Anyone can look like a million bucks if they have a million bucks, but what’s a Joe on a budget to do? The prevailing wisdom to get as much for your dollar as possible is misleading here – men are better-served by getting the most quality for their dollar possible than by buying the most items of clothing. While other errors are mostly made out of carelessness, this is one that’s often heavily-calculated. Custom tailoring (also called “bespoke”) and good materials can easily push the price of a single suit up to double or triple the price of an off-the-rack garment from a department store label. It’s easy to assume that no difference in quality will make a single suit worth the three that you could buy in its place – but the catch is, a bad-looking suit isn’t a useful investment. It doesn’t matter how much less it cost than a good suit if it doesn’t make you look good. No one should pay money to look bad, or even to look passably like the rest of the herd. And, as mentioned earlier, off-the-rack clothing tends to be awkwardly-fitted in at least a few places; for most men, this leads to the general impression that dress clothing is uncomfortable. Even on a tight budget, a man is better-served by owning a few well-fitted suits and shirts than by owning a closet full of uncomfortable and unflattering ones. If custom-made clothing is truly unaffordable, skilled tailors can still achieve comfortable fits by adjusting department (or even thrift) store garments – it can be easy to spend more on the fit of a coat than you did on the actual cloth, if you have a good nose for bargains. Regardless of how you come by it, spend as much of your clothing budget as possible on quality of garment, not on adding new items to the wardrobe. Most men can get by just fine in life with five to ten dress shirts (as long as they do their laundry reasonably frequently), and only a few professions still demand a different, business-formal suit every day.
Understand Fabrics and Determining Raw Material Quality: A comprehensive knowledge of textiles isn’t needed for buying clothes, and if you’re having your clothes made for you, the tailor hopefully has that information already. But be aware of your options – different climates and professions will call for different clothing material, depending on your physical and stylistic needs. Wool is the classic suit material, and still unmatched by man-made synthetics. It drapes beautifully over the body, holds heat and resists wetness well, and is surprisingly easy to care for outside of its aversion to machine washing. Different fineness’s are available, with the coarsest making suitable heavy winter clothes and the finest being too delicate for regular wear; most menswear falls somewhere in-between, with a medium-fine “three-season” wool being the most common. The exact measure of the fabric’s weight will differ from one manufacturer to the next, but when looking for a quality wool seek smoothness and softness of surface (but not slickness), even thickness throughout the cloth, and freedom from tangles or bunching in the weave. Cotton is king for dress shirts, being the lightest and most breathable fiber readily available for mass production. Look for shirts made from long-fiber or long-staple strains of cotton – Egyptian is probably the most common; American Prima and Sea Island cottons are also widely used in making high-quality dress shirts. These fabrics are softer and more resilient than cheaper cloths made from short-fiber cottons. Some manufacturers blend cotton with synthetic fibers to make a glossier surface, or to help resist wrinkling, but the resulting blend is less breathable and will be uncomfortable in hot or humid weather. Others may use a sprayed treatment to make cotton shirts wrinkle-free; be careful of ironing these shirts or drying them at high temperatures, as the treatment may react badly to heat. Untreated, 100% cotton dress shirts will likely remain the highest-quality option for a long time, and occasional ironing is a relatively small price to pay for the comfort and appearance of the fabric. Synthetics appear in all manner of menswear: blended with cotton in shirts, with wool in suits, and sometimes even worn on their own (as in the case of brightly-colored polyester shirts). Their properties may vary, but they tend to be less resilient and less breathable than natural fibers, becoming brittle and fraying at high or low temperatures and trapping sweat close to the body. This is not to say that anything with synthetic fibers in it is automatically low-quality clothing; many top-line garments use a bit of rayon for stretch or polyester for brighter, smoother coloring. Simply be aware of the fibers purpose – in small quantities, it likely serves a specific function, while large percentages of man-made fibers indicates a cost-saving measure that may not have taken comfort or appearance into consideration. Silk bears mentioning as an occasionally-seen lining for suits. Here, the more commonly-used man-made fiber is actually the superior option – silk, while light and smooth, wrinkles and folds more easily, and is prone to collecting static energy and clinging to the wearer. A more functional but now uncommon use for silk is as the fronting of a particularly elaborate waistcoat, usually with a decorative pattern printed or screened on it. It also makes a superior necktie, and is still in quite common use in that role.
Understanding Quality Build: Not all suits are created equal, even top brand selections made of good materials. Both the skill of the tailor and his or her methods affect the final appearance of an article of clothing just as much as the quality of the fabric. Good wool or fine cotton is worth substantially less if it has been assembled in a slipshod manner – and there are, unfortunately, less-than-masterful tailors who work in good-quality fabric. Knowing how to check the garment’s construction yourself can help avoid paying top-shelf prices for a middling good suit or shirt. Men’s suits are fundamentally hollow – two layers of wool make the shape of the jacket, with a gap in between. The most traditional construction is a shaped canvas of horsehair beneath the wool shell, but more recent manufacturing has seen the canvas replaced with a synthetic lining that fuses to the wool. A “canvassed” suit holds its shape extremely well and resists sagging, while a “fused” suit may start out too stiff and eventually begin to slump and lose shape. Since canvassed suits are substantially more expensive to produce, many manufacturers offer “half-canvassed” jackets that use a fused lining below the chest and lapels. You can usually tell a canvassed suit by rubbing a bit of the wool between a thumb and forefinger; if you can feel a third layer sliding between the sides of the suit, there is a canvas. The best men’s clothing will also be fully-functional. Suit cuffs that button, functioning lapels that can be closed across the chest on sport coats, and pocket flaps that tuck in smoothly for a jetted look are all marks of good tailoring. The closeness of the stitching, where visible, is another good indicator of quality – and if stitching is visible anywhere that it shouldn’t be, the garment is automatically suspect. Look closely at buttonholes, shirt collars, and other visible stitching to see how closely the threads have been sewn.
Sincerely, Charlie’s Design – Fashion House – Bangkok
Selecting a Tailor: Whether your clothes are being constructed from scratch or adjusted from an existing garment, you are eventually putting your image in the hands of another when you employ a tailor. As in any profession, there will be a wide range of skills; for anything more than a simple repair stitch or button attachment; make sure you are working with someone who falls toward the upper end of the scale. Be cautious of recommendations, particularly from people with differently-shaped bodies or different clothing needs (and obviously from women, whose tailors require completely different skills). The best option is often to simply use a phone book or the internet to create a list of nearby tailors and begin calling (or better still, calling on) each of them in turn. Have a few basic questions in mind – it isn’t rude to ask what a tailor would do to meet a specific need that you foresee arising frequently, and someone who does take offense at it is probably not someone you want to have to have regular business dealings with. Be confident that the tailor will understand your stylistic desires and work to meet them, rather than relying on what he or she has been taught is “customary” for men – with many tailors today coming from countries all over the world, there can be an incredible diversity in understandings of what a “proper” fit is. If possible, look at a few examples of the tailor’s work, even just whatever pieces happen to be in progress when you visit the shop. The overall condition of the store can also be telltale – it’s a clothing shop, so a certain amount of fabric sitting around is understandable, but disorganized clutter could indicate long wait times for your garments at the very least.