June 5, 2009
made in britain....
This is a new television programme that airs this Monday evening.
I've not seen it but the content looks pretty interesting and I like the basic idea behind the programme. A little bird tells me there's a nod to the Savile Row suit.
Basically in this "Green and pleasant land" how many things are still made in the UK?
The details are here.
June 3, 2009
(skeleton baste, too tricky for a forward)
These as you can imagine give us tailor's lot of fun. I for one still have to scratch my head a bit when I cut one. Remember, I don't have block patterns so I do this from scratch. It's especially difficult as in this case where it was my clients first order, a morning suit for his wedding. Luckily I always get there in the end and thankfully I have Fred Eltham' one of my most experienced tailors to help me at the young age of 74.
You see I know that there aren't many cutters who can cut one of these straight from a blank sheet of paper and more's the point that there are even less coat makers that can put them together. It does look a little bleak for the future of such beautiful garments, well certainly the hand made ones. You see good coat makers can pick and choose what they want to make. Of course they charge more to make a body coat but they really are a quite a task and in all fairness the extra that is charged often doesn't seem enough for all the extra hours of effort. Needless to say the younger guys are not very keen to learn,
Like fitting any garment there are lots of things to consider, however one of the key things is the "balance". The balance of a coat or trousers is one of those very tricky things to try and explain in words. However with the help of some pictures I'll try to explain a little about what this means. I chose to do this now because on tail coats this is extremely important. If you get it wrong you can't hide it and it ruins this particular type of garment.
So here goes with my brief explanation. If you lose track then don't worry, apprentice cutters have been doing that for generations. In basic terms balance means the relationship between the front and back of a garment. The human form is very simply like this. As far as the coat is concerned try to imagine a person standing normally but sideways on to you. Now imagine a line at 90' to the standing body running through the nape of the neck or top of the shoulders. You still with me? Now imagine another horizontal line, again at the same angle running through at what would be a good coat length, just below the seat. Now the distance between the two lines at the back of the persons body at the front is the same.
However, stand any person sideways on and usually their chest or bust is prominent. Down their back it is usually straight in comparison. This is the part you have to think about, if you follow the silhouette of the body the distance between the lines over the front or chest area is longer than between the lines at the back. So in other words we usually need more in length of material down the front of the body than down the back to keep the garment equal or in "balance" between the lines. I hope you got that bit because you'll see that I said "usually" because this is often not the case. As you can imagine a person with a flat chest and rounded back will turn the equation completely around. In another example you may have a man that has a normal posture but a very large stomach. This again increases the length down the front of the body to keep the lines in balance. You may have heard a tailor say " you need more or less back balance" which is basically this situation that he's trying to get right. If you can get this principle with my description you'll easily image the same process for the trousers or a skirt. Usually this is the other way round as the extra length is usually over the back as your seat is the most prominent. Well it's 11pm here and I'm sure that's enough mental exercises in words for the moment so let me tell you what happens if it goes wrong.
One of the most common errors is shortness in back balance. Basically not enough length in material between our two back lines. The obvious signs are two things, the coat wants to stand off at the neck and when it's pulled onto the back neck you get awful diagonal drag lines from the side seams towards the centre of the back. If it's too long in the back you get collapsing in the lower back in the form of horizontal lines. If it's short in front balance you'll get the fronts scissoring across each other if it's long the fronts will fall away and want to swing open at the bottom. I could go on all night about this but as far as clients are concerned their tailor should be taking care of this. I'll leave the explanation there which should help clarify what I'm talking about next.
(swinging open, too long in the back)
Back to the body coat. These garments, well certainly if I cut you one will be very fitted. My clients know that my armholes are cut very small and that they almost need to be shoehorned into my coats at the fitting. However a body coat should be exactly that, fitted very neatly around the body. The more skin like the fit, the more you can move. This fellow is about a regular 40" chest but look at the tiny armholes. The blade cuts emphasize this further and he loved how it fitted his body like a glove. Now basically the balance on a coat like this needs to be absolutely spot on. The reason is that the length of the tails will make any errors glaringly obvious. If it's in balance as this one was, thank God. It will hang perfectly straight and look very elegant. If I adjust it on the mannequin I can show you what happens if it's long or short in balance. The tails cross over if it's short in back balance and just as bad the tails will swing open if it's long.
(tiny armhole,you'll move like Fred Astaire)
Now after your lesson here's the fun part. To alter a tailcoat is quite frankly a nightmare especially if it's completed. Also it's very expensive. There is however a little shortcut that's been used for years and here it is. Rather than take the coat apart just sew a few lead fishing weights into the lining at the bottom of the tails. It will hang beautifully. Easy when you know how:)
(straight and true, promise no lead;)
April 23, 2009
(hope it fits)
It does look pretty sharp but then it should at that price. I don't know who's behind the making of this but it would be very interesting to know. Anyway, I can feel a price increase coming on :)
July 18, 2007
making it look easy....
(My head tailor, Paul Griffith making it look easy)
The problem with doing something you enjoy is that it makes time go by far too quickly. Weeks go by like days, months like weeks. Every time I think I've a little breathing space, something happens and I'm soon up against it yet again.
I felt pretty smug that I had all summer to get ready for my US trip in the Autumn. Now, of course, September is only five weeks away and I still have a vast pile of work to do.
This isn't a complaint. It simply reminds me that this business has one speed i.e. "SLOW". Apart from the time needed for drafting, cutting and making, there's all the fine tuning and small adjustments. These can be a small 1/4" here or there or a little more fullness in the shoulders. This doesn't sound a lot, but the reality is, you may as well be miles out.
(My high-tech Clock & Calendar)
You see, you've still got to take the coat apart, and patiently put it all back together again. And there are no shortcuts. None. And no, it doesn't get any quicker because you're doing more; it simply doesn't work like that. Anyway, I don't know why I'm telling you this. It's the way its always been and if you want it done right, that's way it'll remain.
People often ask who I make for and they presume "a lot". Not only are their numbers great, but in their minds everyone is the chairman of some blue chip company, or the member of the Royal family. Well of course, that's not the case. Some of my customers certainly are fairly high in social standing, naturally, but not all. It turns out they're all as individual as the clothes I make, and they come from all walks of life. Luckily for me, the majority of them enjoy what I do and appreciate the time it takes.
Strangely, the other day this was demonstrated to me by a lovely customer of mine. He is a tree surgeon, a very good one. We celebrated the delivery of his suit as if we were celebrating the birth of a newborn baby. This is often the way if your appointment is the last of the day. Apart from the fact that we had a super time visiting the local haunts around the Savile Row. My client got to meet all sorts of different tailors on the Row, who were delighted to welcome him to the inner sanctum of Bespoke.
The reason why I bring this up is that spending the afternoon with him reminded yet again me that "crafts" are very much underestimated. The very reason he came to English Cut wasn't just because he wanted a new suit, but because he was fascinated by the craft and skill involved, as much as the final garment. He then told me a little about his business and ashamedly, I have to admit that I hadn't realized that there was so much skill and training needed. It was the similarity of our crafts that fascinated him.
(button twists for the buttonholes)
He reminded me that to perform proper work on a tree it takes years of experience, and a subtle touch to boot. Ironically after he's done a job, people often don't always notice the work involved, just the fact that the area looks beautiful and balanced. He basically explained to me that, the key is to make things look natural, almost as if the craftsman hadn't been there at all. This was amazing to me, as that's exactly what I try to get into my clothes. There's years of experience between myself and my tailors, and lots of frustration cutting and re-cutting a job. Strangely enough, it's exactly as my friend the tree surgeon says, "if you do your job right people don't notice the suit at all, they only notice how good the wearer looks."
May 15, 2007
There's a bit of nonsense here. Interesting all the same.
My simple take on the matter.
January 18, 2007
real cuff holes...
(Cut by my teacher, Mr. Halberry 25 years ago, for somebody who is now an old customer of mine. And now his son will enjoy it, too.)
This is a little detail that's grown in importance over the last few years: "Real Cuff Holes". These are seen today as one of the major hallmarks of a bespoke suit. But surprisingly enough, it wasn't always this way. Indeed, when I started in the trade twenty-three years ago, a relatively short time span, real button holes on the cuff were very rare.
When I started working at Redmaynes as a youth, the only people who had real holes in their coats were doctors and vets, simply so they could roll up their sleeves. With Mr Hallbery at Anderson & Sheppard's it was much the same. If you asked the two senior cutters for real holes, they would both pull a face as if they were chewing on a wasp.
The reason for this is not what you think, i.e. that real holes are more expensive or harder to do, even though yes, they are.
The real reason is that quite simply, very few people need them, and yes, they can cause problems.
(This was my coat from 18 years ago, which is still being worn by a friend of mine.)
