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November 8, 2005

the matching myth...

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

This has been the bain of bespoke tailors for generations: the little detail of matching pinstripes [and chalkstripes] through the shoulder seam of a bespoke coat.

Over the years, I've had to constantly wrestle with customers to educate them that if you're tailoring a hand-made coat properly, it's practically impossible to match the stripes through the shoulder seam, if you still want it to fit properly.

And I already know that I'll receive numerous e-mails and comments from Ready-To-Wear and Made-To-Measure customers alike, arguing the very opposite.

But hear me out. First, 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 much flatter, more hollw, and has more evident bone structure, with far less muscle.

So it stands to reason, if you have a shoulder width of say, 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 above, 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.

[The 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, so it looks smooth and perfectly shaped, like the "stripe" photo below at the bottom.

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 shoulderpad inserted, and other technical movements, they produce a clean but, in my opinion, an unnatural shoulderline.

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.

[Unmatching stripes at the shoulder seam- classic Savile Row bespoke.]

So now you know- when the tailor says he can't match them for you, he's actually not kidding.

Posted by tom at November 8, 2005 6:16 PM

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Very nice Blog, I will tell my friends about it.


Posted by: flertytut at January 30, 2010 5:08 AM

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