The Taste With Vir: Why do people go for off-the-peg look?

Mar 22, 2022 12:55 PM IST

Why pay for an off-the-peg designer suit when, you can get a tailor to make you look like a movie star?

Do you use a tailor? I am willing to bet that a) you almost never get anything tailored and b) that it was different in your grandfather's time because he probably had lots of clothes tailored. The tailor has gone the way of the ‘suit piece’ and the ‘trial’; both phrases we don't hear very much these days. (Also read: The Taste With Vir: Time for food writers to serve readers again)

A made-to-measure suit is a standard pattern adjusted to make room for the imperfections in your body.(Unsplash)
A made-to-measure suit is a standard pattern adjusted to make room for the imperfections in your body.(Unsplash)

In the West, the decline of tailoring was based primarily on economic considerations. As incomes went up, tailors began expecting to be paid more. This pushed up the cost of tailored clothes. Around the same time, industrialisation made it cheap and easy to mass manufacture garments. So, people stopped going to tailors and bought their clothes off the peg.

We're now on WhatsApp. Click to join.

This was as true for women as it was for men. The ‘ladies dressmaker’ survived as a profession in the West till the 1940s and was then gradually replaced by shops selling readymade goods.

By the 1960s, fashion had followed that trend. Most designer clothes are now readymade. You can still get couture, that is, clothes made specially for you by top designers but prices are so high (around 40 to 50 lakh per outfit is not uncommon) that only the very rich can afford couture.

The slow death of men's tailoring in the West led to the birth of the men's fashion industry. Would you care about Giorgio Armani or Tom Ford if your clothes were still made for you by a tailor? It is the rise of readymade garments that made these designers rich and famous.

For some reason, most of us have adopted the western way with ready-to-wear even though it is not prohibitively expensive to get clothes tailored in India. In fact, it is often much cheaper than buying a branded suit. But because we regard tailoring as being old-fashioned and downmarket, most men would rather go to a shop and buy something made in a factory.

I can understand why you would want to do this. It is easy and convenient if you are buying say, jeans or casual shirts. But does it make sense if you are buying a suit or a formal shirt?

I don't think so. Yes, it is true that there are fewer and fewer good tailors. But there is a chicken and egg principle at work here. If we hadn't stopped getting clothes made for us, there would have been more tailors. By denying them our custom we have driven them out of business.

I am a firm fan of tailoring. It has been at least 15 years now since I have bought say, a suit or a formal shirt off the peg. If you have a good tailor, why would you want to wear anything made in a factory along with thousands of identical pieces like it?

Given a choice between a designer and tailor, I will take the tailor nearly every time.

And I am not the only one. When you see Hollywood stars looking so good in their suits, don't believe all the publicity material about how they bought their clothes at Tom Ford or Brioni and Giorgio Armani. Even if you have a figure like Daniel Craig and can afford to buy a Tom Ford suit, you still won't look like James Bond if you buy your suits from shops run by these designers.

Because the fictional James Bond and the real Daniel Craig do not buy their suits from the Tom Ford shop or a Brioni store. They have them tailored for them. Tom Ford or Brioni will get an old-fashioned tailor to take the star's measurements and then make the clothes from scratch.

The most famous men's tailors in the world are, of course, the tailors of London's Savile Row. Nearly every iconic men's movie outfit you can recall will have been tailored on Savile Row. Remember the suit that Cary Grant wears throughout Alfred Hitchcock's classic North By Northwest? That was made for him on Savile Row. What about all the clothes that Roger Moore wore as James Bond? They were made for him by Dougie Hayward, his regular tailor.

Even stars who have tried ready-to-wear have found that they need the Row's cutters to look better in their movies. When Tom Cruise came to London to shoot the first Mission Impossible movie, the film's costume designer gave him a wardrobe designed by Donna Karan. Cruise had worked out for the role so he had muscular shoulders and none of the Karan suits felt right. He was taken to Timothy Everest, then part of Savile Row's new generation. Everest made suits specially for Cruise who looked great in Mission Impossible and has remained a Savile Row loyalist ever since.

Interestingly, famous men's designers prefer to wear Savile Row suits themselves when they are not promoting their own brands. Calvin Klein has a whole wardrobe of suits from the Row. Tom Ford is such a Savile Row fan that the suits he sells are patterned on the classic Row cuts. (But they can be tighter as anyone who has seen the suits Ford tailored for Daniel Craig's Bond will know). Ralph Lauren wore Savile Row suits before launching Purple Label as a tribute to the Row.

Savile Row suits cost a lot. On the other hand, they don't cost much more than many off-the-peg Tom Ford suits. So why do people go for the off-the-peg look? Perhaps because it is quicker. The first time you order a bespoke suit, it will take a month for the first fitting. By the time you try the suit, at least 52 man hours will have gone into making it by hand. There will be two more fittings. So, the process can take over two months

A simpler option is made-to-measure. This is nowhere near as evolved as bespoke. For a bespoke suit, a master cutter will draw a pattern for the suit and the canvas will be cut according to the drawing. The suit will follow that pattern. The suit will not accord to any regular size (say 52 or 54). It will be made to your exact specifications.

A made-to-measure suit (favoured by most Italian men's brands now), on the other hand, is a standard pattern (say a 52 or a 54), adjusted to make room for the imperfections in your body. Many rich Indians like made-to-measure because Indian men tend to have larger waists and thinner legs than most western men which is why readymade suits never look right. Made-to-measure takes that into account at less than half the price of bespoke (and only a little more than readymade) and requires only one fitting.

Regular Indian tailors still try and go with the bespoke style. All of my formal shirts, my bandis and many of my suits are made for me by Vaish at Rivoli in Delhi using classic Savile Row techniques. I also like the Canali made-to-measure service which is an extremely well-run operation in India.

Sadly, I can't afford to buy too many Savile Row suits. But I shifted from Gieves and Hawkes to Whitcomb and Shaftesbury, partly because it is Indian-owned and their cutters often fly to India for fittings but mostly because the suits are elegant and comfortable.

None of this is cheap. But the suits last a lifetime and if your weight fluctuates, all of them (Vaish, Canali, Gieves and Hawkes and Whitcomb and Shaftesbury,) will be happy to adjust the suits.

The problem with all this, of course, is that it is now difficult to go back to buying readymade clothes. I have a strange body (shoulders too broad, paunch too big etc.) and readymade always looks wrong on me. Fortunately, we still have the luxury of tailors like Vaish at Rivoli in India and the travelling culture of Whitcomb and Shaftesbury.

All good suits are luxuries. But given that most of us need only one or two good suits, they do not overstrain the wallets of anyone who already wears readymade suits from fancy designer brands. Why pay for an off-the-peg designer suit when, for just a little more, you can get a tailor to make you look like a movie star?

Sometimes the old ways are the best.

"Exciting news! Hindustan Times is now on WhatsApp Channels Subscribe today by clicking the link and stay updated with the latest news!" Click here!

    Why hide the papers? Why keep the conspiracy theories related to Netaji Subhas Bose’s death alive? And why deny India the truth about the death of one of its great freedom fighters?

Story Saved
Live Score
Saved Articles
My Reads
My Offers
Sign out
New Delhi 0C
Wednesday, September 27, 2023
Start 14 Days Free Trial Subscribe Now
Register Free and get Exciting Deals