist.
    Very surprised John Smedley or other Scottish operation has not yet picked up the baton in this age of CAD MTM.

  7. It is funny that trousers did not made it into the list. All my bespoke orders in 2015 were trousers – 3 pairs. But this is after neglecting them in the last 3 years.
    I agree that it would be nice, if there were more MTM knitwear companies on the market.

  8. Dear Simon, this is a useful posting offering good guidance. As an experienced bespeaker, I would change the order though:
    1. Shirts (I agree entirely about your comments – the gain is limited to fit. But a bespoke coat/jacket on a lousy fitting shirt still looks lousy and the effort on the coat is wasted. First, fix your shirts.
    2. Coat/jacketing
    3. Trousers – My argument is similar as with the shirt. You hardly get well fitting trousers in RTW. A lousy fitting trousers has a devastating impact on the overall appearance.
    4. Overcoat – Entirely agree with your arguments, but it is not difficult to find well fitting overcoats in RTW.
    5. Shoes

  9. Hi
    I believe Simone Abbarchi does bespoke knitwear .

  10. Simon Crompton

    You’re right, he does. Good call

  11. Good article – though i disagree on the shoes for the similar reason you espoused above in the article and i find the law of diminishing returns applies ‘most’ here (especially with elite Northampton makers).
    I’d add ties – especially if you are a taller and quite particular and they are relatively cheap ( a gateway if you must) and arguably disposable. RTW tie offerings are beautiful of course but often not quite right.

  12. I absolutely agree about ties!!! Bespoke ties for me is a must have

  13. Simon, I desagree about trousers . Bespoke pantalone is absolutely another thing then mtm o RTW . They should be bespoke as well

  14. I wouldn’t add ties to such a list. For instance – Simon, I remember your bespoke Marinella tie was never quite right (and I had a similar experience – for some reason mine is thin around the neck so makes a notably small knot). Drakes do ties in both long and (at least once did) short lengths. And 95%+ of all ties I’ve bought off the shelf fit and look absolutely perfect. Other than socks, I can’t think of any other RTW clothes/accessories which have such a high success rate.

  15. Well, for standard height, this might be true. But for shorter guys like me most ties are too long. I would be very glad to find good quality silk knit ties in shorter lengths.

  16. If there are brands selling high waisted-pleated trousers I’m happy to try RTW, but my experience is that they became almost impossible to find.
    RTW shirts are usually cut too short (the body, not the sleeves).

  17. Henri,
    Try Pakeman.co.uk – they have some really nice ‘English’ styles, high waisted chinos and wool trousers and a lot of them, if not most I think, are made in England, if that means anything to you.
    They’re all fairly priced too.

  18. I have an easier time finding a decent fit ready-to-wear in all the items mentioned about than I do with trousers. Ready-to-wear trousers weren’t a problem for me 10 years ago, but then trouser fits changed drastically and I can very rarely find trousers that fit well.

  19. After using Budd to make my shirts for a number of years – and I do like them very much – I have now resorted to sending the measurements to Luxire to make up copies for a quarter of the price. I have had twelve from them so far and, for the price, I am very happy with the result. I have done the same with trousers and have had a number made up in Molloy Donegal tweed, moleskin and canvas, amongst others. All good.
    You are right about shirts: 95% of the effect is down to collars and shoulders. Once they are nailed down, the rest tends to follow. And, yes, trousers are infinitely alterable.

  20. nick inkster

    Have to agree with you about Luxire. They have copied some shirts from Charvet, and I sent them the measurements of some GB trousers which they have replicated perfectly across a spectrum of cloths from Dugdale and VBC.

  21. I think N Peal can make jumpers with adjustments to their standard sizes. If I’m not mistaken, they don’t charge extra for this.

  22. Anderson & Sheppard sells some good RTW trousers, although I do think even the best RTW can’t really compare with decent bespoke trousers (for example Salvatore Ambrosi). It’s also very difficult to find RTW trousers without belt loops.

