Jul 252015
 

I’m not into fashion at all and I prefer to wear t-shirts and shorts as much as possible. However, now that I’ve learned how important fitment is the appearance of dress clothes/suits and started buying accordingly, I actually don’t mind dressing up more often. I’ve learned a lot in the past five years or so, and it comes up often enough that I figure it’s worth putting most of the things I’ve learned in a blog post for easy sharing/access.

Main Points

  • Off-the-rack clothing is made to fit people with average proportions.
  • People who lift generally don’t have average proportions.
  • Better fitting clothing will look better than more expensive clothing.
  • There are affordable options for made-to-measure clothing.

Background

It’s worth understanding how normal off-the-rack clothing is designed.1 As with most things that are targeted to the general population (e.g., non-custom), off-the-rack clothing is designed to fit people that fall within the “norm” (i.e., they fall within a particular statistical range regarding proportions). To illustrate, let’s start with some assumptions and terms. We’ll assume that there are various measurements that are considered when sizing shirts: collar size, sleeve length, chest size, waist size, etc. We’ll also assume a manufacturer makes shirts in sizes labelled “S”, “M”, “L”, etc. The manufacturer probably selects one of the shirt measurements as a base measurement (my guess would be chest size). For example, an XL shirt might have a 42″ chest size while a L shirt might have a 38″ chest size.2 Once the base measurement is established, the shirt manufacturer can select the other measurements based on the average measurements for someone with the same chest size. For example, if the average collar size for a person with a 42″ chest size is 17″, the manufacturer might pick 17″ as the collar size for an XL shirt. Similar techniques can be used for the other measurements. The manufacturer can adjust the measurements for different shirt “fits” as well. For example, the sleeve and waist circumference of a slim-fit shirt might be smaller given the same chest size than a normal fit shirt.

Fitment issues crop up when you deviate too far from the norm. For example, if your chest is 42″ (so you wear an XL shirt) but your arms are 1″ longer than normal, you’ll have trouble finding shirts that fit your torso and have sleeves long enough for your arms. If you go up a shirt size (so that the sleeves are the proper length), the shirt will be extra loose on your torso. If you have broader than average shoulders but are of average height, a shirt that fits your chest/shoulders might have sleeves that are too long.

Consider my proportions as an example, because they’re jacked in a couple of ways. In particular, my shoulders are broad, my waist is small, and my arms are an extra .5 – 1″ long. The net result is that a typical shirt that fits my shoulders balloons out around my waist (because the shirt is sized for someone with a larger waist) and has sleeves that are too short. This can be solved to a certain degree. For example, a lot of dress shirts are available with various sleeve and neck sizes (e.g., XL’s come in variations with sleeve lengths of 35″ – 36″ and 36″ – 37″, etc.). The chest-to-waist ratio issues can be solved to some degree as well by purchasing “slim-fit” or “athletic” cut shirts…but even those balloon out around the waist. Additionally, the more specific you try to get (and the further from the norm that you fall), the more difficult it is to find a particular shirt you like. So looking for off-the-rack dress shirts is a real pain in the ass for me.

What Does This Mean For Lifters?

This should be obvious but…lifters don’t usually have average proportions. How a lifter’s proportions differ can vary, but generally speaking, the average person doesn’t carry around as much muscle mass as a lifter. So, regardless of whether the lifter is lean and muscular or fat and muscular, they don’t typically fit the average pattern. Thus, off-the-rack clothing will tend to be ill-fitting. What’s the point of lifting if you look like crap when you put on dress clothes?

In reality, this doesn’t just apply to lifters, but anyone with proportions out of the norm, whether you’re tall and lanky or short and wide. It also applies to those who do mostly fit the norms, for that matter, just to a lesser degree.

Beyond buying ill-fitting clothing, there are a couple of options. First, you can get off-the-rack (OTR) clothing tailored. Second, you can get clothing semi-custom made (or completely custom if you’re baller).

The Worst Option – Tailoring Off-The-Rack Clothing

The first option, as mentioned above, is to buy OTR clothing and get it tailored. There are several downsides to this. First, it’s not particularly cost effective given the other options. As you’ll see below, you can get made-to-measure (MTM) clothing for around the same price. Second, there are limits to the amount of tailoring one can do to OTR clothing. For example, if the waist of a shirt or suit is taken in too much, any pattern in the fabric can get messed up. If you assume a cheap dress shirt i $40 – $50, it’s tough to imagine that the total cost, including tailoring, will end up less than $70 – $80. Compare this to…

The Best Option – Made-To-Measure Clothing

MTM clothing is clothing that’s not completely custom (e.g., “bespoke”), but is still custom-made based on your measurements. For example, when buying a MTM shirt, you may be able to have the shirt adjusted based on chest size, waist size, hip size, shoulder width, sleeve length, collar size, etc. The basic shirt pattern will be adjusted based on these particular measurements.3

MTM clothing generally costs more than off-the-rack clothing, but less than bespoke. However, for those of us who fall outside the norm, the fitment is much, much better. Additionally, the quality of MTM clothing is generally much higher than off-the-rack clothing, making it a better investment. Thanks to some innovative companies, MTM clothing is available at a fairly reasonable price. For example, the site I typically use, Indochino, offers MTM dress shirts for $79 (and up). The quality far surpasses that of your typical store bought clothing and the fit ends up being much better as well. The default measurements they customize are the following:

Suit Jacket: Length, chest, stomach, hips, shoulders, sleeve length, biceps, and wrist.

