As an erudite connoisseur of the World of fashion, you are probably looking at this article, smiling and telling yourself that you could easily write 2 books and four poems about the differences, pros and cons of the three categories listed above.
Well, guess what, your college friends were right. There is always a first time.
This article is geared towards those of you that are about to get started in the world of high end custom clothing. You have a great journey ahead of you, lots to learn, and many new things to discover. The difference between off-the-rack, made to measure, and bespoke clothing is one of the most basic lessons that you will have to master before upgrading your closet.
By the way, if your fashionista friend tries to make fun of your for learning the basics, simply remind them that there was probably a time when they used to close all of their suit buttons.
Let’s get started!
One of the first things that you should notice is that the three terms above apply to pretty much every kind of formalwear. Whether you are talking about shirts, ties, or suits, the definitions and concepts below apply interchangeably. The core difference between these three categories lies in the manufacturing process, which evolves from highly standardized to fully customized as we move from off-the-rack to bespoke.
Off-the-Rack (often called Ready to Wear)
This is by far the most widely available type of clothing. Simply walk to the closest menswear store and you will likely find an off-the-rack shirt, suit, or pair of trousers.
Ready to wear clothes are built following size patterns, and highly standardized procedure. As we move to a more consumer-centric approach, manufacturers around the world are trying to offer more and more choice. Today you can get an off-the-rack shirt in that is wide fit, regular fit, or even slim fit. You can find pants that require little or no ironing, and suits that come with complementary repairs. If you have time to browse various stores, a limited budget, and don’t necessarily care about having a perfect fit, this might be the perfect choice for you.
Affordable – Generally speaking, ready to wear clothing are the most affordable type of garments available in the market. Of course, this does not hold true if you are looking for flashy logos, and worldwide famous brand names. In which case, we suggest skipping to the next section and start getting better value for your money.
Convenient – Let’s be honest, sometimes you are in a rush and you need a temporary wardrobe fix. If you find yourself in a foreign country and you desperately need a shirt, this might be the option that you are looking for.
Hassle free – One of the best things about fast fashion is that it is, in fact, fast. You can buy your new favourite shirts in September, use them for a couple of months, and simply replace them at the end of the season.
A bad investment – Let’s be honest, buying cheap doesn’t mean buying smart. If you are purchasing off-the-rack garments because of their affordable price range, you need to think about whether you are really getting the best bang for your bucks. If your suit starts to break down after a few months of use, you will quickly realize that you probably took the wrong path.
Standard Fit – I am incredibly picky, and you should be too. We have all experienced the struggle of having that one terrible boss who yells a lot, and wears a suit which could fit two people in his trousers. It’s terrible. Exaggerations aside, you should keep in mind that off-the-rack clothes are built on standard, average patterns. This means that if you love European designers, unless you look like the average Italian, you are probably not going to fit in your clothes.
Standard Design – The only thought of being unable to pick my own cuffs on a shirt, and my favourite wool for a suit makes me really uncomfortable. We are all different, and we should be allowed to show this to the people around us. I really don’t want to sit on the subway knowing that the guy next to me might be wearing my same shirt. (Unless, of course, it’s Leo DiCaprio, in which case I will take the selfie of a lifetime).
Made-to-Measure (often called Custom)
Made-to-measure clothing provides a middle ground between off-the-rack garments, and the bespoke alternative.
The manufacturing process follows semi-standardized patterns that are adjusted to your own body type, often using 3D rendering techniques. Custom garments mimic many of the features of bespoke clothing, from having a canvass on a suit, to choosing your own cuffs and necks on a shirt.
Even though custom garments are built using more standardized procedures, some companies – like Benici – offer the exclusive option of getting your suit hand sawn by a master tailor. Of course, these are special requests that will get you closer to the bespoke world both in terms of price and experience.
Good Value for Money – If a Made-to-Measure garment is done well, it will usually provide the best value for your money. The quality can be noticeably superior with respect to the off-the-rack alternative, and you can hand pick your favourite material to ensure maximum durability.
Customization Options – One of the most fascinating features of a made-to-measure garment is that you are getting quite a bit of control over the customization process. Most companies will offer a wide range of alternatives in terms of materials, build, and other features.
Experience – Whether you are going to admit it or not, having someone take your measurements is an extremely exciting experience. Knowing that you can finally create a garment that is yours and uniquely yours is the icing on the cake.
More Expensive – Generally speaking, made-to-measure garments are a little pricier when compared to the off-the-rack alternative.
Time Consuming – Having control over the manufacturing process is great, but that also means that you are going to have some choices to make. This can be overwhelming at times.
Furthermore, unless you have already visited a tailor, you will most likely have to participate in one or two measuring sessions. Before the purchase, and after you have received your new custom garment.
Not Readily Available – The biggest drawback of made-to-measure clothing is that you are going to have to wait for your new custom garment to be ready. We often try to accommodate special requests, but if you are on a tight schedule, this may not be your most favourite option.
Bespoke (often called tailored)
Bespoke clothing provides the most traditional, and customizable option available in the market. These handmade garments are manufactured following patterns that are built completely on your body structure.
People often confuse made-to-measure clothing with bespoke garments. Even though made-to-measure companies attempt to get as close as possible to the bespoke experience, only the latter can guarantee a complete control over the manufacturing process.
Unforgettable Experience – The bespoke experience is truly unique because it offers an intimate, one to one relationship with the tailor that will be working on your garment. Starting from the material choice all the way to the multiple fittings, it is important for the tailor to interact often with the customers in order to fully understand their needs and wants.
Personal and Unique – A bespoke garment is completely customizable. No matter how strange the request may be, your tailor will most likely be able to meet it.
More Readily Available – Given the one-to-one relationship that a tailor will build with a customer, it may be possible to accelerate the production times slightly with respect to the made to measure alternative.
Most Expensive – Bespoke garments represent the most expensive option on the market. The price of a bespoke suit can easily spike above the $3,000 mark depending on the material chosen by the customer.
Most Time Consuming – Unfortunately, having full control over the manufacturing process also means that you will have to become heavily involved. As a customer you will have to sit through multiple fitting, and style consultation sessions. In this case, you might have to spend a lot more time with your tailor as compared to the made-to-measure option.
“Benici, bringing made in Italy right to your doorstep”