Getting a Custom Suit Do’s and Dont’s

Pretty much every major international city has a reputable tailor dealing in fine fabrics and modern cuts. To get the best out of him (or her), you’ll have to make at least three visits – to be measured, fitted and fitted again – over several weeks. Any tailor who promises a quality custom suit in a couple of days or denies your requests for multiple fittings is a charlatan. Buying bespoke is about watching a world-class tailor in his element and bringing home the product of hours of fine craftsmanship. So forget every notion you might have had about coming home from a weekend in Delhi with a £200 (about $330) suit.

Case in point would be Vietnam. As clothing manufacturers shift to Southeast Asia from China, Vietnam has emerged as the place to get (replica) fine fashion on the cheap – particularly Hoi An, an ancient port with a tailoring tradition. It’s long since been discovered by fashion tourists, resulting in dozens of glossy operations setting up shop. The key to quality is knowing which manage their own handiwork directly. Bebe Tailor and Yaly, where two-piece suits go for under $500, score good reviews for using quality fabrics and for seamstresses who work on-site (not in a sweatshop). But the experience is a cattle call. Over five days, you may be able to get in two fittings, but they’ll be impersonal – worse if you have a beef with the cut or quality.

The good news, though, is that while custom isn’t a cakewalk, it’s not string theory, either. We think there are two types of dudes for whom custom is a life changer:   the guy who can’t find anything off the rack that fits just right, even after tailoring, and  the guy chasing a suit that just doesn’t seem to exist in his price range.

Putting on a great suit is transformative. Your shoulders are broadened; your lines, longer and leaner; your waist, that much trimmer. You look great, you feel great. That is, assuming you got the right suit and had it properly tailored. As any man who’s spent an evening in a boxy rental knows, there are very few things as good as a great suit. There are—in the sartorial sense at least—fewer things worse than a bad one. Since even a modestly priced off-the-rack number can look like a million bucks with the right nips and tucks, we’re here to help with six essential rules for getting a perfectly tailored suit.

So let’s say you’re willing to pay dearly for something you love dearly. Hong Kong is the great melting pot for fine tailoring. It’s inherited the skills of British occupants as well as Russian and European, who came via Shanghai after the Communist Revolution – not to mention, more recently, the Japanese. A-Man Hing Cheong, headquartered in the Mandarin Oriental hotel, is still considered the most exclusive, yet its peers tend to cluster in Tsim Sha Tsui, the more fashionable district of Kowloon.

A few more quick rules: Remember that these tailors are professionals, so canceled appointments are wasted time and money, throwing a wrench into these specialized business’s schedules. Also, outside alterations are mostly not welcome, but bringing back previously purchased items is. But don’t be afraid. This newest breed of specialized tailors loves what they do, and they want you enjoy it, too. Doyle, when asked if there’s anything customers do that annoy her, laughed and said, “There are always things that can be difficult with any fitting or client, but ultimately I enjoy what I do and most of our clients are a pleasure to work with.”

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