Sunglasses and Suits

Weddings, Ascot, Goodwood, the Gold Cup; the Summer season is rife with occasions requiring a good suit. 

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The problem is that these are all events which take place under the English sun (the pale and erratic cousin of the Tuscan sun). While women can coordinate frames so they easily become part of an outfit, men are left battling not to look like an FBI agent or a member of the Mob.

I think the key is colour. If it is sunny enough to need protective eyewear then you should be in a lightweight, summer suit in a suitably light colour. Black or very dark navy may make you look like an extra from Reservoir Dogs.

If blue is your go-to then go for a brighter hue and channel JFK in tortoiseshell. Keep accessories light, a pale pink tie or something in a fun print can be a nice touch.

If you favour Aviators over Wayfarers I would opt for a lighter suit, pale grey with a plain shirt is a classic combination. If you feel like something more adventurous you could always choose a Prince of Wales check.

If that all sounds too dreary for words, fear not, I've saved the best until last. If Cannes and Pitti Uomo are anything to go by, the latest trend is coordinating mirrored lenses to bold coloured garb:

In conclusion, when in doubt go light and bright, wear with confidence, and always have a glass of Pimm's in hand. Happy revelling. 

Behind a Bespoke Suit: The Trouser Maker

There can be as many as 9 people involved in creating a bespoke suit, and often a customer will only meet the Cutter, the person who measures them and cuts the cloth. Once cut, it gets bundled up with trimmings and linings and sent off to one of the workshops around Savile Row to people like Barry, a trouser maker for Henry Poole (and I J-Gilbert).

I became a trouser maker in 1968. But I started doing bits and pieces when I was about 14. My mother was a trouser finisher and used to work from home so she could look after me and my four siblings. I would do her serging (binding the edges of the cloth so they don't fray). Since there were no overlockers back then, everything had to be done by hand. And my cousin was a trouser maker in a workshop on Conduit Street. I would spend the school holidays assisting him too. 

A lot has changed since then. As well as no overlockers, there were no steam irons. Everything had to be pressed with water, a dobber and a heavy old press iron. It took forever. Shrinking and shaping the legs was hard work. But at least the cloth was strong and easy to shape. Nowadays the cloth is so fine that it is much harder to control. It either doesn't shrink away or it stretches out of shape more easily. You have to put extra linen in the pockets and openings to secure them. 

I like the personalised element of bespoke. I like the care and attention given to each pair. My sister works for a ready-to-wear company, they turn out 300 pairs of trousers a week. Everything there is block cut and sewn notch to notch. She could probably finish a pair in half an hour. Bespoke is more creative. Every customer's shape is unique, the variety of fabrics require different handling. Plus, I get to meet the customers, to see who's wearing the pieces I've created, like the man with the 68" waist who didn't look how I'd imagined. Or the celebrities who wear my pieces on red carpets and TV. 

I've always been based around Savile Row. Apart from a brief period in Holborn, I prefer to be in the midst of things. Your day goes quicker when you're in a workshop full of like minded people, taking pride and pleasure in their work. It makes for a nice atmosphere. Everyone in the trade gets on really well. Most people have worked for more than one company so we all know each other. I've been with Henry Poole for 16 years now but I still do jobs for other firms too. 

If I wasn't a tailor I'd be running a fish and chip shop. I used to run one in Buckinghamshire and I still help my brother-in-law in his from time to time. But tailoring is where my heart is. Nothing comes close to the pleasure you get from creating something for someone from scratch. 

What makes a suit bespoke?

This is something I get asked a lot and there are so many answers, the cloth, the person making it, the way it's made, the way it's cut, the way it's fitted.... And more.

To me, one of the most important things is the canvas. A bespoke suit has what's called a "Floating Canvas". The canvas is what gives a suit the shape and form it requires at the front. A RTW or MTM suit will have a canvas glued onto the forepart, this is fine for the first few weeks, but the moment the suit is dry-cleaned, the chemicals will often cause the canvas to come unstuck leaving an unsightly finish. 

In Bespoke suits the canvasses are padded, stretched, shrunk, shaped and pressed until they are the exact shape the tailor requires. It is a series of processes that will an apprentice may spend 6 months to a year learning. 

