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February 23, 2005

how to draft a pattern...

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('Rock of Eye': one of my freehand patterns.)

All Bespoke suits are cut from a hand-drafted pattern. Here are the main three main drafting methods used by the very top-end, Savile Row tailors:

1. Pattern Manipulation.

This is the most common system used. A pre-existing basic block pattern (40, 42 Reg, 44 etc.) is used as a template, a starting point to create an improved, individual bespoke pattern. This will obviously match your dimensions, but most importantly, it will have the correct figuration details, such as how you stand, erect or stooping etc.

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('Pattern Manipulation': a basic, template block pattern)

Don’t confuse this with a factory made-to-measure- all you're getting there is the most basic of adjustments- chest, waist and length etc, to gain an 'adequate', standardised fit. But the suit will be designed based on a mannequin's measurements, not your own.

With Bespoke Pattern Manipulation, an experienced Savile Row cutter will tweak with all the points of the pre-existing pattern to produce a new, individual template that's true to your figure. Though not my preferred method, in all fairness this is a good system when used by experienced hands. The main benefit is that the cutter is starting out with a well-tried and tested pattern that he’s familiar with. Also, sparing him from any nasty surprises he may encounter, it saves him the time of drafting from scratch.

2. Drafting Formula.

Using your individual measurements, a pattern is drafted by scratch using the most exacting of standards. It's very clinical and scientific. Everything is measured with a ruler to the greatest degree of precision possible, much like an engineering drawing, using a drafting square and a scale formula. It's extremely complicated, and everything must be checked and double-checked. There are slightly different methods you can use, but they all involve a lot of measuring and calculation. When you are taught this for the first time, you feel as if you're studying nuclear physics, rather than pattern drafting.

Again, in the experienced hands of a good Savile Row cutter, this will work fine. Every tailor lives and breathes his preferred system; it just depends on how he’s been taught. But either of these two aforementioned systems are good ones.

3. "Rock Of Eye".

This is the system I specialise in. This is where the second system, the above Drafting Formula is calculated mentally in my head, however I just cut the pattern freehand, using only my tape measure and chalk to guide me. This method is used for the jacket only- to draught trousers without a square and stick would be folly.

This method does sound slightly vague, because it is. However as Mr. Hallbery told me, on my first encounter in the Anderson & Sheppard cutting room, “Show me a right angle on a man and I’ll let you use that square”.

This statement utterly terrified me, as we all prefer to have figures and defined points to work with. These had been obtained by a scientific method, so they had to be right, Right?

Wrong. Because what I found out “the expensive way” was that there were times when I had drafted a pattern, checked and double-checked it, and although the measurements were exact, something still looked wrong.

I was blinded by science, not creativity.

This is something everyone in this or any other business has experienced- a gut feeling that you wanted to listen to, but logic wrongly forced you to ignore. Then sadly you’d proceed down this path, and as soon as you saw the results at the suit's first fitting, you knew your gut was right all along, and you have to kick yourself.

Often when creative matters are involved, “practice makes imperfect”.

Although this “Rock of Eye” system is based on a scientific method, it’s not constrained by it. As Mr. Hallbery told me, if the pattern doesn’t look right, how will it sew right? Then ultimately how will the suit look right?

This feeling, or I suppose you could call it 'experience', this is why I find “Rock of Eye” so wonderful to use. I know how a pattern works; if I don’t like how a pattern looks, I change it. Simple.

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February 19, 2005

savile row who's who....

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(My beloved alma mater, Anderson & Sheppard)

Savile Row Who's Who: These are the main stalwarts of the famous street:

Anderson & Sheppard, My former employer; where I learned the cutter's trade from the great Mr. Hallbery. Superb clothes, great traditions and very well priced. What still makes me smile to this day is their wonderful reluctance to change. They have no web site, and they only started taking credit cards in the mid-1990’s.

What doesn’t help me when I write a piece like this is Anderson's preferred us never to mix with other cutters on Savile Row. We were a very elusive bunch. When the trade has its annual FMT dinner (Federation of Merchant Tailors), everyone on Savile Row would attend, apart from you-know-who.

