The suit as we know it today has a long and sometimes complicated history. In the 18th Century, the modest yet elegant aesthetic of the typical suit was a long-overdue answer to overly ostentatious and sometimes outrageous dress of the upper classes; think powdered wigs, heavy makeup, and elaborate outfits made from multiple pieces of clothing accessorized to the max, many of which were extraordinarily uncomfortable to wear. After the French Revolution, when the aristocracy was viewed with more disdain than ever before, there evolved a need to tone down the gaudiness of typical fashion sense of the time, especially in public spheres. Out of this increasing demand for more modest dress and later Beau Brummell's influence over fashion in high society, the modern suit was born.
Since then, the manufacture of high-end custom bespoke suits hasn't changed much at all. Tailors take a person's measurements, make the necessary cuts to the fabric, stitch everything together by hand, and make slight alterations to the finished product when the customer comes in for the final fitting. The only thing that really has changed is the relative simplicity of the suit's component parts compared to how they appeared 200 or even 100 years ago. As time progressed, suits tended to become more minimalist, and as a result, sleeker and more stylish in appearance.
When we move away from the realm of custom bespoke tailoring, much has in fact changed in the way in which suits are made. Starting with the Industrial Revolution, many garments could be mass-produced, saving time, energy, and ultimately cost to the customer making a purchase. But even way back then, suits remained a luxury item, largely tailored to individual specifications and measurements. This started to change in the 1960s, when clothing companies opted to produce more of their suits as made-to-fit off-the-rack items, reducing cost and making the process of buying a suit less time-consuming.
In any case, while there are several different routes a suit might take from the raw materials to the customer's person, it all starts with the fabric.
Throughout the suit's history, wool has remained and still is the gold standard when it comes to fabric. Versatile, durable, and possessing an unmatched ability to breathe, wool is preferred by gentlemen looking for high-end custom tailored suits, as the fabric is also one that is comfortable to wear in all types of weather. Once the wool is sheared, scoured, and dyed, it makes its way through the weaving process and yields fabric soft to the touch and ready to be crafted into the suit of your liking.
Blends that utilize wool and cotton are also popular. They hybrid fabric strands retain a higher degree of durability than either fabric alone, and blending wool with cotton also helps to reduce manufacturing costs. Much like wool, cotton also has similar properties of breathability, ensuring that your suit will keep you comfortable even in hot weather. Wool/cotton blends are common with both off-the-rack and made-to-measure suit sellers.
Linen, while less common than wool, is still a premier choice in suit fabrics, especially in hot climates, due to its lighter weight. Made from strands of the flax plant, linen is also a highly durable material, even more so than wool. Because of this property, thread counts on linen suits can be considerably lower than those of 100 percent wool suits, allowing a suit to feel light, breathable, and comfortable. Linen suits are generally associated with lighter colors, given their popularity during the summer months, but also come in plenty of more standard colors like black, navy blue, or tan.
Polyester, synthetics, and other synthetic blends are worth mentioning, but only because these materials should be avoided. While polyester is extremely durable, especially against excessive heat, the material doesn't breathe at all and can be very uncomfortable to wear. The material can also degrade over time, so you're always better off spending the extra money up front on a suit made from a natural material. Polyester and synthetics are almost exclusively used by suit manufacturers that produce made-to-fit and off-the-rack options, and as a result are likely to be of a substantially lower quality. These materials might be a viable option as a last resort when you are in a hurry, but not for something you plan on wearing often or keeping in your professional wardrobe for any considerable length of time.
How A Suit Is Put Together
Now that we have the materials covered, the way in which a suit is actually put together can greatly influence the final product's quality.
Stitching, as in compiling all the component parts of a suit by hand or via sewing machine, is the preferred method in the realm of custom and bespoke tailoring. A handcrafted suit tends to have a better fit than one coming straight off an assembly line, as more attention to detail—down to every last seam and stitch—is given.