Here's why. Bespoke clothing is like liquid. It's always in a slight state of change until it's been well worn and allowed to settle down. When a suit is finished and has gone to the customer, once it's "settled" a bit, it might need some minor alterations. This is perfectly normal. But this is where "real holes" can cause problems. Because you may need to lengthen or shorten a sleeve, and this is where real holes cause the most obvious aggravation.
Also, if you alter the shoulders this can also affect sleeve length, so that too may be slightly compromised. Most tailors, including myself, put two "real" and two "sham" holes, for precisely this reason. Four "real" holes allows for virtually no sleeve length alteration, unless the cloth is plain or striped. If the latter is the case, you can take out the sleeve from the shoulder and shorten it from the top.
But to lengthen it any more than about three-eighths of an inch at the bottom is going to start looking awful, with cuff buttons apparently floating halfway towards the elbow.
If you must lengthen a sleeve with real holes, as I often do, what you can do is lengthen the sleeve as necessary, then take out the top hole, and add another at the bottom to keep it balanced. So the worst-case scenario is that you've now got three working "real" holes instead of two.
On a somewhat related matter: I've just had the pleasure to alter some jackets made for a good customer of mine. They're not being altered for him, but for his eighteen year old son, who loves them. My customer came to see me in NYC with his son, and he told the lad how he remembers me at Anderson's a long time ago, as a blond haired young boy standing in the corner of the fitting room, standing there the whole time in complete silence with my hands behind my back, listening and watching every detail of Mr. Hallbery at work.
This moment of course is typical of the specialness of bespoke. And now what makes it even better is that the investments of the father are now being handed on to the son. It's always lovely to see.
(We'll get away with this one.)
As the photo at the top of this page will testify, the suits look terrific and have stood the test of time. I can alter these for the son, and I will, but in the picture of the cuff directly above, the headache is there for all to see. Blinking "real holes". As the fabric in this case is plain, it I can get away with it. Imagine the fun if I was shortening it an inch and the cloth was checked. Look how I've marked the right sleeve on the top photo.
So there you have it. Choose your cuff holes with great care. Twenty years later, whatever decision you make might just end up upsetting your son or grandson, not to mention his poor tailor. But this is what bespoke is all about.
October 31, 2006
You may remember earlier I told you of a rather special overcoat I was making. Several months back, Michael Alden, of the London Lounge and I got our heads together over lunch in Paris, and came up with the design.
The original was meant for me, but remember the saying, "The cobbler's children have no shoes"? Well, the tailor never gets his clothes, either. My coat is still in bits, under my cutting board.
The coat in the photo belongs to a super customer called Jason, who wanted a very similar coat, which he ordered just before my last US trip. He's had his fitting and I'm about to ship it to New York- I thought I'd let you see it before it goes.
Perhaps one day I'll get my own =)
September 24, 2006
irons and talkies...
[A classic sleeve board, cheap and useful]
Recently I've had a lot of customers asking me about the best way to press and look after their suits. So I thought I'd let you know how I do things.
In an ideal world you've got yourself a good week's supply of bespoke clothing. I say this not to keep tailors like me in beer money, but to let you know how to get the very best from your bespoke wardrobe. If you're new to bespoke and have recently got your first suit, this often when caring problems arise.
You see, if your tailor has done a good job, your first bespoke will now be your favourite in the wardrobe, and you'll want to wear it all the time. Wonderful, but the problem is you'll end up wanting to wear it too much. As I've said before, a proper bespoke suit can easily last ten or fifteen years. But they need a rest, just like the rest of us. So the most important key to success is to rotate your wardrobe. Wear your suit a maximum of a couple of times a week. Then brush it down well with a good quality brush. It may not look dirty, but dust, pollen and other particles will have settled on the cloth. And if you don't shake them out they'll go deeper into fibre and you'll ingrain dirt into the fabric each time it's worn.
Secondly, always put your suit on a quality hanger. it should be broad and shaped to support the coat's shoulders. Also make sure the trouser bar is anti-slip- it's not very nice to find a heap on the wardrobe floor.
Now as long as you're not unlucky with the tomato ketchup, this is all you'll need to do, and trips to dry cleaners should be very rare. However, one thing that your suit will miss is a good pressing. To attempt this on a conventional ironing board is useless and frustrating, to say the least. They're always too small and you can never keep a hold of what you're pressing.
What you need is a good iron [preferably with the option to vertically spray steam], a good sleeve board [just like real tailors use] and a solid flat table and cloth. The manufactured sleeve boards you buy in the shops are pretty useless, so you're much better getting your local carpenter to make you one. Just show him the picture above, to give him an idea. You'll need to cover one side with padding, just like a regular ironing board. It's not rocket science to make, and you'll be in business right away. It'll last a lifetime and you'll wonder how you ever managed without it.
[Me trying to be a "Blue Peter" presenter. Sorry, only the British will get that one.]
Here's a little demo video of me using a sleeve board which will help. [You'll need Quicktime to view it, which you can download for free here.] Sorry the video's a bit short [my phonecam can only upload so much], but it gives you the idea.
July 5, 2006
after the fitting...
[A pile of my American customers' suits, ready to be re-made after their first fittings. Don't panic, I know it looks a crushed pile. But this is the way it's done and nothing will be harmed. Handmade suits are very resilient. All the suits have been ripped down and matched with their patterns for updating.]
Thank God, we've been very busy lately. Lucy and I had a wonderful time on our recent American tour. It was lovely to catch up with old and new friends, though we were both exhausted by the time we arrived back in England, late last week.
[Lucy and her ever-changing hair, on the balcony of New York's Hotel Benjamin.]
My customers I generally regard as friends, and when we meet in London or Cumbria we're allowed a lot more time for business, and then a drink or lunch afterwards, than we get in America. So as a result, everyone in America wants to book the last appointment of the day, for a drink after work. After two weeks of this I start feeling a bit of an alcoholic.
Many of our customers are very interested to know what happens to their clothes after we'd fitted them in the US, and then got them home to Cumbria. What happens next?
Basically, its the same as if you'd had your fitting here at Warwick Hall. The clothes are taken apart and rebuilt.
People are mystified by all the shorthand we write over the job in chalk, when we're fitting your new suit. I'm sure by the puzzled looks I get, many of you must think it's good theatre, just there for for effect. But I promise its not an act, you can see the basic stages in the process of ordering a suit here. However in a little more detail, this is what happens at a fitting.
Obviously we will try on the trousers first and mark as necessary, and then we do the jacket. The instructions I will mark on the suit with chalk, and then I copy on a piece paper after the fitting. This is done because chalk is not permanent, and by the time it's been in a suitcase for a week and hauled round America, it can all look very confusing. Especially when I open my suitcase with jet-lagged eyes.
Some of the details are too complicated to explain here, but these are the basics:
[Above:] This shows the three very basic marks: to shorten [left], lengthen [right], and if were lucky, the cross in the middle means to leave everything well alone.
[Above:] This shows where we want to stretch or shape the fabric, over a prominent calf or shoulder blade.
The two pictures below show different types of sleeve pitch adjustment.
[Above:] This says to pitch the sleeve up 3/8 of an inch.
[Above:] This marks where your arm should hang in relation to your body.
[Above:] When we mark like this over a seam it tells the tailor to let out [left] or take in the amount as marked [right].
When we get back home we rip the suit apart and analyse all the marks, then transfer the changes to the cutting pattern. It's generally a good system that works well. Sadly it's quite time consuming, but that's just the way it is
May 3, 2006
high pitch and low pitch...
[natural pitch, where the sleeve wants to hang]
Sleeve Pitch [the way a sleeve hangs], now what's all that about?
It may only be two small words describing a small detail, but it causes its fair share of panic and disappointment, both to customers and novice cutters alike.
You can try your best from start to finish when producing bespoke. The best materials, skilled craftsmen and years of experience. And yet even after all the diligence of checking again and again, things can go wrong. And pitch is often where disaster strikes.
When a suit is shipped to the far corners of the world or even dropped off at a customers hotel just around the corner, any cutter worth his salt will try, if physically possible, to slip the jacket on before the day of the fitting, just to see how it looks. Yes, a big chap's jacket is going to look a bit daft on Skinny Me, but I can still see how it hangs. Which to an experienced eye will give a good idea of the final outcome.
This is where sleeve pitch can catch you out. Often when the customer or even some cutters think the sleeve is too big or tight, the problem may not be that at all, but the problem is with the angle the of pitch that the sleeve has been inserted.
Is it a tad high or low? The thing is you can't tell, not unless it's being worn by its intended owner. I know this sounds obvious, but we do a lot of tweaking with bespoke. So if I meet a man who's suit looks super, apart from the fact we've got a little too much width in the shoulders, because they're often about to literally to catch an aeroplane, I say, "No problem Sir, I'll fix that and courier it to you".
