Some of the best menswear I’ve come to own has been some form of custom: MTO, MTM, and Bespoke. Despite it being the “endgame” of a classic wardrobe, it’s still a simultaneously aspirational and anxiety inducing thing to go through.
Let’s dive in and talk about it.
The following is an in-depth, personal reflection on my custom menswear experiences. For a general and more candid conversation with Spencer about our custom menswear orders (which I have not always written about)), our favorite makers, and what to learn from, be sure to listen to the podcast episode first. Keep in mind that this isn’t a review based blog, but rather a personal exercise in documenting my menswear journey. YMMV.
Custom menswear is daunting. I don’t think I’ve been able to fully shake it, even with the limited experience I’ve had. I’m rather quite picky and anxious about it!
When I look at a lot of menswear blogs (which isn’t all too often), its pretty clear that custom is the end all. Maybe not for everything (though Simon will tell you about bespoke glasses and MTO hoodies), but it is one of the end games as far as tailoring goes. It’s just a hallowed process, being old school yet a modern marvel at the same time. Sure, you could wear Spier & Mackay or Ring Jacket, but at a certain point, these guys start moving into MTO, MTM, and perhaps if you’re lucky (and affluent enough) even bespoke.
This makes perfect sense, as I believe that tailoring is built on three things: silhouette, cloth, and details. I would consider them all important components of a exuding your POV. Being such, they are best done with a degree of custom, especially if you are particularly picky about these components, which vary in expression from brand to brand and maker to maker. In other words, if you look at tailoring as not just a plain suit, but a blank canvas for lapel width, notch angle, quarter opening, leg width, and 4-ply wools, you probably won’t be okay with simply buying a suit from the mall. And that’s at the very least.
Since it’s a bit of an uncommon art in the world of mainstream fashion, good custom menswear can be quite difficult to find, especially if you’re just starting out or being young. This applies to nearly all the different types of custom we talk about on the pod: MTO, MTM, and bespoke. I can say for a fact that Los Angeles doesn’t have the storied history of tailoring that it used to back in the Golden Age; that’s why we often look to the brands and tailors in NYC, London, Tokyo, and Italy and jump at the chance to visit when they do an open trunk show (many are for serious, committed buying appointments only). It’s typically the only opportunity to get an idea of the garment and the process- online reviews can only do so much!
The price is also quite high. Depending on the tailor or brand, you will at least have to spend over $1.5K, and even then, its still up to you to choose what level of custom you want. If I remember correctly, Ring Jacket’s MTO/MTM is about $2.5K depending on the fabrics; bespoke from Ascot Chang’s LA store starts from that same price. Most of the guys who enjoy bespoke (at least on IG), tend to be rather well off, being lawyers or investment guys. For the younger audience (especially the guys I hang out with, you typically won’t be able to experience it until you work directly in the industry or you get further along in your current career. After all, $2-5K to a guy in his mid twenties is a lot to spend on a single garment. That’s a rent payment (or payments)!
Both the lofty price and the lack of availability has made me rather conservative about the custom process. Like I say in the pod, I actually don’t have very many experiences with custom clothing. The only “bespoke” garment I have was commissioned during my tenure at Ascot Chang; the rest are all MTM or MTO. There’s nothing wrong with that obviously (I have been told I’m a very standard block), but I think it is telling of my approach. It’s definitely based in my rather specific POV; the draw of custom isn’t about the handmade manufacturing or the cloth, but rather the distinct visual aesthetics of cut and detailing. And then my lack of funds and my lucky ability to find cool pieces (both vintage and contemporary) means that I stretch out my dollars and am extremely hesitant to spend too much. I’m picky, careful, and frugal when it comes to custom.
This showed up even from my first experiences with commissioning clothing. When I got my first few Indochino suits, I made sure that I was able to fudge the measurements to get a high rise (I basically entered a large U-rise number on their site). Sure the trousers may have a been a bit narrow, but the jacket had a wide lapel and moderately spaced buttons. I actually picked Indochino out of the other online MTM places due their DB block (as well as their ongoing promotions). I wasn’t going to get into something just because it was “custom made for me”; it’s just not worth it to buy something if you aren’t into how it looks, whether its cheap or expensive.
