Custom-Made Suits: If You're Rich, Dress Like It

If you're ready to move up to the next level in menswear, this is how to make the switch.
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After buying suits off the rack for years, you're ready for one that's custom-made.

All you need is a brief initiation into the secret society of "bespoke" (or custom-made).

A typical bespoke suit takes two to three fittings, needs up to 100 man-hours of design, construction and stitching, and can cost anywhere from $2,000 into the stratosphere.

The process has been referred to as the ultimate in individuality, and for good reason.

While made-to-measure is the bridge between off-the-rack (ready-to-wear) and bespoke, M2M is actually a set style of what a designer or tailor already has on hand -- an existing prototype -- fit to your measurements.

With bespoke, you are consulting and collaborating with the designer on every detail of your garment, from fabric to cut to detailing and the design itself.

One way to get your feet wet is to have a shirt made ($200-400) by a place like Houston's Hamilton Shirtmakers, established in 1833 and run by fourth-generation brother-sister team David and Kelly (available at Barneys New York, other retailers and

Hamilton Shirts

).

In London, its counterpart might be Jerymn Street's Turnbull & Asser (which makes shirts for, among others, Prince Charles), and in Paris, Charvet on Place Vendome.

The process at Hamilton lasts about three weeks and takes every taste of the customer into account, from cuff button placement to tail length and pocket size.

Taking it up a notch would involve having a suit custom-made, which will run you roughly 10 times the cost of that shirt, depending on where and how you have it done (if you happen to take regular trips to Hong Kong or Shanghai, it can be far less).

In New York, the names of the elderly Asian tailors on higher floors of Upper East Side brownstones are kept closer to the chest than vests by the elegant men who patronize them.

But one name came out -- Craig Robinson, a New Mexico transplant who has been shaking things up with what he calls his "sexy hit man, very playboyesque" line of menswear -- think Daniel Craig's version of 007.

Robinson, whose suits have graced the likes of edgy actors like Willem Dafoe and rockers such as Coldplay's Chris Martin (Mr. Gwyneth Paltrow), Interpol and Death Cab for Cutie, suggests that the first-timer go with a charcoal grey rather than the expected black.

"What's really nice is a Wellington or Calvary (worsted twill), super 120 (weight) all-season wool. You can go to work in it, and go out at night afterward. It's very nice and romantic," he says.

For the slightly more daring, Robinson recommends a Prince of Wales plaid -- "a much more subtle plaid" than one might expect, "very, very classy."

While you're at it, get a vest: Not only will vests be very "in" this autumn, but as Robinson points out, "You can take off your jacket and still be 'wearing a suit,'" as well as mixing and matching the vest with other jackets or suits. He also usually tries "to get someone to buy two pairs of pants" at the time of the suit, since trousers tend to wear out before jackets.

His price? Around $4,000, but you can spend up to $6,500 if you try.

For those of a more traditional bent, there's Savile Row transplant Leonard Logsdail, who works in a style some call "Brit limited" (a little shape in the waist, just a bit of shoulder padding).

Mostly created from a "nine-month weight" of wool, his suits run about $4,000-$5,000. With two pairs of trousers at around $1,000 each, and a couple of handmade shirts thrown in, you're looking at a nice year-end bonus right there.

If you're determined to have real-deal Savile Row and nothing but, Anderson & Sheppard (32 Old Burlington Street, London W1S 3AT) has been suiting Prince Charles for many years, and has been one of London's leading tailors since 1906; it sends representatives to the U.S. every spring and autumn to take measurements and a 50% deposit (for itinerary, log on to

Anderson-Sheppard

).

Benson & Clegg

was the tailor to George VI, the Queen's grandfather.

H. Huntsman

is supposed to make the most pricey suits on Savile Row, while the "new bespoke" (i.e. younger) movement is being championed by tailors such as

Timothy Everest

, who studied under the legendary 60s suit-maker Tommy Nutter, and designer/reality TV star Ozwald Boteng.

Whichever you choose, once you go bespoke, it'll be tough to go back to anything else.