Since there are no events to cover (or even hangouts with friends too turn into editorials), I thought it would be nice to finally write an essay on one of my most requested garments: my custom suit from Ascot Chang, cut from blue Crispaire.
I went through the commissioning experience over a year ago, so my memory might be fuzzy and there aren’t as many detailed pics, but I hope you all enjoy it. It was rather nice to walk through memory line and revisit what it was like to get one of the best (and highest quality) suits I own.
Despite being a classic menswear guy for the past five years, I don’t have much experience with the real bespoke process. I have a large wardrobe for sure, but when it comes to the actual bespoke process, I don’t have much in the real of an actual, personal hands-on experience. This is the result of a few reasons: I’m used to buying vintage, I’m a decent OTR fit, and (perhaps most importantly) bespoke is a luxury good with a luxury price. I don’t deny that it’s worth it, though a lot of my style is approximating certain looks with what is accessible to me. Plus, as a young 25 year old with not much disposable income, $2.5k could be better used on other things, like my car payments and phone bill.
So that’s why my blog, at least for the time being, will never be as in-depth about bespoke as Permanent Style, who is able to
afford review some of the best artisans around the world. Even “homie” discounts are still rather pricey for me. The full bespoke experience is something I aspire to be able to experience, especially since you guys know how particular I am (though mine is more about details rather than the nuances of fitting my body). Don’t mistake my lack of experience as apathy towards the process! At least I’m not cheaping out; I get the best my money can afford (or thrift) and wear it with affection.
Its not like I don’t have the vocabulary and knowledge (as limited as it may be) to at least be familiar with how the process should go or how to achieve the best fit at the tailor. I have been fortunate to try custom clothing, both MTM and MTO, across a handful of makers, mainly through my cotton suit from Atelier Fugue or the Hertling trousers respectively. And let’s not forget my past with alterations, as a majority of my older wardrobe was done by thrifting or collecting vintage! So, believe me when I say that I’ve been preparing for bespoke my whole life.
And yes, I understand that MTM is vastly different than bespoke. One is (basically) used to change the fit (and sometimes the styling) of an existing block. The latter is (best) done when you want to build the pattern from scratch with high quality materials and craftsmanship.
Bespoke Shirts at Ascot Chang
With that definition of bespoke, my first real experience wasn’t with suiting, but with shirting, which was done through Ascot Chang, a bespoke tailoring firm that has years of making both. Clearly, it would be much more streamlined and direct if I was actually in Hong Kong, but the USA process was good enough for me. Mainly because I’ve never been to HK.
As some of you know, I have served as the social media manager at Ascot Chang since 2017. Despite being mainly focused on the content/editorial production, I have also helped out on the sales floor assisting clients through choosing cloth and helping do their measurements. Even though I’m not one of the fitters, as the stores already have a specially trained staff for that with a lot of it being written in Chinese, I’ve learned a lot just by seeing them work.
After a year of assisting with clients, I was able to go through the shirt process myself. It was remarkably different than the online MTM I had experienced through Natty shirts and Luxire. Instead of simply measuring my body and inputting it into a boxes, I was able to talk through everything with my coworker. I was able to fine tune certain things, like my shoulders, arm lengths, wrist opening and more; we then put on a “fitting shirt” which acted like a first fitting in order for us to tweak the measurements further. This, along with a collar of my own design, resulted in my special bespoke spearpoint collar shirts.
Again, I’m a pretty decent RTW fit (15.5/32), not to mention the fact that I like a wider, looser fit across almost all my clothing, so I’m sure other people (like Simon) with more nuanced fit preferences would be able to use the power of bespoke to a greater degree. I’ve adjusted my pattern a bit slightly for the next order, as I’ve gained more knowledge and specificity over time, but I think I’ve settled on my ideal pattern, provided I don’t gain any weight or change my physique anytime soon.
