A monogrammed shirt, an inch perfect suit or a dress made to your exact specifications might sound like a fashionista’s dream and a nightmare for your wallet. Thanks to the internet however, personalisation is becoming increasingly affordable.
The average price paid for an off-the-peg men’s suit on the high street is £114, according to market research company Kantar World Panel – but if you’re willing to spend around £300 you can go online and have one custom-made.
Simon Crompton, founder of permanentstyle.com is usually found commenting on the high-end, luxury menswear market where bespoke suits sell for thousands of pounds. Even so, he says that for more modest budgets, an online made-to-measure suit can be a good option.
“The biggest benefit is style, getting something that’s unique to you. People can order that suit with the pink lining, a particular cloth that they’ve chosen. It’s an exciting thing.”
Companies are springing up to meet the demand for idiosyncratic tastes, much of it fuelled by social media and especially photo apps which open up a world of possibilities for curious consumers. Hoping to cash in on this desire to stand out is online tailor, The Drop, founded by Jonathan Kruger and Stephen Stroud.
“The modern consumer knows what they want,” says Mr Kruger, “They see clothes on Instagram and Pinterest but can’t necessarily find it off the peg.
“Customers sometimes have a set idea of what they want, they send in a picture and if we can make it we’ll ask them what fit they like and to send in their measurements.
“If they don’t have a clear idea, we also have 60 to 70 looks on the website and update them every day with styles that are trending on the internet and some customers get inspiration that way.”
The suits, made in China, cost between £295-380, and orders take two weeks to arrive.
Oojal Jhutti decided to try the company after seeing it on Facebook, “I go to a lot of big Indian weddings. The women always have a great time choosing what to wear and getting it made, so I wanted to give it a go.”
Mr Jhutti ordered a single-breasted, navy-blue blazer with a vivid blue paisley lining, and in the past has spent four-figure sums on Savile Row suits, so how did this experience compare?
“From a cost to quality ratio, I’m very happy. The cuff buttons are functional which is something that sets apart an off-the-peg suit from a tailored suit and the fit is pretty good.”
So why spend £5,000 on a suit when you can by one made to your specifications online? Mr Crompton says it’s all about the personal touch.
“You’re getting the expert eye of a cutter who’s been doing it for years and can fit something perfectly to your body.”
Mr Crompton also stresses that a lot of the cost in a Savile Row suit is labour: “Someone will hand-sew the structure that goes into the chest of a suit, that’s hugely time consuming.”
Further up the cost scale, but still cheaper than Savile Row, Kent Wang, a self-described haberdasher, is at the high end of online tailoring; his suits start at £600. Mr Wang says the cost is reflected in how his suits are made.
“We do a full canvas construction, it’s one of the most important aspects of a suit jacket.
“Most cheaper jackets are fused, with the outer layer of fabric and the lining glued together; this makes it heavy and less breathable; with a canvas construction there is a layer of horse hair canvas between the outer fabric and lining.”
The US forms 80% of his customer base, but Mr Wang says the internet has opened up other markets: “We get orders from countries like the Netherlands who’ve heard about us through social media – often blogs and Instagram.”
Having a limited physical presence also has other advantages says, Mr Wang,
“It allows us to keep costs low. We don’t have an expensive retail unit in Mayfair. Customers order online, we send them a sample suit and then adjust it accordingly and the finished suits are made up in China.”
Men may be getting more choice when it comes to made to measure suits but customisation is increasingly popular for both sexes.
Dig For Victory in Brighton sells vintage fashion for women and has both off-the-peg designs and a made-to-order service. It’s an Aladdin’s Cave of fabric rolls and swatches.
Owner and designer Eleanor Callaghan started her business online via Etsy: “We got a following and that’s how we grew large enough to grow into a shop.
“Our sales are about 50/50 in shop and online. All the clothes are made either in the studio here or by seamstresses I use in Brighton.
“We source from vintage fairs and flea markets and the bigger rolls of fabric are often dead stock from fabric dealers.”
A standard size dress starts at around £100, with a premium added for made-to-measure and more expensive materials. So how does ordering work?
“We have a range of necklines, different styles of skirt and different styles of sleeves so people come into the shop and work out what they like. Online, we have lots of examples along with photos of the fabric and instructions of how to take measurements which customers send in.
“Online customers come from over the world, including America, Australia, Canada, Japan, Chile and the UAE.
“Sometimes they just love the vintage style but we also have women who’ve never found anything that’s fit them properly, which brings them to us.”
So – if you can’t find your dream outfit somewhere on the internet, the chances are there’s a service that will make it for you. You just have to decide what you want to wear.