The suit is still the most elegant attire for a gentleman so long as the cut, colour and choice of cloth is correct – so appropriate to the occasion and time of the year.
While fashion has certainly modified the styles, in the eye of the bespoke tailor the fundamentals of the suit haven’t changed much in the last 90 years. Their relentless quest is to create a timeless elegance for their customers, while at the same time keeping up with the changing lifestyles of the last decades. What questions one might need to ask, when going to a tailor these days? Our style correspondent, the London trained bespoke tailor, Simon Skottowe, shares his secrets to help you understand the art of dressing well.
I could fill a book with the history of this intriguing set of garments, but to cut a long story short…
It was Beau Brummel, famous dandy and socialite, who revolutionised menswear at the beginning of the 19th century. Deemed to be the inventor of modern sartorial understatement, he was the first to wear the combination of a long jacket and double breasted waistcoat in matching fabric with long trousers. His look was completed with a linen shirt and a fastidiously knotted cravat.
Thought scandalous at a time when embroidered waistcoats, knee length britches and stockings were still de rigeur, his philosophy of understatement still today underpins British men’s tailoring.
The modern suit as we know it comes from the “lounge suit”, with it’s shorter jacket, which was developed for informal occasions and by the 1930’s had become the accepted form of dress for most workplaces. It is that basic formula that all suits still follow, however there are numerous variations.
When commissioning a bespoke suit the tailor should inquire the gentleman:
-Day, evening or special event?
-What does Sir wish to express with his clothes?
– Is he in banking, legal? (conservative, reliable)
-Software developer (reliable with a touch of creativity)?
-Media, arts (creative, maybe a touch flamboyant)?
So the picture begins to form of how the gentleman would like to see himself. Together with the physical data: measurements, body type, proportions and complexion, the tailor starts to work his magic.
When done well, it has an empowering effect on the wearer, making him walk „an inch taller”. From correcting differences in the shoulders and the chest, to creating a gloriously V shaped torso, having a bespoke suit made offers a wealth of options to highlight your best features and disguise some physical imperfections. The innumerable styling choices from different button configurations to lapel styles, shoulder definition, and pocket combinations together characterize the look of the finished suit; allowing the individual to stamp his character on the final result.
Choosing the right fabric for your commission can be a daunting task given the infinite options available. Listen to your tailor and ask him for suggestions. A suit, which you’ll wear frequently, should be made of more resistant, durable material, while a suit used for special occasions can be of a more luxurious cloth. To build a range of suits, which compliments your lifestyle takes serious consideration, therefore it’s best to start with the basics. Nothing can beat a mid to dark grey worsted wool suit for daily business needs, while a dark blue one will suit any semi formal occasions. Visible structure in the weave or a cloth featuring a subtle pattern are welcome, to avoid being completely flat. If a patterned fabric is chosen it should always be in proportion with the client and not overwhelm him.
Similarly regarding the internals of the jacket follow the advice of your tailor. More structure for the winter but if you are travelling to the tropics you obviously want the construction as lightweight as possible. All true bespoke tailors use a similar system with multi layered canvases stitched together by hand. It is in the choice of the canvas and in the density of the stitching that the tailor’s style comes to the fore. These telltale signs are most prominent in the shoulder area and around the chest and the armhole. When you slip on a bespoke jacket you will fully appreciate the difference, as it falls effortlessly into place and becomes part of you.
The inside configuration of the jacket and the trousers is essential for the suit to work as the client would wish. So how many inside pockets, of what size and where. Colour and weight of the lining, to match the cloth or maybe some jazzy alternative. Buttons in tone or a slight contrast. Whatever the choice, they should be in a natural material, ivory nut , horn or pearl.
Fine hand finishing is the final touch that sets bespoke suits apart. Each tailor has their preferred style, but buttonholes should be worked by hand, linings felled in by hand and sleeves, collars and the edge stitching should be similarly done by hand.
Given the infinite possibilities it is all too easy for a bespoke suit to become overdesigned. In my opinion it is the tailor’s duty to guide and sometimes restrain an overenthusiastic client, towards an elegant result. It should be in the self confidence of the wearer and the recognition of those “in the know”, rather that the applause of the crowd, that a true bespoke suit is appreciated.