Savile Row’s New Tradition

Excerpted from S2E3 of Put This On: “(New) Traditions”

We learn the history of London’s Savile Row, and talk about where it’s been and where it’s going with Patrick Grant, owner and designer of Norton & Sons and E. Tautz, and Richard Anderson, owner and tailor of the tailoring house that bears his name.

What Is Traditional American Style?

Our most recent video, Tradition, features a conversation with Jay Walter, a true-blue American style traditionalist. The American aesthetic is largely a creation of the mid-20th century, and after some years of being maligned, it’s being re-evaluated at the moment, as “Ivy League” style (a close variant) has its moment.

Above are two men in tailored clothing. In black and white, we see a customer at J. Press in the mid-20th century. In color, we see a contemporary photo of Patrick Grant, proprietor of Norton & Sons, a Savile Row tailor. Each of these guys is wearing an outfit that couldn’t be more emblematic of their nation’s signature styles.

Difference to note (pictured and unpictured):

  • The American suit features what’s called a 3-roll-2 buttoning arrangement. That means that there are three buttons on the front,but only two are openly visible and only one is intended to be used. The third (top) button rolls under the lapel. This is a classic button arrangement for suits of any nation, but it’s particularly vital to the American look. The English suit is in a classic English configuration: a narrow double-breasted.
  • The shoulders of the American jacket are soft and nearly unpadded. This is called a “natural shoulder,” and it’s comfortable and casual. Contrast this with the built-up, strongly-shaped shoulder on the Savile Row suit.
  • The American jacket lacks darts (folds, sewn into the fabric for shape) on the front. Most continental jackets have a dart on each side, running from about nipple level to the waist. This gives the jacket shape over and above the shaping permitted by the side seams. The classic undarted American coat is called a “sack,” because, well, it’s sack-like, rather than following the countour of the front of the body.
  • The classic American jacket has a single vent in the back, often a “hook vent.” The hook vent, a J. Press innovation, is cut wider at the top (giving it a hook-like shape) to prevent awkward splaying. An English coat is typically double-vented (sometimes called side-vented), which helps prevent splaying. Sometimes it’s unvented, in the style of the “golden age” of men’s style, the 1930s.
  • Pants in the classic American suit are, as Jay Walter described in our piece, typically flat-front, rather than pleated. They often have plain fronts as well. Generally, this is a simpler, more relaxed style.

There are of course other difference in the aesthetics - Americans have a predilection for button-down collars, even sometimes wearing them with suits, for example. The knit tie is a particularly Ivy League aesthetic. Belts are favored over braces, and loafers, especially penny loafers, are beloved.

The end result is a distinctive, American aesthetic. The shape is youthful. Because it lacks darts, the jacket falls straight, rather than emphasizing the shoulders and chest and narrowing the waist. The goal here is to attain the slim, straight body of the 20 year old, rather than the strong-shouldered, broad-chested body of the Powerful Man favored on Savile Row.

Of course, this style is just as much associated with an insurance salesman in Muskogee as it is with a young Bobby Kennedy. On the hefty man these youngsters of the 1950s and 60s became, the look has a different effect. The shapelessness and weak shoulders of the look can make a heavy man look, for lack of a better word, dumpy. Still: it is classic, comfortable and proudly American.

What’s important to remember is that a suit’s silhouette isn’t an absolute value, following exactly the curves of the body. There are choices about what to emphasize, what to de-emphasize, what to build up and what to slim down. These are informed by individual aesthetics and cultural tradition. I hope this will help you make informed choices for your own wardrobe.

