September 7, 2012

"The Difference Between A $99 Suit And A $5,000 Suit..."

"... In One Graphic."

And here's an article about the rare skill involved in making a bespoke suit (and how it's not a profitable business, bereft of economies of scale).
The only way to make money in the perfectionist craftsperson industry, it seems, is to stop being a perfectionist craftsperson....

Just as Adam Smith described in “The Wealth of Nations,” there are huge efficiency gains when one complex process is broken down into constituent parts and each worker specializes in one thing.

25 comments:

Patrick said...

My wife has made wedding dresses (only a few), and we briefly considered having her do it s business. But those economies of scale really make it tough to make a good business of it because it takes so blasted long and the individual requirements of each bride are very specific and very very important to the bride.

Peter said...

The suitmaker profiled in the Times article isn't doing too badly for himself, if he's making a net income of $50K per year. Many (most?) self-employed people would be grateful if they could do that well.

Ambrose said...

The suitmaker is doing pretty well, deservedly so. But isn't this an example of trickle down economics actually working? I am sure I read in the NYT that it does not!

Tyrone Slothrop said...

What's cheaper than off-the-rack? Salvation Army? That's my style.

edutcher said...

For most guys, a suit that drapes, rather than conforms to the body, is a better look.

wyo sis said...

edutcher
A really well made custom suit doesn't just conform to the wearer's body, but disguises flaws. Check out Charls Krauthammer's suits. They are usually impeccable and they do an amazing job of disguising the ravages of paralysis.
I was a fashion and textiles major in college and it's a very precise art to make a good suit.

Joe said...

Growing up, my neighbor across the street was from the Dutch East Indies (and he and his wife both lived there during the Japanese occupation.) He flew to Hong Kong once a year to buy a few custom fitted suits for about $100 each. Yes, this was the 70s, but that's still cheap.

I hate suit jackets; the pinch my shoulders. I find even nice rented "fitted" tuxedos horribly uncomfortable.

bagoh20 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
bagoh20 said...

Do I really have to spend $99? How about if I just not attend whatever function requires a suit. I have been a corporate CEO for two decades, and I think I have worn a suit 3 times, and that was in the early days. I have never paid more than a couple hundred, which is one reason I don't wear them; I'm too cheap to do it right. The rest of my money goes to fun or charity, whichever makes the better case that day. Wearing a suit makes me feel like I'm not making an honest living. I mean, have you seen the people on TV for the last week - all suits, and every one of them a con man, except Clint. It's the upscale version of a hoodie.

Michael said...

I confess to having otr, mtm and bespoke suits. Be advised that there is a huge range of quality even in the bespoke category. I am old school and wear suits all the time. When I visit with clients or capital sources I dont like to look like I am on the way to play golf. The fashion has been to dress down, to fudge class differences in dress and,frankly to approach a conformity of casual dress that reminds me of China in the time of Mao. It is impossible to tell the CEO from the pipefitter even inthe first class compartment of an airplane. I think it a bad thing and unmanly to boast of dressing down but that is what we have come to. Spielberg and the Hollywood guys started the trend and of course the rest followed.

KLDAVIS said...

I took a trip to central Vietnam last year, a region renowned for its tailors. Had several bespoke suits made for less than 1/10th the price quoted in that article...they were finished in less than 48 hours (with 3 fittings). The high end shops in town had access to the same Armani cashmere and other high end materials that places in NY, Milan or Hong Kong would have. Best fitting clothes I own, I highly recommend it.

KLDAVIS said...

I took a trip to central Vietnam last year, a region renowned for its tailors. Had several bespoke suits made for less than 1/10th the price quoted in that article...they were finished in less than 48 hours (with 3 fittings). The high end shops in town had access to the same Armani cashmere and other high end materials that places in NY, Milan or Hong Kong would have. Best fitting clothes I own, I highly recommend it.

Chip Ahoy said...

Bob Dole is another example. He is lopsided and yet his suits fit perfectly. Kudos to his tailor. I thought as I watched him fake us out with his paralyzed arm. Put a pen in his hand. Hahahaha. Psyche.

bagoh20 said...

Anyone can spend more money and time to dress up if they really want to, but I value both my time and my money for things other than than using them to convince people I'm manly or rich or sophisticated or powerful, or whatever. I can do things for you. If you don't want them, fine. I don't dress down or disrespectful, but I'm just not your guy if that's what impresses you. There can be more than one style to men's lives, and the world will go on.

Chip Ahoy said...

