If you’ve been in the market for a new suit at least once in the past few years, you probably know your options: Fully custom (aka bespoke), made-to-measure, or “off the rack”.
In this ongoing series, I want to focus on fit: How it fits right out of the box, what turned out perfectly, and what I had to alter to get to 100%.
Hopefully this series gives you more confidence in ordering custom suiting in the future. And if you have any questions along the way, let me know.
Today, we’re checking out the Alan David custom jacket and trousers.
The difference between custom bespoke and made-to-measure
Alan David Custom is NOT online MTM. Let’s get that out of the way first. Alan David creates – you guessed it – custom bespoke garments, from shirts and ties to full suiting.
What’s the difference between the two?
Made-to-measure creates suits from pre-existing patterns which are then altered to fit your measurements.
With custom bespoke, a pattern is custom made from your specific measurements.
Another difference: MTM delivers you a final product with no additional fittings. But with custom, you often have to go back at least once for a basted fitting – which is great, because the tailor can easily make adjustments during this stage. And it’s an extra assurance the suit will come out perfectly.
Appointment #1/2: Choosing garments, fabrics, details, and getting measured
There’s a nice family vibe at Alan David. Every person I worked with was very welcoming and I felt right at home picking out the details of my sport coat and trousers.
Speaking of, it’s definitely a good idea to come into the process knowing what you want. Although, if you’re a blank slate, the folks that work there are more than happy to help you decide.
When you arrive for your appointment at Alan David, you start by choosing a fabric. There are dozens of fabric books available to choose from, all from well-known mills: Reda, Zegna, Loro Piana, VBC, etc.
I worked with a gentleman named David who helped me decide on a fabric for my sport coat. By the way, I decided to have a jacket and trousers made because I don’t wear full suits very often.
I was looking for a lightweight fabric with a navy ground color, but was open to different patterns and colors in the cloth. I landed on this amazing fabric by Reda, which had navy, plus a bit of gray and brown as well. I knew this would go well with the other clothes in my wardrobe, so I was psyched.
I also ordered a pair of trousers made from a navy wool cloth from Vitale Barberis Canonico (VBC).
Choosing your suit jacket details
Once you decide on the type of garment (suit, shirt, or trousers) and fabrics, you have to choose your details. This actually happens after you’re measured and fitted (more on that in the next section).
For the jacket, I went with a 4” lapel, minimal shoulder padding, flap pockets plus a ticket pocket, double vents, double-button closure, and surgeon’s cuffs (functioning button cuffs are standard for all Alan David jackets).
Getting fitted and measured for your jacket and trousers
The fitting and measuring process was definitely the most eye-opening part of this whole experience. This alone is a good reason to work directly with a tailor or fitter when going custom.
When you work with an experienced fitter, they’ve gone through this process hundreds – if not thousands – of times. They can easily spot potential “problem areas” in your posture, stance, and build which would produce an ill fit if not accounted for in the measurements and notes that go to the cutter.
You simply can’t get this level of accuracy and expertise by self-measuring or when ordering MTM online… You can get decent results, but often you have to get things re-made or at least altered by your local tailor.
Think you have “weird” proportions? They’re not as weird as you think.
The day of my first appointment, there was a disabled guy who used a wheelchair – about 5’3” when standing – getting measured for a tux (I believe he was a musician and playing in a concert). He couldn’t stand on his own for more than a few minutes at a time. And even when standing, his posture was not fully straight nor upright.
If a fitter can measure a wheelchair-bound man who doesn’t have full use of his legs or the ability to stand straight, you can rest assured you’re in good hands when it comes to your “weird” proportions. A fitter has seen them before and knows how to account for them in their notes to the pattern maker and cutter.
Here are some eye opening insights I learned after being measured by my fitter:
- Since I have flat feet, my normal stance affects my overall posture
- I have a slight case of knock knees
- My hips tend to tilt forward
- My shoulders are not only wide, but rounded and a bit forward
- My left shoulder is 1/4” lower than my right one
None of this is very obvious or noticeable (at least to me). But Adelina, my fitter, saw many of these issues in a split second. And because she’s fitted many people before me, she knew what to look out for and what notes to leave for the cutter so my jacket and trousers fit perfectly.