Also, when a popular book was written about Savile Row in the late 'eighties, the whole trade was clamouring to be involved. But as you’d expect, for all the author's pleading, Andersons don’t give interviews, and that was that. So the only entries in the book about Anderson's are by the author himself. And the only interior picture they could manage was taken through the window, off the street.

And yet they're still the busiest and most respected on the Row. Brilliant.

Henry Poole's, I believe they're the oldest on Savile Row. Founded in 1806, a hundred years before even Messieurs Anderson and Sheppard got together. A top quality house with an excellent reputation. Not a particularly "hard" or "soft" coat, but a good mixture. They also specialize in court dress etc- lots of frilly bits. This requires a lot of specialist skill, and is not my field at all. I think Anderson’s will just beat them at the post for having the largest business on Savile Row, but not by much.

Huntsman. Utterly first-class quality and control in their manufacture, but make sure you’ve got deep pockets. They're everything but inexpensive. A huge list of the great and good for clients. Quite a firm coat, seriously fitted. Their business had a bit of a stormy year in 2004, and they've made some big changes recently. Regardless, they're a great and long established company; they'll see it through. I wish them all the very best for the future.

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(Kilgour's, complete with new shopfront)

Kilgour's (formerly Kilgour French & Stanbury). I have a very soft spot for this firm, as their old cutter, George Roden offered me a job when I was very young and just starting out in the trade. An excellent pedigree in classic tailoring (Carey Grant was a favourite customer), but even though they keep one foot firmly in the past, they're not frightened to move forward. This is shown in the new contemporary facelift their shopfront just had. They also have an excellent ready-to-wear collection.

Dege & Skinner. A flexible company, who can adopt their house style for each customer. A lot of experience from cutting tweed suits to uniforms. The company chairman, Michael Skinner is also very active in promoting the trade and the future of Savile Row.

Gieves & Hawkes. Big military uniform heritage, especially with the Royal Navy. I don't think the bespoke side of the business is that prominent any longer. They have very department-store feel in their shop; they also have a lot of concession stands around the fancy department stores. Imposing premises at No 1 Savile Row. Was flattered to be head-hunted by them whilst at Andersons. They wanted me to run their concession in Harrod's. It was a good offer, but not really my thing. Nice to be asked, though.

That’s the big guns pretty much covered. There are also a couple of larger "fashion orientated" houses. Ozwald Boateng and Richard James. Very “In-Crowd” tailors. Big ready-to-wear and concession deals. If you're into bright purple and orange, with narrow lapels and skimpy trousers, this is where you should go. Sorry, that’s all I can say on them.

There are plenty of other smaller businesses and one-man-band outfits, sharing premises. These you’ll find a'plenty on the Row, but also on the neighbouring streets- Old Burlington, Cork, Sackville etc.

I’m not just saying this because Malcolm and the boys are good pals of mine, but Welsh & Jeffries are a super company, and although relatively small, they have a very high-profile customer base. As with most of the quality tailors, they're pretty discreet. Their principal, Malcolm Plews is a classic example of a great Savile Row tailor. He’s been around the business for a long time with experience in different companies. He’s always willing to help out and is very respected by both his customers and colleagues alike. Last week I met a lady customers of his who was trying on a pair of high back ladies "trews" (seamless trousers). Both she and I were both staggered at the ability of his cutting. He really excels at ladies' wear.

You’ll definitely find him in Mulligans pub on the occasional evening. Apart from the tailoring skills, he’s great company. If you want a friend in the tailoring business, get down to Mulligans and buy him a pint of Guinness.

And there are more, many more. There's Brian Burstow, there's Ravi Tailor over at A.J. Hewitt's, and Roy and Joe at Chittleborough & Morgan. These fellows are all top drawer, but you’ve got to look for them.

Sadly, I really can’t list them all, or I’ll be here all day. But keep on reading English Cut, and with a bit of homework, you should soon be able to find a company or individual that suits your needs the best.

