After receiving a lot of e-mails from English Cut readers, it’s pretty obvious that there’s plenty of people out there who would love to have a handmade suit from any of the wonderful tailors on Savile Row. But the reality is; they don’t come cheap. Not everybody has £3000 to spend on a suit.
What if you have only £300 to spend? [approx. $500 US] For that money, I’m afraid all you’ll get on Savile Row is a very good meal for you and your friends at Sartoria, a lovely restaurant on the corner of Savile Row & New Burlington Street.
With £300 you will have to settle for standard ready-to-wear, unless you get very lucky and find a good second-hand bespoke in a charity shop (which does happen occasionally), or you happen to know the name of a good tailor in the Far East.
That being said, for £300 you actually can get a ready-to-wear decent enough to convince us in the trade that you spent more around the £600-700 mark (approx. $1100 US). Just as long as you ignore the labels and follow these points:
Pick a classic, grey or blue worsted, perhaps even a pin or chalk stripe in classic colours. Make sure it’s wool, not polyester or any other weird-sounding fabric, the latter being usually just a disguise for cheap, synthetic rubbish.
Make sure you pick a classic, single-breasted, two or three button front. Never choose those dreadful four-buttons or Nehru style collar suits- they reek of cheap designer rubbish and look ridiculous once you’re over twenty years old. A double breasted is cool, but try to find a six button (two fastening , and only fasten the top button).
Little things to look for are important; those in the know will spot them a mile off. Make sure that the lapel has a decent lapel hole. Straight and of a decent length. Ours are 1 & 1/8” long , you are unlikely to find that but still, the longer, the better.
Avoid at all costs a “keyhole lapel” hole. This is an awful clanger that’s dropped by even the most expensive designer labels. Always try to get four buttons on the cuff and make sure they have button holes- I know they won’t be actual, functioning buttonholes at that price point, but they’ll look the part. Never pick the type that just sew the buttons on to the cuff, that’s a serious faux pas.
Make sure the pockets have flaps, and that there is an out breast pocket. You often don’t spot this until you notice you’ve nowhere for your handkerchief.
There aren’t as many things to go wrong here, but if possible try to avoid belt loops. We’re not fans of them in the business and it can look really untidy, especially when you’re wearing your favorite Harley Davidson buckle. Try to find the trousers with side strap adjusters, fastened with a buckle or buttons (in the trade they’re called “Daks tops”).
Plain fronts are fine but if you want pleats, try to make sure they have four, and not two. Sadly, 95% of ready-to-wears have the pleats going the wrong way, i.e. reversed. I know our Italian cousins would argue the opposite, but on The Row our pleats go forward. It makes for a more flattering line on the leg. This is unlike the continental way, which throws a lot of fullness behind the thigh, which can look baggy.
As it’s not pure bespoke, the fit will of course be a compromise. However, you can still look pretty good, very good if you’re lucky. Again, ignore the labels- just because it’s claiming to be a “posh” product doesn’t mean it’s going to fit you the best. A ready-to-wear is a pattern cutter’s interpretation of which shape fits most people. A 40 Reg. from two different manufacturers can look totally different, so try them all on, and be honest with yourself. As I said in an earlier post, if you’re in between sizes, then get the larger size and have it altered for a small cost at a high street alteration specialist.
If you follow the above advice you should be looking pretty good, so don’t shoot yourself in the foot by wearing a paisley shirt with your favorite kipper tie. I know I’m being personal here, but I don’t think you can beat a clean white or pale blue shirt with a double cuff and cufflinks. Again, make sure the fit is generous; you should show cuff. Skimpy shirt sleeves are awful. Well-chosen cuff links or silk knots only cost a couple of pounds and look superb.
The tie should be silk and, like as the suit, don’t even consider polyester (I hate the word, let alone the material). Printed designs are fine, but woven is better. Again, you’re not talking a fortune here if you look around. It’s not mandatory, but I do like a handkerchief, silk or just plain white cotton. You can fold these or, like me, just pinch it in the middle and stuff it in, as simple as that.
Shoes and socks are not rocket science. Again, keep it classic, and above all keep them polished and shining.
So, choose wisely and I think you will look like a regular James Bond. Keep dressing like that, and you’ll soon get a promotion and be able to enjoy more than just dinner on The Row.
[TIP:] For the money, the British high street retailer, Marks & Spencer’s makes as good a suit as anyone. [NB: I do not have any business dealings with them. Just one tailor's opinion etc.]
Written by Thomas Mahon in 2005