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.
Stay conservative with your lapels.
You can spot a good tailor by his lapels. They will be hand-canvassed (as opposed to machine-fused) and roll naturally. A well-made lapel will come slightly away from the body lower on the jacket.
Credit: Photograph by Chad Springer
But what about lapel width? That's a schismatic question. The only right answer is to ignore trends and go with something simple and timeless. Skinny might look good on 'Mad Men,' but you want to look terrific for decades so don't base your decision on what's on the cover of the latest fashion magazine. A tailor will have a standard lapel width. If you have a large head (no shame in that) then the lapels will be slightly wider to keep the proportion – the reverse if you're smaller on top.
Being stylish doesn't means existing beyond trends. The essence of tailoring is that you set a higher sartorial standard.