Trickier than it looks.
If I take the jacket and do this simple alteration, the sleeves will often be removed. This is also done when we need to clear the scye (armholes). This is normally not a big deal, but unless the sleeve is returned to the same pitch as it was fitted, then we can get problems. With a changing scye shape or similar alteration, it's easy for the tailor to re-fit the sleeve a little high or lower than before.
[move the arm back, pitch now too high, hence the big furrow at the back.]
It only takes a quarter of an inch to change this. And this is the problem- it's very difficult to notice it when you look at the coat on yourself. And it's nigh on impossible to measure for in a fluid bespoke.
So what can happen is that the customer who's jacket was almost perfect, apart from the shoulder width or suffering from a little too much chest fullness, now has an unsightly bagging and collapsing at the back of his sleeve, or certainly as bad, a diagonal strain line at the front. Right where everyone can see it. Something that will definitely make you grind your teeth and curse the tailor.
There is an average position of pitch which will work for most people. But there are extremes, such as a military man who's always standing to attention i.e. with his shoulders and arms well back. He will than need the sleeves to be pitched low. Conversely an older gentleman with a stoop for instance will need to have his sleeves pitched high i.e. forward.
The pictures are just an average gentleman's fitting on me. However you can easily see what happens if I move my arm forward or back a little. It can make the sleeve seem big or tight. Then if I move my arm to match the sleeve it's as clean as can be.
[move the arm forward, pitch too low, hence the furrow at the front.]
So if it happens to you, don't worry, it's not as disastrous as it looks. Stand sideways on to a mirror in your favourite suit and see if the pitch matches where your arm naturally hangs when relaxed. Just move your arm back or forward a little and you'll see what I mean.
In the old days if a cutter got a job from a tailor which was obviously too high or low, the tailor would be scolded and told the job is either "scratching its *****" or "picking its ****".
I know, not very English Cut or PC these days. But that's the way it was.
So now you know. Simple, really.
April 6, 2006
Here are some snapshots of a sample overcoat I'm currently working on.
This is from a wonderful idea given to me by Michael Alden at The London Lounge. Michael showed me some wonderful old illustrations of overcoats from circa 1900, and suggested I fashion a hybrid version of this classic style, but with a slightly more contemporary feel and fit.
This overcoat will eventually be for myself, so you'll see the finished article on me eventually, hopefully by mid-summer [Typical- the tailors always gets his own clothes out of season].
Michael and I had a lot of fun when we discussed the style of the coat a few months ago.
I'm afraid my cameraphone doesn't really do it justice, but to describe it to you, it will be a high, six buttoned, double-breasted overcoat, with a dark grey velvet top collar.
What you cannot see in the photographs is that it has been cut similar to a body coat, with full blade cuts in the back, a seperate skirt, and one-piece full box pleat at the back.
The look, when we're finished, will have a very elegant, semi-military appearance. However with the large pleats and high closing of the overcoat, it will prove to be extremely warm and durable, especially for Cumbrian winters.
We'll let you know how it's coming along, and a hat tip to Michael for inspiring the project.
March 13, 2006
A "skiffle" [rush job] finished over the weekend, which the client tried on this morning. A beautiful overcoat, just in time for him to wear to Cheltenham tomorrow. Let's hope it brings him some luck with the horses.
March 11, 2006
back from america...
[My niece, Laura, in a New York taxicab.]
Well, home again from America. My feet are still aching and my arms are an inch longer, thanks to my heavy suitcases. Never mind, it was well worth it, meeting good friends both old and new. As usual, both Laura and I were spoilt by everyone in the US.
Thank God business was brisk, with regulars coming in to re-order, and new people taking their first foray into bespoke. I'm very honoured that my customers keep returning, and my new clients are trusting me with their needs. Needless to say, I won't be going anywhere soon. I'll be spending most of the hours God's given me for the next while here at Warwick Hall, busily working away like the mice from the Tailor Of Gloucester.
[Martin Morse, holding up a dress he just made for his girlfriend.]
In New York, I had the pleasure of meeting up with some other colleagues in the trade, which is always fun. Also, I managed a couple of pints in Chicago with a young chap called Martin Morse, an apprentice from Oxxford Clothes. They're a super company, turning out beautiful clothes from their Chicago workshop.
Martin is in the same position as I was once- young and hungry, paid little money, kept away from clients, but still having a thoroughly wonderful time at his work. It's nice to see that people are the same from whichever part of the globe they hail.
And like myself at that age, as it'll be several years before he'll be allowed near a customer's suit, he's still making good use of his time and resources. The picture above shows a dress he just made for his girlfriend. A wonderful piece of work made for very little money- using the scraps of Cashmere and Super 150's left on the cutting room floor. Well done Martin, it's a true work of art. I hope your girlfriend appreciates your original idea and hard work.
He's definitely a young man who's going places. Nice to see. I hope to have a look around the Oxxford factory when I'm next over; it'll be great to meet Chicago's version of Savile Row.
[A very "stout" tweed.]
I managed to try on some super clothes on my customers whilst on my trip, thanks to skill of my tailors, and the diligence of my cloth merchants and their never ending search for the best fabrics. However, the show stopper for me was this tweed on the coat I made above, that was sourced by a good customer of mine. He described it as a "stout". Stout it most certainly is. Even with my light construction of make, it was extremely heavy. No need for a top coat here. "They certainly don't make like this any more," he said. Well, maybe not, except at English Cut [chuckle].
I know people are going to ask me who makes this tweed. If my customer says it's alright, I'll let you know.
I was enjoying wearing my new shirts from Nigel at Rayner & Sturges, My customers liked the look of them too, and I sold a few orders. It was nice to be able to help with that important part of a wardrobe, as well. It's a new part of the busines, and a new direction for me, but it's something that increasingly excites me.
Well, I must dash, but on behalf of Laura and myself, thank you once again all for the wonderful hospitality in the US. I plan tentatively to be back in the United States in late May, but I'm not making appointments till much nearer the date. I can't wait.
Also, many thanks to my friend Steven Hitchcock [a very talented, young Savile Row tailor], who kindly warned me about a rather odd individual, an American customer, who's been making life harder than it should be for us tailors. I know customers watch us tailors, and talk about both us and our work with each other. Luckily, we tailors do the same with our customers.
February 18, 2006
100 suits per year...
[A coat waiting to go to the finisher.]
As any English Cut regular will know, the last year has been a very busy one for me, thanks to my many kind readers who have entrusted me with their business. And of course, for that I am extremely grateful.
But there's the rub. Suddenly I am so busy with orders, at this rate I will no longer be able properly keep up with the increase in demand. That is unacceptable to me.
I have two choices. Either keep selling more suits and scale up the business, or rein it in.
I think I prefer the latter course. Perhaps it's time to nip it in the bud.
So I'm considering limiting my output to one hundred suits per year. One hundred. No more.
Hopefully this will allow me to spend less time travelling, and more time doing what I love most- making beautiful suits that make my customers very happy.
This is about 2 suits per week, which is roughly the ideal number. Anything less and I'm twiddling my thumbs; anything more and things start getting hectic.
So everybody would be very clear about this, every suit ordered in the the year would be numbered and dated.
1/100, 2006. 2/100, 2006... 85/100, 2006. And so on.Then in 2007 the cycle begins again.
This is just an idea, but I'm very seriously condsidering it. Please let me know your thoughts, either in the comments or via e-mail. I would especially appreciate it if my existing customers would let me know what they think. Thank you.
January 14, 2006
english cut handmade shirts
[A lovely shirt from Cole's of London.]
I have started investigating getting English Cut handmade shirts made for my clients. Every time I go to America I receive lots of requests for them, so I've decided it may be time to do something about it.
For those of you new to Savile Row and English sartoria, a little background information:
Jermyn Street is traditionally where the finest English shirtmakers have their shops. Located about five minutes walk South of Savile Row, traditionally the thing to do was go visit your tailor on Savile Row for your suits, then go visit Jermyn Street for your shirts. Even today, it's not uncommon for a customer to visit both streets on a single afternoon's shopping.
Probably the most famous shirtmaker on Jermyn Street is Turnbull & Asser, who do wonderful work. Or for those looking for something more off the beaten track, when I worked at Anderson & Sheppard we always referred our customers to Budd of Piccadilly, located in the Piccadilly Arcade, just off Jermyn Street, which is a real gem of a company. Though the shop is very small, I've been told that this is the only Jermyn Street firm that still has a proper workshop on its main premises. Wonderful.
But now it's very common for Savile Row tailors to have shirts made for their clients as well. Dege & Skinner have their very own in-house shirtmaker, but the more common practice is to subcontract the work out to third parties, the ones who also supply Jermyn Street.
