Any time you purchase something "custom" you can expect it to cost more—and a suit or tuxedo is certainly no exception. But this inflation in price isn't merely because of demand—it's the result of more time, energy, and efficiency from the professional providing the service. When it comes to making a complex garment like a tailored jacket, Brice Pattison, fashion director of The Black Tux, says a dozen or more machines need to be set up (thread color, thread gauge, stitches per inch, and so forth), which takes the same time as it would setting up for 1,000 products. Put simply, there are no diluted costs—and this is not even including the amount of fittings, which can range anywhere from two to ten depending on the needs of the client.
When you purchase a custom suit or tuxedo for your wedding, you can expect that your designer is creating a garment for you and for you only, meaning he or she only makes one. This alone means the economy of scale is significantly different than it would be for something that's sold off the rack. "Our fabrics are varied, exclusive, and of the highest quality, which takes both added time and added materials," explains Marc Allen, owner of Marc Allen Fine Clothiers. "In a department store, you get whoever is on the floor at that moment, but in a specialty store, you get a dedicated person who will work alongside of you to create the look you want and the fit you need." To get a true idea of what goes on behind the scenes in order to create a custom suit or tuxedo worthy of being worn on a groom's wedding day, we asked designers to share their process, from start to finish.
That process always start with an initial visit. Whether the client walks in off the street or schedules an appointment ahead of time, the first step of the process involves an introduction between client and creator. At the beginning of these appointments, Ryan Devens, founder of Tailors' Keep, says he sits down with the client over a glass of whiskey or a cocktail and goes over any inspiration images the client has. "For us, seeing images of garments the client is drawn to helps us to begin pinpointing certain styles that make the garment seem special to the client regarding color, fit, lapel shape, coat length, and so forth," he says. "Since style is incredibly subjective, having a sense of imagery in front of us can provide definition to ideas and get us going on the right track from the get-go."
The next step is a decision about which fabric to use, often called a "fabric study." "We discuss, in detail, different types and grades of cloth that would be used for the shell of the garment," says Devens. "Here, there is a great deal to learn, whether it's weight, breathability, ease of care, softness, composition, color-dying process, and strength." Most of the time the fabric collected comes from overseas. In fact, Devens says that the best fabric mills in the world reside in Biella Italy and Yorkshire England.
Once a fabric is selected, the next step in the process is the fun part: the fitting, during which upwards of 80 measurements are taken. "These fit specifications come from posture observations, body asymmetries, balance points, horizontal (width), and vertical (length) measurements," says Devens. "This is the part of the process where working with a skilled fitter is key to achieving the right fit aesthetic for the garment, since measurements and fit data can be very tricky depending on the client's build and shape."
Once the design is finalized, fabrics picked, and measurements taken, it's time to create the suit. Though the process is different at every manufacturer, the custom order is typically relayed to the tailors who then created the unique garment. "Most off-the-rack clothes have a canvas chest piece that is fused the rest of the way—this allows the maker to cut some costs as it's made on a production line," says Allen. "With custom, we use a full canvas inside our garments and this allows the clothing to feel light and comfortable. Plus, by using a canvas, the finished suit will mold more to the man's body, thus giving him a better more comfortable fit."
Once your suit or tuxedo is completed, the client is called in for his first fitting. This typically involves a spot check for the fit as well as all the style details. "At this stage, if additional tailoring is needed, we have on-site tailors who are able to make any changes within a week's time," says Devens. "If and when any changes are made to the fit, those changes are recorded and saved to the client's profile so that ordering additional garments in the future is turn-key."
After several fittings to ensure the ideal level of satisfaction, the suit or tux is scheduled for delivery. It can either be picked up directly at the store or delivered directly to the client's home. Minor alterations can still be made if necessary (for example, if a groom shed some weight while the garment was being created or would like some last minute additions, explains Moshe Ben-Ari, the founder of ARI, in New York City). "After such alterations, the tuxedo or suit will be finalized and ready for the groom to wear on his big day," Ben-Ari adds.