A defense of ready to wear clothes may seem like an odd thing to write about, especially since I cover mostly bespoke tailoring. But perhaps one of the unfortunate temptations of going custom is thinking that it is the end of line and sniffing at anything not bespoke pedigreed. Flying to exotic and/or expensive locales to frequent little known (or well-known) bespoke craftsmen has been known to incite mild self-satisfaction as well as hubristic tendencies of Sophoclean proportions. The opposite is also true. There are men who see little to no value in bespoke clothing compared to RTW. But that is a different conceit I think.
In reality, both bespoke and ready to wear are essential for a healthy menswear industry. The one can serve as a check and balance on the excesses of the other. Conversely, each can serve to inspire and short circuit the limitations of the other. Things can get very interesting in the cross-fertilization of ready to wear and bespoke (both artisanally speaking for tailors and practitioners in the apparel trade and for customers).
With bespoke, men commission garments for the "long duree" or the long term. Given the cost of custom clothes, this makes quite a bit of sense from an economic perspective. With ready to wear, men are more open to experimentation, incorporation of styles from previous eras and adaptation to the times they live in.
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Take Engineered Garments, a New York based men's label headed by a Japanese designer Daiki Suzuki. Browse through their fall / winter 2009 collection and you will see an unmistakeably current and timely take on modern urbanwear and streetwear. It's so current and timely that I can't help but feel that the label should be credited in the new Sherlock Holmes film opening Christmas Day and directed by Guy Ritchie.
I haven't seen the film in its entirety yet but am willing to make the following wager. If you take away the Edwardian period artifacts and formality from the clothes worn in the film, I think you effectively end up with the EG aesthetic - two parts ruffian, one part aesthete - which happens to be Ritchie's take on Holmes. The association is there because EG offers historicized ready to wear - a melting pot montage of past workwear looks, countrywear and military uniforms. Or more specifically, according to EG's website, Suzuki was inspired by "American sportswear, outdoor clothing, and military uniforms".
In short, ready to wear brands with a distinct set of aesthetics like EG encourage us to experiment. While not all of clothing (or life for that matter) is about experimentation, sometimes our most interesting clothes are successful byproducts of the laboratory known as ready to wear.