Sunday, 9 February 2014

The Suit : A Suit is the Gentleman

-by Vikram Nanjappa for Stylefluid Trendz

The Suit

The suit is considered by many to be an essential part of a gentleman’s wardrobe.  I, however, disagree. In my opinion a suit is ‘the’ gentleman. A man’s suit and the way he wears it tells you a lot about the individual. It is the defining garment that separates the men from the boys. However there are suits and then there are suits. And thus the question arises – what makes a suit a suit? One word sums it up – the fit.

Types of Suits

The above caption could be considered by some to be a bit of a misnomer. I am not about to embark on a lengthy explanation on the various styles of suits i.e. single breasted vs. double breasted etc for that merits an article by itself . I am, instead going to focus on the three separate methods that are followed in the actual making of a suit; these methods play a key role in getting a perfect fit, which is the essence of a good suit. These are terms that are, unfortunately, banded about very carelessly by shop assistants who should, in a perfect word, be more knowledgeable. This holds true especially for the last two. I am referring to the terms – Ready to Wear, Made to Measure and Bespoke. A good understanding of these terms will allow you to achieve that perfect fit and also avoid falling for the glib talk of a shop assistant.
Ready to Wear

Ready to Wear

This is the most commonly available suit on the market and probably the most affordable. Walk into any shop, even of the best designers, and you will find a fairly large selection to choose from. A ready to wear suit is made to fit the body dimensions of a hypothetical standard man. Such suits are usually sized by chest diameter and follow a standard set of measurements. For example a 44 inch size suit usually follows the following standard measurements. 46 inches diameter under the armpit , sleeve length of 24.5 to 25.5 inches , 31 to 33 inches from the top of the collar to the bottom of the coat , a 38 inch waist trouser ( called a 6 inch drop because chest measurements are usually 6 inches larger than the waist measurements ) , and an inseam length of 31 inches. Even these measurements differ from country to country and even from make to make. A 44 inch suit from one manufacturer will differ from a 44 inch suit from another manufacturer.

It should therefore come as no surprise that these ready to wear suits rarely fit the wearer well. These standard measurements are derived to be able to accommodate the maximum number of people, most people will fit into these suits but the suit will never fit most people. However one should not discount these suits straight away. The key to making a ready to wear suit work for you is to find a good alteration tailor. Many people make the mistake of assuming that any tailor can make alterations. Alteration is an art by itself and a good tailor does not a good alteration tailor make! However an alteration tailor, even the best, is not god. They cannot perform miracles. It is essential that the ready to wear suit fits you perfectly across the shoulders and chest. Sleeve lengths, hems, waists etc can be tackled. Another very important point to keep in mind – it is easier to take in than let out, besides most ready to wear suits will not have sufficient fabric to allow you to let out. Therefore if you opt for a ready to wear suit ensure that it fits across the shoulders and chest and is not tight in other places. A good alteration tailor should be able to handle the rest quite easily.
Made to Measure

Made to Measure

A Made to Measure suit allows the buyer a certain degree of customization thus allowing him to obtain a good fit. There are two types of made to measure suits that are available or rather two methods that are employed in the made to measure segment. 

In the first, the suit is already made in the factory in such a fashion that allowances are incorporated for small adjustments to be made to the semi finished product. These allowances are typically for sleeve length, waist size and trouser length. Usually allowances for coat lengths are not included because the balance of the coat is affected once the pockets are cut (a point to be noted when buying a ready to wear suit). In-house alteration tailors will the take your measurements and finish the suit as per your measurements and as far as the allowances incorporated allow. 

In the second instance, your measurements are taken by a tailor and sent across to the factory where small adjustments will be made to a generic pattern. These generic patterns will be displayed at the shop for you to choose from. However all suits are made from the same generic pattern and these cannot be adjusted for finer details like choice of lapels, number of buttons etc. This is equally applicable to the first method.

Made to Measure can be considered a step up from Ready to Wear so far as it allows you to make small adjustments easily without the additional bother of finding a good alteration tailor. The fit will definitely be far better than a ready to wear suit. These suits are usually priced higher than the ready to wear suits for this reason.


Bespoke is the gold standard. A true bespoke suit is custom made for you. You have total control from the choice of fabric, type of lining; the style and most importantly are cut to your own unique measurements. A true bespoke suit will fit only one person in the world – you. Please note that I use the term True Bespoke even though the heading is Bespoke. Unlike Haute Couture, Bespoke is not a ‘protected name’ that can be used only by those who meet specific well defined standards. As a result a lot of people misuse the term, even going as far as passing off Made to Measure as Bespoke! True Bespoke is therefore reserved for those who follow the time tested and traditional approach to suit making. It is therefore essential to know what exactly this unique approach is.
Cutting a paper pattern

In the first place several artisans are involved in the process. I use the word artisan as each is a master of his trade – a unique form of specialization. All of them working together to create the perfect suit for you.  The Cutter deals with the customer directly. He will take the measurements, draw the pattern and cut the material. The Tailor will sew the cut material together; he will sew in the canvas and horsehair and will steam it with a hot iron to enable the two – dimensional cloth to conform to our three – dimensional bodies. The Trouser-maker will make the trousers for the suit and in the case of three- piece suits; the Vest-maker will make the waistcoat.
Cutter in action

Let us start with the Cutter. He will take precise measurements, 30 is not unusual and some will take up to 50! How many of us realise that our arms are of different lengths? Or that the drop and curve of our shoulders are different? The Cutter is trained to note the symmetry of our bodies and how we stand. They use acronyms to describe our stance, my favourite being SLBCH – Stands like a bloody cart horse! 
Cutter using a paper pattern
Once the cutter finishes with your measurements he will cut a specific pattern in brown paper as per your exact measurements. Each cutter has his own system to do this, as per his training, and this is called the tailoring system. After the cutter is satisfied with the paper pattern, the material chosen is cut and simply stitched into what is called a basted suit for the fittings.
Skeleton fit in progress

There will be a minimum of three separate fittings and more if so required. The first of these is called the skeleton fit. The cut material is stitched together with white basting thread and is thus called a basted suit. The Cutter will assess how the initial cut fits the customer’s body and make the initial adjustments. It is during this fitting that decisions regarding button stance, external pockets are made as everything can be adjusted.

