Bespoke suits are the highest achievement, to date, of an ancient art form – Tailoring. There’s a lot of detail to get your head around when thinking suits. But fear not Gents, this series will shed some light on what you need to know.
#5 How Off-The-Peg Suits are Made
Off The Peg, Off the Rack, Ready to Wear, Generics, and a couple other nuanced terms thrown around the fashion world all refer more or less to the same thing: A mass produced garment. And more importantly a garment produced with the intention of sale to the consumer, as opposed to a garment produced on the request of a client. There’s a ton I have to say about the world of garment manufacture, but I’ll spare you in this post to focus on the specific influences mass production has on your suit, or at least the kind of suit you can buy in a store.
Before I get started, please be aware that the specifics of garment construction listed below are very general, and even off the peg suits can be done entirely traditionally like at Kiton. Outlines below are the general themes you’ll find in an off the peg suit.
Off-the-peg garments are made according to a single pattern. Every fashion house has at least one fit model, who test-wears the garments to get the fit right, and different sizes are graded from there. Which is a pretty retarded idea.This means that the suit you’re about to buy was made specifically to fit someone else’s body and how well it fits you is dependent on the similarities you share with this stranger.
Fit models are generally chosen to be ‘average’ for the fit to work with the widest array of body shapes, but in the end this suit wasn’t made for you. Short cuts in grading also mean that the fit can border on the absurd in very small or very large sizes. This has gotten worse as global fashion houses try to standardize their fits at the same time as marketing to physically distinct racial groups. The outsourcing of most of the grading and production processes hasn’t helped either. If you must buy one of these please read my post on how a suit should fit, which also gives a guide on what a tailor could alter, and what not.
Closer to home saccaggi produces off the garments in a similar (though infinitely more fabulous and innovative) way. Standard patterns are made in a chaotic process of generic block patterning, fitting clients and my own personal ideas of where suits should go next. This means there’s an ever evolving collection of ‘standard’ patterns from which I make my ready to wear garments.
The way a suit’s lapel runs diagonally from neck-shoulder intersection to center front is actually entirely impossible…without some crafty technology going on behind the seams. A true bespoke suit will achieve the rigidity needed for this feat of physics with a horse hair canvas (more on this when we discuss bespoke). While an off the peg suit will generally use fusible interfacing; Basically a stiff fabric glued to the inside of the suit.
One disadvantage of using glue is that the suit becomes rather rigid, limiting the amount of movement without the suit bending out of shape. Horsehair, on the other hand, is ingeniously woven to allow movement where it’s needed, and limit it where structure is important.
Another (more problematic) problem is that the glue degrades over time, leaving you with bubbles. This process is sped up by strain (simply wearing your suit) as well as moisture from sweat and the environment. Even without these factors the very best glue wont last more than three years, and there’s no way of fixing the bubbling once it starts.
The saccaggi suit makes use of fusible interfacing for it’s speed of application, but keeps it to a minimum in strategic places. The reverse of the lapel, collar, hem and cuffs all have heat fused cotton. HOWEVER, these interfacings are still tacked in place by hand to extend their life span, and are used only in places not generally visible. So even when the glue begins to perish you’ll never even know it!
In other news I’ve developed a few techniques to deal with bubbled fusing, so you can always bring your suit in for some TLC by The Green Tailor ;)
Unbeknownst to the common man is the fact that most bespoke clothes are purposefully designed to be alterable. Instead of going the fast fashion route and getting you to buy a new shirt each season, bespoke clothes are meant to be durable enough to last (the general rule is) ten years, and tasteful enough to be fashionable throughout that period.
What of weight fluctuations you ask? Yes bespoke clothes *should allow you around 7kgs of weight gain/loss if they’re smartly engineered. To save costs mass produced garments cut down on seam allowance to as little as 3mm sometimes so that more garments can be cut with less fabric. Small seam allowances are also easier to sew accurately with speed.
Although saccaggi’s off the peg suits include extra seam allowances only in certain strategic places, there’s a 99% chance that we’ll be able to adjust your suit should your weight fluctuate to a point where the fit is no longer perfect.
If you’re going off the peg look for a floating chest piece, which is going to be expensive but will last longer. You can spot this by trying to pull the layers of the chest of the suit apart. If you can feel a few layers there, you’ve got a floating chest piece. The chest piece can also be reshaped when after a few years it looses its rigidity.
Next we’ll look at what Made-to-Measure (the most common kind of “bespoke tailoring”) actually means, and what it is you’re paying for.
The Studio is at 625 Levinia Street, Garsfontein, and open every Thursday from 10am to 10pm. You can also subscribe to this blog by hitting the follow button, and join the monthly newsletter here for fashion scandal and awesome designs.