Put This On has a great piece on when you shouldn’t go bespoke from the perspective of someone looking to have a suit made abroad (presumably someone living in the US). Jesse outlines several good points many of which accurately describe what goes on in third world countries. I’ve had my fair share of experiences working with different tailors in the Philippines and they are decent at best. My thoughts on buying off the rack vs going bespoke in a third world country after each point Jesse makes.
Unless you have a very unusual body, an off-the-rack suit will fit you well, particularly with alterations. You can and should try on a variety of models to get a sense of which brands and styles fit you best, but for men who aren’t 6’6″ or 300 pounds, off-the-rack will fit.
After trying many different brands I’ve found that I fit well in Massimo Dutti for both suits and sport coats with a style that I like and a price tag I can afford. Buying off the rack has an advantage because you know exactly what you’re getting. If you can find a brand that fits you well and a price that fits your budget then by all means buy off the rack.
Bespoke tailoring, and custom tailoring generally, is never right the first time. Getting a perfect fit requires a long-term relationship and typically at least two or three garments, even for a great tailor.
The problem with most third world tailors is that they will hardly get the fit right even after multiple garments. I’ve found that they are unwilling to perfect a garment or at least do more work because for most people it is already good enough. For them nailing the fit only means lower margins because they have to work more hours to get it right.
Inexpensive tailors in second and third-world countries are rarely great tailors. There simply isn’t demand for great tailoring at their price point, and so good enough tailoring suffices. There are certainly exceptions, but you should ask yourself if you have the time and cultural skills to figure out who those exceptions are.
There are exceptions but you would need a local who knows the landscape well. You won’t find the best tailors in guide books as most travelers are looking for a suit that can be made within 24 hours.
Fashion in the first world is very different than it is in the third world. One generally can’t rely on a tailor for fashion tips, but this is particularly true in, say, Thailand. If you don’t want an awkwardly designed (as opposed to tailored) suit, you’ll have to have a very, very specific idea of what you want, and communicate it effectively.
Most likely you will end up with a box-like suit that looks one or two sizes larger. As I’ve pointed out in my series on having a suit made you need to know exactly what you want before going to a tailor.
Buying bespoke involves a lot of choices, and those choices are best left to a professional clothing designer, rather than a guy buying his first suit.
For the novice it can be quite overwhelming but most third world tailors have a single style or standard length/width. There isn’t much customization you can request because they’d rather manufacture your suit like a factory (i.e. high level of standardization) to maintain margins.
High-quality fabrics are tough to get in the third world. You’ll find a lot of Chinese polyester blends in the fabric market in Bangkok, and not a lot of English woolens.
If you’re looking for high quality cloth third world countries don’t have them unless you go to tailors that have swatches from reputable mills. Which brings me to my next point: You can tell a third world tailor is above average if he is carrying swatches from reputable mills. The logic goes that a tailor can only offer cloth from a reputable mill if he has passed their standards in constructing a suit. This is generally a good way to tell but finding them will be a bit difficult if you aren’t familiar with the landscape. Going to these tailors will mean paying more for a suit but after a certain price it may not be a good deal from the perspective of someone traveling to a third world country looking to get a cheap suit.