If you've been following this blog, you'll remember that I have been deconstructing suits at various price points to show how they are made. So far I’ve examined a $500 Jos. A. Bank suit and a $1,500 Z Zegna suit. This week we are taking a big jump in price to a $4,000 Tom Ford suit:
As the former creative director for Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent, Ford is one of the most prominent and influential designers of the 21st century thus far. His suits and sport coats are generally designed with a heavily structured shoulder and he was an early adopter of the inevitable return to wide lapels.
Now before you clothing connoisseurs break out your pitchforks and torches and march down 17th street, you should know that I didn't take knife to a perfectly good suit. In fact, some unknown Judas stabbed the jacket in the back:
At nearly 99% off on eBay, it didn't sting too much to chop this suit up.
In previous posts, I've outlined the factors that generally affect price: fabric, fabrication, country of origin, and prestige.
Tom Ford's men's clothing is highly regarded -- in some circles, it’s the gold standard of how a suit should fit. Because of his esteemed reputation and the price point, I assumed that the construction of his jackets would be of very high quality, even before I started cutting open the test subject.
There’s a lot of handwork and nice details in the construction of the jacket:
- The collar is self-faced with the same fabric, as opposed to using melton/felt, which is standard. They folded over a piece of fabric from the front of the collar to the back, called "collo a bastone" in Italian, which is generally used so that the edge of the felt isn't seen when the collar is folded down. In this case, it doesn't really serve much function since the inside and outside of the collar already match.
- There's pick stitching on nearly all of the seams which traditionally denotes high quality and is presumably vestigial to how jackets used to be joined. Today, it’s solely for aesthetic reasons, and though it looks hand-done, it’s almost always made with a special stitching machine called an AMF, which is roughly the price of an entry level mid-size sedan. The tell-tale sign of hand vs. machine stitching is the uniformity, particularly on the backside (see above image) and in this case it is definitely machine made. This really doesn't make much difference to me and is true of the vast majority of garments, regardless of quality (both the $500 and $1,500 suits from previous posts had AMF pick stitching). My one gripe here would be that there is too much pick stitching - it is on nearly every seam and can look a little flashy when overdone.
- The sleeves have five buttons instead of the more common four and do not have accompanying buttonholes, real or fake. There are no signs of removed faux-buttonholes or of altered sleeves. Perhaps Tom Ford assumes that anyone purchasing a $4,000 will pay the several hundred dollars to have buttonholes cut at the correct position. However, when that’s the case, it’s normally done by prepping the sleeves and leaving the buttons off entirely. It’s also possible that the sleeves were prepped and the buttons were added aftermarket without buttonholes, which is a real shame at this price point.
- The lapel buttonhole, also a vestigial feature nowadays, used for a boutonniere if at all, is beautifully done (see picture below). This is referred to as a Milanese buttonhole and is handmade by attaching a thin piece of gimp (stiff thread) in the shape of the buttonhole and then wrapping it perpendicularly with silk thread. It serves no real function, but is one of the fancy details that is meant to show a jacket’s pedigree.
Tom Ford wouldn't have stayed in business long if he was charging $4,000+ for suits that weren't fully canvassed, so there was no shock there:
In addition to being fully canvassed, there are several upgraded construction methods not seen in the Jos. A. Bank or Z Zegna. I superimposed the guts over the jacket and colored it blue to make it easier to discern:
Here's some key differences between the Tom Ford and the others:
Fused vs. floating canvas - The Z Zegna and Jos. A. Bank suits were entirely fused across the chest and lapel vs. a full floating canvas for the Tom Ford.
- Pad-stitched lapel -The lapel is pad-stitched (herringbone pattern) to the fabric by machine. Unlike the body of a jacket, the lapel shouldn't float and the pad stitch keeps it in place. This can also be done by hand, which is time consuming and creates nominally better results, if at all. The other jackets had no stitching since the lapel was entirely fused.