After a little while longer in my employment, Ascot Chang offered to make me a custom suit. As you could expect, I had been preparing for this for a while. Who else doesn’t think about their perfect custom suit in their free time? For full disclosure, this was around the early to middle 2018, so while my tastes (and confidence) have changed slightly during since then, I was pretty confident that I was going to go for something classic.
My Ascot Chang Suit
The body measurements were done similarly to the shirt, just with the inclusion of getting stuff for the legs. Since I had never done bespoke measurements before (I’m used to doing it myself), I wanted to go through the Ascot Chang process as wholeheartedly as I could. The only time I adjusted a body measurement was telling my coworker how high I wanted my trousers to sit (at the navel, obviously).
Since my employers knew that I had a specific vision for my fit, they asked me if I could bring in garments that I believe fit me the best. This was in lieu of a basted fitting, as shipping a garment internationally can be expensive and time consuming. Again, this was during 2018, so my tastes were a bit slimmer than they are now. My jacket was based on my Camoshita one (which I still own) while my trousers were based on the ones from an old Indochino suit. At the time, I thought these were my best fitting garments, with the former being a soft 3-roll-2 jacket that wasn’t too sack like and the latter being my first pair of contemporary (non-vintage/thrifted or heavily adjusted) high rise trousers.
I also tried on one of our unstructured RTW jackets (size 40R) since it would be good to include an existing AC block to create my original pattern. We measured those these garments and cross referenced them with my body measurements and posture photographs to make the best fit without doing a full basted fitting. I was fairly confident on how the garments were going to fit, since I think I’m a decent fit with no weird proportion issues (other than being 5’8″).
The main silhouette details I hammered in was that I wanted a front length of 30″ and a leg opening of 8.75″. The trouser thing was something I’ve detailed in the past, but I’ve also started to get pickier over jacket lengths. Many times, I’ve been suggested to get shorter jackets based on my height (short jackets were also common in the 1930’s as well as Suit Supply), but I’ve grown to want longer jackets (I’ve also detailed this struggle in the Atelier Fugue essay). 30″ seemed to be right way to go.
Now Ascot Chang has a traditional house style. As you can expect from a Hong Kong based tailoring firm, it has an English lean with lightly extended/roped shoulders and slightly closed quarters. It’s great for businessmen in HK and LA/NYC, which comprise most of our clients. However, as Justin Chang (the grandson of the founder) takes a larger role, he’s been introducing more contemporary elements like unstructured sportcoats (available for RTW and bespoke) as well as soft shoulders, la spalla camicia, and more open quarters. His own bespoke suits followed those trends, so I was confident that I was going to have a custom suit that would not only fit well, but have the aesthetics I wanted.
I actually liked the way Justin’s suits looked, so because I didn’t want to use a bespoke tailor to just do a repro an entire 30s-40s suit (I also didn’t want to make it convoluted, since I’m not a fan of vintage shoulders). I also wanted to ensure that this suit was contemporary-classic and not too far on either side. This was meant to be the suit of my closet (since it would be the best quality thing in there) and as such, it had to be versatile, both for business meetings and for regular Ethan wear, with plenty of striped shirts and fun ties.
After consulting with Justin over the details, I was confident that they were going to create a suit that would look classic and be a great addition to my contemporary-meets-vintage style. Here were the details I went with:
- wide 4″ lapels with a moderate gorge (taken straight from Justin’s suit)
- hip patch pockets
- curved barchetta breast pocket
- functional sleeves
- soft shoulders with la spalla camicia
- 3-roll-2 front with a modest middle button position (not too low, but lower than the Camoshita)
- 12″ rise
- double reverse pleats
- side adjusters
- 30″ jacket front length
- 8.75″ leg opening
- Not-too-high armholes, as I have a prominent chest and didn’t want armpit “pinching”.
The cloth chosen was a blue (but not dark navy) Crispaire. At the time, I thought that the navy was too close to black and a bit too formal. Now Crispaire, an open weave wool from Holland & Sherry, is a great fabric that wears cool but isn’t too delicate. In other words, it’s the perfect choice for a standard suit to be worn in Los Angeles. Crispiare has a bit of texture to it and it isn’t too fine, so it’s a material that allows for the easy break up of a suit into separates. While I definitely like keeping suits together, I always love having that option.
