REVIEW: The Proper Suit

From what GQ would have you believe, “suits are to women what lingerie is to men.” Though our female readers might be the most authoritative voices to confirm or deny, we can’t find any evidence to dispel the notion.

That’s one reason we were so excited to connect with Richard Hall and McGregor Madden, the magicians behind Proper Suit, an online custom-suit maker. We met the guys just over a year ago at one of their fittings in Chicago and instantly connected because of our common belief that the modern world has eliminated all excuses for men not to look sharp.

In talking with McGregor and Richard, it becomes immediately clear that they’re not just concerned with a hot market. They are completely committed to a revolution in the way men present themselves. What we care about, they care about.

The suit you’re about to see is their creation, and it’s a dream. But first, some background.
The world of online MTM
There’s a fast-growing sector of Internet retailers who are offering to take your self-reported measurements and make you a garment, all without ever having seen you in person. Some have seen that last caveat as blasphemy in the suiting world. But little by little, people have realized that it’s an attractive idea: You get a custom suit for a several hundred bucks instead of the several thousand you’d expect to pay at your local tailor.
We hasten to clarify: These are not exactly the same suits you would get from that tailor. The painstaking attention to detail of a master tailor who makes his suits by hand always will (and should) command a greater price. In fact, here’s a quick word about the graduated scale of suit making:
  • Off-the-rack (OTR): You walk into your local Men’s Wearhouse (on the low end) or Brooks Brothers (on the high end) and pick out a jacket that fits in the shoulders. This kind of suit is made for the average customer, and it’s not going to fit you everywhere. You take it straight to the tailor and have it altered for your body as much as is possible. Cheap(ish) and passable, depending on how much you want to spend.
  • Made-to-measure (MTM): This type of suit is customized for your body by carefully tweaking stock patterns. May require minimal alterations. By taking this process online, companies have been able to drive down the price (while still offering high levels of quality and detail), which makes it an affordable and attractive option for guys on a budget.
  • Bespoke: Literally spoken into existence. A pattern is created from scratch according to your personal measurements. Over the course of several weeks and a multitude of fittings, a tailor chalks you up, makes changes and creates a garment that’s truly made for your body. They’ll cost you a couple of months’ wages.
The suits from the e-tail realm fall squarely in the made-to-measure camp. They’re a worthy midpoint in the sliding scale of quality, precision and cost. Ultimately, it comes down to how much you, the wearer, want to invest. And damn, these suits pack a punch for the price.



