How to buy a bespoke suit: Six key tips from a tailor

What to remember and what to ask when you buy a made-to-measure or bespoke outfit

Bespoke Tailoring
(Image credit: Bruno Vincent/Getty)

You saved a packet in dry January, your New Year's Resolution to visit the gym is going well and the first wedding invitation of the year has just dropped through the letterbox, so isn't it time to ditch the suit hanging in your wardrobe and splash out on something that looks good and actually fits?

As the great Ian Dury sang on Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll: "See my tailor, he's called Simon. I know it's going to fit."

Our tailor is actually called Neil McCann and he is the owner of McCann Bespoke on Shaftesbury Avenue in London. His clients include Premier League champions Leicester City, who still look sharp off the field if not on it, sporting greats Sir Ian Botham, Sir David Gower, England manager Gareth Southgate and Wham! star Andrew Ridgeley, among others.

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He shared some tips with The Week Portfolio on what to consider when you splash out on a new suit.

Here are his six main points:

Know the difference between bespoke and made-to-measure

These terms are not interchangeable, but not everyone understands the difference, says McCann, who offers a choice of MTM, bespoke and semi-bespoke suits.

A made-to-measure suit is based on standard patterns but the finished article is tailored to the client's exact measurements. Making one can involve several fittings, with a variety of different measurements required to ensure the perfect fit, and will also involve some fine tuning of the garments.

Bespoke suits, on the other hand, are built completely from scratch, with everything cut according to the individual's precise size and shape, from the slope of their shoulders to the width of their calves. It makes for a more time-consuming process, with dozens of different measurements required.

Unsurprisingly, the bespoke option is the more expensive, but the result is a unique piece of clothing constructed just for you.

LONDON - AUGUST 19:Bespoke Tailors create suits at Gieves and Hawkes on Saville Row on August 18, 2008 in London, England. A bespoke two piece suit takes up to eight weeks to make and start a

(Image credit: 2008 Getty Images)

Trends are temporary, class is permanent

Super-slim lapels might be all the rage right now, but once upon a time so were shoulder pads and turn-ups. A tailored suit is built to last and won't come cheap, so it would be a shame to get one that you won't be able to wear without cringing after a few months.

By all means be on trend, says McCann, but don't go overboard. What makes a suit look good is the fit and the attention to detail. If you play your cards right (and keep going to the gym), you could still be looking sharp in your new whistle a decade down the line.

Think about cloth and lining

You are buying a suit built to your own specifications so polyester is not an option. We are in wool territory here. Talk to your tailor about the material you want to drape yourself in.

Among the quality fabrics McCann trusts are loro piana, dormeuil, dugdale and scabal. By all means research them yourself and make sure you are getting the best. One tip of the trade is to study the materials in sunlight when you are choosing - and bear in mind the finished suit will appear lighter than the sample.

Remember, too, that the lining adds a lot to a suit and can alter the tone of the whole ensemble, so give that due consideration. Again your tailor will be able to advise you.

This leads us to the next point.

What's it for?

A suit is a suit is a suit, right? Wrong.

Do you want a British, American or Italian-style outfit? Are you after a business suit, a casual suit or are you splashing out on [3]your own wedding suit[3]?

Try to be as clear as possible what your suit's primary purpose will be. There doesn't need to be great deal of difference between a job-interview suit and a suit for social occasions, but this is a situation in which the expression "tailored towards" can be taken literally.

Perhaps the most obvious consideration here is the weight of fabric. Most tailors recommend an 11oz-12oz suit for year-round use in the UK, but lighter and heavier options are available. Something to bear in mind if you've just got a job in Singapore - or Moscow.

Know your body shape

It's time to be honest with yourself and make sure you get a cut that flatters you - after all, that's the whole point.

"Having a bespoke suit means you can style and construct it in any way," says McCann. "Skinny people should avoid wide lapels, portly people slim lapels. Short people should avoid jackets that are too long. Tall people should avoid trousers that are too short."

There are plenty of tricks up the tailor's sleeve, he adds. For example, increasing the front edge of a jacket for a more generously proportioned person will give a more flattering silhouette while not looking tight.

Trust your tailor

By now it should be clear your tailor knows what he is up to. You are the one who will be wearing the suit but, as McCann says, a tailor is there to make you look good.

You need to have an idea of what it is you are after and you shouldn't be afraid to express an opinion, he says, but a tailor is an expert so it's worth listening.

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