There are certain truths in life: the cherry season is short, ageing is inevitable, and if you want a suit that fits perfectly, made to measure is best.
Especially if you’re not model-size and off-the-shelf suits don’t sit right.
Made-to-measure suits, also sometimes referred to as custom-made suits, are created from an existing pattern, but modified to meet a customer’s exact measurements to provide a better fit, for example, if someone needs a wider shoulder or a shorter length than the ready-to-wear range. They aren’t to be confused with ready-to-wear garments that have been altered to fit a customer.
It’s a concept that Barkers Clothing has taken to heart. The iconic Kiwi brand, which started from a compact Auckland shop in 1972, began offering a made-to-measure suit service four years ago. And it was going well until Covid hit and the market for formal wear dried up.“There was nowhere to go and no occasions to dress up for,” recalls Mike Kitchen, Barkers’ Head of Merchandising.
But when the world opened up again, so did the demand for occasion wear. “It’s a large growth market for Barkers, especially the wedding market because there weren’t many weddings for three years so once people were able to celebrate they did so in style.”
Mike, who moved to New Zealand from the UK 15 years ago, noticed that wasn’t the only post-Covid change. “Customers began to make more considered choices. They wanted suits that could be tailored specifically to their body shape and personalised to their taste with features such as collars, cuffs, lapels and lining.”
Recently the company streamlined its made-to-measure offering, cutting the process from measurement to completed product to just six weeks, ensuring that every part of the suit could be customised.
“Previously, customers could only change a few features but now we’ve expanded the offering to a full made-to-measure service where they’re able to change every part of the garment. That could include the type of buttons or coloured sewing thread, functional or classic button holes, non-functional or regular cuffs, the shape of the jacket lapel, even having side tabs on trousers to tighten them so that men don’t need to wear a belt.”
Another major change has been to expand the range of fabrics available for the made-to-measure service. “We now have thousands of options available from European mills. That includes suiting fabrics from several new Italian suppliers and one from the north of England,” says Mike, who heads Barkers‘ team of designers and sets the design direction for the brand.
Here’s how made-to-measure works: the customer books a consultation with an in-store lead tailor about exactly what they want, where they’ll be wearing the garment and what style they’re after. The next step is to look through fabric books to choose a fabric and decide how they want to personalise the suit, in terms of cuffs, collars, and so on, before the tailor does a top-to-toe measurement.
The suit is then crafted overseas and six weeks later, the customer comes in for their final fitting. In addition to full suits, the service caters for customers who’d prefer to order separates, such as sports coats and trousers.
Mike, who started working in menswear retail more than 20 years ago, says the service appeals to a wide range of customers, but particularly those who are fashion-forward, appreciate a properly fitted suit and who may have been through the made-to-measure process abroad.
“Our wedding customers especially appreciate the chance to personalise their suit with a colourful lining or monogram. We outfit grooms and wedding parties in everything from classic tuxedos to purple velvet suits! Wedding suits can range from very conventional to as exuberant and outside the traditional suiting box as customers want.”
Barkers also recently added a made-to-measure shirt service, which offers 30 different collar shapes and around 20 different cuff shapes, along with thousands of different options for fabrics and colours.
“Shirts are one of our best selling categories and having a made-to-measure shirt, either for business or formal wear, is becoming increasingly popular.”
Mike believes one of the reasons the made-to-measure service is proving so popular is the price point.
“Our made-to-measure suits start at $1299, and our made-to-measure shirts at $229, which is a lot less expensive than other similar offerings in the marketplace. It’s a great entry point for many New Zealand men who may not have considered a made-to-measure service. It has really opened up the market.”
Mike admits that once a customer has tried made-to-measure, they might not go back to ready-to-wear. Helpfully, Barkers will keep your measurements on file, so that if you want to reorder, you won’t have to go through a full measure again. “It streamlines the process further and makes it more efficient for customers.”
And if you’re in the market for accessories such as ties, pocket squares and braces made from Liberty fabric, Mike’s team also has your back.
“Often groomsmen will choose pocket squares in different colours or in different tones of the same colour. It’s another way of personalising their wedding outfits.”
The revamped made-to-measure service has rolled out to six Barkers stores, including Auckland’s High Street, Ponsonby, Newmarket and Albany, as well as flagship stores in Christchurch and Wellington.