The regular price for this suit commissioned through our LA store would have been $2.5k, which for bespoke is a great value. I am very thankful to have worked at Ascot Chang to have been able to obtain this suit, as I probably would not have made the jump to this level unless I had a higher disposable income.
Receiving the Suit
From what I remember, I was very impressed with the suit when I received it a few months later (as an employee, client orders come first). It just felt fantastic, as it was the first time I had actually worn something that was full canvassed. There’s a sense of heft to the garment, that feels “right” and will eventually mold to your body over time. The lapel roll had life and didn’t feel a bit flat (as some of my mid tier RTW) felt. Even the trouser felt interesting. It was rigid and fitted since it was unworn, but not tight, presumably due to the canvas in the waistband. The high rise also felt even higher when put on, as I’m definitely used to hiking things up.
As expected with an initial custom garment (especially since we didn’t do the basted fitting), there were some fit issues. I unfortunately don’t have pictures of how it was when I received it, as the garment was sent back to Hong Kong for corrections almost immediately. From what I can remember, it was mainly the armscye/sleeve, cleaning up ripples on the back, and bringing up the trousers and sleeves. One particular issue was the leg which started to ripple in the back and inner thigh/crotch. According to Justin (who handled the alteration and trouser pattern changes), I had a collapsing thigh which needed to be compensated for. There was also some seat adjustments made.
A few additional months later (late 2018/early 2019 if I recall correctly) I received the fully finished and altered suit suit. And by God, it is the most lovely thing I have ever worn. Again, nothing compares to the feeling of wearing a fully canvassed suit built from scratch, made from high quality material by artisans, and with all the fantastic details carefully crafted. My only regrets were the stylistic and subtle silhouette details that arose simply because my tastes had changed since I first started commissioning the suit in mid 2018.
Right off the bat I wish I had indeed gone with the dark navy blue Crispaire rather than the regular blue, since I definitely love wearing deeper colors more often. The color of my navy hopsack jacket from Spier & Mackay is definitely darker, while my AC suit leans a bit more toward Air Force Blue, though it’s not that grey or light by any means. It’s still not bad and I can certainly style this AC suit to be more somber with my shirt and tie choices, but a part of me will always wonder if I should have just done the dark navy blue to begin with.
I also wish that my jacket was longer (I think 30.5″ is now my sweet spot for front length), the shoulders a bit extended, and that my overall trouser was cut wider, with a leg opening closer to 9-9.5″. I’m mainly referring to the finished thigh circumference as having more room for drape and for my leg to “float” in feels more comfortable to me. I have large genetically large thighs and one of my clothing pet peeves is to have a garment hug them too closely.
The current cut also makes it a bit difficult to fit my hands in my pockets comfortably, though that could mainly be due to the angle of the pocket (it’s not straight on-seam, but it feels like it) or just how wide the pocket opening is overall. Despite those small nitpicks, we fixed as much as we can from the initial receipt and the pants certainly drape cleaner drape now.
Thanks to going through this process, I have learned is a rather important detail that I should pay attention to and use to dictate my preferences to a maker. I wish I had the forethought to adjust that in the initial measurements, but hey, tastes change! All this means is that I know what to communicate on how to adjust my pattern further for the next commission.
As I look back through this process and my outfit pics since receiving it a year ago, this suit silhouette is rather slim compared to what I currently prefer in 2020, but still classic enough for regular wear. And damn, do I love it all the same.
So when I wear it, I take full advantage of the effect the suit has. Like I said earlier, I wanted something contemporary that blended what I loved from soft Neapolitan tailoring with a vintage POV. The suit is done for my more “formal” or neutral looks that are further emphasized with my choices in shirting and ties. I truly think that when I wear it with my spearpoints, I truly achieve that contemporary 1930s vibe that characterizes a lot of my sartorial attire. There is plenty of drape with subtle waisting for a classic figure in the jacket.
