03 September 2011

Neither Fish Nor Fowl: The Trouble with "Online Custom" Clothing

I waited. I thought about ignoring it, but that's no way to deal with things. Besides, too many of you have been asking, and I need to get it off my chest. I wanted to be diplomatic, since "snark" is something I simply cannot abide, so I waited. I apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you. My "online custom" suit from Modern Tailor has been hanging in a closet in my house for nearly two weeks. I know you've been waiting for the results, the review, the send up, or whatever. Let's work backwards. The conclusion:
Online Custom Tailoring is Neither Fish nor Fowl

There are a lot of companies out there offering something they call online custom tailoring. As you may know, I was recently approached by Modern Tailor, one of these companies, who graciously offered to make me a suit. They were friendly folk and offered a level of customer service that is sadly lacking in so many places selling any number of things these days, and I remain impressed by that. I give them an "A" for effort. You can read about this in further detail here.

Then the suit arrived.

It came by post while I was out, and I got a ticket on my front door about it. The very next day, all a-twitter (that's how the word twitter is actually supposed to be used...oops, I forgot, I don't like snark) with excitement, I visited the post office. I picked up my package, took it home and opened the box. Much to my dismay, my decision about this suit was made the moment I touched it. Cheap fabric, mediocre construction, and styled like something that came from H&M.  Still I wanted to be fair, so I tried it on.

The fit of this thing is nothing short of a disaster. The jacket is too tight, too short, and the button gorge is too high. The pants are almost indescribable: too tight in the seat, a few inches too short, skin tight in the thigh yet too full at the cuff.  It's so bad, in fact, that I refuse to post photos of me wearing it. Clearly, given some of the photos I post here, I have very little problem with public embarrassment, but this goes too far. A cheap looking suit that fits terribly.

I had no expectation that this thing would fit like a real piece of custom tailoring, but I at least hoped it would fit close enough to bring in to my own tailor for a tweak. This suit is cut so badly that it will never fit, and the fabric is so cheap that I can't even be bothered. To be fair, I'll even take it on the chin about the fabric for not ordering swatches. Even if I had, this garment is hopeless.

So-Called online custom is neither fish nor fowl.

This is not custom clothing. Custom clothing is an expensive endeavor involving a personal relationship with an actual tailor. Someone who will measure you properly, discern what it is you want, perhaps talk you out of a dumb idea, and then painstakingly create something for you using the wisdom and skill only time can bring. It's expensive, and it should be, because it is an art form practiced well by a very select few people. This online thing leaves too much to the customer, there's too much room for error. There is no room for discussion and advice, let alone wisdom and skill.

This is not even good off the rack clothing.  With off the rack clothing, you can do quite well if you only pay attention. You can learn to see quality and work with it. You can learn how to have something altered, and you can look great owning nothing but ready made clothes. With online custom, you get a one off piece of possibly questionable quality which may or may not ever fit you. It's a gamble, and I don't like gambling. For $500 dollars the average man could find a very nice suit in a store. For $500 I could find ten suits in a thrift store with money left over for the alterations. True, I may be presenting an extreme opposite example, but you catch my drift. I would be screaming mad if I paid half a grand for this thing.

If you want fish, see a fishmonger.

If you want chicken, it's frequently on sale for $1.99/lbs at the supermarket.

Get it?

Custom tailoring is a wonderful thing, but it cannot be faked. If that's what you want, buck up, pay the money and get it done right. I may be jealous of your ability to afford it, but I won't begrudge anyone good taste.

If custom clothing is well out of reach, buck up, make due with what you have, and remember that style doesn't care about money. It will require extra elbow grease, but any bum can dress well. Penury is not an excuse, remember?

Online tailoring is neither of these things, and it cheapens both. It proletarianizes custom tailoring to the point where it loses meaning, and it falsely elevates cheapness to the point where even that loses meaning.

Dammit, I may be ranting, but I think my point is clear.

I would like to thank Modern Tailor for their gracious gift.

Don't ever order a "custom suit" online.


Daniel said...

I would hesitate in making a sweeping generalization of the entire online custom suiting industry. Being somewhat less than a 36, yet still 6' tall, I have always had trouble finding suiting that fit my shoulders as well as my arms. I ordered a custom suit online and, while it did need some tailoring, it was spectacular in the end.