Shirt: Same as suit plus neck size.

Pants: Length, waist, crotch, hips, thighs, and knee.

Those are just the defaults (e.g., the ones you put into the website). You can call or e-mail them and have other adjustments made. For suits I have had them adjust the arm holes and the elbow/forearm. For dress shirts, I have had them adjust the arm holes, elbow/forearm, and the left wrist (for a watch). They also list shoulder ruffle and collar roll on the site (neither of which I have experience with) and probably offer others as well.

Beyond measurements, you can usually customize various aspects of your clothing, including collar style, lapel style, suit lining, etc. While the options are not nearly as numerous as with bespoke clothing, you don’t have any options for OTR clothing (without paying a lot more).

There are a couple of downsides. First, the cost is definitely more than a cheap store bought shirt and there are fewer options. Second, the process of getting the shirt to fit right the first time can be a pain, whether it’s due to measurements that were off a little or unexpected issues (like arm hole size). Indochino, and other places, try to make it as painless as possible. For example, Indochino provides a $75 tailoring credit to get the shirt adjusted locally. You can then update the measurements with Indochino, ensuring that your next order will fit without tailoring. In some instances, if a garment must be remade (e.g., can’t be tailored to fix any issues), they will remake it. That means sending the old one back to them and waiting for them to remake it (which may not be possible if a particular fabric is limited). However, once the fit is right, you need not worry about it any more (unless your measurements change, of course).

Online vs. Local

For MTM clothing, you are not limited to online options only; local options tend to be significantly more expensive though. For example, MTM suits from a local store will probably run you $800+, whereas a MTM suit online can be less than $400. However, you get to see the actual fabric in person and have someone else with experience fitting clothing help you, reducing the amount of work involved and chances of something getting screwed up. Quality may be a bit better as well (and the work may be performed in the U.S., if you’re into that sort of thing).

However, dress shirts from local MTM shops can actually be very reasonable. I have found a couple of local places that start at $130 per shirt, depending on the fabric. The extra $50 is probably worth it given the fact that you have someone to ensure the fitment is perfect and knows the ins and outs of fitting clothing.

Generally speaking, for MTM suits (and pants…high quality pants seem to be really expensive locally), online options are probably the best option for your dollar. Local options for dress shirts, on the other hand, are probably the best option. That being said, every time Indochino has a sale, I inevitably snap up a few dress shirts.

Online Options

Indochino is not the only option for online MTM clothing. In fact, the number of options seem to be proliferating pretty rapidly. I don’t buy enough clothing to justify trying them all out, so I have stuck with Indochino. However, I have heard good things about many of the others, so it’s probably worth doing some research on them before giving one a shot. Here’s a list of some of the options (and referral links because I’m shameless).

  • Indochino
  • Proper Cloth
    • A friend of mine had great things to say about Proper Cloth, and loved their fitment wizard. The shirt looked great too.
  • Original Stitch
    • I purchased a shirt from a predecessor company, IIRC. The shirt was high quality, I just didn’t want to expend any additional effort getting the fit as close as I did with Indochino.

The Other Option – Bespoke

I probably should include a section for bespoke clothing, if only for completeness sake. Bespoke clothing is, essentially, completely custom made. Typically, as mentioned in the footnote below, bespoke clothing requires multiple fittings, in person, and costs a lot more. Bespoke suits, as I recall, start around $1200. Dress shirts are similarly high priced, generally starting somewhere between $300 and $400. The customizations available far outshine those available for most MTM clothing, and the fit/customer service will be much better as well. If you can afford it, there is no higher quality option.

One option for bespoke suits that recently popped up on my radar is Knot Standard, which offers bespoke suits for around $800. I believe you must go to one of their physical locations for the bespoke suits, which limits their availability. However, it might be worth checking out if they are local and you want to shell out the cash.


1. I may be making all of this stuff up, or I may have read it somewhere and don’t remember where, or I may have read bits and pieces of it in different places, or I may be combining unrelated knowledge with what little I know about clothes. So, basically, I may have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about.

2. I’m pulling these numbers out of my ass and have no idea if this is actually how they do it. It’s sufficient enough to get the idea across though.

3. Bespoke clothing usually involves many more measurements, many more fittings, and a lot more money.

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