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How Not to Screw Yourself with a Custom Suit

(Editor’s note: As information is never a bad thing, here’s one from our archives. Originally posted June 2015.)

On most any block in most any city in Thailand you’ll no doubt note the presence of a tailor shop. Sometimes even a multitude of shops, all of them side by side. They are ubiquitous throughout the country. Storefront after storefront after storefront. All advertising custom suits for a fraction of what you would expect to pay.

It’s certainly interesting … a tailored suit for 6,500 baht (US$180)?

But then, who wants to be in a meeting and have their sleeve fall?

And yet the title here is “How not to screw yourself,” instead of “How not to get screwed.” While it’s true that many of these shops focus on next-day “tourist only” specials—mannequins displaying ill-fitted, double-breasted, purple(-ish) suits are a usual giveaway—there’s also a good many skilled tailors around.

Even among the skilled, though, abilities will undoubtedly vary. As such, it’s never a bad idea to walk in with at least a vague idea of what it is you want to walk out with. Without any stated preferences, the default is mostly likely going to be whatever is the quickest (and most profitable) for the shop.

This brief “how to” attempts to cover some of the basics if you should ever decide to give it a try. After all, nobody wants a reasonably priced suit that looks like one.

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Ask family, friends, colleagues, the Lonely Planet message board, or that guy on the street passing out show fliers and it's unlikely you'll ever hear the same recommendation twice.

Everyone has their favorite. A tailor that they have gone to time and again over the years. Nana Fashions just happens to be mine.

Here are several others that warrant a look as well.

 

FABRIC

Choose from the good stuff. It makes a huge difference. Most shops carry low-, mid-, and high-end fabrics. Look at 140s, Super 140s, and 150s. You'll pay a bit more than the sign outside says, but it's worth it.

Most shops base pricing on a jacket and two pairs of pants. The rationale being that pants are likely to wear out before the jacket, and so two pairs prolong the suit's life. Sound logic. But fashions come and go. You'll most likely tire of the suit before it ever wears out. Maybe consider getting just one pair and knock the price down a little.

 

LAPEL

There are several styles to choose from. This is entirely a personal preference. If you have no preference, then just go with a traditional notch. Perhaps make it a bit narrower even. This gives it a more modern look. As well, request that they hand stitch, as it really shows the quality and sets the suit apart from those without.

Note: The default is to not include a pin hole in the lapel, so be sure to state this if you want one.

 

SLEEVE BUTTONS

Suggest you have the fabric cut so that you can actually button/unbutton. True, you will never do this but it is normally one of the signs of a quality suit.


POCKETS

All pockets on the jacket's exterior should be sewn closed. Left unsewn, they will begin to sag and lose their shape. Yes, even if you promise yourself to use only for the occasional business card.

 

VENTS

One or two? None?

Two vents are more common outside the United States and among the “finance crowd.”

Purely for reference, I tend to have my pinstripes with two vents, and my solids with just a standard center split.

 

LINING

The default is to not have a lining, or perhaps just something partial.

Do you want or need a lining?

Even though the fad of having the lining be some flash color may have waned, it’s still a nice touch. A dark blue perhaps if fire-engine red is not exactly your speed.

 

PANTS

Flat front? Single pleat? Double pleated?

While the fail-safe is for double pleats, keep in mind that this style basically ages you about a decade.

Average-height guys would do well to consider a flat front. For those over 6 feet (183 cm), perhaps a single pleat is the way to go.

Cuffs or no cuffs? Well, that depends a lot on which option you went with above.


Photo credit: 360NoBS

 

SHIRTS

Perhaps go with a broad collar. As well, have the tailor make it slightly wider than normal, as this helps it stay tucked under the jacket without popping out all the time.

Also consider going with no pocket. They are hardly, if ever, used, and the lack of one gives a much cleaner look.

 

Although a minor point, no “down stitching” alongside the buttons is a nice touch.

This, combined with perhaps no pleat on the back across the shoulders, makes the shirt appear much more fitted.

 

Request that stitching be as close to the collar's edge as possible.

In addition, if no “brand" is specified then the default is for the shop to put its name on the inside back of the shirt (and its name and address on the inside of the jacket).

It's doubtful anyone would want this. Do yourself a favor and request something.

  • HK expat

    Henry, don’t forget Hongkers when it comes to suits — and let’s not forget shirts. My go-to guys are Tai Pan Row Tailors. (Excuse the shameless plug!) They have been kitting me out in good quality clobber for the last 15 years, with no complaints.

    • Nigel

      Hong Kong really? I personally have never been satisfied with the suits I have had made there. If you want real quality, Korea is the best place to go. When I am in Daejeon for work, I always get one made. There is an excellent tailor near Pai Chai University.

      • Henry Cooper

        I admit, it was rather difficult to confine myself to just Thailand for this article, as I’m also well aware of the quality that can be had in both Hong Kong and Korea.

        If I hadn’t, though, this could have easily (and rather quickly) turned into a 5,000+ word article. (And one that few would have probably bothered with.)

        Ideally, others reading this will put your recommendations to good use on their next trip. Thanks for the heads up(s).

        Here’s Tai Pan Row Tailors in Hong Kong: http://www.taipanrowtailors.com/about/

        Nigel, any chance you could throw up the name and/or link of the shop you’re referring to?

  • Gordy Chen

    Anderson & Sheppard near Saville Row do a tidy suit. Whenever I am back in town, I always stock up on a couple of suits. It’s just a 5 min walk from The Ritz. If you are staying there, Tony will arrange for someone to drop them off for you.

    • Henry Cooper

      It was my hope when writing this that a few readers might offer up there favorites here. So, definitely thanks for this. – Depending on where you’re staying in Bangkok (and length of stay), having a few backup tailors to try out in a pinch is never a bad thing.

  • Henry Cooper

    Note for those living in Tokyo … if you don’t see travel in your near future then you might want to consider asking around to any “financial-type” friends (or friends of friends) that you may have, as it’s fairly common for Hong Kong tailors to come out once a year (or so) for measurements and fabric selection, then just ship from Hong Kong once completed. You might get lucky with your timing.