I know it sounds like I’m extremely picky over the details, but I don’t think that’s an absolute fact. These details aren’t common and it would be quite a hassle to make a tailor or factory adhere to some niche thing that they aren’t used to doing. After all, I now wear jackets of varying eras and makers- not everything is a straight 1930’s or 1960’s repro! This has lead to a deeper appreciation for contemporary menswear over years. It’s why I have Spier & Mackay and Ring Jacket alongside ivy sack-jackets and 1940’s jackets with the shoulder pads ripped out. Getting further into “Ethan Style” rather than “period-accurate style” was a turning point for my style journey. This opened me up not only in RTW jacketing, but in custom, especially in regards to how nitpicky I was. You can call it compromise, but I definitely prefer saying appreciation.
For example, I’m not a huge stickler for gorge height as I seem to be. I’ll still mention it when I look at my IG feed and I might state how much I love a low gorge with a blunted lapel (since you seldom see that anymore), but it hasn’t stopped me from commissioning custom clothing. Of course, price is an issue (I wouldn’t spend $5K on a suit that has a high gorge), but I tend to focus much more on other things, like trouser silhouette, which is a much more important detail. Sure, some trousers like my Stoffas tend to be on the slim side, but they still retained the high rise and pleats that I enjoy. You could consider the Stoffas as a bit of a compromise, but certainly formative in my style journey as I was slowly moving toward a contemporary take on vintage.Moving forward, I definitely pushed for that wide leg, especially since I’ve since deemed it a tenet to what I consider to be my style (and yes, I know I still wear some slim-straight leg pants, sue me). That’s why my Hertlings and my MTM suits from Atelier Fugue are much more cohesive to where I want my style to go than my Stoffas (that I still wear, don’t worry).
Now that I think about it, I wonder if my hesitation from custom stems from not only the price and details, but from the self-awareness that my tastes change When you buy RTW, you know what you’re getting. Size discrepancies can be taken care of by trying on a different off-the-peg number and taking it to the tailor. With custom, it’s less so. Obviously I know that bespoke should come with a fitting of sorts before it’s finished, but MTO and MTM tend to be a bit of mystery until you receive it. You have to hope that your tastes haven’t deviated in the months between the order and delivery date. I remember being slightly disappointed with my Ascot Chang suit, as I felt that I had made it too “safe” by giving it a rather straight cut. During the making time (which took a few months since it was free from work), I ended up learning that I enjoyed a longer jacket length and a significantly wide trouser. The suit I ended up with was still quite good (and my first experience with full canvas), but it’s still not exactly what I’d order now, as I’ve gotten much more specific with my POV.
I also remember being quite concerned about my Natty Adams suit, which I realize I’ve never talked about on the blog before. It was a fun opportunity to work with a friend, who understood a bit about how important details were. Like Ascot Chang, Natty doesn’t have a house style, which actually was quite concerning since it became my onus to figure out how to approximate my vision. Some might be intrigued, but I can say I was personally daunted by it. Based on his capabilities and suggestions, I ended up going with a natural shouldered jacket, with a gathered-belt back and triple patch pockets; the trousers were high rise and cut generously. Unfortunately, he didn’t have any dark brown cloth in cotton (which I hadn’t tried yet), so I ended up with a worsted charcoal brown. We also used garment measurements rather than body measurements.
The finished garment was alright and I’ve worn it a few times. My main complaints were that the fit of the jacket was quite snug; the gathered belt-back makes it even more fitted (as belt backs are to suppress the waist). It has a 3-roll-2 closure, but something about the spacing and the low gorge makes it look a bit awkward; the trousers are good, but since the suit is a smooth worsted, it doesn’t work to break up. As a result, the suit feels much better to wear with casual sportshirts and tees rather than a collared shirt and tie. Nothing bad by any means, but certainly not to the ideal I wanted (which granted, is a lofty task to present to a custom brand).