I know that for someone that's a size 42 OTR, shelling out $350 + tailoring fees is not really an appropriate move, in my opinion. If you can find stuff that fits, then don't go this route. But since I have trouble finding second-hand shirts that fit, much less suits, I think going custom was a good choice.

All that being said: I will not do it again. Too much *is* left to chance, and at that price, I really could do better on eBay.

Anonymous said...


Young Fogey said...

Well done. You were fair, and gave your honest opinion. Too bad for Modern Tailor.

In the same vein, I recently ran across a new-ish suit whilst thrifting. I noticed the hand-stitched lapel, and it piqued my curiosity. Looking at it more closely, the hand stitching was gaudy (if you can imagine that) and not done particularly well. Closer inspection revealed further shortcomings. The manufacturer?


You get what you pay for. When thrifting, you pay not just money but also time—a lot of time.

(On the same day, I also ran across a tux that fit me, but sadly, it was in a watered silk-type material, and was just too much. *sigh* But I did find a mid-blue linen jacket with patch pockets and white buttons—sweet!)

In any case, you may find fewer offers in your in box, but that's not why you run this blog, so who cares?

Anonymous said...

All online custom companies are no more alike than all bespoke tailors. And even with the best bespoke tailors dud suits get made. You need to do more research and to publish it. You've had one bad experience with one firm - and to be fair to the Modern Tailor folk, you haven't even given them the opportunity to make amends.

I have experience of having an ongoing relationship (for want of a beter phrase!) in person with several tailors and of ordering some items online. When ordering online it IS possible to have quite a complex dialogue - using e-mail and photos - about requirements and to get great results. My most recent suit from "Prince Henry" is one of my favourite items of clothing. It's in a crazy check that I loved but doubted I would wear much (and didn't want to spend between 1-2K on). In the event it cost less than 400 euro and is such a success that I'm going to order a second pair of trousers as I envisage a long-term wearing life for this suit.

Another suit I bought from that particular firm was in a light grey herringbone and the cloth (my local 'human' tailor shudders when I say 'fabric', incidentally!) which is the most complimented material (almost always by women) I have ever worn. This brings me to another point - I note from Modern Tailor that quite a lot of their cloths are wool/poly mix. Did you choose one of these? If so, well, you wouldn't do so with your local 'human' tailor (and in fairness, he wouldn't offer it). The cloth options from the two main online tailors I have experience of are superb - MyCustomTailor (with whom I've never had a problem either) have some fantastic heavier weight cloth choices (they made me a particularly good charcoal suit in an 'overcoat' fabric perfect for our northern European winters) and they have 'search by weight funtion' somewhere on the site.

Reading over your expeirence, I noted that your measurements were not 'from the body' but from favourite pieces of clothing. I think this played a part in the poor result. Those measurements relate to a style of suit which may not have been the same as that which you were ordering (for example, differences in gorge length in the two jackets would pull the proportions all over the place). I always measure from the body (and ask a tailor/seamstress) to help I order online.

So. finally, my own experience had been that personal, bespoke tailoring with the human touch is better for a small number of classic, safe pieces. Online custom tailors used with caution, proper measurement, careful cloth choice (get swatches wherever possible) and insisting on some e-mail correspondence to be very clear about what you want, is a way to build up a bigger wardrobe of more diverse, adventurous items which would simply not be affordable otherwise.

Hoping this is helfpul to people.

Dave said...

Mind if I ask your opinion of Indochino? I was thinking about getting a suit from them, but now I'm second guessing myself.

Vintage Scans said...

For those of us that will never be able to afford bespoke tailoring, made-to-measure tailoring is the next best thing. This is fraught with danger (I'm still nervously awaiting completion of a new made-to-measure tweed suit) as it is, so I don't think my nerves, or my wallet, could take doing it all online.

I take issue with you use of 'proletarianizes' as a pejorative term. Surely 'Fordises' would have been more suitable.

Brendon Robinson said...

I've purchased a two suits and three shirts from Indochino, and they are the best-fitting items in my wardrobe.