[PART TWO:] The one thing I’m not going to do is tell you who are the best tailors on Savile Row. For three main reasons:

1. I honestly don't know. And frankly, neither does anyone else. Even if, like myself, you have worked on Savile Row for many years, we tailors tend to concentrate heavily on our own work. The only time we really get to have a look at other tailors' work is when we get to see a sample in a tailor/alteration tailors' workshop. And this only tells you half the story.

The only true way get a good evaluation of another house’s work is to get a good look at it on the customer wearing the product. This usually only happens because (a) they’ve had a falling out with their previous tailors or (b) they just fancied a change (which is actually quite common).

Customers do sometimes prefer to use one tailor for business suits, another for dress or tweeds. Also, in extreme cases I’ve known people order a suit with the jacket made in one house, and the trousers made in another.

2. This is just too personal a business to remain completely objective. I know many excellent, world-cass tailors on Savile Row. And I know with many of them, if they made me a suit, that the materials, the craftsmanship and the fit would all be excellent. Outstanding. But at the end of the day, I still wouldn’t like the final product. Why? Well, if you’ve been reading English Cut, you’ll see I'm very partial to the "soft" Anderson & Sheppard style of clothing. So not all makes would suit me, particularly from houses more famous for their "hard" style. Their cut would seem more like body armour than a proper suit.

And every tailor would tell you the same, so don't be too judgemental right off the bat, just make sure you do your homework beforehand. All the tailors on Savile Row will give you plenty of time and info before you order.

3. You have the aforementioned big flagship stores on Savile Row, however the tailors inside those grand buildings are actually quite nomadic. The cutter from Such-an-such may have been working for three different companies in the last five years. Nearly all the tailors (sewers) are self-employed, so they will often work for two or three houses at the same time.

As I said before, if you find a cutter that you like, hold on to him with dear life, don't come to me. Even if he changes companies a bit, change with him. Don’t worry, we never move very far- Savile Row’s only a few hundred yards long.

[UPDATE:] Brian Burstow sadly passed away in December, 2005.

[BACKGROUND READING:] The English Cut homepage, plus the "About Thomas" and "Why Use Thomas" pages.

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new york trip...

Confirmed: I'll be coming to New York 7-10 April. Details here.

If you fancy a meeting me while I'm there please drop me a note. Thanks.

Posted by tom at 9:20 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 18, 2005

canvassed again...

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(A fused sample in the Austin Reed window)

Just a quick note about the machine/hand canvas debate.

With bespoke Savile Row, all suits are canvassed by hand- a chap sitting there, needle and thread in hand, sewing away. However with the ready-to-wear market, there are different manufacturers out there who fit a floating canvas by hand and/or machine.

Obviously then, for ready-to-wear, many of you want to know which you should go for. Machine or hand? Which is better?

Frankly, the end result result from both hand or machine will be much the same, in regard to appearance and function. But there are other things to consider.

OK, I’m sure you’ve gathered by now I want everyone to wear hand-made. I don’t care if it’s from me, from Savile Row, the guy in Chinatown or the big department store in Chicago, I'm partial and I'm biased. If enough people buy hand-made, that way we're going to keep the craft going. And when I’m seventy, this will all help me enjoy the free drinks from the admiring/confused apprentices of the trade. Well, why not? When I was an apprentice, I spent a fortune on the old buggers.

But seriously, I’ve listed what’s available out there. Regardless of your budget, whether we're talking about canvasses or buttonholes, I’d personally go for the coat that’s had the most human involvement. Even if the only difference is ten pounds (£10) in the cost, because it’s got the buttons sewn on by hand, that's what makes the difference. It was made by a person. There's a story behind it. It has an energy to it no machine can ever recreate. And this holds true whether you're spending £2000, or £20.

By choosing to buy the most humanly-touched products we can afford, or at least striving to do so, we’ll not just benefit the craftsmen out there. It will give you the impassioned knowledge that someone, somewhere, has added a little of their character into your suit. No machine can imitate this. It's what makes the coat, Bespoke or otherwise, truly unique and frankly, that's what keeps the customers coming back. Yes, the fact that their coat has a human story behind it makes it seem more special to them.

Strangely, this little dash of humanity is often what gives a suit that je ne sais quoi, that “I don’t know why, but I just prefer this one”. I think you know what I’m talking about.