Even changing up the measurements from order to order is scary. I remember being very concerned after ordering my purple cord suit from Atelier Fugue. As I state in the the pod, my caramel cotton suit was delivered in summer of 2019. While I enjoyed it, I took my next opportunity (and new funds from my new job) to alter the block, widening the shoulders and legs, the latter most significantly. The end result was fantastic, but the anxiety I had when trying it on was huge. If it didn’t work, the issue would be on me, not the maker, as I had specifically asked for these changes. And even though I’m happy with how the brown and corduroy suit came out, I still feel like there is more to change and try in the next orders. Thankfully Atelier Fugue has a house model I enjoy, which means we go on body measurements and allow his algorithm and factory to cut based on that.
Perhaps that’s the joy of custom menswear: it’s all in pursuit of the ideal, with tweaks and experiments as you go along. It’s definitely an expensive thing to do, but one that I think is quite rewarding if you’re passionate about it. And just like joining a menswear community, it’s important to have a positive attitude and keep an open mind when you go through with it. Thankfully, despite my nitpicks, I still enjoy most of my recent commissions! That’s why you still see them worn, from my custom suits to my custom trousers, all in varying styles that still seem cohesive to me.
That’s why it’s so important to do the research before hand, or at least take in as much as you can. Spencer and I say this repeatedly in the podcast episode. Even though I’m certainly not at the level to get bespoke (both in accessibility and income), I still make a point to be educated in house styles and measurement details. I used to think that I could go into any tailor and order anything I want; clearly, this isn’t the case. Even if you go bespoke, with a fully custom pattern made from scratch, you still are kept within the bounds of the house style. For example, you can’t (or more accurately, shouldn’t) go to Edward Sexton or Husbands and ask for a super soft shoulder. They would throw you out of the room! No, I think the best way is to look around at different tailors and see what you like. Gaining that appreciation for their style, rather than forcing your details onto them. They are artists, after all.
That’s why I tend to lust after garments made by the bespoke tailors you’ve seen referenced countless times on this blog. Out of what I’ve seen, I think they all make garments extremely close to what I like. Dalcuore makes a terrific contemporary adaptation of 1930’s sports jackets B&Tailor’s Italian-meets-Korean style just has a look that exudes the 1940’s look, from the angle of the lapels and button spacing to the draped chest. And of course, Tailor Caid is the best ivy-tailor in the world; he also has a keen eye for other eras of style as well. I’ve been fortunate to try them on during a few of my excursions and I know that when I get to that lucky stage, I’ll know I’ll be in good hands.
After all, asking them for a soft extended shoulder or blunted lapels with swelled edges wouldn’t be out of bounds. I also think that a belt back or bellow pocket would work, not simply because it fits within their vibe, but because I’ve seen them do it before. Sure, it may not be the idealized myth that any tailor could make what I want, but it’s more so about finding the right people who can execute your vision and develop a relationship with them. It took me a while to gain the confidence to ask Ascot Chang to do my specialized spearpoint shape, but I did it after seeing them create collars specially for clients who requested it (or brought in one for them to copy). These are things you probably can only do through proper bespoke, which makes it live up to its status as the “endgame” for a menswear journey.
The biggest example would be those bespoke shirts from Ascot Chang. Sure, Kamakura makes excellent OCBDs (only in their sport ivy model) and I’ve heard plenty of good things about custom oxfords from Drake’s and Junior’s, but a spearpoint collar is the detail I will die for. The fact that this detail comes first means that bespoke AC is the only way to go, especially since I had a hand in specifying the exact look of the collar. Of course, the other details come later, like my choice of deadstock fabric (feels better than new oxford IMO), the feature of a pleated button pocket, and my straight cut body. I’ve crossed the threshold into bespoke for this and I don’t think I’ll go back, at least if its a spearpoint I’m after. But that might be the only confident step I’ve taken, especially since I’ve had a longer trial-and-error history with custom shirts than say, a full suit.
That’s why I’m still quite a bit hesitant when it comes to full tailoring. As you know, my AC suit is still a bit middling for me, simply in terms of the silhouette I went with. It also factored in a lot of finished garment measurements, which again, was a bad move since I hadn’t exactly figured out what my “ideal” jacket fit was (which only came later once I actually bought Ring Jacket). I can’t imagine how I would’ve felt if I actually spent $2.5K on a it. Maybe it would’ve given me an ulcer in terms of stress or instead, I’d appreciate it more because I spent my hard earned money on it. Either way, that mystery is still quite a limiting factor.
