Custom-made suits for men used to be a purchase made only by a select few. But like everything else in retailing, the internet turned the business inside out.
Not the recipe for disaster that traditionalists might have predicted, mail-order custom suits gained credibility. In one consumer test, a $614 Suitsupply suit was judged virtually equivalent to a $3,600 Armani suit.
But some online retailers realized they were still missing a large segment of the market, especially younger men who want to see and feel fabrics and have an expert take their measurements.
Pat Morseth of Minneapolis checked out Indochino.com after his fiancée heard an ad for the store during a podcast. “I wanted something custom for our wedding, but I didn’t get excited until I saw Indochino had a local store,” said Morseth, an insurance development manager who usually wears a sport coat and dress shirt to work. “I plan to wear the suit after the wedding too.”
Vancouver-based Indochino will have 31 stores open by end of summer, including the one that opened at the Mall of America last year. It does a big business in made-to-measure suits for wedding parties.
“The trend in suiting is that a guy can wear a made-to-measure suit after the wedding,” said Dean Handspiker, vice president of design at Indochino. “It’s a better value to spend $399 to $499 on a suit you can wear after the wedding than $200 on a tuxedo rental.”
Customers at Indochino, typically 25- to 45-year-olds, usually make a one-hour appointment for a fitting that involves 14 measurements and lots of choices for customization. Unlike most made-to-measure retailers, Indochino uses large fabric swatches, about 40 inches square. It gives customers a better idea of what the suit will look like than a 4-inch swatch.
Where a tailor shop might have 3,000 choices, Indochino has fewer than 100. Morseth appreciated the “less is more” philosophy.
Made-to-measure typically involves ordering a suit, but customers can also add made-to-measure shirts (3 for $199 at Indochino) and sport coats. Indochino CEO Drew Green describes the process as “getting away from selling a product to selling an experience.”
Morseth likes knowing that his measurements are saved so he can go online to order the next time he wants a suit, dress shirt or sport coat. It will cost about the same as off the rack, have a custom fit, and arrive in about three weeks. If a client has put on or lost weight, he can be measured again before reordering.
Tiffany Hogan, a retail analyst at Kantar Consulting, credits millennials for the rising popularity of custom. “Millennials are shifting their idea of value in fashion from price to quality,” she said. “Many would rather invest in a timeless piece like a suit that will last longer rather than cheaper, trendier pieces.”
Skeptics might doubt the longevity of this trend, considering the casualization of a culture that has more men wearing jeans or chinos to work. Ironically, Hogan said that helps rather than hurts the made-to-measure business. Guys can choose details on the suit to make it more casual, such as three open-patch pockets, pick stitching, and a casual construction with less shoulder padding and a half lining that can be worn for work or fun.
“Suits and suiting pieces are actually being incorporated into casual wear and street fashions for both men and women,” said Hogan. “It increases the value shoppers can get from one suit by wearing it after hours as separates.”
As for the wedding suit, guys can wear it to other weddings, job interviews and other formal occasions.
Just as people want to individualize and customize their food, their car and their home, clothes are just the next step, according to Brad Sherman, vice president and general manager at Hubert White in downtown Minneapolis. Its made-to-measure suit prices can’t compete with the $500 ones, but Sherman expects prices under $1,000 for a made-to-measure suit debuting this fall at Hubert White.
“It will be made in Europe and it will look like the expensive pieces,” he said. The suit coat’s canvas, the interior structure that makes it drape naturally and hold its shape, won’t be fused to the fabric like less-expensive jackets.
Customers at Hubert White, Indochino and others will soon be able to ride the next wave in customization — casual wear. “We’re getting really excited about luxury casual — knit shirts, sport shirts, custom jeans, sweaters and outerwear,” Sherman said. “It’s great for the guy who’s 6-foot-10 and wants a leather jacket, but also for the short, thin or wide guy. Anyone who’s had trouble getting a good fit.”
Last week, the store had a Magnanni shoe rep in for men who want to customize the color and details on their shoes. A Samuelsohn suits rep showed off a new computerized interactive design tool that allows a guy to see what a fabric looks like on a life-size model. Customers can change the type of pocket, collar, and other details before making a decision.
John Meegan, who co-founded Top Shelf custom clothiers in Minneapolis in 1976, doesn’t begrudge retailers that offer a simpler version with more modestly priced fabrics. “Indochino wouldn’t be where it is without delivering suits people like,” he said. “Everyone should have at least one suit that fits them well, especially the guy who can’t get a good fit in a store.”
Now that millennials have spoken loud and clear that they want affordable customization, even modest-priced men’s stores are adding it. Men’s Wearhouse now sells made-to-measure suits starting at $395. They are constructed overseas and take about six weeks.
At Joseph Abboud in Men’s Wearhouse, a made-to-measure suit starts at $895, is constructed in Massachusetts, and takes three weeks. The company will open more than 200 custom shops within its stores across the country, although nearly all Twin Cities’ locations already have them.
Scott Greening of Chanhassen, who was checking out fabrics in Indochino last week for his fall wedding, said he’s debating whether he wants navy for his own suit and gray for his groomsmen — or vice-versa. He said he feels a lot happier walking away with a made-to-measure suit than a rental. “I feel like kind of a trailblazer,” Greening said.