I took the first of the suits to my tailor to get his take on the fit of the suit, and determine if any alterations were appropriate. He found the fit to be very good, although he reserved commentary on the quality of the tailoring.

From reading many reviews of Indochino, it seems some people do end up with poorly-fitting clothes. The general consensus seems to be that poorly-fitting results are caused by poor measurement.

Peter said...

I will second Anon 1:56AM regarding the measurements. Why didn't you just go to your tailor who does all of your alterations and have him do proper measurements? Taking measurements from your clothes is possibly the worst way to go. I even think you'd have gotten better results if you measured yourself.

I also don't understand why you didn't get the fabric swatches before making a decision. Who would order anything without even seeing and feeling the material first?

You mentioned that they have excellent customer service. Did you contact them and explain what happened? Did you take photos and send them the pictures? Did you even let them know that the fit and material was all wrong?

In doing a review for a product, you must do it the proper way. I'm sorry, but I feel that you've done a disservice to your readers by going about it the way you did. My view is that you either tell companies no, I don't do reviews or you really put them through a fair and rigorous test.

I really hope that you share the whole experience with them.

Anonymous said...

I've recently tried out Indochino and I found the experience to be similar. The suit was too short by 4", too big, and the thigh was entirely too tight.

It was not a problem caused my poor measurement like Brendon Robinson says. I double checked the measurements and they were spot on.

Their customer service was willing to replace the suit, but I agree the stitching is average and the cloth is unfortunately cheap.

Shawn said...

*If* the company didn't have at least one chance to fix their mistake, this sounds more like one confirming his bias than auditioning something with a fair mind.

Yossef said...

"For $500 dollars the average man could find a very nice suit in a store."

Is that a mythical average man who fits off-the-rack clothing, much like that average family with 2.5 children? Or is that shorthand for "a majority of men"?

Personally, I get clothes made for me because I am decidedly not average. I've used tailors here and abroad, but largely in the made-to-measure sense than in full bespoke. I've stayed away from Indochino and the like, sticking to MyTailor.com and even then dealing with the visiting tailor in person rather than ordering through the web site.

Bob said...

I am sorry for your experience. I've certainly had some myself.

I've stopped buying clothes, and wearing my old duds. Old 3-5K suits
are just fine by me. Just wished some had more fabric to "ease" the seams,

This story really boils down to the old adage my Dad frequently espoused,
"You get what you pay for". Sadly today this statement doesn't always hold up.

Anonymous said...

I also agree with Anon 1:56 AM. I hope you follow up with Modern Tailor to see how they respond and if they make amends. One of my hobbies involves working with makers of custom goods. It would be considered poor form to post a negative review without first contacting the maker to discuss the shortcomings of the project and to give them them opportunity to makes things right.

Anonymous said...

I have two shirts I ordered online, custom fitted. The shirts came, they didnt fit right, I emailed the company, and they replaced the shirts for free. It was amazing customer service.
I used bestcustomshirt.com
The shirt fabric I think is of a good quality- a bit light, but thats ok. The shirts fit amazingly well.
Just to give my two cents.
I'd order shirts again online.
A suit seems like too much of a gamble.

Thank you for your post. You were honest and fair in your comments.

NCJack said...

Have you checked to see that they didn't send you someone else's suit in error? This fit sounds too far off to be just a bad job.

Sean said...

Have you been contacted by any of the traveling tailors? I have had shirts made by mytailor.com and have been very pleased with the fit and the price.

They do they measurements when they come to your area and you can look at fabric swatches, so that solves two of the problems of the online MTM process.

Anonymous said...

I don't agree with the criticizms of your measuring here. Modern Tailor listed a recommendation of getting measurements from your clothes. If this is the wrong way to do it, then they should not have it listed.

I also think it's absurd that reviewers of a product should take on a greater responsibility than any other consumer. If a review is inconsistent with the kind of experience another customer would have, then the review is misleading.

As for your conclusion, it is an obvious reaction to a poor experience from someone who already had predisposition against the form of business. The reaction, I expect is consistent with any reader who finds they share your disposition. Therefore, it isn't an unfair reaction.