I hate suits. They give me the eepscray. But I don't mind jackets. I wore all kind of cheap jackets but the thing is, I'm so goddamn adorable that I make everything look good even boring ass Federal Reserve Bank clothes. You think I'm joking again? I'm not. I'm irresistible. I dress in an ordinary way, nothing at all special, and the women there sent me off to be photographed, and the next thing I know, they've printed 500 of these and they were passed around all over the place amongst themselves, the people involved with all that do, and I was going off interviewing half the time. Came back and showed the ladies my checks. They totally supported the thing, they pushed it. Turns out interview more often than usual because everybody else interviewing in competition is more adorable than me, but I'm getting ahead of the story

So that it even circled back to the FRB. Another woman there who I didn't know approached me, she from an Asian country, "I know you! I saw you I saw you okay I know you I saw you picture on wall hahahahaha I know you I saw you before hahahaha I saw your picture on wall."

Chip Ahoy said...

Apologies, 500 of these.

Bender said...

A really well made custom suit doesn't just conform to the wearer's body, but disguises flaws. Check out Charles Krauthammer's suits.

Bob Dole is another example. He is lopsided and yet his suits fit perfectly.


Yeah, all that is just fine if your physical condition is such that you can't hardly move.

But if you actually want to lift your arms up and move them around, or turn and twist and bend your body, then a form-fitting suit is very constricting, especially if you do like you are "supposed to do" and keep it buttoned.

Chip Ahoy said...

That's a very good point because those two examples really cannot move around.

Penny said...

$4901

Balfegor said...

Anyone can spend more money and time to dress up if they really want to, but I value both my time and my money for things other than than using them to convince people I'm manly or rich or sophisticated or powerful, or whatever.

Unless you have some deformity which a well tailored suit can conceal, 99.9% of the people you meet are not going to see the difference between a $99 suit and a $1000 suit and a $5000 suit. Indeed, in many countries (e.g. Japan), suits have been a means of concealing class, because literally everyone wore a suit. Unlike fashion or designer clothing, which is designed to make a statement (I'm rich! I'm hip! I'm a man of the people! Whatever), a man's suit ought to recede into the background. And in an environment where everyone is wearing suits, it does. They're wearing suits. Not $99 suits and $5000 suits. Suits. If someone looks at your suit, and their first thought is "that's a great suit!," you're doing it wrong.

The point of spending the money is that a well tailored suit is more comfortable, and ought to last longer. Also, you can customise things like the pockets and so on, which can be convenient. I like to get them made half-lined so they're a little more comfortable in the heat. And I always get a second pair of trousers, to make it last longer (although you can also do this with suit separates at the bottom end of the price scale). It can make you look better, but that doesn't matter as much for men. Essentially, it's luxury spending on yourself, like getting nice sheets for your bed, except you spend all day in a suit.

Balfegor said...

Re: Bender:

But if you actually want to lift your arms up and move them around, or turn and twist and bend your body, then a form-fitting suit is very constricting, especially if you do like you are "supposed to do" and keep it buttoned.

The problem is armholes. If the armholes are cut high, pretty close to your actual arm, the suit doesn't pull as much when you lift your arms.

Michael said...

A further thought on why I wear suits. I think the wearing shows respect for the task and for the people you are invovled with in business, a discipline.

Balfegor is absolutely right about armholes, one of the many details of bespoke that make the suits fit comfortably.

I have and wear bespoke suits that are thirty years old, by the way. Traditional styling spans decades.

Beldar said...

@ Balfegor: You wrote, "Unless you have some deformity which a well tailored suit can conceal, 99.9% of the people you meet are not going to see the difference between a $99 suit and a $1000 suit and a $5000 suit." That's true, I think, but it misses the point.

The point is not to be noticed for wearing a $5000 suit. Indeed, the point is not for the suit to be noticed at all — but for you to look fabulous in it, without anyone consciously attributing it to your clothing. You certainly don't want someone to think, "Oh, he just looks that good because he's in expensive clothing."

It's a corollary of the old cliche that if you have to ask what it costs, you can't afford it.

Photography is this way, too. Anyone can take a picture that actually looks like you. But making you look better than you are, without cheating, and without anyone recognizing what's been done, takes genuine talent.

Balfegor said...

Re: Beldar:

Indeed, the point is not for the suit to be noticed at all — but for you to look fabulous in it, without anyone consciously attributing it to your clothing. You certainly don't want someone to think, "Oh, he just looks that good because he's in expensive clothing."

Fair enough. My suits are cut to be reasonably flattering, but they probably don't exactly work wonders with my figure. But then, I'm not exactly purchasing at that $5000 price point.

sleepless nights said...

It really can conceal how fat some guys are. That's not necessarily a good thing. A while back, they did an expose of powerful guys in swimsuits. Horrifying for the most part. I didn't expect models, but I had no *idea* just how many extra pounds can be concealed by a well-cut suit. Kennedy and Clinton (at his then weight) were particularly scary.