Savile Row style

26 Dec
"He's a great tailor with a lousy sense of direction."  - Hawkeye Pierce, MASH

“Trapper” John, from the 1970s television show, M*A*S*H, unveils his new pinstripe suit. “How do you like it?” he asks his colleague, “Hawkeye” Pierce.

“To make yourself instantly insignificant,” I told a client recently, “Don’t hem your sleeves and wear your pants too long.”

"He's a great tailor with a lousy sense of direction." -Hawkeye Pierce, M*A*S*H*

“He’s a great tailor with a lousy sense of direction!”

What I was referring to is of course, tailoring. Tailored clothing is fitted to an individual’s body while adhering to a set of sartorial rules that casts a proper, gentlemanly, and quite frankly, dashing light on the wearer. A man who pays attention to the fit of his clothes is of an esoteric breed, and everyone can sense it.

One of the world’s authorities on men’s clothing is G. Bruce Boyer, former fashion editor of Town & Country, GQ, and Esquire, who explains that “Individuality, propriety and comfort can be nicely brought together in a good-fitting, well-made suit.”

In his article, The History of Tailoring: An Overview, Boyer says “The English tailor was trained to use woolen cloth, and over years of experimentation and practice he developed techniques for “molding” the cloth close to the body without exactly duplicating the true form of the wearer. In short, the tailor could now actually develop a new aesthetic of dress: he could mimic the real body, while at the same time “improving” and idealizing it!… Men came “gentlemen”… [favouring] discretion, simplicity, and the perfection of cut… the Modern had finally arrived! And the Modern was the tailor’s art.”

“In this age of the shoddy and the quick, the vulgar and the mass-consumed,”  he continues, “tailors can still be counted on to champion uniqueness and quality. It is the hallmark of their tradition.”

This tailoring tradition has been centred in London’s Savile Row in the Mayfair district, near Regent Street and Piccadilly Circus, for over 200 years. The Row was built in the 1730s and until the early 1800s, housed writers, politicians, and military planners until tailors moved into the street to make it the mainstay of what would become the home of the best tailors in the world. 

At its peak, Savile Row boasted forty bespoke tailors – cutters and stitchers who spent up to fifty hours and four fittings on one exquisite suit, but by the late 1960s, interest began to wane and through the 70s and 80s, the number of Savile Row tailors dwindled down to 19. Economies and fashions changed, but one thing that did not was the splendid work that only a Savile Row tailor can deliver.

One of the celebrated tailors of  Savile Row’s “modern” era was Douglas Hayward, the man who “outfitted the Swinging Sixties” and suited up major actors of the period: Steve McQueen, Peter Sellers, and Roger Moore, including the Bond suits of the 1980s. Hayward became friends with his clients, apparently refusing to build suits for people he didn’t get on with.

Another of Hayward’s clients, Michael Caine, explains the simple elegance and ease of wear of his Doug Hayward garments: “It was brilliant tailoring without drawing any attention to itself whatsoever. You didn’t care that anyone didn’t notice it, you knew. You see, it wasn’t for anyone else, it was for you.”

Caine still frequents the shop, though Hayward himself passed away in 2008. Cutters Ritchie Charlton and Campbell Carey, formerly of Kilgour, another Savile Row tailor shop, maintain the shop today and cut their suits in Douglas Hayward style that Carey describes as “typically a West End London-looking jacket, a soft but natural-looking shoulder line, [the construction] nothing too robust.” A softer canvas is used for a Hayward suit, giving the suit more of a relaxed look, and “less of a coat of armour”.

This is the first of a three-part series on Savile Row, its style, its influence, and its legacy. For further reading, please see the links below.

Cut from a different cloth

The real Alfie: The man who was the model for cinema’s most famous lethario

The suits of James Bond

*Thanks to Pete Dangerfield for his stills from “Iron Guts Kelly”, M*A*S*H episode 4, season 3. M*A*S*H fans, please visit his website.

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