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.
See a specialist.
Different tailors specialize in very different cuts. It's not just that Italian suits are formfitting and English suits tend to be more structured; neighboring houses in cities around the world often take varying approaches. It's important to be familiar with a tailor's house style. You don't want to be in the middle of an appointment and discover that you don't like what a tailor does best.
Credit: Photograph by Chad Springer
The traditional tailors of Savile Row like Huntsman favor strong, padded shoulders and built-up chests that taper to a clearly defined waist. It's a suit with a strong silhouette. It's ideal for a man who wants his suit to announce his presence, a man who never fears being overdressed and didn't even consider buying off the rack. Americans raised on the relaxed Brooks Brothers sack suit, might be surprised at such a formal coat. An Italian or American suit has much less structure, a closer fit, and flatters thin men, young men, and men who want to look a bit less formal.
There are, of course, happy mediums. Anderson & Sheppard, a favored tailor of Prince Charles, however, is less rigorous. Its coat favors a more natural shoulder without much padding and a gentler silhouette. That's one reason this suit maker is particularly popular in the United States.