In the scope of ready-to-wear and off-the-rack suits, the component suit parts are fused together on an assembly line. The fusing process uses high temperatures and glue to essentially weld the parts of trousers, jackets, vests, etc. together, drastically reducing the amount of time it takes to deliver each finished product off the line. While these suits are substantially cheaper than custom and bespoke options, they tend not to fit as well, and the source materials also are usually of a lower grade, often using synthetic blends or lower thread counts. Fusing can provide additional structural rigidity to a suit, but only at the expense of a more natural fit. Depending on the suit type, these attributes can either be good or bad for the manufacturer as well as the customer and the seller.
The Main Types of Suits
In a previous article, we learned about the three main types of suit styles, and those are by and large British, American, and Italian. When we're discussing suits in relation to how they are manufactured, we're talking about four distinct types that have little to do with their overall outward appearance.
Ready-to-wear suits—oftentimes referred to as off-the-rack, made-to-fit, and one-size-fits-all options—are favored by large department stores and large-scale manufacturers. As ready-to-wear suits are considerably less time-consuming and cheaper to buy, they have remained a staple of shopping malls and big-box stores everywhere. Suits of this type are often fused together rather than stitched due to their mass production, and as a result are designed to fit a large sampling of individuals rather than a specific person. These attributes make them less appropriate for certain body types and also less naturally fitting than custom and bespoke ensembles.
Suit separates, just like ready-to-wear suits, are usually manufactured on a massive scale, component parts being fused together on an assembly line. In most respects, they are quite similar. The key difference, however, is that the suit jackets and suit trousers are sold separately, giving the consumer a little more flexibility in their options. Sometimes this arrangement is ideal for people looking for a suit jacket to use as a sport coat at the last minute, since they are not forced to buy both jacket and trousers together. But suit separates tend to experience the same fitting issues as ready-to-wear options.
Made-to-measure suits, unlike the aforementioned types, are designed to a unique individual's specifications. While they are more expensive than suit separates or off-the-rack options, they tend to give the consumer a better, more comfortable fit. Suits of this variety may or may not be mass-produced initially. Regardless, they are altered and tailored to match specific measurements of a specific person, usually during in-store appointments or specs given online or over the phone. Made-to-measure suits give the customer a more personalized experience than off-the-rack department store options.
Bespoke suits, those that are custom-tailored and handcrafted, offer the greatest breadth of customization and are generally the most expensive out of all suit types. Bespoke suits provide an excellent personally tailored fit and also use some of the finest materials available in their construction. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that the term bespoke is often misused or misunderstood. Bespoke suits, for example, can refer to a subset of custom made-to-measure suits, but not all made-to-measure suits can be considered bespoke. Think of the terminology in the context of a simple Venn diagram. All bespoke suits are made-to-measure, but not all made-to-measure suits are bespoke.
Benefits of Custom and Bespoke Suits
As suits have recently experienced a slight decline, especially as everyone adjusts to a new normal, it is more important than ever to take style and fit into consideration if you are looking to purchase a new addition to your wardrobe. Here at Enzo Custom, all of our suits use only the finest materials and are tailored to your specific measurements, never with prefabricated component parts. Off-the-rack options from other retailers, while the initial price point may be less expensive, tend to look sloppy and hastily put together. It is always wise to consider how the suit is made, not just who made it. And most importantly, a suit should say something unique about your personality, not just something about where you bought it or how much you paid for it. Enzo Custom will deliver that demand. Our expert clothiers on staff will guide you through the tailoring process and answer any questions you may have. During these unprecedented times, we have taken extra care to ensure that your private appointment with us in our showrooms is safe, clean, and compliant with health, safety, and social distancing standards. You can also conduct your private appointment online if you feel more comfortable in a virtual environment.
As suit manufacturing has evolved, our dedication to superior tailoring and customer satisfaction has remained constant. Book your private appointment today, or stop into one of our showrooms to get fitted into your next custom suit.