When I was in London last I had a few conversations with people who could perhaps supply for me. Though I am not by trade a shirtmaker, I have had some experience with it, having apprenticed for a shirtmaker in my youth for a few months. So I may not be the world's authority, but I do know the Real McCoy when I see it. And any shirt carrying the English Cut label will be nothing less than that.
Life being short, I am only going to sell shirts of the highest quality. They'll have to be as good as anything you'll find in Jermyn Street, or else it'll just be a waste of time; yours as well as mine. That means every customer individually measured, every shirt hand cut and sewn from the client's individual pattern, using the best cottons on the market.
The usual practice is not to get a "fitting" when the garment is half-made, the way you do with a bespoke suit. Instead, the client will get a first "prototype" shirt made. The client will then try the prototype shirt on, wear it for a few washings to break it in, see how it fits, then call upon the shirtmaker with any needed adjustments. Once the adjustments on the prototype have been fixed, then and only then would the client's full order go into production [six to twelve shirts per order is fairly typical].
Then after that, all the client has to do when he wants new shirts, is get on the phone or drop me an e-mail and place an order. Easy.
Cole's of London has a very good introduction to what goes into the making of a good, Jermyn Street quality shirt, including:
1. Designs matched.
2. Removeable collar stiffeners.
3. Two-piece yoke.
4. Two-piece collar.
I would recommend go reading it on their website, under the link, "The Perfect Shirt".
If it's economically feasible, I would prefer it if the shirts were made in England. There are a few manufacturing firms still around, but it seems most shirtmaking these days is subcontracted out abroad [Peru, China, Portugal, India etc.], even with the high-end Jermyn Street firms. There's nothing inherently wrong with this, the quality may still be very high, but I suspect my customers would rather know the shirts were made in England, even if it ends up costing a little more. The label does say "English" Cut, after all.
My advice to anybody visiting Jermyn Street or Savile Row would be to ask where the shirts are manufactured, before placing an order.
We shall see where this all takes us. This idea is only in its infancy, although yes, it's already starting to receive a lot of interest from my customers. Please do let me know what you think, either in the comments or via e-mail. I look forward to hearing your thoughts. Thank you.
January 3, 2006
wedges, or, how "bespoke" is bespoke?
The idea of "bespoke" is not only is it hand-made, but it's designed to fit just you and only you.
And the mark of a Savile Row tailor is that he pushes that idea to the extreme.
Here's an example. In the photo above, I was drafting the arm patterns for a client. The gentleman, for whatever reason, had an arm that could not open fully; it was permanently bent.
If the suit was off-the-peg, there would only be one solution- take it to an alterations tailor and have him shorten the sleeve.
But with bespoke, that's not how it's done. What I did as a standard procedure was create a wedge, using extra paper stapled together, to create a unique pattern for the gentleman's right arm, different from his left.
Wedges are very common on Savile Row, and not just on the arms. It's not just that no two bodies are ever identical, but no individual body is ever 100% symmetrical or perfectly shaped. Therefore the tailor must compensate accordingly.
In the third picture above we have another good example of a wedge being used, this time on a different client. This gentleman holds his head further forward than most, so I placed in a wedge to compensate for the extra curvature of his spine. It's just small detail, but small details matter.
And in case you noticed from the photos, I always have a piece of green cloth on my cutting table when I'm drafting a pattern. It always feels nicer to chalk mark the card with the cloth behind it, as opposed to just having the hard, wooden table.
[BACKGROUND READING:] "Thomas' Top Ten". The most popular and informative English Cut articles.
December 31, 2005
the last pattern
This is my last pattern for 2005. They'll be a lovely pair of trousers by the time I'm done with them.
It's been a very eventful year, to say the least.
I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas. Happy New Year to you all, and thank you for reading English Cut.
December 21, 2005
One of my tailors just brought this over to show me; a job for another Savile Row client of his:
A beautiful, classic single-breasted dinner jacket with peaked lapel and corded silk facings.
It's a stunning piece of work, with all the handwork and craftsmanship you'd expect from the Row. Let's hope the new owner will appreciate it, as he will only be able to enjoy it for about six months.
Why? Because as he's only four years old, he will soon outgrow it.
But 'tis better to have loved and lost...
[P.S. For those in the trade: I bet the tailor still put "Long Roll" in his log.]
November 21, 2005
When you go into the tailoring trade, one of the hardest things to learn is how to use a thimble properly i.e. with the middle sewing finger properly curved at all times.
They may be small and cheap, but thimbles are extremely useful. They allow you to sew faster, and get through hard cloths without wearing your poor fingers out.
But the proper hold takes a while to get used to, causing utter misery for many a young apprentice.
Here's a tip that was taught to Jonathan Quearney by his father, who was also a tailor. And Jonathan showed it to me.
First, cut a small, thin bit of cloth, a few inches long, and tie it like a piece of string through the thimble, as seen in the first photo above.
Next, place the thimble on your middle finger as you normally would, but wrapping the cloth around your middle knuckle, as in picture Number Two:
Thirdly, grab the needle like you normally would, as seen in the third picture. The tied cloth keeps your thimble finger in the right sewing position. After a while this position starts feeling quite normal, and you'll no longer need the cloth to aid you.
Simple and effective. Your thimble finger will be forever grateful, as will any apprentice you teach this to.
[UPDATE:] Note how we used open-ended tailor's thimbles. The "closed" thimbles (i.e. without the hole in the end) are more dressmaker's thimbles. Tailors only use thimbles pushing in from the side, so we've always had open ends. We don't really use dressmaker's thimbles- for one thing, they make the end of your finger a bit hot.
[FURTHER READING:] "Button Tip". A lovely little trick for sewing on buttons.
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.
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.
So now you know- when the tailor says he can't match them for you, he's actually not kidding.
October 26, 2005
english cut media page
Below is a list of stories English Cut has generated in the media since 2005:
MediaGuardian: 500 words, written by me on the effect EnglishCut.com had on my business. March, 2006 [Registration required.].For all media enquiries, please contact my PR man in New York, David Parmet. His email is david at parmet dot net. Thank you.
The Sunday Telegraph: "One of Britain's most respected tailors, who made Prince Charles's suits for three years..." January, 2006.
New York Times. Men's Fashion, Fall 2005.
U.S. Public Radio. "Marketplace." English Cut mentioned:Those ubiquitous blogs; they're cheap, direct, and can reach users wherever they may be. So naturally, blogs are now becoming a tool for small companies that might not have big marketing budgets.U.S. Public Radio. "Marketplace."Goodbye business casual. Hello business suit. Want to out-dapper the other guy? English hand-made suits are all the rage.Businessweek. A lengthy podcast interview with Stephen Baker.
U.S. Public Radio. "Radio Open Source" with Chris Lydon.
Fast Company. A brief mention.
The Guardian. A very brief mention.
BoingBoing. A kind mention from the world's largest blog.
The Satorialist. A short blog interview.
Technorati. A blog "conversation" tracker. Click on the link to see what other bloggers are saying about English Cut.
[BACKGROUND READING: My Top Ten favourite English Cut articles.]
September 17, 2005
how to recognise anderson & sheppard: check the pockets
(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".
(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.
September 16, 2005
thomas' top ten
('Rock of Eye': one of my freehand patterns.)
For those new to this site, I thought a small overview of my favourite blog entries would be in order; my "Greatest Hits", as it were:
1. Savile Row Who's Who. A brief introduction to the famous firms on Savile Row, so the first time you walk down it, you won't feel a complete stranger.
2. Mr. Sheppard's Shears. The story behind my own pair of cutting shears, and the person who gave them to me: arguably the greatest tailor of the twentieth century- Mr. Dennis Hallbery, Head Cutter at Anderson & Sheppard.
3. In Manhattan. Every three months, I visit my customers in America. This article explains the nuts and bolts of how Savile Row tailors generally operate on the other side of the pond. [NB: Details of my next U.S. visit are here.]
4. Why Use Thomas? What you're getting if you decide to have me as your tailor, as opposed to the other wonderful firms on the Row.
5. How To Draft A Pattern. Every bespoke Savile Row customer will have his suit cut from a unique individual cutting pattern, hand-drafted by his tailor. This article lists the three main techniques used on Savile Row, including "Rock Of Eye", which is my specialty.
6. The Three Main Fittings. A guide to the Skeletal Baste, the Forward, and the Finish Bar Finish i.e. the 3 main fittings needed for a Savile Row suit.
7. What If You Only Have £200? Classic tailoring on a limited budget: my advice.
8. Worsteds And Super Numbers. An article about the basic cloths used in Savile Row tailoring.
9. Mr. Cameron. A lovely story about one of the greatest characters on Savile Row of all time. Mr. Cameron was the tailor who taught my teacher, Mr. Hallbery, back at Anderson & Sheppard.