  23. I’m with David on this one as, for most of us, cost / benefit has to be a consideration too. If you are not lucky enough to be blessed with RTW proportions, a bespoke (or at least high quality MTM) shirt makes a huge difference, for a relatively small investment (and not a huge premium over RTW.) The benefits of a well-fitting shirt are even more noticeable in today’s more casual office environment where more time is spend with the jacket off (hung properly on a hanger, not draped over one’s chair, naturally.)
    As for bespoke shoes, I agree they are beautiful, but I find it hard to justify such an eye-watering price premium when high-end RTW options will do the job almost as well.
    (Re-reading this last point, I realize one could make a similar argument about high end watches, which I am a sucker for, so perhaps each of us has his own vices…)

  24. Simon,
    A bit of an off topic question if I may: are you familiar with bamboo dress socks? For example from Viero Milano?
    Thanks,
    S

  25. Thanks for this Simon (and compliments on the writing – some beautiful phrasing). The interesting thing about bespoke is that it is able to address problems of the figure in a personal way and is thus individual as the comments allude to. Your order makes excellent sense; however for me it would be shoes, trousers, overcoats, knitwear, jackets as, in descending order, these are the most difficult to fit (I find RTW jackets usually fit well). Matt S also makes the interesting point that RTW fit can wax and wain according to fashion. On the subject of RTW shoes I wondered if you come across Paraboot and what your view might be on them for smart casual/weekend wear?

  26. Simon Crompton

    Thanks. I’d be very surprised if RTW jackets fit you better than RTW shoes. And the shoes have far fewer differences in make

  27. Currently, fashion has made it so there are better options for fit in shirts. 10 years ago there were very few fitted shirts offered ready-to-wear. On the other hand, now jacket fits are more difficult for me ready-to-wear because in most brands I’m now between a regular and a long. I’m only 5’10”, so a regular should be able to cover my bum, but many don’t anymore. 10 years ago any regular was the right length for me.

  28. This shows how fashion favours only certain body types.
    ‘Current’ fashion made that I haven’t been able to find a decent fitting RTW dress shirt for the last 15 years. Nobody stock classic fit anymore, all are one of several levels of ‘slim’ness. The same goes for trousers, all geared toward some level of slim fit.
    My body is constructed of parts belonging to size L, XL and XXL (collar, chest & waist, shoulders & thighs).
    Not possible to find anything RTW, with this mix

  29. True unfortunately, very broad feet do not find easy homes in slim European shoes, easier with American RTW but, regrettably, with a much more casual look, hence the post. RTW jackets easier apart from sleeve length (broad shoulders, average waist). I think it goes back to body type… you have posted of your difficulties re. trousers for example. I guess in the end are we turning to bespoke for matters of style or to address matters of fit that we cannot easily resolve in RTW? That being said I fully agree with your order if building a stylish wardrobe.
    N.B. the piece in The Rake is excellent, the latest edition is a cut above any other men’s mag available.

  30. Simon Crompton

    Thanks. I think that underplays the value and beauty of a bespoke 3d cut, and of a hand-built chest as well as the other superior craft aspects of a bespoke jacket, personally

  31. Hi Simon. I am about ready to order a bespoke jacket but have a question. In your experience, could you tell me which, if any of the Savile Row tailors specialise more in jackets over suits. Or is it the case that they all specialise in both ?

  32. Simon Crompton

    No difference really

  33. Hi Simon,
    Thank you for this very useful recap! These five are indeed the five most important items!
    Yet it’s not always easy to find as RTW a pair of trousers that live up to the kind of standards that were applied even at this level few years ago.
    John

  34. I think this is an agreeable list. Place and weather play a huge role as well. Where I come from (tropical weather), a coat is practically useless. So I guess the list moves up a notch with the addition of trousers as the new #5.
    On the topic about shoes, I am really looking to the day when I can afford my first pair of bespoke shoes. It might sound strange, but to me a $4000 bespoke shoe has more value then a $1000 RTW or MTO simply because it fits better.

  35. The order, for me, is thus:
    1. Jackets/Suits
    2. Shirts
    3. Overcoats
    4. Shoes
    5. Knitwear/ties etc.
    There is a big jump from 2 to 3 in terms of diminishing returns.

  36. It’s is unbelievable but only one RTW shoes might be same or better then bespoke. My RTW shoes some time better the my bespoke shoes. His name Silvano Lattanzi. This gentleman make amazing RTW shoes

  37. I agree with Simon that lone trousers do not need to be bespoke, as (also discussed before) a good tailor can almost completely re shape them for a good fit. But I can see an advantage in more made to order. Sometime trying to find the right shade/ weight/ colour etc can take forever?

