The difference between sartorial and off-the-rack


The term “bespoke” originates from Saville Row, a street in London considered the “golden mile of tailoring”. Bespoke clothing is traditionally cut from a pattern drafted from scratch, custom-made to the individualized specifications of a customer. However, it should also be noted that this does not imply that bespoke garments are necessarily well built. It was the appearance of ready-to-wear in the twentieth century that made bespoke clothing more expensive, and generally associated with a high quality of construction. The term “sartorial”  has its origins in the Latin “tailor” and is synonymous with the word “bespoke”. Both words have similar meanings. Sartorial is used more as a term to describe a person’s sense of style. For example, by complimenting a gentleman by saying, “You’re sartorially elegant”.

On the opposite side we look at the well-known term “ready-to-wear” which is a term for factory-made clothing, sold in a  condition and in standardized sizes. These are garments that are produced in mass, to be worn without significant alterations since they have been made in standard sizes that generally fit the majority of people. These garments are often manufactured in bulk and in different sizes using factory equipment. The production is faster and uses lower costs, compared to custom-made garments.


Now that we know the difference between the two, we’ll look at how revolutionary menswear, particularly suiting, has been. Bespoke tailoring goes back far in history and doesn’t necessarily mean the clothing was well made. One of the main contributions to modern day clothing is the development of technology and equipment to make our garments. Beyond this we have the individual tailor, who is always wanting to push ahead with the latest fashion news, styles and trends in the hope that he’ll get more men out of the dark ages and away from their fashion comfort zones.

Twice a year in Florence, at an event called Pitti Uomo, we see forward-looking men from different corners of the world come together. It’s an international menswear trade fair where tailors, designer,  stylist, influencers and bloggers come together to share ideas and celebrate their sense of style and what’s trending. I call it the Mecca of Suitablemen.

Africans are also doing it, and are slowly but surely making their mark. As small as these groups  might still be, they gather from around the country to enjoy each other’s company, have lunch or  dinner and talk about menswear and trend. A gentlemen’s group called The Good Sir is one such group, that has already had an impact on the thinking of modern menswear. Another group, Khumbula, is creating ripples on social media and featuring on local and international fashion websites. They are a local group that embraces old school vintage – the Kofifi look. This is how our fathers and grandfathers used to dress at funerals, weddings, music concerts and on pay day. Back then our fathers didn’t own a collection of suits because they were relatively expensive, so they would only be worn on important occasion. Today, with our vastly improved technology, equipment and cost, young guys are able to more easily pay tribute to the past.

Stepping out in style at Pitti  Uomo, Florence, Italy.

Stepping out in style at Pitti Uomo, Florence, Italy.

It’s such a pleasure to see this movement emerging and how young men are embracing a lifestyle of suits.

However, a significant difference can be spotted when looking at off-the-rack and a custom-made. This is not to say that off-the-rack garments are inferior or cheap. No! I believe it’s how you wear it. Even some custom-made suits have epic fails, due to a lack of knowledge in construction, a sense of sartorial elegance and lack of style trend. Most designers and tailors will tell you that suits are very complex garments to make and require a more detailed approach when making them.

Local designers are emerging in numbers, offering many different styles. Men have become spoiled for choice on the style and tailoring they seek. With most men being more conservative in what they wear, this gives guys a wider opportunity to find a designer that will fit his personal style. For those with low budgets, there’s nothing wrong with getting a suit from off-the-rack. Look on the bright side – you have the opportunity to try different cuts and sizes. Don’t fear owning the same suit as your friend, the chances are you’ll wear it differently anyway.

The Suitableman in a pink, ready-to-wear altered suit and in a grey Topman two-piece suit.

The Suitableman in a pink, ready-to-wear altered suit and in a grey Topman two-piece suit.

An important point to remember is that you should know your size and measurements. For off-the-rack to have a sartorial elegance, we need to upgrade to what is called “made-to-measure”. Although this is described as clothing sewn from a standard-size, base pattern (for example, a tailored suit) buying something off-the-rack and getting a good tailor to do alterations will result in a successful made-to-measure. A tailor can save your specification on his database for your next appointment.

I hope this was an eye-opener and an interesting discussion in helping us all look more suitably sartorial.

Until next time, stay stylish.

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