Since I wear a suit & tie 5 days of the week, I get some utility out of the clothing if it fits and if it lasts. A pair of $300-500 shoes (e.g., an Alden or a Kiton) actually lasts significantly longer and ages significantly better than a pair of $100 Bostonians and usually come in wide widths to accomodate my duck feet. By way of example I purchased a pair of $350 shoes back in 1996 as a splurge. 10 years later I still own them, they've never been resoled, the leather still looks brand new, and I still get complements on them. Kiton or Borelli or Charvet ties also seem to wear better than a Brooks Brothers tie.
When it comes to suits I have the same problems. Off-the-rack suits simply don't fit me and they don't last. My waist is still about the same as in high school and suit manufacturers are constantly increasing the girth of the jacket to match the ever widening girth of the average male. In the case of suits, even the high-end lines like Donna Karan or Armani generally don't satisfy. While they tend to cut for a slimmer fit, the materials they use, like crepe wool, don't last beyond a few seasons. There was really only one option for me and that was a bespoke or custom made suit from an Saville Row tailor. In general you are talking about $3,000-$5,000 for a well made suit. Yowza. That is way beyond what I'd be willing to spend. (An interesting aside - the term bespoke comes from the length of cloth that someone would pick out for their suit to be made out of at the tailor. That cloth had 'been spoken for'.)
Now a lot of people brag about custom suits they've had made in Hong Kong or India for $500-1,000 but to be honest I think this is a scam. Just because a suit is hand-made doesn't mean it is made well. I think you are still getting a fused canvas inside the suit which makes your suit bunch up and crinkle over time. I've never seen a custom suit from Hong Kong or India that looked like it fit well. And my experience with Indian or Chinese tailors (90% of the tailors I've come across) is that the result is less than desirable because, again, the tailors are cutting to the same lowest common denominator that the suit manufacturers cut to. Not only that but they are cutting to the style of suit that is popular in the U.S.
Let me digress about suit styles for a second. The popular style of suits in the U.S. boils down to this.
- Baggy & long (torso, arms , and pants way too baggy and long)
- No jacket vents in the back
So I figure I'm kind of screwed. English custom tailoring is going to bankrupt me and off-the-shelf is a waste of money. Luckily there is a third option right in between - Made to measure. I didn't know what this was until I moved to New York where there are a decent number of made to measure outfits. You are still talking about a lot of money. About $1,000 to $1,500. But again I get my days wear out of these things. After doing a fair amount of research I scored what I hoped was the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow - Jonathan Quearney. Beyond an excessive use of vowels in the last name, this guy trained with Thomas Mahon. Thomas Mahon used to work for Anderson & Sheppard cutting suits for Prince Charles. And his suits (the single breasted suits at least) fucking rock. Now get this. Early this year Prince Charles actually dropped Anderson & Sheppard for... wait for it... made to measure suits. Game on.
I contacted Mr. Quearney earlier this year. He makes a few trips a year to San Francisco and New York and so I booked an appointment. He was pretty much what you'd expect from a British tailor (actually Irish). Extremely polite, a bit jumpy, and very professional. And very young! His dad was a tailor and his mentor was Mr. Mahon. After a few pleasantries he went to work. Taking measurements all over the place and consulting me on what type of fit I was looking for. Thankfully he didn't ask me which way I dress. Too weird. During this time I asked him what the difference was between custom and made-to-measure (he does both). I got the impression that there wasn't much of a difference. Custom suits start like a made-to-measure suit. But then there's a number of followup fittings to tweak everything into place. My view is that if the tailor is good he can pick up these nuances during the first fitting.
He then had a number of swatches to pick a fabric from. Interestingly he steered me away from some of the more luxurious fabrics (super 100s and 120s which are pushed as differentiators on high-end suits) because he said they just don't wear well. I can't remember the fabric quality he helped me pick out (80s?), but he said it would last a long time. I kind of appreciate a 'salesperson' selling me down where appropriate. I tend to do repeat business with that type of person. And it was over. Thorough but not time consuming.
And then I waited. And waited. Actually it wasn't that long but I was dying to get the suits. Well today they finally arrived. Perfect. Simply perfect. It's amazing how well everything fits from just taking quick measurements. The stitching, fit, and quality are all first-rate. I couldn't be happier. So if you're lucky enough to be in New York or San Francisco and you have the penchant for a well tailored suit, I would thoroughly recommend Jonathan Quearney.