  38. Hi Adam,
    Sorry to disagree! There are features in the make of trousers – notably in the area of the side pockets – that squarely can’t be reshaped. You won’t find them as MTO either! And these have ABSOLUTELY nothing to do with what we see nowadays as RTW! I have a single pair of trousers cut that way, so I know what I’m talking about!
    John

  39. Jesper Ingevaldsson

    Interesting read! Regarding bespoke shoes, what I think should maybe make it deserve a higher place on the list is the fact that it’s the only product that not only concerns look, feel and constructional aspects, but also health. Great fitting shoes, and then I don’t mean shoes that don’t pinch, is something that helps your feet being healthy, especially when going up in age. An arch support that holds your feet just right, the correct tightness around the whole foot that makes your feet relaxed through even the longest days walking in them, and shoes that are built to give you the correct step. On top of that bespoke shoes in most cases age better since they only crease where they are supposed to (if they have been done well, that is, which goes for all of the above).

  40. Dear Simon,
    Thank you for your excellent work.
    Could you talk a little bit more about when you use which overcoat? You appear to love your Cifonelli overcoat but your others are wonderful as well.
    Also, what is the value of the skirts? To me they appear slightly old fashioned and since I wear my overcoat only while walking or sitting in the train I wonder if a skirt would help or hinder.
    And what is value of the belts since the overcoats are bespoke? Thank you again.

  41. Simon Crompton

    Sure, I can do something.
    The skirt is just the technical term for the jacket/coat below the waist, so it is rather crucial to the design! In terms of the overall length, a longer skirt makes a huge difference to the look. Car coats never really caught on…
    And the belts are usually purely decorative (though not on my Vergallo one)

  42. Hello Simon. just a few off topic questions. Is there a reason that sneakers or moccasins are more square/roundly shaped at the toe compared to some shoe toes: I never see toes that are more pointy like some shoe models (Santoni, Deco line from GG). If you would translate shoe toe from sneaker to shoe you would get rounded old mans shoes., if you would do it for moccasin you would get almost square shaped shoe.
    Another question is related to Tom Ford suits. Its the first time I have tried his jackets on and I was surprised how clean his fit is especially on the torso area. I am a match for his style (taller and more towards athletic build) but still the way lapels are sitting on the chest and transition down to the waist is simply amazing, backs is also without flaws. No other RTW brand I tried so far is so good on nailing the fit: so is this simply a question of his fit fitting to my body or is he doing something different in terms of construction: I read some post by some guy who is taking apart clothes from different brands and analysing the constructions, hand work etc. He says his canvass construction inside is very unique and this is why chest looks so good: here is the post:http://tuttofattoamano.blogspot.co.at/2010/10/tom-ford.html

  43. Simon Crompton

    On sneakers – I’ve tried pointed ones, they just don’t work. Often they are very slim lasts though (eg converse) which stops them looking too clompy.
    On Tom Ford, yes he puts a bigger piece of haircloth down the front of the jacket, but the fit on you will also be important. Both are necessary to get that look. Nice to hear you’ve found something that works well, though I’d always go bespoke at that price

  44. So which bespoke maker (his house style) would best match my body? With the trying on of the different jackets in recent years I have come to the conclusion that the button that is buttoned needs to be low – it can be a three button jacket but the top button is never buttoned (if it is buttoned is a disaster). If the button that is buttoned is low then I have a nice long V line that accentuates my V shaped torso and lapels fall on chest a lot better, and with a waistcoat it looks even better (both are nice Vs in proportions), I think normal 8 cm notch lapel works very well (peak also looks good on me). Observing the Tom Ford Windsor “house style” it looks like this: very V shaped, very fitted to the body, lower button stance, (because of this the jacket is also longer in length), longer sleeves, structured shoulders, very wide peak lapel, trousers are very traditional (20 cm, higher waist, no belt loops, side adjusters the way you have them made). I guess if Allan Flusser was the judge he would have a complaint with the lapel being too wide on my body.

  45. Accepting that the main focus of PS is bespoke I often note the fact that many comments refer to the decrease in both quality and fit of RTW even at higher price points (especially for items other than suits). The current fashion for ‘slim’ affects both width of cut and length (v. short jackets etc.). Simon, as you travel widely is this just an aspect of European retail fashion or are we seeing a universal hollowing out of quality (a more universal fit = a shape that fits no one)? Behind this I therefore wonder whether the tailoring skills once applied to RTW are decreasing/marginalised by a digital non-craft approach leaving us with ever worsening garments?

  46. Simon Crompton

    On fit, I think it’s just a question of cyclical trends. For example, a reader mentioned that all shirts are too slim for them. When I was young, all shirts were far too wide. I welcomed Jermyn makers switching to slim models. And I think make is similar – there is a downward trend that’s been going on for 30 years, but there are positive signs now, such as the desire of many brands (Zegna, Ralph etc) to have a top end or MTM line that is higher quality

  47. Suits, jackets, and obviously shoes seem to handle my +/- 10-15lb weight fluctation pretty well. Shirts are too fitted so I’ve got several that fit well now but won’t later this year. The ability to chose nicer fabrics and interesting patterns are what gets me w/ bespoke shirts.

