Tag Archives: tailoring

Breathe new life into your wardrobe with tailoring

25 Jul

Wearing clothes that don’t fit well can have a psychological affect on all of us. When we wear well-fit clothes, we tend to feel more confident and able, and we may even stand taller. Ill-fitting clothes look and feel sloppy, and this can infect our self-esteem and our performance.Clothing fit is one of the most important aspects of one’s wardrobe. However, over time, fabric can lose it’s elastic recovery and hang slack; stitching at the seams can also stretch out with wear, and sometimes our bodies may have changed shape, which can also affect the way that clothing hangs (or stretches) on us.

Sometimes clothing cuts and styles have simply gone past their prime and should be retired (i.e. 3-button suits from the 1990s-2000s), but often, the classic business garments you have invested in may simply need a refresh, and this can be accomplished through tailoring.

I just worked with a client who had some existing sports jackets and a pair of trousers that we chose together a couple of years ago. We decided that instead of buying everything new again, we should get each garment tailored to smarten up each piece and bring them up-to-date. When we picked up the altered garments and the client was delighted – updated staple garments that looked – and felt – like new, and for a fraction of the cost.

Your tailor can be your wardrobe’s best friend. Investing in tailoring can make your clothing look like a million bucks because it fits your body (as opposed to a hanger), and the proportion points are correct. This can have a strong impact on your wardrobe, your image, and how you feel, not to mention how other people perceive you and your abilities in the business world.

(Picture: Dressed_for_summer.jpgEd Yourdon derivative work: Themightyquill (talk– Dressed_for_summer.jpg)

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.

Surgeon’s cuffs

3 May

Look familiar? Surgeon cuffs originated in the military. Here, a Foot Private’s tunic, 1865. Fort York, Heritage Toronto.

A sign of a good dresser is the wearer’s attention to detail. When a man cares enough to be mindful of the finer details of dressing, he will insist on  surgeon’s cuffs on his suit jackets.

On suits and jackets, there are usually two to four buttons at the lower edge of each sleeve. Off-the-rack jackets have non-functioning buttons decorating the outside of each sleeve, a practice that originated in the military when buttons, or pips, worn at the front of the uniform sleeve indicated rank.

Military pips were worn with regimental lace (braid) stitched and pressed into a faux buttonhole (this page shows how to make your own) has dubious beginnings, but we do know that the cuff decoration began as a deterrent to dirtying one’s tunic. One source claims the sleeve buttons “began as an effort by Lord Nelson to keep young midshipmen and cabin boys from wiping their noses on their sleeves.”

Functioning buttons on the other hand, buttons used as closures with real buttonholes are known as “surgeon’s cuffs”. Nowadays, surgeon’s cuffs are worn for style, but when they were first developed, practicality was at top of mind. The Economist explains the history of the surgeon’s cuff:

Savile Row was inhabited largely by surgeons before the tailors moved in during the 19th century, and their influence can be seen in the “surgeon’s cuff”. On the most expensive suits the cuff buttons, which mirror the pips of military rank, can be undone, allowing the sleeve to be rolled back. This let surgeons attend patients spouting blood without removing their coats—an important distinction that set them apart from shirt-sleeved tradesmen of the lower orders.

In this way, surgeon’s cuffs become an indication of social rank (200 years ago, doctors were “upper class”) and to this day are typically found on higher end, tailored garments.

Holland Esquire jacket with contrast piping and covered buttons.

Philip Zappacosta at Nanni Couture in Toronto says, “surgeon’s cuffs are an indication to others of your refined taste in clothing.”

Philip suggests to leave the bottom 1-2 buttons unbuttoned to showcase the detail on a jacket, and other Italian clothiers I deal with also insist on having at least one button open.

For a more casual look, Philip says, “the jacket cuff can be rolled up slightly to show off more shirt cuff, cuff links, watches, or jewellery.” Revealing the lining, especially if it’s bright and interesting, will also be shown when the cuff is turned back.

Nanni carries beautiful and refined tailored goods like Corneliani, an Italian lifestyle brand, and  Holland Esquire, a smaller and unique label designed by Nick Holland, a major UK tailor, who weaves elements of old world tailoring in his modern line. Both lines feature surgeon cuffs on their jackets.

Sporting a surgeon cuff is always fantastic, but remember, once the surgeon cuffs are created on a jacket, the sleeve length should not be altered.  Unless you have the arm length for a perfect off-the-rack fit, beware of buying finished surgeon’s cuffs – changing the sleeve length will throw off the proportion of the buttoned cuffs and it will just look silly. Good tailors will not sew in the buttons and buttonholes until the sleeve length is properly fitted to the client – this is optimal and strongly suggested if you want to do it right.