A view of the 21st century? Bespoke tailor Leonard Logsdail conducts a fitting over Skype.
For Aspiring Tailors
There is so little by way of educational material available to the aspiring tailor, and my feelings on this are mixed. I really do think it’s a craft that is best learnt at the hands of an experienced teacher so the few books available should be used as guides for someone undergoing an apprenticeship and not for those who wish to teach themselves. That said, not everyone has access to an experienced tailor and I suppose they have no choice but to turn to the scant material available so the latest arrival to the self-tutelage sphere will be welcome to many.
Andrew Ramroop, of the justly famous Maurice Sedwell of Savile Row, has teamed up with Mastered.com to produce an online, self-guided course in tailoring. Video lessons and some very handsome photography are provided along with supporting print material. In a smart move, Mr. Ramroop shows a technique, then his assistant does it. This gives the viewer the benefit of seeing an experienced master do, and then seeing some of the mistakes that he or she is likely to make and the corrections as suggested by the teacher. Of course, not every possible misstep is covered, but students are encouraged to upload photos or other evidence of their work for evaluation by Mr. Ramroop. Certainly not failsafe but better than a book alone.
Coincidentally, I was recently talking to the owner of a custom clothiers shop in NYC last week, and he told me that he’s thinking about shutting down the tailoring side of his business next year (after being in business for about 50 years) because he can’t find people who can make clothes as good as he needs. His current head tailor is 85 years old and won’t be around forever, but finding a replacement has been tough. I hear this a lot from custom clothing shops, although some — such as Rubinacci — seem to be able to attract talent without any issue.
Not sure if Ramroop’s program is good enough to land you a job somewhere, but it’s nice to see such a training program pop up for people who are passionate about this craft.
Easy Ways to Look Better in Tailored Clothing
Whether you’re into the “coat-and-tie look” or not, most of us have to wear a suit at some point, and for those times, it’s amazing how much can be done with just a few basic steps. Look at the photo above, for example – two men in suits, but wearing them to very different effects. The man on the left looks great. The man on the right … less great. So much can be done with just a few simple changes.
Get Your Pants Hemmed
You want your pants hemmed so that there’s either one break, or no break (a break is the small indentation on your pants as your cuff “breaks” over the top of your shoe). You may find, however, that even with properly hemmed trousers, you pants will slip down a little throughout the day, which will ruin those clean, vertical lines. Some simple solutions: wear suspenders, which will keep your pants up at all times; get your waistband and belt adjusted by a tailor, so they fit you better (although, you’ll always experience some slippage with belted trousers); or simply, pay attention to where your pants are and pull them up when need be.
Show a Bit of Cuff
You want about a quarter-of-an-inch of shirt cuff to peek out from your jacket sleeve. There are, however, some complications with this.
First, if your shirtsleeves are too long, you probably don’t want to shorten them. Shirtsleeves need to be a bit long, so that the cuff doesn’t ride up on you as you extend your arm (think of it as having some slack). Instead, you just want your cuffs to stay in the same position, regardless of how you move around. To achieve this, bring your shirt to an alterations tailor and have him or her tighten or loosen the cuff by moving the cuff button. It shouldn’t cost more than a couple of bucks.
Second, if your jacket sleeves are too short or long, you’ll need to have a tailor either let out some material from the edge or take your sleeves up from the cuff. The second process can be complicated by “working buttonholes,” where the buttonholes are actually punched through and not just for show. Don’t skimp here and let that last button sit too close to your sleeve edge. Instead, have your tailor take the sleeve up from the armhole, but know that it’ll add to the cost.
Wear Better Shoes
Finally, wear better shoes. Ones that are made from full grain leather, not corrected grain. Cheap shoes look bad when they’re new, and worse with wear. Luckily, the market for good, full-grain leather shoes has gotten a lot more competitive over the years, which means the entry price has dropped to about $200. You can start with this list of good brands. I’d add Jack Erwin to that now, although I think you still get a nice jump in quality as you move from them to Meermin, Herring, or Loake (conversely, Jack Erwin is located in the US, so it’s a lot easier to return shoes if need be). If $200 is too much for you, there’s always eBay and thrifting. For eBay, you can use our customized search link or smart shop smartly for Ralph Lauren. To learn how to thrift better, check out Jesse’s three-part guide.
Doing just those three things won’t make you look like Cary Grant, but they’ll make you look better than most suit-wearing people in the world. To look even better, read Jesse’s very reasonable and easy tips here. To look even better still, learn about the fit and silhouette of tailored clothing.