10. How To Spot A Drunken Tailor. The pubs around Savile Row that the tailors all frequent.
[Other useful pages:]
My "About" page.[MONTHLY NEWSLETTER:] Please subscribe here.
Media Page. English Cut in the media etc.
The Apprentice. Advice for young people wanting to break into the trade.
Fused vs Floating. About the basic technicalities of structuring a coat.
August 9, 2005
cufflinks and bottle banks....
(on great foundations, fine things are built)
I had an interesting phone call from Westminster City Council last week. I was most surprised, as it was all to do with the future of Savile Row, which I wrote about earlier this year.
The chap was very friendly and flattering about English Cut. I initially thought this was some secret ploy by the Westminster tax offices, to find out about the various tailors hidden in the little workshops and rooms around the West End.
However, as he seemed to be quite sincere and was not asking any probing questions, I began to breath properly again. I don’t know about you, but I have a tendency to hold my breath for long periods of time when talking to government officials. They seem to have that effect on independant traders.
With the panic over, the conversation soon got interesting. The local Westminster government is carrying out a survey, to put together a aid plan for the Savile Row tailoring businesses. The chap initially asked if he could have my opinion and ask a few questions, which should take about 5 minutes.
We eventually got off the phone about an hour later.
Sadly, this comes a bit late for some of The Row, but at least the Borough of Wesminster (the area of London that Savile Row and Mayfair are in) is finally seeing the value and heritage in our favourite little street. They promised me that they would possibly be looking at the actual profits made by the tailors on The Row, and then adjusting rents and rates accordingly.
This certainly beats taking a blanket approach, and comparing these small craft houses to the other retail brands in the area. As I pointed out to the chap, these individual tailors are all that there is. They are not simply branches of billion dollar fashion empires, with bottomless financial backing. So we’ll see what happens.
On lighter note, the last time I was on The Row I realised I had forgotten my cufflinks. On the way to buy a pair I bumped into my good pal, Brian Burstow. Brian knows about as much about this game as anyone alive. And that’s exactly as he sees it, a game.
Even though he’s over twenty five years older than me, he still loves the business, and is always great to catch up with over a drink. He kindly took me to his office at No. 13 and let me borrow some cufflinks. Also, as you can see by the rather blurred picture above, he confirmed that his private wine cellar under his cutting board was as full as ever. Lovely to see him still doing his best to keep the bottle recycling plants busy.
Later that day we met up in The Windmill for a proper catch-up with another great character, John Reed. We all know and love this tailor. You’ll always find him at lunchtime in the corner of the bar with a bottle of Guinness and a gold watch & chain. There's no mistaking him, he’s always immaculate in a three-piece suit, whatever the weather.
(Three Amigos: Me, John and Brian)
When I told him about my discussion with Westmister Council, he told me about the time he scolded one of his customers for referring to the other tailors on The Row as Mr. Reed's "competition". He immediately informed the gentleman that "the other tailors are not our competition, they are our community.”
That says it all, I think.
[UPDATE:] Brian Burstow sadly passed away in December, 2005.
July 28, 2005
what if you only have £200?
( A hankie, simply tucked in)
Earlier this year, I wrote "If you can’t afford bespoke", which covers the main hierarchies of tailoring: "ready to wear", "made to measure", "bespoke" etc.
After receiving a lot of e-mails from English Cut readers, it’s pretty obvious that there's plenty of people out there who would love to have a handmade suit from any of the wonderful tailors on Savile Row. But the reality is; they don't come cheap. Not everybody has £2000 to spend on a garment.
What if you have only £200 to spend? [approx. $350-400 US] For that money, I’m afraid all you’ll get on Savile Row is a very good meal for you and your friends at Sartoria, a lovely restaurant on the corner of Savile Row & New Burlington Street.
Realistically, for £200 you'll probably have to settle for a standard ready-to-wear, unless you get very lucky and find a good second-hand bespoke in a charity shop (which does happen occasionally), or you happen to know the name of a good tailor in the Far East.
That being said, for £200 you actually can get a ready-to-wear decent enough to convince us in the trade that you spent more around the £600-700 mark (approx. $1000 US). Just as long as you ignore the labels and follow these points:
Pick a classic, grey or blue worsted, pin or chalk stripe in classic colours. Dreadful dark maroons and semi-turquoise blue stripes would never come from a decent tailoring company. Make sure it's wool, not polyester or any other weird-sounding fabric, the latter being usually just a disguise for cheap, synthetic rubbish.
Make sure you pick a classic, single-breasted, two or three button front. Never choose those dreadful four-buttons or nehru style collar suits- they reek of cheap designer rubbish and look totally stupid once you're over twenty years old. A double breasted is cool, but try to find a six button (two fastening , and only fasten the top button).
Little things to look for are important; those in the know will spot them a mile off. Make sure that the lapel has a decent lapel hole. Straight and of a decent length. Ours are 1 & 1/8” long , you are unlikely to find that but still, the longer, the better.
Avoid at all costs a "keyhole lapel" hole. This is an awful clanger that’s dropped by even the most expensive designer labels. Always try to to get four buttons on the cuff and make sure they have button holes- I know they won't be actual, functioning buttonholes at that price point, but they’ll look the part. Never pick the type that just sew the buttons on to the cuff, that's a serious faux pas.
( Photo from Marks & Spencer website)
Make sure the pockets have flaps, and that there’s an out breast pocket. You often don’t spot this until you notice you’ve nowhere for your handkerchief.
There aren’t as many things to go wrong here, but if possible I’d try to avoid belt loops. We're not fans of them in the business and it can look really untidy, especially when you’re wearing your favorite Harley Davidson buckle. Try to find the trousers with those side strap adjusters, fastened with a buckle or buttons (in the trade they're called “Daks tops”).
Plain fronts are fine but if you want pleats, try to make sure they have four, and not two. Sadly, 95% of ready-to-wears have the pleats going the wrong way, i.e. reversed. I know our Italian cousins would argue the opposite, but on The Row our pleats go forward. It makes for a more flattering line on the leg. This is unlike the continental way, which throws a lot of fullness behind the thigh, which can look baggy.
As it's not pure bespoke, the fit will of course be a compromise. However, you can still look pretty good, very good if you're lucky. Again, ignore the labels- just because it’s claiming to be a "posh" product doesn’t mean it’s going to fit you the best. A ready-to-wear is a pattern cutter's interpretation of which shape fits most people. A 40 Reg. from two different manufacturers can look totally different, so try them all on, and be honest with yourself. As I said in an earlier post, if you’re in between sizes, then get the larger size and have it altered for a small cost at a high street alteration specialist.
If you follow the above advice you should be looking pretty good, so don’t shoot yourself in the foot by wearing a paisley shirt with your favorite kipper tie. I know I’m being personal here, but I don’t think you can beat a clean white or pale blue shirt with a double cuff and cufflinks. Again, make sure the fit is generous; you should show cuff. Skimpy shirt sleeves are awful. Well-chosen cuff links or silk knots only cost a couple of pounds and look superb.
The tie should be silk and, like as the suit, don’t even consider polyester (I hate the word, let alone the material). Printed designs are fine, but woven is better. Again, you're not talking a fortune here if you look around. It's not mandatory, but I do like a handkerchief, silk or just plain white cotton. You can fold these or, like me, just pinch it in the middle and stuff it in, as simple as that.
Shoes and socks are not rocket science. Again, keep it classic, and above all keep them polished and shining.
Some of the links I've put in above show where you can get some decent products without spending all of your hard-earned cash. So choose wisely and I reckon you should look a regular James Bond. Keep dressing like that, and you’ll soon get a promotion and be able to enjoy more than just dinner on The Row.
[TIP:] I've said it before, and I'll say it again. For the money, the British high street retailer, Marks & Spencer's makes as good a suit as anyone. I rate them highly. [NB: I do not have any business dealings with them. Just one tailor's opinion etc.]
July 19, 2005
(All you need to sew on a button- needle, thread, thimble... and half a matchstick.)
Even if you pay £2000 for a suit, the sad fact is that buttons do fall off, even the ones sewn on by hand by the best Savile Row tailors.
Now I don't think for a moment that the ladies and gentlemen who read English Cut are incapable of sewing a button on. But as with everything in life, there's a right way and a wrong way to do it.
Sewing a button on correctly is particularly important with the key button on a coat, the middle waist-fastening button (With Savile Row you only button the middle button; never the top or the bottom).
The secret here is to sew the button on with enough "shank" (the amount of space allowed by the thread, between the button and the coat). Ideally you want a quarter-inch shank. Anything more makes the button droopy, anything less can make the front of your suit look too tight, even downright awful.