While every tailor's methods will differ a little, the basics remain more or less similar to this: 

It requires 3 types of cloth; body canvas, chest (or horsehair) canvas and domette

As I mentioned, each tailor will cut and arrange these slightly differently but once they will all "pad" them. This is a series of reasonably large stitches designed to create a curve in the chest to accommodate the pecs. As a tailor sews, he will curve the canvases around his thigh, the stitches ensure that curve will remain even after years of wear.  A smaller version of this stitch is used on the collar as well. 

One of the best things about a bespoke jacket is the comfort factor. As the canvases are cut and shaped, they are built up at the collar bone. By creating length here, the coat will come away a little rather than rubbing against the bone. 

The forepart of the coat is then laid on top of the canvas and attached using 4 rows of carefully placed stitching. A bridle is used to draw in the break line of the lapel to stop any gaping that can occur here, particularly on men with larger chests. The "pad" stitch is then used at the lapels to make sure they roll nicely and sit flatly on the chest. 

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Any inlay (the extra cloth added for adjustments) is then neatly trimmed away. To make sure the seams are as flat as possible, the canvas is cut down to just over 1 seam smaller than the coat. Linen tape is lashed onto the canvas at the edge. Linen is much thinner than the canvas so will produce neater seams. The pocket bags are attached to the canvas to give them strength over years of wear and tear. 

Finally, once the sleeves have been set in, sleevehead roll (which is used to make the top of the sleeves smooth) will be sewn through the canvas and sleeve seam further securing the canvas. 

All of the padding, lashing, securing and shaping serves to ensure your coat continues to look good for years.

Behind a Bespoke Suit: A Man of the Cloth

Contrary to what many people think, the person who measures you for a bespoke suit probably won't have much to do with the actual construction of it. They will cut it and over see each stage but from the moment you pick your cloth to when you walk away with the finished garments, there could be up to 9 people working on the actual sewing, pressing and finishing. 

One of these people is Jyh Cheong, a textiles consultant at W. Bill. 

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I started working in the industry in 1979/80. I studied fashion design at what was then the Central School of Art and Design, now Central St Martin's. I was offered a place to do Fine Art at Parson's School of Design but I turned it down to stay in London. I had my own label for a while which was great, I loved the creativity that came with that. 

The best part of my job is working with the costume departments for film and theatre companies. I get to use my creative side, helping them to source the right materials. It is rewarding to see something I've suggested used on screen. I like working with the tailors but the choice is all down to the customer so I have a bit less input. 

One of the things that has changed over the course of my career is the weight and quality of the cloth. British mills are famous for their wools. I work with clients from all over the world, including fashion houses in Europe and Japan who look to the UK for the best quality cloth. The materials have become lighter to fit in with a modern lifestyle, no one needs a 20oz suit these days. Ironically, this means when you are trying to find something for a period drama you have to come up with ways to make it appear heavier and coarser. 

In another life I might have been a Structural and Technical Engineer. This is what I first qualified in but it wasn't where my heart lay. 

How to Dress for a Wedding Abroad

Long gone are the days of a nice church service complete with a rousing round of "I vow to thee my country", a glass of champagne and a cucumber sandwich. 

These days weddings mean destinations. Far flung and tropical. Once your credit card has recovered from the cost of the stag/hen and the flights, the next dilemma is what to wear?! A morning coat is hardly appropriate on a beach in Mustique. 

So how do you honour the occasion whilst staying cool and comfortable??

This is where having something made especially for you comes into its own. Yes you can buy half lined jackets off-the-peg but they are flimsy and often see-through. There is little care taken in their construction, and no consideration given to who will be wearing it.

Last year a tropical groom wanted something smart and unique but cool and comfortable. He opted for a wonderful electric blue cotton from W. Bill. It's 11oz which is a little heavier than I would have liked but by using lightweight canvases and linen instead of domette in the chest, we've managed to keep it from getting too heavy.

His (and my) favourite part is the fishtail back of the trousers. This high waist creates a long leg and the braces mean the trousers can be a much looser fit which will be appreciated in the heat. 

And finally, the best thing about having something made just for you is the ability to personalise it. We managed to find horn buttons the same colour as his sunglasses, ensuring he is perfectly coordinated on his big day.

The second suit for this wedding is made out of the most glorious cloth I've ever worked with. 