But if you’ve got to decide if the little extra's worth it, think of me, old and thirsty in the Windmill pub. Or if you're an animal lover, what about these poor mice in the Tailor of Gloucester...?

Some English Cut readers have kindly pointed out that some dry cleaners can do a lot of damage to canvassed coats. This is true, but again it depends on the the individual cleaners, how they finish with pressing etc. And also the quality of the garment.

Earlier today I spoke to Mrs Payne of Sketchleys in Mayfair, she's been in the business for over twenty years. They now use a new cleaning solution called "Green Earth" which she told me is the most gentlest cleaner they've used to date. As she rightly pointed out, you should have no problems with hand-canvassed coats.

Whenever there is a problem with machine-canvassed, it's usually down to the fact that the canvas hasn't been shrunk properley before manufacture. Obviously this is what can cause the puckering as the canvas shrinks. So ask before you buy.

Dry cleaners are very important in Bespoke. Like tailors, they're not all the same. Make sure you pick a good one. Might be best to get your tailor to recommned you one.

If you want another angle on the fused/canvas, have a look at my old boss’s site Redmayne. He makes some very good points.

Posted by tom at 12:35 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

how to spot a drunken tailor...

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(The Windmill, at the end of Savile Row, on Mill St.)

This little piece isn’t going to directly improve your knowledge of Savile Row tailors. But if you're around Savile Row on a Friday evening, I know a couple of watering holes that are a real education.

Tailors will frequent all the haunts of the West End. But we will always need at least a pint of Youngs Ale in The Windmill, and a Guinness in Mulligans.

It’s sometimes difficult to spot the difference between tailors and cutters. But here's a couple of tips:

They’ll both be in suits. However, if you look closely the Tailor's suit is better pressed. This is because he only wears his suit to and from work. When he’s in the workshop he'll wear his “Sittin' Drums” (old clothes). The Cutter will have been wearing his suit all day, tending customers in the front of the shop.

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(Mulligans Oyster Bar, behind Savile Row on Cork St.)

With a little observation and eavesdropping you’ll soon find them. The one complaining about a "skiffle" (i.e. a rushed job) will probably be the Tailor, who's had pressure from a Cutter all week. Or if you hear constant moanings about how slow the trade has been recently, Congratulations! You've found yourself a Cutter.

But apart from that, they drink as heavily as each other.

If you're not experienced enough to spot a bespoke suit from a single glance across the bar, a really simple guide is to check out the lapel hole. On Bespoke, it'll be dead straight and look a bit longer than your used to seeing on ready-to-wear i.e. it should be an inch and 1/8th, exactly.

If the lapel hole is like that, chances are you’ve got someone in the trade. Savile Row bespoke only has the normal, short "keyhole" lapel holes (with the little round bits on the end) on the actual bottonholes. With a bit of luck, he'll be drinking the sales tax off that “Bit o' Private” he’s going to make for you.

If you're not wanting to meet tailors or get a discount suit using the “folding stuff”, they're still both great places. And the food and drink is as good as you’ll get anywhere; particularly well-known are the fabulous steak pies in The Windmill. Lovely.

Happy hunting.

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February 15, 2005

street sign...

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February 14, 2005

something sparkly please...

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(Mr Alston and I on Savile Row)

This was fun. One of my great customers, Neil Alston said he wanted something different. Really different.

OK, he’s got the beautiful clothes already.

But now what he wants is something special for his 50th birthday party. And the theme of the party is "Sparkly".

So what do you do? Simple, order a hand-made, black, sequinned suit.

Not any black sequin, but with material supplied to me directly by Mr. Alston himself. As he said to me in an e-mail:

"The cloth came from Dame Shirley Bassey's supplier - and I think its Viennese sequinned material - hand stitched - I do remember getting a long, long lecture on it from the very knowledgeable guy when I went to get it - went up the Edgeware road a bit and turned right - there was a street market (no, the material did not come off a street stall) but there in this street was this fantasy fabric store."
Now the fun begins, when you get to see the fear in your tailor's eyes. Why? because the prospect of having to witness my eighty-year old cutting blades trying to follow a clean line through hard-glazed sequins. Enough to grey the hair on a baby.

