Personal Tailors Fashion Custom-Made Products that Fit Beautifully and Precisely
G. Bruce Boyer
From the Print Edition:
Bill Cosby, Autumn 94
(continued from page 1)
First, the right tailor for you is the one who, stylistically, speaks your language--someone you can communicate with. It's important to find a tailor who makes the kind of clothing you want, rather than trying to persuade him to your way of thinking. Good tailors are experts: they know what they do and they do it well. But that doesn't mean they do everything well. Brooks Brothers' style is not Savile Row, and Savile Row is not Milan. Ask the tailor to discuss his "house style" with you. You should both have the same picture--the same ideal--of what a man should look like in a suit.
This isn't a question of fit, because fit is ultimately a subjective idea. If our clothes indeed closely conformed to the actual shape of our bodies, any tailor would be good enough. But the expert tailor is interested in improving us. He's part reconstructive surgeon, part psychiatrist. Can he give us the view of ourselves that we have in our minds? The silhouette (what tailors often refer to as "line") is ultimately the most important consideration. Does the tailor have a very formal, highly structured view of things? Or does he believe in a more casual elegance, for example?
For some tailors the ideal is the Continental Boulevardier: the dashing young man with expressive shoulders, narrow waist and hips, trim sleeves and trousers. For another, it may be the English gentleman, with that studied balance of ease and elegance produced by waist suppression and flared skirting (the tailor's term for the jacket part beneath the waist). Or perhaps it is the American look of classic casualness with its soft natural shoulders and chest that emphasizes comfort and a nonchalant approach.
Second, a good tailoring firm will have access to the finest fabrics. Cloth merchants such as Dormeuil, Holland & Cherry, Loro Piana, Isles Textiles, GRM International and Scabal should be represented. Their names on swatch books are a guarantee of superior cloth. Good tailors are reluctant to waste their skills on inferior material. The materials one looks for are the natural ones: woolens, cottons, linens and luxurious cashmeres and silks. Today's fabrics are infinitely more comfortable than those of even 25 years ago. The Super 100s woolens (weaves of the finest Merino wool available--one pound of yarn can be spun thin enough to stretch 31 miles) can weigh a mere eight ounces per yard, producing a suit weighing about two pounds; a half century ago, a year-round suit weighed twice that. Modern woolens outperform heavier cloth due to a combination of softness and superior strength. Fabric technology has also produced "high twist" worsteds and silk-and-wool blends that are marvels of lightweight beauty and comfort for warm weather. Look for cloth that has a soft feel (the technical term is "hand") but isn't flimsy. It should drape well without wrinkling.
Third, a good fitter takes careful, methodical measurements. A good tailor tends to think in half inches and quarter inches. He will measure each arm and leg separately, because each of us is different (with athletes these differences may be more pronounced). The chest should be measured under the arms, then over the arms (this is, after all, usually the widest part of the body and crucial to understanding the line); inseams and outseams of trousers will be noted to determine the correct "rise" (the tailor's term for the distance between waistband and crotch, which determines how high on your hips your trousers will sit--important for comfort and to determine the fullness in the leg). The height of each shoulder must be considered (a competent tailor will tell you that no one has two perfectly square shoulders or a perfectly straight neck set perfectly between them) as well as both waist and hipline (to note any slight curvature in the small of the back, which produces a "hollow" in the rear of the coat). Even the size of the shoe is an important consideration in the width and height of the trouser cuff. This is not a small, medium and large operation: if he doesn't take these dozen or so measurements for both coat and trousers, something is wrong--with him.
Finally, there should be several fittings--especially early on, to get the pattern right. If the tailor has measured properly, the pattern he constructs will be an accurate blueprint of your body. The first try-on will be a basted fitting: the trousers will be half finished (no waistband, zipper and perhaps no pockets at this stage). The coat will be a mere shell of outer fabric covered with white lines of basting thread (sleeves may be loosely attached, making it easier to rip them off and realign them). The emphasis should be on proportion and a balanced torso shape in the coat. Because the shoulders and chest are the most important parts to get right, the emphasis is on them at the beginning (they cannot be easily altered once they are set).
The second fitting will take into account the correct length of sleeves and legs in relation to the stance of the shoulders and drape of the chest. Is the collar sitting close on the neck without pulling? Do the sleeves hang straight down from the shoulder without bunching around the armhole? Is the back flat? Is the front wide enough so that the lapels do not "break" or the skirt pull apart? Trousers must be comfortable even when sitting with legs crossed. Don't just stand ramrod stiff in front of the mirror; walk around, sit down, fill your pockets with all the paraphernalia you normally would. Maybe you shouldn't carry your reading glasses in your chest pocket, but if you do, the pocket should be deep enough to hold them. The tailor must take into consideration your habits; that's what individually made clothing is all about. The suit must fit you, not the other way around. You must insist on getting what you want and need.
The suit may now be completed with buttonholes, cuffs and all the finishing touches. All the while the pattern will be corrected as the adjustments are made. Perhaps there will be just one more fitting so you and the tailor can marvel at how handsome you look. The second time that you buy a custom suit (and each suit thereafter) will be easier because your pattern will have been adjusted, corrected and stored; you can move directly to a final fitting. And, resplendent in your new togs, when someone at the office asks whether you've taken up an exercise program, you can merely smile.
G. Bruce Boyer is the author of Eminently Suitable (1990), 206 pages, W.W. Norton, $19.95.
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