(Photo via White Hawk Warrior)
The Overuse of the Word Bespoke
Many words are injured in the process of selling clothes to the public. Think of the words “timeless,” “classic,” and “artisanal.” All perfectly fine words, but sadly robbed of their meaning once fashion writers get to them. None of them sadden me more, however, than how the word “bespoke” gets abused. In the last year or two, it’s increasingly used to describe anything that’s custom made, and even a few things that aren’t.
So what is bespoke? The word originally came from shoemaking, but gained in popularity through custom tailoring in England, where lengths of cloths were said to be “spoken for” or “bespoken” by another customer. In this way, it means a lot more than “custom made clothes,” but rather a specific process of making garments. It’s perhaps easiest if we think of “custom made clothes” as an umbrella category, and then think of the different ways custom clothes are produced.
All things being equal, the advantage of bespoke is that you can get more precision in the fit and style of your garment. Theoretically, going through multiple drafts should allow your garment to get better and better, though the extra time and labor this takes also means it’s typically a more expensive process.
Of course, things are not always equal in the real world, and how well a garment can turn out will depend on a number of variables (the skill of the tailor, the mood he’s in while making your garment, and even your own skill in bespeaking a garment). Just because something is bespoke doesn’t mean it’s necessarily better than made-to-measure or even ready-to-wear. One of the biggest advantages to ready-to-wear is that you can put something back on the rack if you don’t like it. That’s no small thing.
Should you ever be in a place where you’re ordering a custom garment, and it’s advertised as bespoke, ask how many fittings you’re getting.* Some use the word bespoke to put a little glitz and glamour on their services, while others use it to refer to a very specific method of making clothes. I think it’s a shame that real bespoke tailors are having their word co-opted by marketing men, but at the very least, you as a customer should know exactly what you’re buying.
* Note, this process of multiple fittings is mostly relevant for suit jackets and sport coats. Other bespoke garments, such as shirts, can be made using different processes, which can also vary by region.
(Pictured above: A bespoke tailor pressing a pair of trousers at Henry Poole & Co in 1944)
Real People: Gray for leisure
The iron-fisted enforcement of business casual office dress codes means many of us wear suits mostly for non-work occasions, if we wear suits at all. Rob in Los Angeles has a great casual wardrobe, but in compiling a post about it I stumbled on these photos of Rob suited up in gray in non-business settings and was struck by the easiness and elegance of Rob’s suits and accessories, which are neither obsessively businesslike nor sprezzatura’d beyond all relief.
In the top photo, Rob’s peak lapel suit in a dark gray worsted wool could be quite formal, but that formality is undercut by a matte wool tie, brown rather than black balmorals, and holiday-season-appropriate red socks. Rob’s suit in the other photos is a wonderful high-twist twill, that looks equally good with a white shirt and brown shoes as with more evening appropriate (though not, you know, by “the rules” evening appropriate) black monk strap shoes and an ice blue shirt. Again, Rob sticks with matte wool ties, which along with the cloth make that suit look downright cozy. The trouser length is a little longer than many men are choosing in the post-Thom-Browne era, but note that when Rob is seated his trouser cuff doesn’t ride halfway up his leg.
And regarding timelessness—these shots were taken a few years ago (the top shot in 2007), and they all look great right now.
Savile Row, 1939
This article from England’s defunct Picture Post magazine depicts the process of ordering and making a suit at Williams, Sullivan, & Co., a firm that occupied 12 Savile Row at the time of publication in 1939. Today the building houses Chittleborough and Morgan, formerly of Tommy Nutters’ shop, and the Scabal flagship store. (Check out a recent Chittleborough and Morgan suit in navy seersucker at Permanent Style.) Picture Post was a photo-heavy publication not unlike LIFE, and this piece gave the reader a glimpse into the clubby atmosphere of a tailor’s shop (for the customers, at least; the article mentions sewing girls making £3 a week—around £165 today).
"Even if you cannot tell an Englishman abroad by anything else, you can tell him by his suit. The suit may be old, it may have done a dozen years’ service, but its cut and the way it hangs on his body identify the owner as an Englishman."
Q & Answer: How Do I Eliminate the Blousing on a Shirt?
Gary writes: I just got a new job and am having to wear dress shirts for the first time. I went out this weekend and tried a bunch on, but all of them seem to blouse and billow over the top of my pants. Is there any way to fix this, or do I just have to keep searching for the perfect shirt?
