Ready to wear vs made to measure suits

A suit is a wardrobe staple that every man should own, and when it comes to design, the possibilities are endless.  But should you purchase your suit made to measure or ready to wear?

Both options have their pros and cons, but ultimately it comes down to personal taste and what you’re willing to spend. The key to making the right decision is understanding the difference between the two. In this post, I’ll give you a guided tour of made to measure and ready to wear, and help you decide which services will best ‘tailor’ to your needs. (Pardon the pun.)

What is made-to-measure?

The quick and short of it is that a made to measure suit created using a pattern cut from a master model (or standard block) and is modified to fit a person’s specific measurements including the waist, shoulders, and back. The pattern with the cloth and measurements are taken to a factory where the suit is constructed over the course of a few weeks. You will see the complete suit at a fitting where final tweaks are made. Two weeks later, your suit is ready for you to pick up. The whole process takes up to eight weeks.

Old fashioned sewing machine

When should you choose made to measure?

When you want to know that you’ll get exactly what you want, in the fabric you like, and in the style you like as all of the many possible alterations are taken into consideration on your first appointment.

Pros of made to measure

  1. You get the style of suit you want from head to toe.and don’t have to compromise on fit.
  2. You can choose from thousands of fabrics.
  3. The price of the suit is set up front and includes any changes that are made along the way.

Cons of made to measure

  1. It is more expensive than ready to wear as you are paying for a higher level of craftsmanship, expertise and materials.
  2. It takes up to eight weeks to create a suit, so if you need one urgently this option won’t work for you.

What is ready to wear?

Ready to wear (or off the rack if you prefer) is clothing sold in generic sizes for the general market. If the suit fits your measurements then you can take it straight home without going through the process of fittings and then waiting for the suit to be completed.

What people sometimes miss is the fact that a ready to wear suit can be altered more ways than you can imagine. This gives the suit potential to look more like a made to measure suit.

What are the limits to altering a ready to wear suit?

Sleeves: On a ready to wear suit, you will find that the button holes are a bit of a sham (they’re not real!). This means that they can be completely unpicked and re-sewn where needed and the buttons re-attached allowing the sleeve to be shortened.

A word of warning: if the sleeve needs to be shortened too much, it’s likely that the suit length itself will be thrown off balance and/or the sleeve will end up losing its original shape. As a guide, 1-2 inches maximum should be taken off. If it looks like it will be more, opt for made to measure.

Chest: If a ready to wear suit is lifting off of your chest, it’s probably because you have a prominent chest. You will see an actual break almost in the middle of the lapels which makes it clear that this is the case. Opting for made to measure here is your only option as you’ll need a prominent chest built into the suit. If it’s minimal, there is some work a tailor can do, but it’s nice to not overwork a suit.

The alterations are limitless, but it’s all about finding the overall balance of the suit. My favourite alteration that can, to me, make the most dramatic change is taking in the jacket waistline so that it curves into the body, which is super flattering.

When should you choose a ready to wear suit?

When you need a new suit quite quickly and you need to stick to a budget, or perhaps you rarely (if ever) wear a suit and need one for a special occasion. Many ready to wear suits are beautifully designed and are appropriate for everyday wear. Take advantage of having some small, quick alterations done so you don’t look like you are wearing someone else’s suit!

Pros of a ready to wear:

  1. It’s instantly yours (bar a few alterations if necessary).
  2. You know exactly what you’re getting – it’s all made up for you to see.
  3. You can assess the quality of the suit instantly.

Cons of a ready to wear:

  1. If you need more than a couple of alterations it will push the price up towards made to measure level, in which case it may be better to upgrade to get the exact suit you want.
  2. Ready to wear suits tend to have a half canvas. Occasionally when the suit is more expensive and it explicitly states so it may have a full canvas, but it’s rare. This means that the suit will never sit as nicely as a made to measure version,

Read the blogs below for more helpful tips and advice on made to measure suits:

6 Reasons not to buy a cheap made to measure suit

What is the difference between a bespoke and made to measure suit?


Photos by Dominic Nicholls, Clem Onojeghuo, Gez Xavier Mansfield and Annie Spratt on Unsplash