The second fitting is known as the forward fitting. By this time most of the major construction of the suit is complete except for the collar and sleeves. The Cutter and the customer will be able to see the drape of the material and necessary adjustments to the same are marked using tailors chalk. This allows the cutter to communicate with the tailor as to exactly where and how much he wants him to take in or let out. During this fitting the lay of the cloth and how it should be coaxed to fit three- dimensionally is observed by the cutter. He will then take the suit apart and if adjustments to the pattern are required then it will be first made to the paper pattern and then to the suit. 

The third and usually the last fitting is known as fin bar fin or the finish fitting. The suit is completely finished except for the sleeve length. The cutter sees how the suit fits and makes minor adjustments and also finalises the sleeve length.

The suit is completed after this and will fit only you, perfectly!
Trouser maker doing a fitting

A true bespoke suit gives you total control and everything can be specified. These include the material , length of the coat , width of the lapel , type of lapel , placement of the lapel notch , button number and stance , number of pockets ( external and internal) , canvas , padding and linings or their absence . The length of the crutch measurement, the placement of buttons, brace buttons, belt loops etc can be specified for the trouser. 

True bespoke tailors are, unfortunately, a dying breed in India. Most of the so called bespoke tailors fall somewhere in between Made to Measure and True Bespoke.

What to Look for in a Suit

Now that we have broadly (I say broadly as there is a lot more to true bespoke) covered the three types of suits we should feel confident that we know enough to get ourselves a good suit. But do we really? It is one thing to know a little bit about how they can be made to ensure that we get a good fit but what exactly is a good fit? How should a suit fit? While this is a very subjective question I will try and break it down by listing out the things to look out for in a good suit.

Size – the correct one

It is estimated that 80% of men chose a size that is too large for them. And that, I believe, is a conservative estimate. If you wear the wrong size then you might as well wear a sack or tights for that matter. This can be extremely tricky in the Ready to Wear segment as the shop assistant will rarely contradict your choice – after all he has to make a sale. In the Made to Measure and Bespoke segment it is best not to argue with the alteration tailor or cutter as the case may be. Going by the above statistic it should be best to take one size smaller than the one you initially choose. The best bet would be for you to take the opinion of your wife or girlfriend.

Collar Gap

This refers to the gap between the suit collar and the shirt collar. There should be no gap. When you wear your suit jacket it should sit on your shirt collar perfectly, there should not be any gap between them.
Collar Gap

Shoulder Line

The shoulders are the foundation of the suit, everything else flows from it. A clean shoulder line is a must. There should be no bunching or folding of material at the shoulder. It should look clean, neat and perfect.
Bad Shoulder Line (L) vs Good Shoulder Line (R)

Coat Button Tension

When you button your coat jacket, tension is created on the fabric at the button. Too much or too little button tension denotes an improper fit. When the coat button is fastened a slight amount of tension should be created i.e. a small amount of fabric should be seen tugging. Be careful that an ‘X’ shaped tug is not visible when you button your coat. Your closed button being at the intersection of the said ‘X’. 
Bad Button Tension(L) vs Good Button Tension(R)

The Back

This is one part of the suit that is not visible to you and is usually neglected. The back of the suit should fit the shape of your body as well as the front of your suit. It should be clean, correctly cut and tailored. Make sure there is no bunching of material where your back meets your collar and near your arm holes.
Bad Back Fit(L) vs Good Back Fit(R)


The correct lengths are very important. Any deviations make a suit look extremely sloppy regardless of how the other features fit. There are various lengths that one should be aware of.

  • Coat Sleeve – The coat sleeve should end at the wrist bone and half inch of shirt sleeve should be exposed.
  • The length of the coat should just about cover the seat of the pants.
  • The trousers should be long enough to create a slight ‘break ‘at the shoes without bunching up or they can be marginally shorter to avoid the ‘break’ without exposing your socks.
    Good Sleeve Length

Short Coat Length (L) vs Perfect Coat Length (R)

Excessive Trouser Break (L) vs Accurate Trouser Break (R)
Trouser Break
Basted Suit (L) vs Completed Suit (R)


Attention to detail is a must. That said there are a few details that you should pay more attention to as they affect the overall visual form of the suit. These are – the number , position and quality of the buttons , the type , size and placements of pockets and when it come to the lapels one should look at the positioning of the notch , the angle of the lapel line and the amount of your chest that is shown.

Clothing is a matter of personal choice and the suit is no exception. The suit, like all garments, has evolved over time and continues to do so. However whatever may be the style of suit that is currently in fashion or which your personal favourite is certain elements remain constant in their essence. It does not really matter if a suit is Ready to Wear, Made to Measure or Bespoke, what is essential is that it should fit you properly. At the end of the day if your suit does not fit it will not look nice, regardless of how expensive it is. And as they say ‘First learn the rules and then break them.’

(About the author: *Vikram Nanjappa is a freelance writer on men’s fashion/style and a photographer)

(Image Credit:Pinterest,Ermenegildo Zegna) 

1 comment:

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