However, I’ve been pretty happy with my Atelier Fugue suits! Finding cotton twill suits (or purple corduroy) in a Neapolitan-meets-ivy styling is quite rare, both for RTW and custom in the same price tier, not to mention my requirement for a wide, high waisted trouser. And again, I gave him body measurements, which resulted in a better fit than my Natty Adams suit as a result; his algorithm was allowed to work with my body rather than simply copy what another maker had done. These have become some of my favorite garments to wear, especially as I start to appreciate full suits more. I’m not sure if I’d do an entire wardrobe with him, as I do find myself wanting other details on the jackets, like a lapel with less belly and a lower gorge. However, Fugue is still the owner’s vision and he is not meant to be a blank canvas for me to design freely on.
Even as I get more comfortable with custom, I still find that it and less intensive things like MTO and even certain high end RTW do hold me back. For example, my RTW sportscoats from Ring Jacket are perhaps the best garments I own. Obviously the quality of the make is higher than any MTM jacket I’ve owned, as full canvas is something that you have to wear yourself to experience; in terms of fit and drape, it outclasses everything except my Ascot Chang suit. RJ also happens to have a much more conservative detailing, mainly in the fact that it doesn’t have a lowered button stance, reverse belly, or sweeping open quarters. It’s not super vintage, but not completely modern either, allowing me freedom to wear it in however I wish.
Mark Cho is noted for wearing quite a bit of RJ RTW, even though he’s tried bespoke from some of the best makers around (like Liverano). RJ might skew contemporary when compared holistically to the my 1940’s jackets, but that’s fine with me. I don’t need a belt back and baggy bellow pockets- I’m content with my slightly blunted lapels and soft, extended shoulders. Since I like their cut (size 50R if you’re keeping track) means that I could technically move up and get MTO or MTM jacketing (I forget which one they offer in the USA), if that’s what I wanted. I just don’t think they could do a wide trouser, which is fairly important for my personal style POV and what prevents me most from simply getting custom suits made at my current level.
On that note, I also enjoy my Hertling MTO trousers very much, even if they are basically a RTW 32 in their “classic” cut with a slightly higher rise. I would definitely buy from them again, more so if it was possible to get them a touch less tapered. . I’d even be interested in getting Stoffa again, especially as they seem to have made a few pieces with a wider cut (though it would probably not be as wide as I want them to be). Overall, I don’t need to get something incredibly crazy with a self belt or a Hollywood waist to make it feel “Ethan”. Maybe it’s the mystery and unease of potentially making a mistake, but again, I maintain using the term appreciation rather than compromise. And ultimately, I think that my appreciation of the countless makers I’ve seen will [soon] push me over the edge into more custom.
Obviously I realize that much of my experience is limited to my income and what has been available to me. The “mystery” of MTM happens more with online sites like Luxire; it’s much different if you were to go to Drake’s or The Armoury and try on one of their garments for reference. I distinctly remember joining my friend Ryan to his appointments to at P. Johnson and Sid Mashburn and remarking how much easier it was to actually try on the block that your custom garment will be made from. I also got to see that many times at Ascot Chang or even watching people place orders during the different trunk shows at The Bloke (RIP). The price difference is certainly quite high between an internet input-your-measurements service and one that comes with a fitting and an actual human being a guide to the measurements and selection process. No wonder it’s such a great luxury- you’re paying for security and peace of mind, as well as their house model, if that’s what you want.
After writing all this, I think what it comes down is that I’m still unsure about approaching bespoke. I think where I am, with a handful of MTM, MTO, and RTW is just fine for the “guy’ that I want to be. Like I’ve said repeatedly through this essay, I’ve learned that I don’t really need a plethora of crazy details to be fully “Ethan”, though to be fair, somethings like a soft shoulder and a wide leg are quite important. For the most part, those are rather easy to find…as separates.
At a certain point, bespoke (or MTM with a lot of leeway) is the only way to go, especially if you want a suit with my type of silhouette (or niche details). Getting to pick a special fabric (open weave Crispaire is the best for LA) is also quiet imperative for me, though at that point it’s a given if I’m ordering a custom suit. Also, I realize now how important it is to be measured by the tailor and simply trust their house style. Not only does this remove the “mystery”, but I find that working off finished garment measurements you already own can be bad, as every house/brand/factory has a different way of cutting the measurements you provide.
