Before fast fashion had our wallets in its clutches and then our moral consciousness, clothes were made on a much more individual basis.
Our current fashion system is unsustainable. Between overconsumption, burning excess inventory, and textiles turning landfills into mountains, fashion accounts for about 10% of greenhouse gas emissions. There are many ways to combat this like consuming less, buying second hand, or getting your clothes made-to-order.
Before industrialization and today’s lightning quick clothing cycle, clothes were made as they were needed. You might see a tailor who’d take your measurements and then create clothes custom to your body, whether that tailor had their own shop or was one of your parents. This is made-to-measure, which is a craft that’s still alive today but not nearly as prominent as it used to be. Something similar, though, is rising in popularity and relevance: Made-to-order clothing, which is created only when ordered.
As fashion veers towards sustainability, made-to-order is the future of fashion. Before industrialization, clothes were often made-to-order or bespoke. Our shift toward sustainability is like a shift back in time to the ways we used to create and consume clothes.
Made-to-order is all about getting clothes that fit your body and your style, making them candidates to be in your closet for a long time. This is something I find very attractive. I like investing in quality pieces and taking care of them, not only because it’s cheaper in the long run but also because it makes me more confident in my style, which is a physical manifestation of who I am internally.
On top of all the personal benefits, it’s much for sustainable and environmentally friendly. There’s less overconsumption with made-to-order and no issue of excess inventory since something is only made when it’s wanted and purchased.
I spoke with Jud Barr, CEO of JTB Custom, which handles made-to-order for Rowing Blazers. He explained that made-to-order isn’t just more enjoyable for the customer, but it helps companies manage risk of overproduction. In other words, it’s a win-win. One thing he thinks will improve over the next few years is wait time for made-to-order items.
I had my first foray into made-to-order with a wool suit from Rowing Blazers and a leather handbag from Italian luxury brand Milaner. I wasn’t sure what to expect or if I'd conclude that either are worth it. After trying both, I can say with confidence: you should be investing in made-to-order right now.
About the brands: Rowing Blazers and Milaner
Rowing Blazers is an American clothing brand loved by celebrities like Pete Davidson and Ziwe that offers preppy clothes with an irreverent twist. It was founded by scholar, archaeologist, and three-time member of the United States national rowing team Jack Carlson. The brand does quirky collaborations with brands from the NBA to Harry's New York Bar. I was drawn to their sharp silhouettes, overall vibe, and quality of the fabrics.
Clothes aren’t the only fashion items available made-to-order. Milaner is a vintage-inspired luxury goods shop that’s their luxurious, made-to-order bags featured on the Sex and the City reboot. Items are made-to-order and crafted by artisans in Italy and France.
My shopping experience
I sorted through the options and found the suit I wanted. After a catastrophic dilemma about what size I am (which happens every single time I place an online order), I ordered my gun check wool suit with a seamless experience. (If you have a wool allergy, you may want to try the 100% cotton corduroy.) Because this is made-to-order, I eagerly waited for just under seven weeks for my set to arrive. It was well worth it.
When my order arrived, I was brimming with excitement once I saw Rowing Blazers on the box. The suit was neatly packaged in a branded garment bag (which added to the mounting anticipation). Unzipping it, there was a tag with my name on it and my sizes. This was also the case for the tags on each garment. There’s something magical seeing that something was created just for you. It truly felt like it was just made for me.
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Fit and quality
Some made-to-order clothes are cut to your exact measurements for a perfectly tailored fit. For Rowing Blazers, however, that’s not the case. For the blazer, size options range from XS to XL. For the trousers, you can choose a waist size from 24 to 34 and an inseam from 25 to 34. I think it would be great if the brand took measurements for a more custom fit. But at the same time, my suit fit so well friends were asking if I got it tailored.
The wool is weighty and thick but not overbearing. The brass buttons on the jacket, decorated with a bee motif, are a beautiful touch. I appreciate the pockets on the jacket, especially when so much of women’s clothes has tiny pockets or no pockets at all. I think this versatile and very functional suit will be in my closet for many years to come, if not a few decades.
For Milaner, my bag arrived after several weeks, and I had a similar experience of joy unboxing it from its dust bag. The craftsmanship of my woven Hallie Hobo is exquisite. The soft leather and suede interior make for an elegant and timeless bag with plenty of space inside.
All in all, these made-to-order pieces are beautiful and made with high-quality materials and craftsmanship. I plan to wear and love these until they fall apart (which will hopefully be a very long time from now). Then, I’ll take them to get repaired and do it all over again. If somewhere down the line my style drastically shifts, these will be great to consign or donate.
There’s definitely a sticker shock when you look at the $895 jacket, the $348 trousers, or see the price of the full suit for $1,243. Ultimately, the value is pretty good. Here’s why it’s worth it.
Made-to-order is all about investing in something that you’re going to wear for a long time, if not a lifetime. It’s helpful to break things down by cost-per-wear, which divides the cost of the item by how many times it's worn. If you buy the jacket and wear it at least twice a month, then your cost per wear after one year will be about $28. If you do this for five years, your cost-per-wear will be $5.79. When you think about a decade, cost-per-wear goes down to a few dollars. For a lifetime, it's cents. If the price is too high to pay at once, there are options to pay in installments.
For all the ill-fitting clothes you purchase that don't get worn, made-to-order pieces can end up costing you a lot less despite their price.
Made-to-order clothes are a love letter to your style and body, especially when the measurements are custom to you. It’s easy today to get rid of clothes as quickly as you scroll. But it's priceless to have a quality garment that fits well and is made for you. When you invest in it, you're investing in yourself.
I’m in love with my Rowing Blazers set. The Milaner handbag is going to be in my closet for a while as well. Ultimately, this experience diving into made-to-order has left me excited about the future of fashion. These pieces are not by any means the most affordable, but they're worthy investments if the price is accessible to you and they're made by intentional brands.
As we shift away from fast fashion and garments that we dispose of after one or two wears, made-to-order clothes are going to take center stage.