Continuing our descent from the platonic ideal of bespoke, we come at last to that dark, dreary realm known as off-the-rack (OTR). Here, fair readers, dwell the clothiers of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, churning out uniform garments fit for a uniform populace.
Here, gentlemen, is the arena of firms such as Dayang Trands, favoured by such gentlemen as Warren Buffett and—allegedly—Bill Gates. (As an aside, please give Buffett your ears when he talks about investing, but please retrieve your ears when he starts talking fashion. If you don’t believe me, please look carefully at Mr. Buffett’s attire and judge for yourself whether you should be listening to him on fashion.) Here, also, can be found Hugo Boss, Giorgio Armani, Marks & Spencer, Pierre Cardin, etc.
OTR suits are made according to a pattern created by the resident OTR fashion designer of the company, a pattern which is meant to fit as many people as possible. Now, shrewd purveyors of clothing should likely know by now that trying to fit everyone usually results in clothes that fit no one well. These patterns are then scaled to different sizes, again, based on the manufacturer’s estimations of the typical range of sizes found in the population at large. The factories, the heirs to Henry Ford and his Model T, then get to work, churning out suits by the hundreds if not thousands. These factories are marvels of automation, fully capable of putting together a suit in a matter of minutes.
Now, the astute reader should have guessed by now that Primus Sartorius is not a fan of OTR, and with good reason. Firstly, OTR suits are built to fit their designer’s impression of the “average man”. Unfortunately for us, the “average man” is a work of fiction. He doesn’t exist. We are all of us not perfectly symmetrical. We have our little deviations from the mean. We slouch. We have one shoulder higher than the other. Accordingly, the suit that fits this fictional “average man” fits no real man. And this shows, and worse, feels. A gentleman will know the moment he put on this suit that it doesn’t quite fit, and it will make him awkward at times when he desperately needs to be smooth and confident.
Secondly, the OTR suit is also likely to follow the latest seasonal fads: slim-fit jackets, asymmetrical lines, slanted pockets, oddly positioned vents. This is detrimental to the longevity of your suit; what was fashionable last season is utterly passé this season. A few years later, your beautiful fashionable Armani will probably be fit only to be trotted out at retro parties. Don’t believe me, have a look at what passed for cool suits in the 1980s and what is currently featured in the displays of most fashion labels. (By contrast, a good, traditionally cut bespoke suit, with some tender loving care, can often last 15 years or more, assuming that the gentleman maintains his figure.)
Thirdly, it is by no means the case that an OTR suit will be cheaper than bespoke or MTM. While they often are cheaper, a Hugo Boss, Ermenegildo Zegna, or Giorgio Armani suit will probably cost as much as bespoke or MTM. (Yours truly has had the opportunity to compare a S$480 Ermenegildo Zegna shirt with a S$160 bespoke shirt obtained from a local Singaporean tailor: the bespoke shirt was not only made from better material—mother of pearl buttons and fine Swiss cotton—but also fit infinitely better.)
So what can a gentleman do, if by his financial circumstances he is forced to make use of OTR suits? First, select a suit that is cut in a conservative style that eschews what is the latest fad of the season. This gives the suit a certain degree of longevity. Secondly, take care to select a suit that is as close to your size as possible (but still a little larger), and then haul it off to a decent local alteration tailor and ask them to take in the bits that need to be taken in for it to be a decent fit.