Ready-to-wear clothing rarely fits perfectly off the rack. Remember, garments are made with an imaginary person in mind, usually someone that’s an “average” of the demographic the company is trying to target. You’re unlikely to be that exact average, so some alterations will likely be necessary.
The less you alter a garment, however, the better. So the first step is to find a shirt that fits as well as possible. After you find one and purchase it, take it to the tailors to have the sides slimmed down. This will take out most of the billowing, but be sure to not go too slim. You want to be able to sit down and have a full meal, after all.
If you’d like, you can also have darts put in. These will help reduce the fullness in the lower back. They’re good for most men, but if you stand with a bit of a hunch, note that they’ll accentuate your less than ideal posture (as they’ll create a bit of an S curve from your side profile). You can get them put into one shirt and see how you like the effect. They can be taken out afterwards if you don’t like them, but on many cotton shirts, this will leave some faint lines where the darts used to be. The job of taking in the sides and putting in darts should probably run you something like $15.
If you find that you still have some blousing even after alterations, you can try the military tuck. That’s when you tuck your shirt in straight, but then pinch the sides and pull them back to reduce fullness. You can see a simple guide on how to do it here.
A good alterations tailor and military tuck will solve most of the billowing, but if you’re striving for perfection, you’ll likely need to go custom. I’ve written a seven-part series on custom shirts, which you can read here.
This is one area where I find bespoke makers to be a bit better than most made-to-measure services. With a good bespoke tailor, you’re getting a custom pattern drafted from scratch. With made-to-measure, the company is usually altering an existing pattern through some computer program. The first, from my experience, allows you to more easily account things that might not be easily captured by simple measurements. For example, my tailor (Ascot Chang) lowered the waist point on my first pattern, so that narrowest part of the shirt aligned with the narrowest point of my torso. This allowed the shirt to better transition as it moved down to my hips, thus distributing the fullness perfectly when my shirt is tucked (like this). That kind of adjustment is often not possible through made-to-measure, and isn’t something an alterations tailor can do for you.
Bespoke shirts are expensive, however. If you don’t mind the cost, I think they’re worth it. For most men though, a $15 alterations job and military tuck will deliver most of what they need.
(Photo via GQ)
Q and Answer: Can I Repair Frayed Shirt Collars and Cuffs?
David asks: I do a lot of thrifting button-down shirts. Sometimes I’ll get attached to a shirt even if it’s slightly past its use-by date - when there’s fraying around the cuffs or collar. I’ve thought about fabric glue, but I’ve never tried it and I’m not sure if it’s really worth the effort. Should I just suck it up and get a new shirt or are there any decent options to repair mild fraying?
It’s absolutely normal for the collars and cuffs of a shirt to fray before the rest of the shirt is worn out. These parts of the shirt take the most abuse, after all. But can they be repaired?
The answer is yes, but whether it’s worth it to execute the repairs is another matter.
When a man’s clothes were made for him, it was normal practice to repair them before replacing them. The cost of making clothes one at a time is much higher than it is to make them on an assembly line, and tradespeople capable of making repairs were plentiful. It made economic sense to maintain the clothes you had. Today, that math is less clear - if you maintain your shirts this way, it’s more likely to be a personal choice than an economic one.
The fraying at the collars and cuff cannot be repaired, per se. The cost of reweaving it would be extraordinarily prohibitive. That leaves you with a few choices.
First, you can leave it frayed. Particularly heavier weight shirts like oxford button-downs almost seem more at home slightly frayed than brand new. The old-money aesthetic values that guide their wear suggest that you wear them into the ground rather than replace them. These values have been aped by manufacturers who often sandpaper the edges of oxford shirts to fray them intentionally. Your goal here is to achieve a Prince Charles’ shoes level of wabi-sabi.
Second, you can turn the collar and cuffs. This is just what it sounds like. The collar and cuffs are removed and reversed, so that the inside is out and the outside is in. This works best with double cuffs, and can be problematic with shirts that have pockets for collar stays. Even so, a tailor can generally replace one side of the collar with fabric from the shirt’s tail. This may cost twenty or thirty dollars.
The most drastic step is to replace the collar and cuffs. If you’ve seen dress shirts with white collar and cuffs, this practice was the origin. Since matching fabric won’t be readily available (and won’t match anyway, given the number of washes the shirt will have been through), a plain white collar and cuff can be used. Again, this option comes with a significant cost, but if you’re dealing with a very fine dress shirt, it may well be worth it.
If your shirtmaker or tailor doesn’t offer these services, there are mail-order options, like Maldonado’s, who charge $20 to replace a collar and $12-15 to replace cuffs..