Sometimes you just gotta go for it and appreciate the process. My pal Nguyen had been online friends with the guys at Pham Tailor in Vietnam. As you can see on their IG, they are quite adept at a multitude of different styles and details; again I’m always wary of these brands since it puts the pressure on me to decide what I want (I can’t believe I typed that). To my surprise, Nguyen eventually said “fuck it” and commissioned a semi-bespoke suit from them, here meaning that he had his own individual pattern made built on body and garment measurements, but without any fittings. The suits were also half-canvassed and cut from no-name cloth, but hard to complain when they were around what Spier charges and yet are filled with much more character.
Not only did he simply commision a white wool-silk-linen suit (something you’d be hard pressed to find easily here in the States outside of custom), but he got it done with 1930’s details in the jacket like a bi-swing back and low gorge, blunted notch lapels as well as wide 1940’s width trousers with dropped loops. The finished garment was fantastic, as you’ll see in the photos below. Not perfect, as custom is still about the pursuit of of the “ideal”, but good enough for Nguyen’s money and his personal style.
He later commissioned another 30’s style sportcoat with updated measurements that make for a better silhouette. It’s proof that sometimes the leap is worth it- I’m sure he was in careful communication with Pham for the two months it took to create and ship. And luckily for me, I was able to try it on myself, just so I know what to adjust for my pattern if I ever decided to order from Pham. It’s proof after all that tailors can do what I want- I just need to find them.
Ultimately, I think that the more I get into (or appreciating) wearing slick full/solid suits, the more I’m drawn to going custom. There’s just something sensible about having a solid piece of clothing that features the silhouette and cloth I want, perhaps with a few fun details like patch pockets and my wide, low-gorge, blunted notch lapel. Hell, I do think custom is the only way to get the perfect (or close to it) DB suit I want too. All that’s left is to accessorize it my way, with spearpoint collars, vintage ties, subversive headwear, and a good helping of slouch. I think I’m on my way there with my recent commissions, but I know that nothing will compare to working closely with a tailor you admire and getting to wear a garment with the cut you expressly want.
Diving deeper into the mature-yet-relaxed nature of solid tailoring is something I believe can only be truly achieved with custom tailoring, which is why a majority of my recent commissions are all solid. I’d rather invest my money on that instead of a single odd jacket or trouser, where there is much more temptation into going wild, which can lead to regret. The slouch of a fully canvassed suit that has a touch of softness just seems so great, whether it’s in a dark brown, deep navy, or some form of chalkstripe. Plus, it’s nice to have something standard as a commission; it’s hard to get the classics wrong, and it prevents you from going overboard with a maker. Easing into it and developing a relationship is always good! Of course, I have a few grail details, carried over from vintage and brand archives, that I would love to reproduce with those tailors I admire- though it will be much after my suit wardrobe is filled out. Whenever that is.
It’s still quite a big leap for me and most of the people I’m around, but it’s a step that’s inviting in the most apprehensive of ways. I really can’t say for certain when that will happen, especially since I’ve been acquiring RTW jackets lately (my trouser acquisition has slowed). Maybe once I get to good stage in my current career trajectory, Atelier Fugue will let me have more leeway with my jacket details. Perhaps a local LA tailor (or one that visits) will be able to combine my ideal RJ jacket with a trouser that approximates my 1940’s grey gabs. Or, maybe I’ll be able to get to go to one of my favorite tailors to commission something straight from them, hoping that they’ll like me enough to do what I want (mainly trouser silhouette). After all, Arnold Wong is proof that big name tailors (I presume, from his pedigreed resume in menswear) that you can get a suit that looks like a perfect mix of contemporary and vintage. That’s the goal.
I think that my past in commissioning, archiving what I like to wear, and curating of inspo is all in preparation for whenever I move forward with my custom journey. There’s still a lot to learn and consider, but I know that it’s all a part of the menswear experience. The podcast and an essay are not only for you guys to [hopefully] learn from, but for me to keep in mind as well.