Yes, even something as minor as this can create a serious problem.
Obviously the Savile Row tailors will have sewn on thousands of buttons in their time, so getting the right amount of shank is easy for them. But what if you're a novice?
Here's a great tip:
Get yourself a standard wooden match, and break it in half. Place it over the top of the button, then thread the button around it, as seen in the following picture.
Then once the button is good and sewn, pull the match away... the slack created by where the match used to be will give the thread that extra length needed to get the correct shank. Then finish the job by wrapping the remainder of the thread around the shank, and sewing through. Just like you would normally.
(Sewn-on button with quarter-inch shank. Voila! You learn something new every day,)
It's a simple trick, but it works every time.
PS : Ideally, you should run the thread through a piece of beeswax before sewing, or use prewaxed thread.
First, this waterproofs the thread. Secondly, beeswax acts as a lubricant, allowing the thread to be sewn in more gently. Both help to prolong the the length of time the button will stay on.
June 27, 2005
A couple of weeks ago I advertised that I was giving away an old suit of mine, and anyone who fancied it should just send me an e-mail.
Since I got so many wonderful responses to it, I ended up just having to put the names in a hat, and pulling one out.
The lucky winner lives in Williamsburg, Virginia, in the USA. If you're reading this, please watch your mailbox.
Thanks to everybody else for your interest, for all your wonderful e-mails, and for reading English Cut.
June 21, 2005
fashion... who cares?
(suits, suits and more suits for recutting)
I had a great time in the US, as usual. I was privileged to meet some wonderful people on my travels.
I don’t know if it was because I was visiting both sides of the country and the middle, but everyone seemed to be trying to outdo the other towns with their kindness. Lucy said she’s never met such a wonderful and interesting group of people. All of my customers, old and new, were great ambassadors of their home towns and country.
Lucy did a wonderful job and was liked by everyone. She can definitely come again.
As I was meeting quite a concentrated amount of customers in a relatively short time, something occurred to me. One of the most common questions I'm asked by lots my customers is, “What’s in fashion”?
This seems a bit of an odd question, bearing in mind that the English Cut product is basically a timeless classic. But I get asked this very regularly, not because they doubt the timeless appeal of a handmade suit, but more because of the little details which are brought up at the fittings. Most of my customers are happy with the classic suit concept, but they’re often surprised at the wide variety of styles available.
(Lucy, smiling her way round the US)
When you start asking questions like single or double breasted, straight or slanted pockets, center or side vents, this is when I normally get asked “what’s most in at the moment”?
I always give the same answer: “It doesn’t matter, it’s bespoke”.
Obviously I’ll do my best to dissuade you from a style that wouldn’t suit you. But the rest is up to you. I think if I was to compare all the requests for the various styles over the last twenty years they're all as equally popular.
So if you’re lucky enough to order bespoke from any of the great tailors in the world, don’t worry, your suit will still stand the test of time, long after many of the celebs and glossies fashion writers are picking up their pension.
Mr. Hallbery once told me, “We don’t go around fashion, it goes around us”. I hope that doesn’t sound arrogant- it certainly isn’t meant to be, it’s just a fact. It isn’t hard to think of many elegant male icons, both past and present, that are always pictured beautifully dressed in a classically cut, Savile Row suit.
Remember, at the end of the day, its about you, and you can let the fashionistas run their full paranoid circle all by themselves. Your suit will still look wonderful, whatever the enlightened fashion leaders think. OK, it may not look so hot on you when you need a zimmer frame, but your son or nephew will make it brand new again, when he finally inherits it. How's that for timeless?
So what’s in fashion? I promise you- going with Savile Row means you no longer have to care.
June 4, 2005
(The main parts of a body coat.)
This is something I don't get to cut on a regular basis- A classic morning suit. This is got to do with people dressing down at weddings to a certain degree, and the increased availability and quality of formal hire.
Formal hire is a perfectly understandable option, still, you should always have bespoke if possible. The cost is more than justified because of the fit and comfort. And also, because it's not designed for everyday wear, it's a real treat that will last for decades.
(Timothy Dalton as James Bond in a morning coat, in the 1989 film "License To Kill".)
Of course, the morning coat's uses are quite limited, but I'm delighted when people still treat themselves to such a classic. And happily for tailors everywhere, a morning suit in black or grey is still reasonably popular, thanks to weddings and grand days at the races.
The morning suit is made quite differently from a usual coat, mainly with the tails at the back, and the seperate blade cuts which give that beautiful clean fit through the body.
It's s a very difficult cut to get right, and it also takes a very special type of tailor to sew it together- many in the business don't touch them.
(Classic striped trousers to match, sometimes called cashmere trousers.)
As you can imagine, this specialist work dosen't come cheap. I won't tell you what I'm charging the gentleman for this suit, but I will tell you he was recently quoted £5,000 by another Savile Row tailor.
I can feel a price increase comming on...
May 13, 2005
american tour june 9th-16th
My New York visit next month has been extended. It's now a US visit.
I shall be visiting three cites in rapid succession: New York, San Francisco, and then Chicago. My plane ticket is already booked and paid for and I'm utterly thrilled to be going.
[UPDATE:] The hotels have all been confirmed and all details can now be found here.
May 9, 2005
straight or crooked...
(Mr Cinton in a very "straight" coat- lots of shirt visible.)
(Mr Stewart wearing a "crooked" coat- not a lot of shirt visible.)
Two rather strange tailoring terms are "straight" and "crooked" to describe a coat. I’ll try to clarify.
For what it’s worth I generally cut a "straight" coat. Which is how an Anderson & Sheppard coat was always described.
Obviously there are lots of details that give a suit a certain style that distinguishes it from others. This can be the cut of the silhouette, slim or relaxed. the construction of the coat, hard or soft etc. These are pretty obvious to even the untrained eye. How straight or crooked a coat is just as important and certainly makes a huge difference to how a jacket feels and looks. But is much more difficult to discern.
It’s a difficult detail to quantify and explain, so much so that I know of many trainee cutters who have struggled unsuccessfully in the past to get their head round the subject.
With the help of my drawings (please excuse the quality) I will try to show you what I’m on about. It’s all to do with the neck point position in relation to the front edge of the coat.
Basically the fit of a straight coat has less material forward of the neck point on the front edge. This gives the jacket a slimmer feel, showing more shirt, especially on a double breasted. Also another characteristic is that the collar although fitted well, sits lower around the neck. This again shows more of the shirt and gives a slimmer feel to the wearer. This cut gives the feeling of a more youthful cut simply because as we age we invariably gain a little in the front. We then obviously require more material to compensate, or less when we are slim.
A crooked coat has basically the opposite characteristics. The coat should always fit neatly around the collar, however it will generally sit higher, showing less of the shirt collar stand. Also even if the coat is slim through the side seams it will still be easy in the front. There will be less shirt showing, again especially on double breasted.
You can see classic examples of this in the photo of Jimmy Stewart above. The double breasted suits close very high, with only a few inches of shirt and tie showing.
There is nothing wrong with either of these styles. the only problem is when you have extremes. Especially if the coat is finished. A coat that’s too straight will always look tight and skimpy. Even if you let out the side seams, all that will happen is that the coat will have shapeless silhouette and still be tight at the front. It can not be easily altered as the front edges are finished. And the too crooked coat suffers from the opposite. No matter how you take in
the side seams, even too the point of being tight, it’ll still feel frumpy and big on the front. Again, if it’s finished, you’re stuck. You can’t trim the front edges because the buttonholes are in. Not very nice scenarios at all.
There are ways round this which has can be improve or cure the problem, but its way too complicated to explain. The reason why I’ve brought this matter up, is that it is another very small factor that makes a coat feel just right, or can make two coats that have the same measurements feel totally different.
To sum it up- a straight coat is a more youthful cut, and a crooked coat more mature.
So now, when you're having a fitting, instead of telling your tailor, "This sleeves are a litte short," or "The shoulders are a little wide", you can hit him with "This coat is a looked crooked" or "This coak is little straight". He might have heart failure.
Just please don't tell the tailor I told you all this, or I'll never be invited for a drink on the Row ever again.
April 30, 2005
flared trousers & tailors' dens.
(The topside and underside of a very flared pair of trousers.
Richard's suit (which I wrote about earlier) is coming along nicely. Richard wants his trousers to fit over his cowboy boots, hence the flares.
What I'm showing you here are the two cuttings needed for a pair of trousers- the topside on the left, the underside on the right.
You're actually seeing four, not two pieces of cloth here. Suits- coats, waistcoats and trousers- are always cut "on the double". This makes sure both left and right are cut exactly the same. Any disparities between the customer's actual left and right are attended to later.