It appears to me that the objections are from those who feel like you've attacked their choices and self-identity with a product.

Any sensible reader can make the decisions for themselves about the elements of your position that they identify with and can then make the decision about online custom tailoring. It is not your responsibility to be so unbiased as to avoid influencing another person's decision. Otherwise, what is the point of reviewing a product or service?

Gareth said...

I applaud the honesty and integrity with which you presented this review.

However, I have to say, my experiences with another online tailor mentioned here--Indochino--have been quite different.

The first suit I ordered and received fit horribly. All the things you described and more. So I took advantage of their 'perfect fit guarantee' and revised my measurements. They had to remake the suit from scratch three times, but when they got it right, it was perfect - and every suit I've ordered since has been great first time.

You have to do the work, get the fabric swatches and be prepared to spend some time taking measurements and sending detailed notes on fit and finish, but for me the time invested was well worth it: now for $350-400 a time I can get a great suit, shipped to my door, that needs no tailoring at all.

Max said...

Outside of some high-school alterations of the punk rock variety, I have no experience with custom clothing of any type; but I applaud your willingness to write a bad review.

Too many bloggers are bought for the price of a free tie. It's refreshing to see you speak your mind on this.

Anonymous said...

I had a similar experience with a Company based in Sweden called Tailorstore. They offer everything except suits. Shirts, pants, socks and even custom under garments. I followed the online measurement instructions exactly and placed an order for two shirts. What I received was poor quality and the fit was laughable. I double checked the measurements and could not find the error. So I sent pictures and emails asking what went wrong. They recommended revised measurements to use and offered a free replacement order. The second order I received was laughable. The shirts looked like they were made for ET. No normal human could fit in them. I could not believe they packaged these and sent them to a customer. I tossed the shirts in the trash and swore off online tailoring. I think I learned that a Tailor with years of experience would know where a tweak in measurements was needed to get a proper fit. I cannot expect to follow a few online instructions and end up with a shirt that fits my body exactly how I want.

During my search for custom made clothing, I found one Company that offers a quality product. They offer Polo or Tennis shirts only but they do it right in my opinion. Vastrm. They offer about 15 different size combinations. No customer measurements are asked for. They are pricey but you get what you pay for. The quality is excellent. Fit is even better based on the 15 size options they offer. Maybe others could take notes from this site and not let someone with zero experience in the industry think they can take a few measurements and end up with a perfect fit.

Anonymous said...

Sincerement, je ne pense pas que vous connaissez bien l'univers de la surmesure. Vous etes un vrai Rigolo mon Gito.

Hunter said...

Looking at getting a suit online and saw this review. Found a lot other more positive reviews from Styleforum.net You mentioned that Modern Tailor customer service is "friendly folk and offered a level of customer service that is sadly lacking in so many places selling any number of things these days, and I remain impressed by that. I give them an "A" for effort."

Were they able to fix the problem for you? Did you contact them to make adjustments and what was their response? It doesn't say in your article. I would think online tailors would need a bit of time to get the fit right but once a pattern is made, it will be easily reproduced, more affordably. Curious about the cost of the suit you got from Moderntailor, too.

NewShoesOldHat said...

Thank you for the honest review. Anon 7:59 from 9/05 makes some great points. ModernTailor does, indeed, recommend measuring a well-fitting garment you own as their preferred method for inputting measurements. I find this method works well for me when ordering shirts from them, and I have been pretty satisfied with the shirts they have made for me so far (about ten over the past year). But I would not order a suit from ModernTailor or, probably, from any other online tailoring service. Tailoring a suit is so much more complex than making a shirt; there is a lot more room for error.

And it's not just "error," actually. Adjustments are a part of the process, and online custom tailors do a disservice to their customers when they pretend that they can make a perfectly-fitting suit just based on a bunch of numbers input into a computer without actually seeing how that suit drapes over the customer's body. Think about it, a bespoke tailor will usually do about 3 fittings when making your first suit and make some adjustments after every fitting. And this is after he, as a seasoned professional, has taken a slew of measurements and cut a precise pattern for you. But he still has to see the suit on your body and pinch it here, let it out there, and adjust it to your unique shape.

