A bespoke suit flatters, never shows its age, and has the power to imbue a tinker, soldier, or spy with the sort of confidence he might otherwise find in a bottle. Every man deserves one, but actually acquiring a tailored suit requires more than just taking out the plastic. You have to work with your tailor to build something worthy of a rite of passage. And, yes, that first trip to a serious haberdashery – whether it be on Savile Row, Fifth Avenue, or the streets of Hong Kong's Tsim Sha Tsui neighborhood – is as much of an initiation as any graduation, bar mitzvah, or first kiss.
That doesn't mean that stepping in front of a three-way mirror isn't unnerving. It absolutely is, which is all the more reason to study up before you start playing with fabrics and talking about that Tom Ford sport coat you saw in the pages of 'Men's Journal.' This is no time to rest on your lapels. Before you part with a lot of money on a suit that will be with you for life, you need to have a long conversation with your sartorial spirit guide: your tailor.
Tailors operate on small margins and word of mouth. The field is stunningly – and increasingly – competitive. That means you need to listen, but it also means you need to participate in the process. Here is everything you need to do to help your suit maker create something so long-lasting you'll want to be buried in it.
Get a copy.
Once you've gone through the paper-pattern experience and actually have a bench-made suit, it becomes easier to get your next superior custom suit at an earthbound price. Tailors in Ho Chi Minh City, Bangkok, Singapore, and Hong Kong – where the excellent century-old A-Man Hing Cheong company works out of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel – can turn a suit around remarkably fast, provided you arrive at their office with a suit for them to copy. They usually have two fittings (they can sometimes do these two days apart), then discreetly send your suit to the States in the mail in order to avoid customs duties.
If you are referred to an Asian tailor visiting the States, again, be sure to bring the bespoke suit you already have. The specialty of these tailors has less to do with house style and more to do with satisfying the precise expectations of their clients. They'll offer you a chance to duplicate the success you had with your first suit without duplicating the cost.
Credit: Photograph by Chad Springer