It is 100% Irish linen, and where most linen creases as you look at it, this particular cloth (also from W Bill as it happens) holds itself beautifully. 

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I J-Gilbert coats are fully canvassed, with great care taken to ensure the canvasses are padded and shaped for maximum comfort. The canvas curves at the side of the chest, bringing the coat away a little allowing for ease of movement and a spacious fit. Particularly appreciated in humid climates. 

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A famously popular summer material, linen is cool and airy but can risk looking unkempt. This tough Irish linen may cost three times the price of normal linen but it pays dividends as it stays looking sharp year after year. Investing in a really smart linen suit is definitely worth it, especially if you think there may be more exotic nuptials in your future!

Why Bespoke #3

So I've talked about the longevity and the specificity. 

But the most important one is fit. 

If you are lucky enough to be perfectly in proportion then stop reading now. Continue to happily and successfully buy glorious RTW suits that fit beautifully. You don't need me. 

But if like me you are not, then do not feel bad. Most people have one arm longer than the other, or a long back, or short legs, or a dropped shoulder or broad back or narrow hips... You get the idea. 

Ready-to-wear clothes are based on the measurements of a fit model and then scaled in direct proportion. So the assumption is that if you have a 44" chest then you will have 36" long arms (for example). 

For a lot of people the differences are subtle enough not to matter too much. But if you are a rugby player, or a musician, or a builder, or anyone who has done something physically demanding for a large stretch of time, you may find that there are more obvious discrepancies. 

I have a customer whose left shoulder is much lower than their right meaning that an off the peg jacket sags on one side if left undone, and gapes at the neck if done up. Or there is the violinist who has one shoulder an inch smaller than the other after years of holding the instrument. Or the man who has one arm much further forward than the other. The list goes on. 

One of the biggest differences between Made to Measure and Bespoke is that the pattern will be drafted from scratch specially for you. Meaning these quirks will be taken into consideration. The left and the right will be cut separately if needed. 

If getting something made from scratch seems like a daunting and expensive task, then why not just take RTW clothes to a good tailor and have them make a few tweaks. Even one or two simple alterations can make a world of difference without costing the earth.

Striped Sleeve Lining

You may have noticed that on some suits, the sleeves have different lining to the rest of the coat. It isn't because they just ran out of the original lining. 

Back in the day, cloth was horribly thick (20oz to todays 11oz). Clothing was almost uncomfortably warm, partly by design- there was no central heating in most buildings, and partly because of the technology involved in spinning yarn and weaving cloth.

By using silk linings in the sleeves, they became easier to slip on and off and also allowed a little relief in the underarm area, (which has its own cooling system). 

The silk was too flimsy and expensive to use for the entire coat so alpaca was used everywhere else. Since the two fabrics would never be exactly the same shade anyway, tailors could get a little creative. 

There is a myth that Edward VII was responsible for the stripes being introduced.

DISCLAIMER: I've only heard this story twice and have seen no evidence to suggest it is true but
I think its funny so I'll share it anyway.

Apparently Edward VII was a particularly enthusiastic, if somewhat messy, eater which would often result in juices from meats running down his arm, staining his sleeves. Since he had such a reputation for being fashionable (he is credited with popularising turn ups, the tuxedo as we know it, the Prince of Wales check, and the unbuttoning of the bottom button on coats and waistcoats) people began pre-staining their own jackets to be like the glamour King. This then developed into the stripes being woven in.

In truth it is far more likely that tailor's used it as a way to identify their own suits, an early form of branding. Nowadays most Savile Row firms have their house sleeve lining and none of them really look like stains I'm afraid.

Why Bespoke #2

If the first reason to go bespoke is how it’s made, then the second reason is what is made.
There is nothing more frustrating than having a very clear idea of something in your head and not being able to find it.

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Like this backless waistcoat mentioned in a previous blog.

Or this groom who got married in New Zealand in their summer time. He wanted an English Country style suit but in an ultra lightweight cloth. So I made him an unlined jacket in a 9oz brown prince of wales check. The design of the cloth gave the appearance he wanted while the ultra fine material kept the temperature down.

Going bespoke doesn’t just mean the garment will be made to your measurements, it also means you can pick every aspect of it from the cloth and lining to the pocket style and trouser leg width.

