For some men, a suit feels like an unnatural and constricting male uniform; a way of burying individuality in the conventional business attire of dark suit, white shirt, and tie. There are certainly a fair share of businessmen, bankers and lawyers wandering through the PATH corridors beneath the Financial District who carry themselves in exactly this fashion. For those attuned to the subtle details of masculine appearance, however, the suit offers a perfect canvas for the conspicuous display of their personality and taste. The distinctions between the two may seem slight, but for the individiual responding to the homogenization of life—that the exact same ready-to-wear designer suit is available in Toronto, Dubai or Barcelona—a bespoke suit is the ultimate means of self-expression.
“A suit should do something for you,” says master tailor Salgado. “If you buy a suit and it doesn’t do anything for you, it’s not a good suit. When you get up in the morning and you pick up a suit, you have to feel ‘I want to wear that suit’ and that is what activates you for the day. So a suit has to do something for you.”
Having spent nearly fifty years making the highest quality suits, shirts, and shoes, Salgado is someone who knows. The House of Salgado, based in the TD Centre, is one of the city’s few remaining bespoke gentlemen’s shops—meaning everything is made to order for each client from the finest materials. The austere shop is unlike your average men’s shop. A grand wooden desk at the centre of a small room is surrounded by shelf-lined walls displaying fabric of every type and colour. The only finished suit in the store is for display purposes only. It’s not a place for browsing racks of finished suits, but for designing the ideal suit of your imagination.
With every aspect of the suit’s design customizable—from the fabric and cut, to the style of pocket, lapel width, and button detailing—the bespoke suit gives free reign to all your personal idiosyncrasies. The suit can follow the latest designer fashions from the ready-to-wear world—a sign of a good tailor is that he keeps abreast of and can advise on the latest trends—or the suit can follow a more classic design. As Salgado advises, “I wanna give you what you want, not what’s in style.”
Such freedom can also be daunting if you don’t know exactly what you want. Luckily, at the first appointment, Salgado is there to coach customers through the process. What is their occupation? What type of personality do they have? What can the clothes they’re wearing reveal about their tastes? He will assess whether the customer’s style is more self-conscious conservatism or youthful adventurousness. “And, then I would cater them towards the things that would be better for them.” Unlike the sometimes pushy salesmen who pressure for the purchase of a more expensive suit or the latest trend, the tailor’s role is to discover what will be most complementary to each individual client.
“And then, I measure,” Salgado describes the next step in the process. “I measure you and I take a quick look at how you are built. Whether you have high shoulders, sloping shouders or regular shoulders. Whether you stoop, or whether you stand very erect or normal. All those things are an observation I have to take.” The finished suit will take all of this into account, and its lines will trace the contours of your body perfectly. It’ll flatter as it disguises the quirks of your physique and posture.
Without ever having seen you, Salgado’s off-site team—who will actually construct your suit—will develop a clear picture of you from his notes and observations. They’ll cut the material individually, and assemble the pieces loosely with a “try on stitch,” then return the unfinished suit to the shop for your first fitting. After any necessary adjustments are marked, and it’s sent back for alterations and the finishing touches. It’s a very labour-intensive process, but Salgado estimates that 95% of the suits that arrive in the store for a customer’s second fitting require no further alterations.
This modern team-based approach in the tailoring industry represents a clear shift from the traditional process of a tailor would cut a garment and finish it himself. As Salgado notes, that’s no longer the case for most tailors in Canada. “Tailoring has changed so much, that it’s something similar to making a car. You don’t have to be a mechanic anymore. What you need to know is what to do in that particular part of the car. In the tailoring industry, unfortunately, it’s the same thing.” Each member of the team—from the cutter, who may “know how to cut a suit, but doesn’t know how to put a suit together,” to the pocket-maker, finishers and pressers—has a specialized skill for a certain aspect of the garment. Nowadays, most tailors are just as good as the teams behind them, Salgado acknowledges. “But the real master tailors are tailors like me, losing all their hair and very advanced in age.”
Trained master tailors are becoming an increasingly rare commodity in Canada today. Some may work for high end department stores and men’s shops, but many of the family businesses established by immigrants after the war have disappeared as younger generations rebuked the long-hours and poor pay of a tailor apprentice for university-trained careers. Fortunately, Salgado’s son and co-owner of the business, Mark, is currently studying with one of the world’s few tailoring schools, which will ensure that House of Salgado will continue to prosper.
Waiting five to seven weeks for your suit to arrive may not provide the instant gratification of an off-the-rack purchase, but if you’re buying bespoke, you likely already have a closet full of suits and don’t mind the wait. If you are in a rush, however, Salgado can fast track your suit and have it ready in a matter of days. It’s one of many special services, such as at-your-office fittings, that sets the bespoke tailor apart from the average men’s store.
There’s nothing particularly wrong with fashionable off-the-rack suits (and even the most expensive designer suit is machine-made). “If you are the perfect 40 and 6 feet tall, you have no problem,” Salgado notes. But few of us match sizes perfectly. Even made-to-measure suits—where a handful of aspects of an existing pattern, such as length, sleeves, chest and waist, can be adapted—allow for only minimal adjustments. In both cases, minor irritants or imperfections may remain.
From all accounts, there is no comparing a bespoke suit to ready-to-wear or even made-to-measure. A bespoke suit from House of Salgado will cost $1500 or more, depending on the fabric selected, which represents very good value compared to Britain, Spain, or Italy. It’s no wonder a number of Salgado’s clients shirk Britain’s famed Savile Row to have their suits made here.
“You identify with it,” Salgado concludes, “because whatever is there is the way you want it. You don’t have something there because it’s already there and you have to take it.” The custom-made suit will feel like a second skin, and the result will show in your confidence, demeanour and attitude. This is the reason Salgado has found tailoring such a fulfilling vocation for so long. “Because I can make a lot of people happy. And I make lots of people happy.”