I pointed out to Mr. Alston that the material wouldn’t wear very well. Sequins don't. He calmed me down, letting me know it only had to last one night. Fair enough.

It turned out a great success, thanks to the great skill and patience of my very tolerant sewing tailors (with this cloth, they needed to be).

Mr. Alston wore this little number at a very fine celebration at Morston Hall, a small hotel in North Norfolk owned and run by Michelin-Starred Chef Galton Blackiston and his wife Tracy.

Mr Alston's business is farming, but he has a great interest in the tailoring craft, as he is a bit of an artisan himself. A superb chef, he even helped Galton Blackiston with his first book, "Cooking at Morston Hall". It has been such a great success, they are now working on Book Two.

I suppose tailoring is like any other business- the best clients feel more like allies than customers. Mr Alston's like that to me.

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February 9, 2005

the three main fittings

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(The 3 fittings you get between getting measured and getting a finished suit: 1. The "Skeleton baste"- notice canvas showing 2. The "Forward", and 3. the "Finish bar finish". Click on the image to enlarge.)

Recently, I was contacted by a potential customer informing me he wanted to meet for a fitting at Savile Row, next Tuesday.

This was news to me as I had never met the man, let alone run a tape around him. There was nothing to fit!

However he‘s not alone in his naivety. There's a lot of confusion out there about the stages involved in acquiring a bespoke suit.

So I’ll try to clarify things.

Ideally your new tailor should be recommended to you . But if not, you’ve probably been persuaded by good PR in the magazines. Alternatively, you may just be making a leap of faith. Which ever route you’ve taken, the process should go something like this:

First off, make sure you let your cutter know what the suit is to be used for. Sounds obvious, but when a huge array of cloths are presented for the first time, it’s tempting to go wild.

So you order that 20oz, double-breasted black chalk stripe. Like De Niro wore in the Goodfellas. Great, and why not, you’ve always wanted a suit like that....

Sadly, the suit was supposed to be for your Mother-in-Law's second wedding.... Oh, and its on the beach in Tahiti.

Sounds stupid, but it happens. So think about it.

After you’ve made a wise decision on cloth, the measurements and style details will be taken. A bespoke savile Row suit usually takes around four to eight weeks for delivery. Keep that in mind. If you want the suit for a special date, let the cutter know. But give him a date a week earlier. Unless youre middle name is Methusalah don't tell the cutter to take his time. Or else it's STRAIGHT to the bottom of the cutting pile for you.

Then the process should go something like this.

1. After a couple of weeks you will get a first fitting, or "skeleton baste". This fitting is used by about 99% of the world's tailors. This basically means that the basic parts of the suit are sewn together. Simply using a simple, white cotton "basting thread". Using only the minimal interior construction, canvas and shoulder pads/wadding etc.

Although first fittings are quite basic, they are popular, as they allow for more and larger inlays (seams) to be used.

This enables the cutter to check the basic fit of your pattern, and also allows more chances for later alteration, should he need to correct any major errors in the pattern.

Getting to this point can be done with the minimum of expense.

As I said, this stage is used by most tailors, especially for new customers. With older customers this stage can usually be skipped as the cutting pattern would have already been perfected.

Anderson & Sheppard , myself and a few other A&S expats miss out this stage altogether. We go straight to a forward (second) fitting.

Why? As my former mentor at A&S, Mr. Hallbery told me, “If you need the inlays, you don’t know what you’re doing”.

It sounds a little harsh, but as I found out, as usual, he was right. It sharpens your mind and blades when you’ve no room for mistakes. Also, you and the customer get a better idea of feel and fit of a suit from the beginning.

I guess it’s a case of what you’re used to. However, A&S and I still have a first fitting for dress/morning coats and any new customers who have a difficult figure. The other benefit of a skeleton baste is that you can have a fitting within a few hours, when time is a problem.

After the first fitting, alterations are made to your suit and pattern. And any necessary re-cutting.