(Tailors' den, Kingley Street, Soho)
Speaking of trousers, when I was in London this week I stopped by my trouser maker for a "skiffle" (tailor's term for a rush job), who works out of this den in Kingley Street. Though Soho is now mostly known for its trendy cafes, media companies and ad agencies, as you can see Old London is thankfully still with us.
The vast majority of sewing tailors are self-employed, with their dens scattered around within walking distance of Savile Row. All the coats you see being made here will come from all the famous tailors' shops- A&S, Huntsman, Poole's etc. And that's the way it's been for as long as anyone can remember.
April 13, 2005
sb peaked lapel...
You saw me cutting this earlier. A single breasted jacket with a peaked lapel.
This is still at the forward stage but you can get a pretty good idea of the final outcome. There is a waistcoat to go with this, which should look very elegant. I’ll be fitting this on the customer in Paris next week.
This isn’t everyone’s favorite style, but done right it can look fantastic. And in this particular case, there’s no chance of it looking like anything other than true bespoke.
If the customer is not camera shy, you may even get to see him in it.
Let’s hope it fits...
April 2, 2005
dressing for a warm climate
(A sample bunch of fine linens from Dormeuil, the cloth merchants on Sackville Street, around the corner from Savile Row.)
Michael Alden of The London Lounge recently asked me the following question:
Many of our [London Lounge] readers are preparing their wardrobes for Spring and Summer. I have always felt that the Anderson & Sheppard style of tailoring always worked exceedingly well in warmer weather as long as the choice of fabrics was correct. Rigid, lightweight fabrics like frescos and Irish linens when handsewn and without lining always seem to be the best solution to warmer weather. What advice would you give our readers about garments, their sewing and choice of cloth, destined for these seasons?
The truth is, there is no magic, secret formula for making coats for warm climates. It's just common sense, with three main tenets:
1. Only use fabrics which are extremely light.
2. Only use fabrics that are extremely breathable.
3. Always build the suits with a very light internal structure.
Allow me to elaborate:
We're all aware how wonderfully cool cottons and linens are. The downside, of course, is that they do look as if you've been sleeping in them. Still, it's the honesty in these fabrics that gives them their charm. We all know they crease badly, but that's their style.
But if we want to stay cool, whilst still wearing the proper, formal business attire, what's on offer?
Your standard worsteds (Super 90's} are out of the picture; the lightest this quality can go is around 9 ounces.
You've really got to be looking at the Super 120's/150's. These do indeed crease, however the compromise in comfort is well worth it. And yes, these materials are going to cost more, but that's par for the course when you get into the lightweights.
Another option, which is a very viable one, are the modern 'High Technology Materials'. These probably sound as scary to you as to me. Even with names like, for instance "Supertronic" from Scabal the cloth merchant, believe it or not they don't have a strand of man-made fibre in them. It's all good, honest and most importantly, cool, pure wool.
Even without their unsettling names, if you look and feel at the texture of these materials, I'm sure like me you'll be convinced there must be something awful in there, like polyester. But there is none- this is simply the way the cloths are spun to produce this robust, stretchy texture, even in 7 ounce materials.
This is the main problem with these materials. Customers and tailors alike feel that these cloths are somehow hiding something, unlike those good, honest cottons and linens. Our minds trust them, but our hearts do not.
That's about it. Compromises do have to be made in warm climates, but c'est la vie. Still, if you follow the obvious three rules above, you can still look good and keep cool at the same time.
March 28, 2005
oiling the shears...
No, I’m not giving myself a haircut.
Whenever you’re watching a cutter at work, you’ll see that from time to time he’ll open his shears and briskly run the blades through the back of his hair (that’s if he’s still got any, of course).
No, this isn't some kind of weird tailor blade fetish. It’s just that one's hair has just the perfect amount of oil in it to keep the blades finely lubricated. Not too much, not too little.
With this method there's a lot less chance of spoiling the cloth with surplus oil, than if you used the more conventional oilcan.
The thing is, we dont know we’re doing it half the time, so it can all look a little strange.
But now you know.
[PS:] If you're new to this site you may not know this, but those shears I'm holding actually have quite an interesting little history behind them. If you're feeling curious, you can go here and read it.
March 18, 2005
high street or heritage?
(The entrance to English Heritage)
Last week I had the misfortune to witness various pieces of old but graceful furniture being removed from Anderson & Sheppard's former home on the Row. And although I know they’ll be as successful in their new home, it was still sad to see.
Given that Anderson’s are one of the most prominent tailors in the world, what is frighteningly obvious is that they’ll not be the last to move from Savile Row, either. This could be almost acceptable if bespoke tailoring was a dying trade, but it’s not.
Certainly, the business has ups and downs like any other, but there is still a huge demand.
If the tailors on the Row are guilty of anything, is that we have failed to inform people about what bespoke is. We've not communicated the good information properly.
It’s a double edged sword- Savile Row isn’t about changing; and why should they? They're in the suit business and they make the best suits in the world. In the past when the world was a much bigger place, Savile Row was security. A man of standing was always impeccably dressed. So customers were introduced to the Row by family and trusted friends, as existing customers knew their kith and kin would be in the the most competent hands, to sartorially prepare them for all of life's pleasures and trials.
The world is a much smaller place now. Global travel and communication is a wonderful thing, however the fact is we're now open to much greater influence, both good and bad. Our friends and children don’t feel the need for bespoke, nor want such personal advice. They can get supposedly it themselves, without the help of experts, and this is where the media has been quick to take hold with a vice-like grip. This is where we’ve failed on the Row. We need to use proper, modern communication to let our steel shears prise open the misinformed market within that vice. Certainly, the ready-to-wear marketing skills are impressive, but their product is generally not.
The bespoke marketing skills are dire, but the product is peerless.
And aside from Savile Rows chronic undermarketing, there is another enemy, namely, various Westminster leaseholders and Westminster City Council. 'Enemy' is probably too strong a word, but they don’t make life any easier for the tailors. I know they're in business and they deserve the going rate. However, I do think the institution that has clothed most of the world's most influential people for the best part of two hundred years deserves Heritage Status. And it doesn't have it. Unofficially it does, of course. But officially it doesn't.
We have an organization here in the UK called English Heritage; as the name suggests they look after all that’s dear and special to this green & pleasant land. They protect everything from ancient monuments and city parks. Also they help to maintain historical artifacts like old coal mines and waterwheels for future generations. Now what about the tailors? Don’t you think they're part of English Heritage?
I certainly do, and I think if there are any grants going to help combat the huge rates and other assaults from the heavy-booted march of progress, then the heritage-packed Savile Row will gladly use it well and honourably.
And wouldn't you know, funnily enough, the main office for English Heritage is Number 23 Savile Row, London. Dear Ladies and Gentlemen of English Heritage, please have a look out your front window and open your eyes.
February 23, 2005
how to draft a pattern...
('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.
('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.
February 18, 2005
(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.
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.
February 9, 2005
the three main fittings
(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.
February 8, 2005
fused vs floating
(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.
January 27, 2005
If you can’t afford bespoke...
[Me holding a piece of tailor's chalk. Shaped roughly like a guitar pick, I use it for marking the lines on the cloth before cutting.]
If you can’t afford bespoke...
I happen to believe that a bespoke suit is worth its high asking price, or else I wouldn't bother selling them. They look better, they fit better, and they last years longer than their competition. It's really that simple.
Even so, £2000 [about $4000 USD, at time of writing] is a lot of money, let's not kid ourselves.
Luckily for suit lovers everywhere, with modern technology there are now some really good ready-to-wear, manufactured suits being made, starting at only a few hundred pounds. Fifty years ago, suits that were both good and cheap did not exist. The tech simply wasn't there.
So regardless of your budget, you have a lot of options. Here's the basic hierarchy to consider:
1. A totally machine made, off-the-peg suit.
These cost around £100 to £600. The production systems for these is so slick, a suit is literally made in minutes. My first boss, Mike Wigglesworth of Redmayne once very kindly took me to visit a clothing factory to witness this mechanization. What sticks in my mind the most about that day, apart from the disconcerting efficiency of the machines, was the fact that designer-label brands were coming off the same production line as the “apparently” far less exclusive makes, such as Marks & Spencer [For the money, the British high street retailer, Marks & Spencer makes as good a suit as anyone. I rate them highly].
With machine-made, all manufacturers have pattern designers who create a basic pattern which, in “their” interpretation, would fit most people. So what you’ve got to do is be guided by the fit and the feel of a jacket around the neck and shoulders. Make this your priority.
If you’re in-between sizes, get the larger size and pay a high street alteration tailor £20-£30 to have it taken in or whatever. Don’t fool yourself that just because it's a Hugo Boss or Armani it’s a better fit than than the Marks & Spencer. Doesn't work that way. Forget the cost, just be honest with yourself. Like I said, pay attention round the neck and shoulders.