"How I Get Dressed" with Patrick Grant, the owner of Norton & Sons

It’s On Ebay
Vintage Norton & Sons Morning Waistcoat
Buy it Now for $113

It’s On Ebay

Vintage Norton & Sons Morning Waistcoat

Buy it Now for $113

Q and Answer: Black Tie
Josh writes:
I want ONE tux that will be stylish AND timeless.  Does this exist? 
I know I’ll be in a wedding next May where I’ll be invited to wear my own tux but will be given a matching long tie to match with other groomsmen.  Should I go with a two or three button jacket to pull off the tie?  Or does the classic one button notch lapel work (depending on shirt) with any combination?    I am leaning towards the classic one button, so that I can work btoh looks.  I was recetnly told that bowties are, in general, “out” at the moment, and I’d be more stylish at an upcoming chartiy event in a vest/tie combo…1) is this true, and 12) can I pull it off in the classic one button? Any SPECIFIC advice on what to buy?  I don’t really have a price limit (which is admittedly helpful), and am willing to travel to make the right tux happen for me. 
If anything in men’s clothing is a true classic, it is black tie.  So the short answer is an unequivocal “yes.”
The Platonic ideal for black tie is midnight blue, single-breasted, with a single button, a peak lapel, and grosgrain facings on the lapel.  The facing should match the (self-tie) bow tie and cummerbund. The pants are pleated and without a cuff.  The shirt features a detachable wing collar, French cuffs and a pique bib.  Opera pumps are worn with black silk hose.  The pants are held up with suspenders that fasten with buttons, and the shirt is closed with studs.
There is room for other options, of course.
In the absence of midnight blue cloth, black can be used.  (Midnight blue is more attractive in low and artificial light.)
Facings can be satin instead of grosgrain. 
In warm weather, an ivory dinner jacket is an appropriate substitute for the traditional jacket.
A pleated shirt with a turndown collar can be substituted for the wing collar.  (Slightly less formal.)
A shawl lapel can be used rather than peak.  (Again, less formal.)
The jacket can be double-breasted, particularly if you are tall and thin.  (Again, less formal - and remember to leave your cummerbund at home.)
You can substitute a waistcoat in the same material as the coat for the cummerbund.
Patent oxfords can be worn in favor of opera pumps.
The pants need not be pleated.
A white pocket square (preferably linen) or a boutonniere can be added.
If you’re in a homier black-tie environment - a friendly party, entertaining, that sort of thing - you can wear a velvet dinner jacket or slippers.
That’s the basics of black tie.  Oh - and remember that black tie is for evening social occasions.  The stroller is the equivalent to black tie for daytime wear, and morning dress the more formal alternative.  About 6PM should be the cut-off.
As per your specific concerns:
A long tie should not be worn with a tuxedo.  Can you imagine if we let the groom pick the bridesmaids’ outfits?  Oof.  Of course, it’s not worth starting a fight over, so just get something good and do what they say this time.  I’d say getting a tux with a waistcoat and a shirt with turn-down lapels would help cover for the long tie’s blech factor.
Bow ties are most certainly not out, especially for black tie.  In fact, I can’t think of a time within the last 25 years that bow ties have been more in.  And like I said - long tie in your black tie ensemble?  Blech.
Never, ever buy a notch-lapel tuxedo.  Again: blech.
A vest is perfectly fine with a one-button tuxedo.  But not with a long tie.
And as for where to buy?
Well, with a tuxedo, you have some great options.
The classic tuxedo has changed little in the last 75 years, and they’re used too infrequently to wear out, so vintage is a good way to save money.  My own tuxedo was made in the late 30s, and cost me less than $30.  If I bought a tuxedo of comparable quality new, it would cost me a few thousand.  If you’re buying vintage, remember that fit is key.  Many vintage pants and sleeves have some wear at their ends, and can’t be lengthened (or there will be a stripe of wear).  Shoulder width is very difficult to alter, as is jacket length, and the chest should fit within an inch or (at most) two.
If you want to buy something new for cheap, your options are few-ish.  Jos. A Bank sells tuxedos of not-horrible quality, and if you catch one of their astonishingly frequent 50-75% off sales, you can get one at a reasonable price.  It’ll be better than a rental (which tend to be of abysmal quality), though not the heirloom a better tux would be.
If you want to buy at retail, your best bets will likely come from Ralph Lauren.  Ralph’s English-y WASP obsession makes for classic evening wear.  Polo dinner suits are very good quality, and Purple Label are even better.  Brooks Brothers can also be a good choice, though their better-quality Golden Fleece line is cut for an older, stockier man.
If money isn’t an issue, though, why not go made-to-measure, or even bespoke?  Find some beautiful fabric, and have a tailor like Joe Hemrajani of MyTailor.com suit you up.  You’ll have full control over the process and a perfect fit.  And if you really want to spend some money?  Get your self a ticket to London and visit Savile Row.  Most of the tailors will gladly help arrange fittings for you - though you may have to visit more than once.  Some, like Norton & Sons, offer US fittings as well.
And if you need guidance more thorough than this, check out Black Tie Guide, one of the internet’s best men’s clothing resources.

Q and Answer: Black Tie

Josh writes:

I want ONE tux that will be stylish AND timeless.  Does this exist?