The Proper Suit

Let’s be honest: When online suit making was just taking off, it was a little like Russian Roulette. Like many others, we were skeptical about how well this would work. So we were impressed when Richard and McGregor were confident enough in their product to ask us to put one of their suits through the ringer and give it an honest review. After subjecting this bad boy to rigorous field testing, we can honestly say that we were blown away. Even with some made-to-measure suits, there might be a need for slight alterations. The suit you see is unaltered, to give you a sense of how it fits out of the box.
Here are a few things stand out about the Proper Suit team:
  • First, the initial fitting happens in person, unlike some of the other companies you’ll find online (which rely on you to understand their sometimes unfamiliar measurement instructions). These guys commit: By walking you through the process, they take all the guesswork out of the equation and give you as much (or as little) guidance as you need. They’re on hand to answer any questions personally.
  • Second, Proper Suit is a member-based club. They hold regular traveling fittings across the the U.S. and Canada (NYC, LA, DC, Seattle and elsewhere). Then, your freshly crafted suit shows up on your doorstep several weeks later. Future transactions are Internet-based, since your custom pattern is kept on file for life, and with that comes a very keen sense of loyalty to their customers. They’re in this for the long haul.
  • Third, the patterns are laser-cut, using AutoCAD tech.
  • Finally, word has it that the guys have recently relocated to Chicago and are headquartering Proper Suit out of the Midwest, as well as their shirting side project, Hall & Madden. (Though, the suits themselves are made abroad.)
We dig it.
This is all about customization. The options are comprehensive—from lining styles to the width of your lapel to whether the buttons on your sleeve will kiss or not. Whatever you want, they can do.
I’m not much for sartorial rules, but I’ll stand behind this one: A man’s first suit should be navy. It’s appropriate for the proverbial wedding, funeral or night out. And because I plan on having this suit for the rest of my life, I decided to let that be the guide as McGregor and I created an investment piece.
The specs:
  • Navy, two-button, notch lapels
  • Super 120 wool-mohair blend (73% wool, 27% wool-mohair)
  • Lining: Dutch polyester
  • Construction: Full canvas (standard for 2012 orders)
  • Double vents
  • Straight pockets, no ticket
  • Flat-front trousers, no break
With great customization comes great responsibility. How many times have you gone in for alterations, only to have your instructions questioned by someone whose style sensibilities may not match your own? Know what you want, and be firm when you ask for it.
This is a proportions game. It’s tough to apply universal rules to the process, because it’s ultimately about what works best for your body. I’m a short guy. That means I need a low, two-button stance (shows more shirt). Slimmer lapels. No break. Streamlined. It all creates the illusion of a just a tad more height. And when you’re the size of a soccer player, every inch counts.
My only complaint is minor: Remember what I said about knowing what you want? If I had it to do over again, I’d make the pants a little less slim. But that’s my (in)decision, not Proper Suit’s. You get what you ask for, and the precision is part of the beauty of this company.
Besides the fit, the details are what excite me. At first glance, it’s a navy suit. With a closer look, it’s so much more.
Beautiful Dutch, floral lining with a dash of color on the pocket piping. Four internal pockets. Monogram.

That’s in addition to the hidden pocket toward the back. It’s cut to hang from the shoulder, which doesn’t disrupt any lines and makes it perfect for the weight of a cell phone. (Or a passport and a little extra cash—in case you find yourself needing to get out of the country after the night you had.)

Customizable suede collar lining, with the option for a monogram.
Other nifty highlights: The trouser hems are reinforced, which provides a little longevity for the part of the garment that’s going to be rubbing against your heel. There’s also a thread on the back of the left lapel for holding down a flower—a trend we’d like to see come back in full force.

These are all signs of a thoughtfully crafted garment.

Our take: Bottom line, we’re beyond impressed. From the first wear to the last, this suit has felt like a bulletproof vest—a modern suit of armor. I never thought that I (of all people) would say it, but the feeling of custom-made clothing is something you can’t quite appreciate until you’ve felt it on your back.
At $650, it’s more than you might pay off-the-rack. But for what you get, you may never want to go back.
Any questions or comments? Fire away.
Photos by the incomparable John Stoffer.
Note: If any of this has piqued your interest, you can meet Richard and McGregor in person (and welcome them to Chicago!) on Wednesday, June 13th, at the House of Blues (6 to 9 p.m.)

Seth J. Putnam - Messing with the new commenting system. So far so good!

Speaking Nonsense. - Greating suits and great opening picture.
That ought to be a facebook cover photo. Ha

Azalea - Great suit! The photos are beautiful.

Kate - I absolutely second that.

AnnaRuna - GREAT post. Love it.

dani - Female kryptonite. Done and done.

Des Kinlaw - Great post. Very informative. Awesome pic with the burning newspaper. It takes some balls to hold on to that. Hope you got it on the first try.

http://chinosandcheesecake.blogspot.com/

Seth J. Putnam - @John: Fair point. I updated accordingly, as I believe they’re in other Eastern locations besides just China, but you’re definitely right in clarifying that this is not American-made.

@DT: Sorry, dude. Was working on short notice and they were all that were available.

John - They may be running it out of the midwest, but it is still a Chinese made suit.

David Pennington - Fantastic. By the way – your paper is on fire. (awesome pic)

DT - Great suit, but those shoes man…

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