2. Then we have the "forward" (the second fitting).

Your suit will now have all the major construction, including pockets and facings etc. The collar will not be fitted and the sleeves will be the at the same stage as the skeleton baste. Again, this will give you a truer picture of how your suit will look. Again, any alterations needed are made to the suit and pattern.

The suit is then usually completely finished after this stage, minus a few tweaks.

3. Sometimes we have an extra third fitting. This is called "finish bar finish" (fin bar fin). At this stage the suit will be completely finished apart from buttonholes and hand felling(sewing) etc.

This is used if time is limited or perhaps if the cutter is unable to see the customer for a final fitting. This may happen when the suit is to be shipped ahead to the customer. Very common for Savile Row tailors.

When final adjustments are made, you should both be delighted. You can now go off and enjoy the pleasures of bespoke. But remember, cloth is almost fluid. And none of us can tell how it’s going to react after its been worn a few times. Your cutter should always ask to see you again in a few months. Then he can make sure your new suit has settled properly. And most importantly, you are delighted with the result.

Sadly, there are people who are not entirely satisfied. And instead of taking the suit back, which in most cases all problems can easily be rectified they do the worst thing, and just complain to everyone else.

Remember tailoring is very personal. Try to give your cutter every chance to get to know exactly what you want.

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February 8, 2005

fused vs floating

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(A roll of canvas and the skeleton baste of an overcoat, canvas visible, ready for the customer's first fitting)

Earlier when I talked about what to look for in a bespoke Savile Row suit, I mentioned the difference between a "Fused" and a "Floating" Canvas. I thought I might elaborate.

It very simple. Every suit coat will have a full layer of cloth between the outer cloth and the inner silk lining. It's what lets the coat keep its shape.

With a machine-made, "fused" coat, they use a special synthetic material which effectivley turns to glue when heated. It doesn't really do much, besides give the coat its body.

It can be done on a machine in a few seconds.

With a proper, bespoke suit, the coat is canvassed by hand. Yes, we use a real piece of wool & mohair based canvas. And yes, it does take forever.

Why have a hand canvas? It looks better. With a fused coat, there's no give. Where the outer cloth goes, the fused material goes, and vice-versa. They're just machine-stuck together. There's no synergy between the two.

But with a floating, hand canvas, there's give. There's synergy. The end result is the suit follows the contours of the body more naturally. There's less surface tension. The fit looks more relaxed and elegant without compromising form.

And as the coat now has a natural canvas in the layering, it expands and contacts depending on the body's heat, making for a more organic fit. Fused coats, being synthetic in the centre, just stay the same.

The other great thing with a hand canvas is, if it isn't put in absulutely, 100% correctly, it doesn't hang properly. It looks utterly dreadful. And it's really, really hard to get just right. This is where real experience in you tailor's hands in so important. This is one of the main reasons why the training takes so many years.

Another little detail: dry cleaning is absolute murder on fused coats. One of the main reasons why a bespoke suit lasts so much longer.

Regardless of who makes your suit, if you're paying over a certain amount you should make sure the coat is canvassed by hand. Otherwise you're being swindled.

If the tailor tells you a hand canvas is overrated or unnecessary, he is either incompetent or dishonest. Probably both. Turn around and leave his shop at once.

At the skeleton fitting, you should be able to see the canvas clearly, running down the inside of the coat. You can also feel for it quite easily if it's finished, off-the-peg. It feels like a seperate piece of cloth underneath the outer cloth, "floating" independantly, much like how the silk inner lining also floats independantly of the outer garment.

With the inferior fused coat, you feel nothing. The outer cloth and the fused, "glue" material will feel like one; a single layer of suit.

But now we both know they aren't.

Of course, canvas comes in different weights and varieties, just like any other cloth. I happen to favour a lighter canvas. The very famous (and also the most expensive) Huntsman's of Savile Row prefers a heavier make.

Nothing wrong with that at all, every tailor has his own style. Though their suits are not my cup of tea, the Huntsman look is one of the more distinctive, and I greatly admire them for that.

In case you're wondering, I use mainly "Nochetta Sahara" canvas, which I buy from one of my trimming merchants, Guilt Edge Suitings, based in the North of England.

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