What’s The Difference Between Your Neighborhood Tailor and a Designer?

And will the price you pay be worth it?

In the world of bespoke, which one reigns supreme: the family tailor or the designer name. It all comes down to one thing, whether or not you know what you’re looking for.

“If you’re very particular and sure about what you want, I’d recommend going to a tailor,” advises Abdul Salam, the man behind White Planes Workshop, which specializes in creating custom-made casual shirts, dress shirts, barongs, and guayaberas (similar to the polo barong). His clients have strong opinions about what they like—and don’t like—when it comes to a range of issues, including how tightly the sleeves should fit and how long the shirt should be. The more specific and detailed you are about your preferences and instructions, the easier it will be to execute.

Tailors are the guys you want for the basics, like alterations or getting your pants hemmed. 

Do you have a favorite item bought off the rack that you’ve worn to death and simply want an exact replica of in a different color, print, or fabric? Bring it in so they can reproduce it. They’re also the guys you want for the basics, like alterations or getting your pants hemmed. Tailors can give advice about technical matters like fit, fabric, drape, and construction. Because they’ve been doing this for years, it’s also likely they have an archive of the many different styles available for everything, from cuffs to collar lengths, and all that’s left for you to do is pick the one you want. If your tastes lean toward the traditional, this is the way to go.


If what you want, however, is to make a particular style statement—for, say, your wedding or a fancy dinner—then a designer is your man. They can steer you toward looks that are more up-to-date and fashion-forward, as well as give you advice on any flaws you might want to camouflage. “For a designer, it’s always problem-solving,” explains JC Buendia. So first he looks at your build and body type and then thinks of ways to flatter it, such as adjusting the thickness of a coat’s pads to suit the broadness or narrowness of your shoulders.   

If what you want, however, is to make a particular style statement—for, say, your wedding or a fancy dinner—then a designer is your man. 

Of course, you can also count on a designer to pay attention to the little details that add a touch of luxury. In the case of Buendia, he personalizes his creations by embroidering initials or adding a printed lining. “If you want a little more oomph, then go to a designer,” he declares.

In matters of price, however, it’s no secret that a designer will cost more. But it boils down to how willing you are to invest in the difference. “At the end of the day, you get what you pay for,” says Salam. There are good tailors and there are bad tailors. Just as there are good designers as well as bad designers. It might be a process of trial and error until you find the one you’re comfortable with, but when you do, it’s a relationship that could work for the long haul.



Notes From Tailor Abdul Salam

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1| Be particular. Salam asks clients to bring in a favorite shirt, so he has an idea of what you like. “I ask them to send me photos, or if they have the specific collar or detail they want, I ask them to bring it in,” he says. In other words, give references so there’s no room for misinterpretation. “It’s a matter of knowing what you want and helping you find that compromise until we’re both happy,” he adds.

2| Be patient. You may have to try several tailors before you find the one that gets you. “It’s kind of like going to a barber or mechanic. You go to the guy who knows what you want or that you’ve dealt with before,” he says. “Like a family doctor, you should have your own guy. But it might take a while for you to find him.”

Notes From Designer JC Buendia

1| Look him up. “We have a lot of designers, but we only have a handful of menswear designers. Go for the designers who are known for men’s wear.”

2| Trust him. “There are clients who come to me with themes, like one who wanted to wear a Victorian-style cravat.” he relates. “It’s my job to temper their expectations. I think clients appreciate my honesty. I tell them, ‘Oh no, you can’t wear a powder blue suit!’”

3| Ask questions. Designers can give expert advice on matters like whether or not you can pull off a bowtie, so it would be a shame not to seek his opinion. And on that note, “Asians have rounder faces, so sometimes the sharper look that a necktie gives you is better than a bowtie,” he advises.



This story was originally published in the December 2013 issue of Esquire.


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Nana Caragay
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