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.
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.
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.