How does my imperfect posture affect the fit of these garments?
So for example, off-the-rack trousers tend to pull at the back of the thighs. This is because of my forward-tilting hips.
To combat this, my fitter made a note that the back panel needs to be slightly higher and the front panel slightly lower. That made the trousers more balanced relative to my natural posture. So even with my tilt, the trousers lay flat and are smooth all the way down the leg with no pulling or wrinkling.
And for my jacket – since I have broad shoulders that hunch forward a bit, and because my left shoulder is 1/4” lower, she noted:
- the jacket will need to be cut to accommodate that small shoulder imbalance,
- a natural shoulder with as little padding as possible will look best (I already knew this, obvs), and
- we can’t go too tight in the chest and shoulders because the jacket will pull at the bicep with any big arm movements.
A Few takeaways from my first in-person custom experience
1.) It’s tough getting custom right when measuring yourself.
Having an experienced fitter measure you > everything else. My fitter has been doing this for decades. Just by observing how I stand and walk, she was able to list the individual fit issues I have with suits, such as:
- fabric pulling behind legs and at crotch seam
- worn out fabric between the legs (aka crotch blowout)
- more room needed for the left leg than the right
- jacket usually too tight in the shoulders
- collar gap
- lapel pop
Taking your own measurements, choosing regular or slim, and throwing that info into some algorithm will never be as accurate as a fitter with decades of experience. Not yet, at least.
2.) Choosing cloth in person > on a computer screen
Touching and feeling cloth in real life is so much different than choosing a fabric based on how it looks on a screen.
3.) You’re mostly paying for the cloth
Keep in mind that price and quality is mostly dependent on the brand and type of fabric you choose. Workmanship is also built into that price.
Summary of appointment 1/2
Here’s my understanding of the process after I got measured.
- After the first appointment, my fitter sends my measurements and photos to the pattern maker and cutter.
- Taking into account all the info about my posture and measurements, the pattern maker creates the individual pattern pieces.
- The cutter uses the pattern to trace and cut the cloth.
- Finally, the individual cut pieces go to the tailor to be sewn into a jacket and trousers.
This whole process takes about 4-6 weeks with Alan David.
So, about 4 weeks later, I got an email to set my second appointment…
Apppointment 2/2: Second fitting, finalizing order
The appointment for my second fitting was maybe 15 minutes long, max. And it was only that long because I couldn’t stop staring at myself in the mirror, completely amazed at how awesome the jacket and trousers fit.
It was about 99% perfect. The tailor just wanted to shape the trousers in the seat a bit more because there was extra fabric at the back center. So he chalked me up where he wanted to take it in.
He also finalized the sleeve length. At this point, the tailors don’t make buttonholes yet, just in case they need to adjust the length. Mine happened to be perfect, so all that was left for the jacket was to make the button holes and sew the buttons on the sleeves.
These trousers are honestly the best fitting pants I own. Like I mentioned earlier, my slightly imbalanced posture (due to flat feet which causes a bit of knock knees plus hip tilt) causes most off-the-rack trousers to not fit well; they pull and wrinkle in weird places, even when they’re not slim (but especially when wearing slim trousers).
With these trousers, there is no pulling. And I have a clean, straight line from the waistband to the cuffs.
By the way, this is what I texted my wife right after I left my second appointment at Alan David:
Once they identified the minor adjustments, I changed and was on my way. I opted to have the finished garments shipped to me.
Final Thoughts About Custom and Alan David
All the tech in the world can’t replace a face-to-face interaction when it comes to custom clothing. MTM can come close, so long as you’re as accurate as possible when taking measurements. But you may fall short when it comes to the subtle intricacies of your posture.
Off the rack (assuming it fits almost perfectly) and working with a tailor can come close, assuming you have a standard physique and posture that designers design for.
But for perfection, you have to go fully custom or bespoke.
Hopefully this gives you an idea of what goes on when ordering a custom suit. If you’re interested in having one made and you’re in / can travel to NYC, check out Alan David Custom.
Full Disclosure: I wrote this recap and review with no input from the folks at Alan David, though they did provide the garments gratis and allowed me to go through the whole order process as a normal customer would.