I know I’ll be in a wedding next May where I’ll be invited to wear my own tux but will be given a matching long tie to match with other groomsmen.  Should I go with a two or three button jacket to pull off the tie?  Or does the classic one button notch lapel work (depending on shirt) with any combination? I am leaning towards the classic one button, so that I can work btoh looks.  I was recetnly told that bowties are, in general, “out” at the moment, and I’d be more stylish at an upcoming chartiy event in a vest/tie combo…1) is this true, and 12) can I pull it off in the classic one button?
Any SPECIFIC advice on what to buy?  I don’t really have a price limit (which is admittedly helpful), and am willing to travel to make the right tux happen for me.

If anything in men’s clothing is a true classic, it is black tie.  So the short answer is an unequivocal “yes.”

The Platonic ideal for black tie is midnight blue, single-breasted, with a single button, a peak lapel, and grosgrain facings on the lapel.  The facing should match the (self-tie) bow tie and cummerbund. The pants are pleated and without a cuff.  The shirt features a detachable wing collar, French cuffs and a pique bib.  Opera pumps are worn with black silk hose.  The pants are held up with suspenders that fasten with buttons, and the shirt is closed with studs.

There is room for other options, of course.

  • In the absence of midnight blue cloth, black can be used.  (Midnight blue is more attractive in low and artificial light.)
  • Facings can be satin instead of grosgrain.
  • In warm weather, an ivory dinner jacket is an appropriate substitute for the traditional jacket.
  • A pleated shirt with a turndown collar can be substituted for the wing collar.  (Slightly less formal.)
  • A shawl lapel can be used rather than peak.  (Again, less formal.)
  • The jacket can be double-breasted, particularly if you are tall and thin.  (Again, less formal - and remember to leave your cummerbund at home.)
  • You can substitute a waistcoat in the same material as the coat for the cummerbund.
  • Patent oxfords can be worn in favor of opera pumps.
  • The pants need not be pleated.
  • A white pocket square (preferably linen) or a boutonniere can be added.
  • If you’re in a homier black-tie environment - a friendly party, entertaining, that sort of thing - you can wear a velvet dinner jacket or slippers.

That’s the basics of black tie.  Oh - and remember that black tie is for evening social occasions.  The stroller is the equivalent to black tie for daytime wear, and morning dress the more formal alternative.  About 6PM should be the cut-off.

As per your specific concerns:

A long tie should not be worn with a tuxedo.  Can you imagine if we let the groom pick the bridesmaids’ outfits?  Oof.  Of course, it’s not worth starting a fight over, so just get something good and do what they say this time.  I’d say getting a tux with a waistcoat and a shirt with turn-down lapels would help cover for the long tie’s blech factor.

Bow ties are most certainly not out, especially for black tie.  In fact, I can’t think of a time within the last 25 years that bow ties have been more in.  And like I said - long tie in your black tie ensemble?  Blech.

Never, ever buy a notch-lapel tuxedo.  Again: blech.

A vest is perfectly fine with a one-button tuxedo.  But not with a long tie.

And as for where to buy?

Well, with a tuxedo, you have some great options.

The classic tuxedo has changed little in the last 75 years, and they’re used too infrequently to wear out, so vintage is a good way to save money.  My own tuxedo was made in the late 30s, and cost me less than $30.  If I bought a tuxedo of comparable quality new, it would cost me a few thousand.  If you’re buying vintage, remember that fit is key.  Many vintage pants and sleeves have some wear at their ends, and can’t be lengthened (or there will be a stripe of wear).  Shoulder width is very difficult to alter, as is jacket length, and the chest should fit within an inch or (at most) two.

If you want to buy something new for cheap, your options are few-ish.  Jos. A Bank sells tuxedos of not-horrible quality, and if you catch one of their astonishingly frequent 50-75% off sales, you can get one at a reasonable price.  It’ll be better than a rental (which tend to be of abysmal quality), though not the heirloom a better tux would be.

If you want to buy at retail, your best bets will likely come from Ralph Lauren.  Ralph’s English-y WASP obsession makes for classic evening wear.  Polo dinner suits are very good quality, and Purple Label are even better.  Brooks Brothers can also be a good choice, though their better-quality Golden Fleece line is cut for an older, stockier man.

If money isn’t an issue, though, why not go made-to-measure, or even bespoke?  Find some beautiful fabric, and have a tailor like Joe Hemrajani of MyTailor.com suit you up.  You’ll have full control over the process and a perfect fit.  And if you really want to spend some money?  Get your self a ticket to London and visit Savile Row.  Most of the tailors will gladly help arrange fittings for you - though you may have to visit more than once.  Some, like Norton & Sons, offer US fittings as well.

And if you need guidance more thorough than this, check out Black Tie Guide, one of the internet’s best men’s clothing resources.