The Matching Myth…

The Matching Myth…

DSC00157.JPG [Pinstripe with un-matching stripe at the shoulder seam- classic Savile Row bespoke.]

This has been the bain of bespoke tailors for generations: the little detail of matching pinstripes or chalk-stripes through the shoulder seam of a bespoke coat.

On a fairly regular basis over the years, I’ve had to wrestle with customers to prove that if you’re tailoring a hand-made coat properly, it’s practically impossible to match the stripes through this seam.

And I know I’ll receive numerous e-mails and comments arguing the opposite, from ready-to-wear and made-to-measure customers alike.

Firstly, to get my point across, we need to to think about the part of the body that we’re trying to fit- in this case, the shoulder.

If you reach and place your hand on your shoulder as you’re reading this, it should require zero medical training to realise that back of your shoulder is convex i.e. it’s full, round and muscular. Whereas the front of your shoulder is more flat, more hollow, more evident bone structure, with less muscle.

So it stands to reason, if you have a shoulder width of for instance, six and one half inches, the material required to cover the longer curvature of the back is going to be greater than it will be at the front.

So how do we poor tailors cope?

The answer, as you shall see from the picture just below, is to cut the back seam from three quarters of an inch, to an inch bigger than the front.

DSC00157.JPG [The forepart and the back of a cutting pattern, meeting at the shoulder seam. Note how the back part- at the bottom of the photo- is longer than the forepart.]

Then with great skill from the tailor, he eases the extra fullness of the back into the shoulder seam, as seen in the photo directly below.

DSC00154.JPG [Back shoulder of a suit, still under construction. Note how the cloth is being eased in.]

This is a great art, perhaps the hardest skill to acquire in the trade. This is because if the fullness is not “eased in” perfectly through the seam, it either looks clumsy and puckered, or if not enough fullness (i.e. extra cloth) is put into the seam, this causes the shoulder to feel tight and cause what we call “kinkus”, which is an awful stretched appearance around the collar bone, that can also feel very uncomfortable for the poor customer.

This skill cannot be taught- it is only developed in the tailor’s fingertips after a large number of years’ practice. Any decent Savile Row tailor will have this art, but it will have taken them an aeon to learn it properly.

Then the fullness in the back shoulder will be shrank away by your tailor through constant pressing with a steam iron, so it looks smooth and perfectly shaped, like the pinstripe photo at the top.

This method is very unlike the Ready-To-Wear and Made-To-Measure world, who only use a maximum of about 3/8th of an inch of extra fullness on the back shoulder- about half what Savile Row uses. Often they’ll use even less.

The reason for this is, the shoulders of their garments are designed to be machined together in a matter of seconds, which often allows the stripes to match. Then with shoulder pad inserted, and other technical movements, they produce a clean, but in my opinion an unnatural shoulder line.

In other words, because of more-or-less equal amounts of fabric in non-bespoke being used on the front and back of the seam, the stripes can more easily be matched. However, this happens at great cost to fit, style and comfort.

So when you want to size someone up at a cocktail party, check the shoulder seam on their pinstripes. It never fails.

  • James Justin
    Posted at 09:37h, 02 August Reply

    Fascinating. I suppose that applies to window-pane checks too?

    • Tom Mahon
      Posted at 15:31h, 03 August Reply

      That’s right 🙂

      • H. Widmann
        Posted at 12:05h, 05 August Reply

        Cannot agree!!! Please see A suit made by Volkmar Arnulf of Berlin for the Journal of Style blogger and boss Torsten Grunwald.

        I hope you have the strength and courage to leave my comment in here this time!

        • Tom Mahon
          Posted at 06:59h, 08 August Reply

          “strength and courage to leave my comment” Wow, we certainly don’t mind people disagreeing with us but Mr Torsten Grunwald should be polite enough to understand that we don’t post at the snap of his fingers. I do understand that this may be difficult as his website does confirm him as “the boss of it all”

          Anyway, I don’t really understand this post. Did we say that no one can match jettings apart form ourselves and Andersons? And did we say you cannot match the stripes on a shoulder seam? Well without re-reading my post I know that we simply stated that matched jettings is our standard and in most cases unique in tailoring. Also, our concern for the shoulders on a garment is the for fit and comfort. But if you want to impress your friends, especially if they standing on a step to see such skill, then knock yourself out.

          I’m delighted Mr Volkmar- Arnulf has made you such a delightful suit.Enjoy

          • Dr. T
            Posted at 01:18h, 03 September

            Well, Mr. Widbann I think there is no “truth” in this matter. Matching the patterns is not the essence of the operation. I guess that is what Mr. Mahon tries to explain. But of course it is beautiful for the customer if it does. Think of cars in the 70ies… a lot of chrome.

  • Guy
    Posted at 14:01h, 05 August Reply

    Good article, now what about the lapel and the collar it’s possible to match the stripes ?

    • Tom Mahon
      Posted at 18:43h, 05 August Reply

      That’s another story 😉

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