A long time ago, a friend of mine taught me how to sew my own clothes. He shared with me everything his single mother had taught him — she was a Korean woman in Simi Valley, California, who made ends meet by taking on extra work as a seamstress. Years later, a second friend taught me how to design clothing, too. I’m forever thankful to both of them — and my friend’s mom — because making and designing my own clothes is something I now really enjoy.
Better yet, with countless YouTube tutorials and DIY instructables readily available, it’s far easier to pick up today than ever before. “I only did it to start making stuff for myself,” my friend Derek, who likes hats but doesn’t like sports, explains. “Because I’m a bullshit sports fan, it’s pretty false for me to put on a Giants hat. Plus, I could get more behind cheeseburgers and dumb shit like that. Those are the kind of hats I like to rock.”
“I don’t make the whole thing,” Derek continues. “I just do some design shit on top of a product.” Despite his humility, Derek’s custom hats were an immediate sensation among friends who, after seeing one, asked where they could get a hat like his. “I immediately had the problem of, ‘I want one and I want this on it.’ Honestly, I didn’t want to start a fake hat company, but now I have one.”
Like Derek, who sells his hats on Instagram, more and more guys are entering into the world of DIY men’s fashion. This is especially true coming out of the pandemic, when many men had ample time to discover new hobbies, shop online and build up a desire to go out and be seen. Plus, given that we all need to buy less and get more wear out of the individual pieces we already own, customization may be the only way forward for true sustainability. “Dressing this way is the future — buying fewer clothes and adapting them,” period-costume enthusiast Joe Phelan told The Guardian in 2019.
Admittedly, hand-making all your clothes is a very big commitment. But just dabbling will still yield huge upsides, Derek says. “I just kinda do shit, here and there, whenever something inspires me,” he tells me. “Often, it is going to be more expensive than buying something off-the-rack. And so, a lot of guys don’t think it’s worth the hassle. But I promise that it is.”
If you’re interested in wading into the world of self-bespoke clothing, I gathered a bevy of resources to get you started down the pathway of personal style with some customized (or customizable) clothing and accessory options.
For some overall DIY self-bespoke style cues, there are YouTube channels like Brema, TenHundred and Shmoxd. If you’re looking to physically create your own clothing, there are many other channels with comprehensive instructional videos, like this one on how to make men’s pants with Cornelius Quiring. Online you can also find folks who offer old-school sewing techniques, updated by modern pattern makers. You can check in with subreddits like r/diytailor as well, which is billed as a forum for “men who sew.”
If you want more of a professional helping hand, or if you want to customize a more traditional garment to your personal requirements, below are some places to start…
Suits and Ties
A great suit is almost always a bespoke custom-made suit — a la the suits and ties from Franco Uomo menswear. They are, however, typically very expensive.
If you can’t afford that level of personal tailoring — and few of us can — there are other options. For instance, consider investing in a custom tie that makes your off-the-rack suit pop. Knotty Tie allows you to design your own neckwear, while also helping to employ refugees in America. Per Knotty Tie’s social mission, self-sufficiency for refugees is the company’s goal, which is the complete opposite business model from most fast-fashion brands that rely on exploiting labor overseas.
Another inexpensive option are made-to-measure suits, or basically the cheaper version of a bespoke suit. Made-to-measure startup Indochino’s product line includes outerwear, chinos, slacks and dress shirts. The material isn’t as long-lasting as some more expensive fabrics, but you can customize the design and select the exact suit that suits you.
Apposta is an Italian dress shirtmaker that’s now run by the family’s fourth generation. It sells customizable dress shirts that feel like luxury. Spier & Mackay is another dress shirtmaker that offers self-bespoke services, with customizable sports coats, sweaters, trousers, outerwear and shoes.
For footwear, there are all kinds of options available online, from novelty sockmakers to custom-stitched Etsy creations. In particular, Nice Laundry is a great option for designing and customizing socks to your taste.
JHilburn provides you with the opportunity to show Levi Strauss where the brand has yet to go — or where it should’ve stayed.
Knitwear and Custom Sewing
Not only do I wear hats from my friend Derek, but I also like to order custom-sewn hats from Stockbridge Sewing Works, a small operation that makes hats for old baseball movies and time-traveling shows. Each one just feels special when I wear it.
I’ve yet to order a custom-knit sweater, but I’m looking into it. Wildemasche is a German company that allows you to book time on their factory’s machines. You send them a pattern, and they’ll custom knit you a sweater with that design. Or you can go the old-fashioned route. Custom Sweaters is run by a woman named Susan who will knit you a sweater by hand. Just send her a picture of exactly what you want, and she’ll make your custom-sweater dream come true.
Whatever you choose to do, just remember that you don’t need all your clothes to be self-bespoke, but you’ll be surprised by the pleasure that comes from some of them being made just for you, by you.