Design Your Own Disaster: The Pitfall of Online Custom Clothing

Online custom clothing for men is booming. We have more handsome, well-made, workable and affordable options for full custom clothing than ever before, which is wonderful… in theory.

In this episode of the podcast, I talk about a hidden pitfall in the online custom clothing world – a pitfall that puts too many design options in the hands of non-designers, i.e. us. While it’s a nice idea to be able to choose your collars, cuffs, fabric, color, thread and button options, an inexperienced customer without the guidance of a seasoned professional could end up creating a mess.

Without an understanding of things like color, proportion, fabric and fit as they relate to the unique needs and qualities of the customer – things like hair color, eye color, skin tone, height, weight, width, posture, lifestyle and so on – full, unfettered custom options invite an uneducated and unsupervised customer to design a real disaster.



  1. Bought a suit from an online Indian tailor.

    Was measured patiently by my wife for the whole project. Twice. We were careful.

    Money changed hands – not an immense amount, but not insignificant either. We’re all watching our money these days. I waited and hoped.

    Three weeks later the navy blue, single-breasted ‘bespoke’ suit arrived. I tried it on: Trousers were high in the waist and tight in the nether regions. The jacket was better but the lapels didn’t sit flat. My wife gave me a pained expression.

    I batted away her doubts and headed to my Turkish tailor to have them altered. When I explained the nature of my purchase he looked appalled.

    He removed it from the bag and took one glance at it. And looked even more horrified.

    Now he is normally a quiet, thoughtful, even solemn, man not given to saying much. I know him long-enough to know his life story. He’s been sewing suits since he was 7 years of age. His father taught him and his brother. He works from 8am to 7pm daily.

    Now, after a quick once-over assessment of my Indian online suit he gave me his verdict:

    “It’s a piece of shit!” he yelled.

    “Is it good for anything?” I pleaded.

    “Cleaning oil stains!” he pronounced.


    “This is made by some some guy with a cousin who was a shoemaker on a Wednesday and a tailor on a Thursday. It is good for a man running for a bus, not you Sir!”

    I persisted and he agreed to make ‘adjustments’. He did his best. A week later and $100 lighter, I tried it on. I turned and looked in the mirror. It was, indeed, a piece of shit suit, passable only when sprinting for a bus.

    I didn’t begrudge the shoemaker turned tailor his payment – good for him for fleecing me, an idiot thinking he could grab a bargain at a distance – but it was a reminder of an old lesson my parents taught me as a kid: ‘You get what you pay for.’

    A month later – after a trip to the East Coast of the USA – I returned with four new suits (three Ralph Lauren and one Macy’s own Italian brand) for alteration which I bought from Macy’s. My Turkish tailor looked at them, smoothed down fabric with his hands and smiled:

    “These are quality suits for real gentleman who doesn’t need to run for bus…

    • George Reply

      GREAT story, Eamonn. And, yes, we get what we pay for. Your story reminds me of another adage: “Stick with the winners.”

    • Errr, why didn’t you just get your “Turkish Tailor” to make you a bespoken suit?

      • That’s a perfectly reasonable question. I did indeed ask him when I first started using him for alterations some years back. He paused, sighed, scratched his chin and explained it was simply too much work for him and, I suppose, also interrupted his day-to-day work routine. He can make more money altering garments rather than making them. The way he explained it was, bottom line, rather like asking your car mechanic if he fancied designing, building and producing a bespoke vehicle. He might be capable of it, it might even be fun but… maybe not.

    • Salutary lesson and very well written. There’s a moral to your experience and it is this: While internet MTM offers some benefits, if you fall in the fat of the bell curve in size, buying OTR and having it altered can be a better approach.

  2. Awesome 30 minutes. You just gained another regular listener. I’m in need of a new suit and finally have enough in my budget for two options. I can go with an online “bespoke” suit or a middle road retailer suit taken to my trusty cut & sew mechanic. NOW I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO! I’ve been blessed with a brother in law who is much wiser when it comes to fashion and well off who is luckily my size. He’s gifted down several Hugo Boss suits but nothing in navy and the grey is 3 button (I’m too broad to make a 3 button not look bulky). Needless to say I’m a bit spoiled. Any suggestions for retailers? (44R)

    • George Reply

      Thanks, Timothy! Coupla things… Online custom outfits who use the word “bespoke” are misusing the word. Bespoke is a hand process that takes 50 – 60 man hours and several thousands of dollars, like they do on Savile Row in London. The online shops are doing custom or made-to-measure. (In fact, if they use the word “bespoke,” it’s a red flag that you’re dealing with an amateur.) Indochino, in my opinion, is the best online made-to-measure available. They’ve been at it the longest, are the most imitated, and are regularly refining their process to make it better. J.Crew and Suitsupply are excellent options. Off-the-rack sale items from stores like Macy’s from masters like Ralph Lauren are terrific. I would avoid Hugo Boss, Calvin Klein and some others who use fusing in their jackets, as opposed to canvassing. Fusing is a cheap manufacturing shortcut that employs glue that fuses the jacket shell to the chest piece. No no no. Half-canvassed suits are better (J.Crew and Indochino do half-canvas), and full canvas is best (Suitsupply and Imparali Custom Tailor, another good online custom resource.)

      • Great input. I really appreciate it. Looking at indochino and I’ll check out some stores for some Ralph Lauren deals. Thank you!

  3. Maybe the vendor missed the mark with their inquiry. If I understand you correctly, they wanted to advertise on your site?
    The request should have been to solicit your expertise for online chat support(paid, of course); your recommendations, based some of the qualifiers you mention, could help customers make informed decisions.

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