At the end of the day, I just want to look like the Ethan I envision in my head. Is that so hard to ask for?
- Ethan’s Previous Commissions
- Vintage Details They Don’t Do Anymore (one reason draw for custom)
- On POV
- 0:15 – Intro
- 0:40 – “Hearing is like reading for your ears.”
- 2:10 – “A little bit of rest, how about a little bit of levity?”
- 7:30 – Custom Menswear Experiences
- 11:00 – Ready to Wear, Bespoke and Everything In-Between
- 12:00 – “When you go to get a pizza and it’s ‘Hot and Ready,’ that’s Ready to Wear. But if you order it and they then make it, that’s Made to Order.”
- 12:35 – “With Made to Measure, they have a fit model but it doesn’t exist yet, you can input measurements based on this algorithm and it’ll make you something. Depending on the maker you have a lot of leeway.”
- 13:55 – “Bespoke means the pattern is created entirely from scratch. There’s no algorithm, maybe a house style, but it’s made specifically for you. This takes longer and involves more fittings.”
- 15:15 – Our Custom Experiences
- 29:40 – Custom Shirting
- 39:40 – “You’re at the mercy of the makers, with custom it’s important to know what you want and what details matter to you. The more you know, the more you’ll be able to have control over what you’re getting.”
- 41:15 – “I love oxford, it breaks in the best. Don’t really have a need to wear poplin ever, whether it’s more business-y – no one will say ‘you’re wearing a white oxford and not poplin? Go to hell we don’t need you.’ It just doesn’t happen, normal people don’t know these rules.”
- 43:40 – Custom Trousers
- 47:00 – Why Custom
- 47:10 – “Measurement is king. Once you learn more about menswear, you develop standards. You could fit into a Spier and Mackay 38R with good body and shoulders, but the taper in the body is a turn off. You want something you like. Or you’re tired of paying the tailor tax with hems and sleeve length, it’s a major reason to opt for custom.”
- 48:00 – “Control in details is another good reason for custom, especially coming from vintage. At a certain point, a suit that’s ‘made for you’ is less of a selling point if I don’t like the way it looks, I don’t care how high quality it looks. I’m just not going to wear it.”
- 54:20 – “With custom it takes a long time. So at the end of the month, two months or year, hopefully you’re going to like it when you finally get it.”
- 55:40 – “If you’re spending a huge amount of money on something that you’re going to be thinking a lot about, ideally you would be happy with what comes out. But your first bespoke probably won’t turn out that way, it’s like trial and error. Which sucks when it’s so expensive.”
- 1:01:00 – “I think bespoke looks really good when you get a plain, classic suit. Because the whole idea is that it’s the best version of this garment. If you get a navy worsted, you could just wear that suit every day with different ties. But if you get bright orange with red contrast button stitching, you can’t wear that everyday.”
- 1:01:50 – “Lifestyle and material also comes into play. Bespoke is an investment that hopefully you’ll carry with you. While I could get a dark green tweed that’s a very classic garment, in practicality with California weather, probably not going to wear it as often.”
- 1:03:50 – “When we talk about details we like, it’s useful to find out which house model does that look. We won’t consider it until we know what we can get from these places.”
- 1:06:05 – Dream Suits
- 1:06:30 – “I really like Tailor Caid and Dalcuore at Brycelands, who make the phenomenal belt back with pleated patch pocket. Great 30’s detail with being cosplay, good lapels, soft shoulders.”
- 1:14:30 – “Made to Order Ring Jacket from the Armory is something I want to do more of, WW Chan has a DB suit that has the best horizontal lapels. B&Tailor make some of the best DB suits of all time, the drape shoulders and lapels are a perfect amalgam of different styles.”
At the end of the week, we even brought in our recurring Twitch guests to discuss the topic! Henrik mentioned that he’s had great experience with Luxire, using each order to incrementally refine his fit. Producer Matt talks about his first experience with Indochino, something that many #menswear enthusiasts share early in their journey. Ivan recounts his terrible (but cheap!) QC experience with Natty Adams. And Kiyoshi talks more about the nuance with working with MTM factories.
It’s a great follow up to the more aesthetically driven conversation that Spencer and I had on the podcast proper.
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Always a pleasure,
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