Made-to-measure Vs. Off the rack

Made-to-measure tailoring basics


Much has been written about the pros and cons of both made-to-measure (MTM) and off the rack suiting. Whether it’s a top line comparison or a thinly disguised sales pitch for one over the other, these pieces rarely capture all of the information required for you to make an informed decision.

Until now.

At Oscar Hunt, we’re passionate about the democratisation of the tailoring experience and, with that in mind, we’ve compiled the definitive guide when it comes to understanding the pros (and cons) of both MTM and off the rack. 

Exhaustive, detailed and impartial (ish), here, we look at not only the benefits of each but also how to spot them and what it is that sets these two forms of suiting apart. 

The trademarks of off the rack

What is an off the rack suit? 

The average guy would be forgiven for not being entirely sure as to what ‘off the rack’ actually means and why would he? A rag trade term, off the rack generally implies that a garment is mass-made and available for immediate purchase in a retail setting. Today, the bulk of clothing falls in this category as it’s accessible, often affordable and meets the demands of increasingly fast-changing trends. 

In the context of tailoring, ‘off the rack’ has a similar definition. Based on standardised sizing and mass production, a suit purchased off the rack can be perfectly adequate; you just need to understand what to look for. 

Understanding standardised sizing

The first thing to understand about an off the rack suit is that sizing is based on a block pattern. The size of this block is dictated by the chest measurement and all ensuing measurements are extrapolated from this. For example, if you’re a size 38 chest, the arm of an off the rack jacket is pretty well set at 25”. 

Depending on the retailer, there may choices within the size bracket that are more accommodating for different body shapes. The most commonplace are short, regular and long.

Understanding which size is the closest fit for you is imperative if you’re ever going to make a store-bought suit look decent. 

Understanding construction

As with many things, not all off the rack suits are made equal. If you’re looking at purchasing one, ask the sales assistant about how the suit is made. If they give you a blank stare, it’s probably not worth the investment, no matter how much of a bargain it might look like at the time. 

Specifically, focus on the construction of the jacket. You ideally want to steer clear of fused jackets where the outer fabric and lining are glued rather than stitched together. While this kind of jacket might look ok on an initial wear, it invariably bubbles over time resulting in a sloppy overall look. 

Instead, look for a floating canvas chest piece. This provides structure around the most important part of your jacket - the shoulders and chest - and will allow the fabric to drape fluidly around the torso.

What’s customisable (and what’s not) 

With off the rack, it pays to know what can be changed through alteration and what you’re stuck with. While a good tailor will be able to modify elements like the length of the trousers, the fit of the mid-section and the seat of the trousers, there are some elements of a suit that can’t be touched.

The most important amongst them is the shoulder. If this is the wrong size, there’s little that can be done to change it and you’re better off shopping elsewhere. Most brands have a house style and not all of them will fit your posture and shape. Instead, shop around for the fit that flatters you the most and engage your tailor from there. 

The other customisable elements of an off the rack suit are the finishing touches. For example, depending on the length of the trouser hem, you may be able to add a cuff.

The Trademarks of Made-To-Measure

What is a made-to-measure suit?

In contrast to off the rack (and as the name implies), a made-to-measure suit is constructed specifically for you. Based on personal measurements, this kind of suit is a labour of love, generally requiring multiple fittings and a six week lead time.

However, what you put in, you get out. Made-to-measure suiting is optimised based on you and your body shape and demands the attention of an expert fitter in order to get it right. While this may sound daunting, it is actually a relatively straightforward process that can even be, dare we say it, enjoyable.

Understanding the fitting process 

Using Oscar Hunt as the example, the fitting process is generally broken into 3 distinct stages, beginning with your first fitting. During this appointment, you’ll have the chance to look at different styles and fabrics whilst also trying on block garments which are closest to your size. This allows your fitter to assess key points such as posture, stance and shoulder slope, whilst also giving you a better idea of what the finished result might look like. From here, your measurements will be taken and a digitalised pattern created. We’ll then confirm the details, including fabric and finishing touches, and your suit will begin it’s construction.

Five weeks later, your suit will be ready to try on and your fitter will inspect this top to bottom to make any final tweaks. These are then completed by our in house tailors.

One week later and your suit will be ready for it’s final try on.

While this process is specific to Oscar Hunt, the same general conventions apply across most made-to-measure suiting. 

Understanding construction 

The construction of a made-to-measure suit varies quite considerably to the standard off the rack offering. Based off a customisable digital pattern, made-to-measure takes into consideration personal measurements and overall points like posture, stance and even the slope of the shoulders to optimise the fit. 

Beyond this, construction is invariably more labour intensive and of a higher standard in made-to-measure. The canvas is never fused and more often than not a made-to-measure tailor will use a floating half or full canvas to ensure the ultimate fit. 

Other small points like working buttonholes and hand stitching around the shoulders and lapels are defining points in spotting a made-to-measure suit and also a testament to its quality. 

What’s customisable and what’s not? 

With made-to-measure, a world of customisation is opened up that extends beyond basic alterations like hem and waistband. In contrast, made-to-measure offers modifications like lapel size and style, trouser pleats, cuffs, pocket styles, button design, structure, lining and more!

The other significant point is of course the selection of the suiting cloth itself, of which we offer over 3000. One of the benefits of made-to-measure is that you can choose precisely what fabric you want your suit made from. This means you don’t have to be satisfied with whatever seasonal, trend based offerings are on the high street and it’s also an easy way to stand out from the crowd. 

The four key differences between the two 

If all of the above is a little too exhaustive for your liking, we’ve also put together a cheat sheet that highlights the core differences between made-to-measure and off the rack. 

1) Fit 

There’s no beating something that’s been crafted based on your measurements. While off the rack can get you close, made-to-measure gets you even closer.

2) Choice

While retailers will generally offer a couple of different styles in different fabrics, made-to-measure provides you with an extensive collection of cloth to pick from as well as a list of design modifications. 

3) Quality

While higher end off the rack options are a great option, as a rule, the fabric and construction of made-to-measure is superior and also means that your suit will last longer. 

4) Time

If you need a suit for an event tomorrow, off the rack is perfect. Easily tailored and often only requiring that the trousers be hemmed, this is the ideal option if you’re pressed for time. In contrast, made-to-measure takes around six weeks.  

Value for money

The final (and sometimes deciding) factor when it comes to the difference between made-to-measure and off the rack is price. 

There is a common misconception that made-to-measure suiting is the reserve of the ultra wealthy, costing upward of $3,000 per suit but this simply isn’t the case. The beauty of MTM is that cost generally varies based on your chosen fabric. This means that there are a range of different price points to suit most budgets. They can start from as little as $999.

Comparing this with off the rack, it really depends on what retailer you go with. Most Australian suiting companies that are worth their salt will charge anything from $800 to $1500 for an off the rack suit. 

The final cut 

If you’re still tossing up between off the rack and made-to-measure, our parting words are to consider the purpose of the suit and what kind of investment you’re wanting to make. If you’ve got the time and plan on wearing a suit more than once, made-to-measure is your best bet. Built to last, this is a suit that you’ll be able to wear time and time again. 

If time is not on your side, really quizz sales assistants on the construction of your off the rack suit to ensure that you’re getting decent quality and bang for buck.