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September 17, 2005

how to recognise anderson & sheppard: check the pockets

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(Matched "jetting" on one of my coats: note the stripes on the jetting are perfectly aligned with the rest of the coat. Classic A&S training.)

Ok, it's pretty obvious to all English Cut readers I have a bit of soft spot for Anderson & Sheppard. Why? For one, that is where I was trained. Besides that, they are arguably the most successful firm on Savile Row, and without a doubt the most individual in style. So much so, that they aquire both love and distain in equal amounts for their single-minded approach to how a coat should be cut and made.

As fate would have it, and with my teacher, Dennis Hallbery's instruction I fell in love with this soft, natural approach to tailoring. So I'm always getting asked by people, "What exactly is this A&S style?"

This is something you can't explain so easily. There are a hundred and one things that go into the cutting and making of this type of coat that makes them so special. And even with the best technology at your disposal, no one, however hard they try, has ever truly managed to copy it successfully.

But I'm going to let you into a little secret. I can always spot an A&S coat, or an A&S influence at twenty paces. But here's a little detail that lets me know that the tailor was truly Anderson & Sheppard trained:

Nearly all coat manufactures, ready-made and bespoke alike, cut and make their pocket jettings "along" the piece of cloth. In other words, the opposite way to how the rest of the coat is cut. This makes for a strong pocket, but it's also a far easier job for the tailor, because it isn't matched perfectly with the stripe or check etc.

However, the legend goes that at a Christmas party held in A&S years ago, all the sewing tailors (the actual people who sew the coats together, as opposed to the "cutter", which is my job) turned up in their finery, eager to impress the "governors" with their tailoring skills. And as it was their own clothes, they took the extra time and tricky effort to make sure everything matched perfectly on the stripes or checks. That meant, even down to the tiny strip of cloth that hinges on the pocket flap i.e. the "jetting".

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(Unmatched pocket jetting on a competitor's bespoke: note how the grain of the jetting is set ninety degrees from the rest of the coat. Tsk, tsk.)

This extra display of skill certainly impressed their governors, as intended. However it slightly backfired on them, as the cutters were all so impressed with the extra effort, that they decided they wanted all their customers coats to be made that way. Voila, a new piece of the puzzle was created. In those days Anderson's always had their parties in-house, where their secrets could be maintained and alcohol-loosened tonques could be controlled. OK, it would have been nice to mix with other tailors from the other firms, but the plus side was that management supplied all the alcohol gratis, no beer, just wine and whisky. I think the tailors needed it that evening, as they had just impressed their way into having to do even more work for their meagre pay.

It's also interesting that this method of of cutting a jetting also makes a slightly weaker pocket mouth. However, this doesn't mean that the pocket will give way in time, but more that it will eventually loosen and bow down slightly. This inadvertantly adds to the soft, draped look of this type of coat. So yes, like a fine wine, it really does get better with age.

As I've said, there are many things that make a coat, but I promise anyone who's wearing and Anderson & Sheppard coat, or one of mine, look at the pockets and that's what you'll see: properly matched jettings.

Yes, it's a tiny, tiny little detail, one that the vast majority of sartorial afficionados won't know about. But it's these tiny details that make the difference, that make A&S tailors the most respected in the world.

So now you know this litte secret; keep a look out for it. Just don't tell anyone I told you so.

Posted by tom at September 17, 2005 1:21 AM

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