Recently I had a customer who was after something with a retro feel; 1930’s inspired high-waisted, wide-legged trousers with a slightly longer than average jacket.

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It was such a joy to pour over old coffee shop books looking for inspiration, taking bits from here and there and combining them to create something with a modern feel.

The suit is made from a charcoal grey cashmere flannel, making it incredibly soft and warm. The grey is traditional without feeling dated. The single breasted lapels, although slightly wider thancurrent high street styles, are not nearly as ostentatious as the original 30's style.

He opted for double pleats on the trousers, giving a roomy fit, but then slightly tapering in at the bottom to keep them modern and practical.

What makes thispair of trousers particularly special is partly due to a mistake on my part. Getting carried away at the designing stage I suggested turn ups with a gauntlet hem thinking it couldn't be that complicated to do. Ahem!

After asking several tailors with much more experience and wisdom than me for help, they all laughed at me and said they would never offer it. Eek. By this time I had already promised to do it.

Eventually with an extra fitting, some guess work and a little cheating, I managed to find a way. And I am that bit prouder of this pair than any I've done before.

The high street is getting smarter at tailoring but it is still fairly generic and unexciting most of the time. By forking out that bit extra the sartorial world becomes your oyster.

The rise and fall and rise of gent's waistcoats

The waistcoat has been a staple of men's wardrobes since the 17th century when Charles II decreed they be worn at court. They evolved from flamboyant, decorative vests inspired by foreign lands, into austere companions to a frock coat before finally becoming the waistcoat we are familiar with today. As the modern suit began to develop in the late 19th century, waistcoats (so called because they were now cropped at the waist) were used to create shape in a similar manner to a woman's corset. They were also used to hide braces and keep the shirt from coming untucked. 

They were such commonplace in mens fashion that a gentleman was considered to be in a state of undress without one. But then in the 1930's disaster struck! Companies like Daks begun to produce self-supporting trousers, negating the need for braces and encouraging a newly informal style of dressing. Terrible news for the waistcoat!

Worse still, during WW2 the government introduced the Utility Clothing Scheme, which rationed fabric. 

With rationing lifted, the waistcoat had a brief revival in the 1950's as teenagers began to rebel against post-war austerity with their teddy-boy fashions (named because they were inspired by the Edwardian era) and oversized Oxford bags.

Unfortunately this was short-lived and the final nail in the traditional waistcoat's coffin came in the form of central heating. Suddenly all those layers of hard-wearing wool were just too hot. They had to go. 

But fear not! The vest is finally having a renaissance. With three-piece suits being seen regularly on the guests of London Collections: Men and Pitti Uomo, the West End is struggling to find enough trained waistcoat makers to keep up with the demand.

Stand-alone waistcoats have also seen a rise in popularity as grooms clamour to get in on the couture action at their weddings. A tailor-made waistcoat is a great way of getting something made especially for you without using up the honeymoon budget. 

One groom, with forethought, has requested a backless waistcoat for his impending nuptials. With the adjustable elastic straps at the waist and neck it won't require any alterations to be made to accommodate his midlife waistline. 

Some opt for fun bright colours to make sure they stand out, others choose something classic that they can cherish for years to come, either way you can wear it to the next wedding without so much as a second thought. Can your bride say the same?

In closing, I'm relieved to say that the waistcoat has finally returned to the modern man's wardrobe. Lets hear it for this stalwart of style.

An Autumn Wedding

Last Summer I made a suit for an October groom. Now, I don't want to be disparaging about anything else I've made, but this was my favourite job EVER! 

The couple were having an autumnal wedding in a beautiful farm house. Everything is outdoors with fairy lights and beautiful bright flowers. All the guests were given animal ears, with the bride and groom wearing fabulous masks for their first dance. Think Fantastic Mr Fox meets a Midsummer Night's Dream.

The groom chose a teal blue cloth with a rust and maroon window pane check from Porter and Harding's Glorious Twelfth bunch, and a rust coloured waistcoat. The right shade was tricky to find but eventually I found the perfect thing in the East end.

Brown horn buttons from Richard James Weldon brought out the woodland theme. A paisley silk was picked for the lining and waistcoat back. The groomsmen all had ties in the same silk to match.

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