What’s the difference between a $100 and $1000 suit? Five factors affecting men’s clothing prices.


It’s interesting to see how people react to price.

I’ve quoted potential clients the same price on the same clothing item and received completely opposite responses.

The first potential clients felt I’m too expensive; the other asked me why I’m selling my beautiful hand-made clothing so cheaply.

Confusing isn’t it!

men's suit saleThe price of clothing is all about expectation and what the market is willing to bear. A smart businessman will watch his costs like a hawk but never price according to cost.

Instead they’ll seek to position their product where it is of higher value than the cash being exchanged for it in the eyes of the buyer and less valuable than that same cash in the eyes of the seller.  A perfect trade, one where both parties are left satisfied.

Understand this, and you’ll understand the reason you see such variation in clothing prices.

High clothing price does not equate to high clothing quality

Expensive clothing does not mean high clothing quality. This is especially true in designer clothing where you are paying for a brand’s reputation, the safety of knowing that you can expect a reasonable level of wear and prestige associated with it.

Price variation in menswear depends on a wide range of factors.  Five of them are:

Factor 1 – The Clothing Pattern

A first price factor in menswear that I’ll be discussing is how many men the garment’s pattern was designed to fit. If the clothing is made to fit a large number of men, it’ll usually be priced lower as it targets a  more general audience.

If it’s made to fit a sporty or thin body type, it’ll be priced higher as it targets a smaller audience but one that is willing to a pay a premium for better fit and styles that suit them.

jean pattern

Off-the-rack clothing is typically machine made in large batches, and tend to be cut loose to fit on as many men in the given size range as possible.

Thus as mentioned these patterns fit a hundred different shapes, however it’s worth noting that they usually fit all of them poorly.

A mass-produced garment is going to need adjusting in multiple places before it fits your body somewhat attractively.

Unfortunately, the cheap nature of the product often makes adjusting it difficult as there is little extra fabric to open seams or a poor fabric was used that leaves marks where  the seam formerly was.

Designer and specialty clothing does a better job making their off-the-rack clothing from a less forgiving pattern which means the buyer must somewhat fit the pattern to begin with.

As any large man who has tried to wear Italian suits can tell you, you either fit into a Zegna suit or you don’t.

These garments are more targeted in their demographic, and as such have a higher price because it is expected that the customer will pay more for a premium fit.

The ultimate in clothing patterns are those that are made for you. Women learn this from an early age; just the other day I watched my daughter playing with her dolls and trying various clothes on them. It just makes sense to put on the clothing that fits (aka was made) for the doll in question.

For men custom clothing, because of it’s cost, mostly makes sense in luxury wear items such as suits. Made-to-measure and bespoke suits offer a fit tailored to your own body.

The latter is the more expensive option and builds the suit from scratch rather than from a template, allowing customization at every step of the fitting process.

Occasionally I’ll have a man ask about custom made jeans, sport shirts, and sweaters.  It’s my belief that unless you are very hard to fit, the extra cost associated with these is not worth it; off the rack manufactures make such a wide range of these products it’s usually just a matter of finding the right brand and size.

Factor 2 – Clothing Fabric

A piece of clothings other major cost comes from the materials used. Prices range from a few cents a yard to hundreds of dollars per yard. A dress shirt normally takes a single 1 yard, trousers from 1 1/2 to 2, with a suit on average demanding 3.5 yards or more.  Clothing made in large batches can save fabric as well as it can utilizes a higher percentage of the raw fabric.

tweed fabrics

Fabric price is determined by the fiber type, fiber quality, and the fabric weave.

Synthetics are usually the least expensive to produce, with polyester and rayon being two common examples.

Cotton fabrics are next in the price scale; a natural fiber, cotton is grown in large quantities around the world although in various degrees of fiber shape and length. Usually the longer the fiber the more desirable it is for higher end menswear. Fibers are also judged on the maturity of their shape, their cleanliness, and even the country of origin.

The most expensive fabrics are generally made from wools, which for this article I’ll define as fibers made from a range of animal hairs.  Common wool fibers are those collected from Australian sheep, but more exotic wool fabrics are made with blends from goat and rabbit hair as well.

Silk is another expensive fabric, it’s price being reflective of it’s manufacturing difficulty, handling issues, and controls on output from suppliers.

Most men’s suits are wool, but wool comes in a very broad range of styles and qualities. Synthetic materials can create a cheaper suit, but lose the drape, luster, and durability of wool, creating an artificial-looking outfit that shines under direct light and wears badly.

The best wools come from reputable, established mills and use only virgin wool, or wool sheared and spun from the sheep. Cheaper wools repurpose old fibers, creating a coarser and less durable textile.

A Man's Guide To Style

Factor 3 – Clothing Construction

The skill and method with which clothing is assembled impacts the cost. Construction by machine is cheaper and quicker, bringing the price down, while hand-sewing takes time and skill making the clothing more expensive based simple on cost.

The advantage of tailored construction as opposed to machined is precision and durability. Mistakes made by machines are sometimes caught by quality control and sometimes not; it is highly unlikely that a skilled tailor will sell a finished garment with any errors or flaws in the construction.

men's clothing inner constructionFactor 4 – Service Before and after Purchase

Another important consideration is the actual purchasing experience and the willingness of the clothing merchant to protect the buyer from workmanship issues. As far as returns go, this is a major advantage of large retailers especially in the United States where they have very generous return policies when you keep the receipt and even when you don’t.

I routinely return items to Target without a receipt – they simply use my credit card to locate the purchase in their system or credit me the return with an in-store credit that I can use anywhere in the United States.

Smaller clothing merchants don’t normally have the infrastructure to support this type of service; what they do have though is an owner with an excellent memory who’ll not only remember you but also be willing to work to resolve your issues amicably.

So when it comes to service, it depends on what type you prefer.

taking care of the clientFactor 5 – Clothing Brand Names & Paying for Reputation

If you are after a designer label that is hot, you are going to pay retail and the premium associated with the brand. Be careful of outlet stores; clothing brands are now making product lines specifically for them.

Thus what you find in the outlet store is not excess from a high end retailer, but rather a lower quality product made for the outlet. The retail price it is marked down from was never an an actual price, rather an illusion of value created by the company’s sales team.

On the other hand if you are willing to go with a no-name brand that makes a solid quality garment at a fair price and that’s on sale in your size…..well, you’ve just found a great deal at a fraction of the designer piece cost.

The key here is being able to spot quality.  For many a brand name is the only way they know how – for the man looking for a bargain, you have to understand fabric, fit, style, and construction.

Final Words on Clothing Price

A higher price tag doesn’t automatically mean a better clothing. But cheap clothing that is poorly made is just that — cheap. Menswear that you have to replace every season is never a good deal.

The cost you pay for clothing usually represents a mixture, in various degrees, of the factors above. The best a man can do is educate himself as to the basics of what to look for and work with a clothing merchant who cares about helping his clients. Do this and you’ll get your money’s worth 95% of the time.  And that last 5%? That’s what returns are for.