  48. Hi Simon, completely off topic but I wondered if you any of the brands on P’S have ever been subject to counterfeit reproduction?

  49. While I enjoy fine tailoring, I believe that having a good healthy bespoke body will overcome most of the needs for anything bespoke.

  50. Well there is nothing unhealthy about my body, and having a size L collar and having size XXL shoulders, requires bespoke.
    I find it rather condescending to take the viewpoint that everybody is born with the perfectly proportioned (according to fashion designers that is) bodies. I would argue that most people have issues finding truely properly fitting clothes. I think most people just settle with it, as it is not too bad.

  51. Perhaps you’re a notable exception, AlEg, but I find that most guys try to make up for a calorically enhanced paunch or exercise deprived drooped shoulders with bespoke. It of course will fit better, the same way a bespoke tarp might fit an elephant better. Investing in a trainer and proper diet will make bespoke a nice to have.

  52. Interesting list. I have a whole lot of trouble finding shirts/waistcoats/jackets that fit, because, as a rower RTW never seems to fit properly. The broad shoulders and slim waist just mean that I end up with my waist swamped by anything that fits the chest/shoulder/upper arm section! I’ve been wanting to get some bespoke things made (mainly jacket and waistcoat) as shirts and trousers can be easy to have adjusted once you find a decent style that works in the important parts – still looking for a good shirt maker. I’m hoping to sort out a bespoke waistcoat first as that it something I need the most at the minute but I have absolutely no idea where to even start looking for tailors that won’t cost the earth and can give me a good result. I’m looking for a style midway between formal and informal for a waistcoat, with a patterned front (although dark in colour so not too in your face) that I can wear for a variety of occasions. Any tips for tailors or procedure would be greatly appreciated, as I can only ever seem to find information about jackets!

  53. Simon Crompton

    Tailors will be the same for waistcoats as for jackets. It will have to be bespoke though – no RTW or MTM waistcoat even fits a normal persona properly.

  54. Thanks, they never seem to have any decent pictures of waistcoats on any of the websites I can find, so struggling to see who offers what styles. I’m around London, so any good, not horrifically expensive tailors you could suggest would be great. Glad to know RTW and MTM waistcoats don’t fit anyone! Thanks

  55. Simon Crompton

    Most will do any style.

  56. Ben Ticehurst

    Simon – I have recently discovered, and now bought five shirts from, Proper Cloth – http://goo.gl/Ipt9NI . I’d love you to give them a try and tell us what you think. My experience has been very positive. I previously relied on Tyrwhitt shirts because of the ability to set sleeve lengths (shortish arms), but most of their collars are (to my eyes) larger than they should be. Proper Cloth shirts are fully made to measure and extensively customiseable. Needless to say, the shirts fit much better than any I’ve worn before, and I have used collars that work both with ties and without so I can wear the shirts formally or with a blazer and smart trousers – effectively doubling their value to me. They arrive promptly, very nicely packaged, and the customer service is responsive.

  57. Simon Crompton

    Thanks for the recommendation Ben. It’s hard as there are dozens of MTM companies, but it’s good to know your positive experience

  58. Dear Simon,
    could you expand this helpful list with regards to material? I am particular interested in linen, as my shirt maker always suggest this for summer and I am also thinking about a suit similar to your tobacco one. Given that I pick carefully where to spend the money, would you say items in linen (esp. due to the wrinkling) are less worth having made bespoke, no difference, or more worth made bespoke exactly in order to accommodate the appearance of the wrinkling linen better? Another factor might be, of course, that heavier linen are not available in RTW, but only in MTM and bespoke…
    Many thanks,
    Christoph

  59. Simon Crompton

    Good question, and perhaps worth further thought in a full post. But I think the two guiding factors would be that a cloth that was harder to find would be better bespoke, as you say, and that it would be better to have something that would wear well, given the high price

  60. Thanks! – I am hopefully on that road and only went with MTM for Cut, Dinner Jacket and other pieces which get less occasions to get out of the closet, saving for suits as well as regular worn odd-jackets. But for linen, it is really the winkling which makes me think about bespoke being superfluous (in comparison only) or even more necessary (than normal) in order to avoid an overall cheap-bad-fitting-look.

  61. Simon Crompton

    I see. No, I would still stick with bespoke – the fit looks worse with wrinkling but even worse with RTW, if that makes sense

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