Not only is it my main “navy” blue suit, it is one of the only wool suits that I own. At least in the realms of year-round wearability. Almost everything else is too heavy for spring-summer or is simply made out of cotton; all my seasonal specific things come in the form of odd jackets and trousers! It’s also just worn when I want something with a bit more drape and with less “ivy” appeal than a cotton suit.
It was nice to reflect on the process of making this suit, even though it was over a year ago. Even though I had my own pattern made and specified a few fit details, I do wish I could have gone through a basted fitting, just so I had could have felt what its like before it was fully finished. I learn a lot by experience rather than just measurements and example garments. This is why I call it a custom suit rather than a true bespoke commission. However, I realize that I am an employee and being able to obtain this garment without charge is certainly a blessing and a great opportunity for me. Though $2.5k for this level of quality, cloth, and fittings (done for clients), is an amazing value that more people should do.
The details and making are certainly superlative and I’m glad they translated well for my personal suit aesthetic. While I was at work, many clients simply opted for the standard two button, roped shouldered jacket without any desire for anything different. I’m thankful that Justin had acted as a tester for me (unintentionally of course), as his own commissions showed me the full breadth that Ascot Chang’s bespoke tailoring could achieve. Now I am confident to share my own story and give people in LA a chance for some classic menswear aesthetics and be subversive rather than plain (if they want to).
My AC suit is truly is an amazing and miles ahead of anything else that I have ever worn. That’s not saying much, as most of what I wear has been vintage, secondhand, or something from Spier & Mackay. There is quality in those pieces, but nothing compares to the handwork of a tailoring firm using the cloth from a respected mill. The feeling of wearing full canvas is one aspect alone that is unparalleled in my closet.
It just has this tenderness about it, which makes a suit feel comfortable yet powerful. This level of quality is a luxury, let’s not forget that, but experiencing it through wearing it is something that I’m sure would help others see why classic menswear/tailoring is so attractive to me.
I’m happy I didn’t commission a suit as soon as I started working at Ascot Chang as I’m sure that garment would definitely be built on weirder requirements. Upon looking at it, it’s fairly similar in fit to the pieces worn by Drake’s, Ring Jacket, or even Bryceland’s (through Dalcuore). But you guys definitely know that my current tastes, at least moving forward, is something wide. My tastes are constantly changing, maturing, and blending to create the ideal “Ethan M. Wong” look, and every thing I order, whether it’s custom or RTW, is just a step toward that.
Overall, my experience with figuring out the fit and how different measurements/alterations play around with everything has only made be a better fitter but also how to communicate my preferences. It definitely helped with commissioning my MTM cotton suits, but obviously it’s a learning process (and every maker uses measurements differently). Though, I think I hit it on the head with the jacket; it’s just my trouser fit that I need to work on and get more comfortable with. I’ve talked to Justin a few times already and we’re already clear on how we could adjust for the future. And plus, a first commission is never going to be absolutely perfect. It’s just a springboard to refine the measurements, the cut, and your personal taste!
I’m not sure when I’m going to order my next Ascot Chang garment or what bespoke maker I’m going to commission from in the future, but I know that I have the experience to be ready for it and to get what next matches my current aesthetics. I just hope it doesn’t change again!
Always a pleasure,
Hi ethan interesting that you asked for a lower armhole. Can you elaborate on the relation between the armpit pinch and the chest? I have a vintage Brooks brothers Oxford shirt and 1950s motorcycle jacket that have armholes which are too small /high and I feel that pinch in the armpit. Is there any way to mitigate this?
It’s just a “feeling”. It could also be remedied through more drape in the chest, but armhole placement is definitely important and a comfort factor that everyone differs on.
Unfortunately, there aren’t really ways to fix this. With the shirt, you may be able to increase the armhole size but your tailor may have to take some length off the them of the shirt.