As your first commenter confirms, unfortunately, not everyone can get a decent off-the-rack suit for $500. Life would be much easier if this was so. I'm on the opposite side of the scale from Daniel: I am 5'2" and there are exactly 0 off-the-rack suits that fit me properly even with the maximum allowable alterations.

I have been tempted by Indochino occasionally because of their unconditional money-back guarantee, but I haven't succumbed because I don't actually like most of the styles I see on their website (not to mention the mixed reviews of their product).

I've had a bespoke blazer made, which fits like a dream, but was very expensive (yes, worth it, but it's a luxury I can't afford often). The best cost-effective solution for me has been using a LOCAL custom tailor here in New York. I paid $500 for a made-to-measure suit from him. I got measured on site and I got to feel the fabric swatch before ordering. Then the measurements and cloth selection were sent to a factory in Asia, not unlike the one ModernTailor uses, I'm sure. The finished suit came back a month later. After I came in for a fitting, some minor alterations were done in the workroom in Manhattan, and these were included in the original price. In the end, I got a suit that was as good as any $500 off-the-rack suit in quality, except it actually fit me.

Were I of "average" height and proportions, I would simply go to a store and pick out a suit (or better yet, order one from An Affordable Wardrobe shop), but that's not realistic for me or for many other "non-average" men. This is probably why many get tempted by online custom tailoring.

Giuseppe said...

Rigolo? No! Pagliacci!

notanymore said...

I considered this, and even set aside the money, but then I moved to Japan where, lo-and-behold stuff almost fits perfectly. I need to let the sleeves out a bit (still haven't done that, but will as it gets colder), but every other bit of the fit was perfect. I'm small for the US, but I'm fairly normal for Japan.

Anonymous said...

I think the expression is "make do" It makes you sound so stupid when you spell things incorrectly.

Stefano L. Alberti said...

Dear Sir,
I've stumbled upon your blog (and shop) just an hour ago and both are really impressing!
I'm sorry for your adventure with online tailoring, and I'm happy of never having tried those services (though I've been thinking of from time to time, but my philosophy is ebay sometimes, OTR if compelled, most of all markets or thrift shops).

I was wondering: if the suit you received doesn't suit your measurements at all, neither with alterations by a tailor, do you need to keep it?

If you think that it could suit me (I'm 5ft9in, 63 kgs), maybe with alterations, I'd be happy to buy it from you, if the price you asked me "suited" me.

Looking forward to hearing from you, keep on with your posts: they're some of the nicest opinions on these subjects.

Stefano L. Alberti, Italy

Giuseppe said...

Oops, I made a type-o.

Thanks for the needlessly mean anonymous nit-picking. My type-o may cause me to "sound" so stupid, especially given this is the written and not spoken word, but you're close attention to detail only convinces me that you possess a far superior intelligence. I can even hear it your written words.

Anonymous said...

I'm the anonymous second poster who said "Bravo," and I'll say that again.

This ain't G's first rodeo--that's obvious from his blog. Measuring from the body? Sure--IF it's the guy who is actually going to be sewing the suit. Otherwise, going with measurements from a garment that fits you well is the way to go. No tailor I know would agree to take measurements for a garment he isn't making and so voluntarily get in the middle of potential sartorial nuclear war. And if a tailor did agree to do that, I wouldn't trust his tailoring skills.

You either trust G. and his track record or you don't. When someone has called him on something, he has admitted his error (happened once a year or so ago--flubbed some sartorial basic I can't remember and got called on it and handled it with aplomb). This ain't one of those times. I would have thought that Modern Tailor, having made the offer, would have delivered Super 120s fabric and made it into the general vicinity of the ballpark measurement wise, given they knew that this would be all over the Internet. They did not. And that speaks volumes.

Anonymous said...

I also had very good luck with bestcustomshirt.com, but shirts are of course simpler than a whole suit.

Unknown said...

When I was 20 years old, at that time I don't ever want to use custom clothing as my style but after 30 years once I have used the services of Indochino Custom Suit designer's. I really started loving custom clothing & I have also used services of Black Lapel, Black Label and recently I have ordered a custom suit from Modish Fit& I want to say that they have provided best services to me. I really recommend Modish Fit.