- Lapel fusing - Surprisingly, there is a little bit of fusing at the tip of the peak lapel. It is placed over the pad stitch and is presumably there to add a little extra heft. It's a small piece, so it isn't probably too much of an issue, but there is the possibility of delamination, however slight.
- Roll line tape - Adding roll line tape along the break of the lapel is a very small but important detail. This extra strip of material helps the lapel find its natural roll and keeps it from looking flat. The Jos. A. Bank suit had tape here, but the Z Zegna did not. I am not sure how much of a difference it would really make on a fused lapel anyway, since they are much more flimsy.
- Taped seams - Additionally, all of the outside seams are taped (thin strip of fabric), which reinforces the edges, making them cleaner and sturdier. The cheaper jackets did not use tape.
- Hand sewn armhole -The armhole is hand sewn, which is very important in order to accurately attach the body to the sleeve. It's hard to properly attach two pieces of fabric in a circle by machine. Both of the other jackets had machine sewn armholes.
- Shoulder padding - There is a good amount of shoulder padding and it is stepped down nicely to create a clean look. There is also some light padding (not pictured) that runs from the sleevehead down the sleeve an inch or two that helps create a clean transition.
Almost everything was about as expected with the Tom Ford jacket. At $4,000 a hand pad stitched lapel would not have been out of the question, and the sleeve buttonholes are a bit of a mystery. However, there was one quite unexpected detail - the collar was entirely fused:
The little dots on the fused part are glue spots that I pulled apart from the fabric. I was a surprised by this and went back to see how the others were constructed. The Z Zegna was also fused, but the Jos. A. Bank was stitched. So why would a $500 suit be stitched and a $4,000 suit be fused? The fusing was much thicker and stiffer than usual, so clearly it was there to add substance and heft to the collar. I remembered that the collar was self-faced rather than using the standard felt as discussed above. Ironically, this seemingly fancy detail required the use of a heavier than usual material inside the collar to accommodate the missing felt. It seems that a thick material could still have been stitched to the collar, rather than fused, but maybe they were afraid the blind stitching would be visible.
All in all, the Tom Ford suit was superior in almost every way to the $500 Jos. A. Bank and the $1,500 Z Zegna and really is a nice garment. And that brings us to the $4,000 question: Is the price appropriate for the quality? That's tough to answer. I can say for certain that there are other comparable brands in this price range, so compared to their main competition, I don't think the price is outlandish. Full line Ermenegildo Zegna and Isaia are similarly priced and Kiton and Brioni are decidedly more expensive. But these are internationally esteemed fashion houses that are able to charge enormous prices because of prestige.
As you might have suspected, in addition to finding suit construction interesting, I also have an ulterior motive for doing these tear-downs: My fully canvassed suits, made in Italy, that retail at $1,495 have superior construction to Tom Ford's (I expected them to be about the same) and thoroughly surpass the quality of the made in Mexico Z Zegna at the same price. So if you subtract out prestige, then Tom Ford and the like are a pretty poor value.
Check out the other installments in this series:
HiI love your analysis of Tom Ford and his suits. Can you comment on his numerous different cuts. It is interesting that a 48 R Windsor fits me about the same as the 50 R regency.
Good day. I have a few Tom Ford suits and they are great. How do you compare a Kiton M2M suit? Thoughts? They are priced at a great deal more.
The sleeve buttonholes (or lack thereof) is not really a mystery. Many jackets come with the sleeves unfinished and the original owner obviously didn’t feel the need to go to the trouble of having buttonholes made and simply had the buttons sewn on. To be honest, I’ve done this myself, albeit on a cloth with texture where the lack of any stitching is not very noticeable.
Gonzague, thanks for the feedback on the buttonholes. The lapel is machine pad stitched and both the lapel and collar appear to be machine sewn.
John, the Milanese buttonhole is 3cm, which is a little longer that average imo. Mine are 2.5cm for instance.
hi great post, i was wondering how wide in mm’s is the milanese buttonhole cord/ stick, what is the width of the silk and gimp? thanks a lot