Not to be confused with "bespoke". What you're getting is the same machine-made as Number One, but the basic pattern will have slight alterations made at the factory to improve the overall fit. Expect to pay anywhere between £450 to £800. You will also get more possibilities to personalize the suit, pocket details, style etc.
Bear in mind the guy who measures you may only have been in the job for a few weeks, or even a few hours. He’s only running a tape around you and ticking style boxes on the order form. So don’t expect miracles.
There are high street chains that offer this service, and even proper tailors as well. A.J. Hewitt, an excellent tailor, is a good example. The principals, Tony Hewitt and Ravi Tailor (yes, his real name) offer true bespoke that's up there with the best. However they also offer made-to-measure. This in no way compromises their bespoke suits, they’re just simply allowing their customers the option of only climbing halfway up the sartorial ladder.
Ultimately with made-to-measure, your suit is at the mercy of the manufacturer. But at least with having an experienced cutter like Tony or Ravi to measure you, there’s far less chance of disappointment.
3. Hand Made Off-the-peg.
These are made by hand, and yes, the quality is generally very high. But it is still an assembly line. It's just using humans instead of machines, cutting from generic, standardised patterns, not your own individual measurements.
Yes, the button holes will be hand-sewn, just like "bespoke". Yes, your coat will be made with a "floating" canvas, just like bespoke. But the assembly line will still be cranking out twenty five "Size 40s" in a single shift, unlike bespoke.
That being said, it's still quality stuff. And you can order the suit in the morning, and be wearing it by the afternoon. The fit won't be half bad, either.
[DISCLAIMER:] This area is of personal interest to me as I have recently finished designing the ready-to-wear suits of Reuben Alexander. I had made bespoke for the owners of Reuben's for several years. Then one day they phoned me up and said they wanted to put the same soft look as my bespoke into a ready-to-wear. The rest is history.
Their new shop has recently opened in central London. At around £1000 Reuben's is one of the best. I’m not saying you’ll like them (not everybody likes me, either), but they're definitely worth a look.
Frankly, I think the expensive end of this category is asking a lot of money for something that comes off an assembly line. I’m really not convinced it’s money well spent. These companies also do a form of bespoke, which involves things being sent away to base manufacturers. Again, for that kind of money, I really don't think it's personal enough.
4. True "Bespoke".
Congratulations. You've arrived. The highest rung on the ladder. Keep reading English Cut and I'll tell you all about it, or for instant gratification, go read my "How To Pick A Bespoke Tailor" here.
[BACKGROUND READING:] "Thomas' Top Ten". The most popular and informative English Cut articles.
January 18, 2005
After years and years of training, here's the real test of a "cutter"- the real desire to cut their first customer's suit.
Technical ability has to be equalled by confidence, expression and talent. Sadly, more than a few panic here.
The one who is in the know isn't always the one who knows how.
January 13, 2005
This is the standard opening letter I use. I contains most of the necessary initial information:
Dear Sir/Madame,Eh. It works.
Thank you for giving me the time to introduce my bespoke tailoring service to you.
I do understand that initially hand tailoring may be of no interest to you, or you may already have a tailor which you are more than happy with, however I pray (excuse my hope of divine inducement) that I may tempt you to investigate further.
Although one of the youngest tailors on Savile Row I have over twenty years experience working at the highest level in hand tailoring, with most of my influence from my former company, Anderson & Sheppard. This “influence” is basically that I measure, then from a blank sheet, hand cut an individual pattern for you! (unlike most”tailors” who simply adjust a basic pattern near to your figure).Your clothes are then created through the various fitting stages to produce the perfect combination of soft, natural and very comfortable clothes with a distinct blend of aesthetics & your individual style.
Obviously I use only the finest materials sourced from London merchants and around the world, also the whole process is controlled by me, an extravagance not always afforded by larger companies.
As I choose not to be entirely based in London, this heretic status does give you the benefit of enabling me to charge on average 20% less than my competitors. This at least must take the sting out of the London congestion charge.
At this point your patience has probably worn thinner than the seat of the last suit you bought, so I’ll spare you the name dropping of customers and look forward to meeting you instead. You can meet me at either of my offices or if possible I will come to your home or office.
For more information please visit www.englishcut.com, or preferably telephone me personally [+44 (0) 1228 561 700] to discuss your tailoring needs, from a business suit to full evening wear.
January 6, 2005
how to pick a "bespoke" tailor
These are the points that are important to me:
If you’re told it’s "bespoke", make sure it is. Ask if he is the actual cutter.
Will he cut you a personal pattern? Any company or individual should have a pile of individual patterns adorned with names of his clients. Be very wary here, there are some good CMT houses (cut, make & trim) who merely receive your details and then effectively make you a ready-to-wear suit- using a standard template, not an individual pattern- that’s been slightly adjusted.
Yes, it'll be a great suit, but it’s not "bespoke". Remember, a BMW 640’s a great coupe, but it'll never be a hand-built Aston Martin.
With a proper bespoke tailor, he'll make you a set of patterns which will belong to you and nobody else but you. And he'll hold on to them for next time, for years. Decades.
Cutting is an art. We’re like painters, novelists or film directors. Some you like, some you don’t, it doesn’t necessarily mean good or bad. Our job is to fit and flatter your body, and just as importantly, your mind.
Although I’ll have my style of cut, you’ve got to feel your own individuality being expressed, or it simply won’t work. If you already find this with your current cutter, for goodness sake, hold on to him for dear life, don't come to me.
But the cutter is only part of the equation. Obviously the best materials & trimmings (linings, buttons,etc) have to used. At this point we involve this next rare (& getting rarer) breed, the tailor, who actually sews the garments by hand.
Although they're very few and far between, you may find an old tailor who cuts & makes all his garments, but you’d be lucky, it’s just not commercially viable any more.
So now we’ve more to consider. I have various tailors who work for me, ranging from 35 to 68 yrs old. As you’d expect, they contribute hugely to the outcome of a garment. They're individuals, they express themselves in their work.
Some make a slightly firmer coat, with more stitches per inch and a little less fullness, thus creating a slightly sharper image. Another might add lots of fullness, with easier stitching, to produce a more relaxed, draped style.
Again, the cutter has to decide who’s best for you, and as importantly, keep it that way. In some of the bigger houses your suit can get handed out to different tailors every time you order, and believe me you’ll notice.
Make sure it’s hand-made. Yes, I know we use sewing machines for parts of the garment, but that should be where it ends.
Make sure your coat has a "floating" canvas, this you should be able to feel, floating between the facing & forepart. If you can’t feel it, ask to be shown it at the fitting. A hand canvassed coat must be expected at this level. I point this out, as the far-inferior alternative is a "fused" canvas, which effectively glues the innards of your coat together.
The fused canvas looks impressive when it's new, but it'll subtract years off the gament's life in the long run.
Oh, and wait until you’ve had a few trips to the dry cleaners, or a bit of singing in the rain, and it becomes unstuck, yuk.
Check out for the obvious- hand-sewn buttonholes, hand-sewn edges, and make sure the buttons are made of animal horn, not plastic.
Don’t be convinced by the narcotic effect of labels, they mean nothing. Have your eyes and senses tuned. Don't trust the glossy magazines for your info, they are writers, not cutters. Their world is about PR, not about the actual stitching.
No journalist ever had to spend seven years as a proper tailor's apprentice. Their agendae are different from yours.
All business is personal. Especially in tailoring.
what is "bespoke"?
A lot of people use the terms "bespoke" and "made-to-measure" interchangeably. They are mistaken.
'Bespoke' is actually a term which dates from the 17th century, when tailors held the full lengths of cloth in their premises.
When a customer chose a length of material, it was said to have “been spoken for”. Hence a tailor who makes your clothes individually, to your specific personal requirements, is called "bespoke". This is unlike “made-to-measure”, which simply uses a basic, pre-existing template pattern, which is then adjusted to roughly your individual measurements.
The first thing I'll do is discuss with you what type of suit you are looking for, and its uses. Then a cloth is chosen from the full range available today, and also which type of style and fit would be most suitable for you.
Clothes made by me have all the hallmarks you would expect from true bespoke tailoring:
More than 20 measurements and figuration details are taken from the customer. Then a personal pattern will be hand-drafted and cut from scratch- not the basic, adjusted template pattern, as used by so many other tailors these days.
Using your pattern, the cloth is then cut and trimmed, along with the finest linings and silks available. A single tailor is then given the parts of the garment to sew together, from the earliest fitting stages, to the final, complete suit. Each suit is completely hand-made, even down to the button holes.
[For a fuller explanation of the different levels of tailoring (ready-to-wear, made-to-measure, bespoke etc) please go here.]