Archives for November 2008

The Final Jacket: So Close

No matter how much time you spend thinking about the instructions to give to your tailor, there will always be something you forget.

I had been thinking about the Norfolk Blazer for months, considering peak lapels, two buttons and additional pockets before I decided on my final design. (See previous posting.) Those months were almost feverish at certain points, as I debated which elements in the jacket would give it exactly the right balance between formal and informal.

But I still forgot to specify the cut around the waist and the finish at the front.

The problem was that I used an image from a style forum to demonstrate to Edward Tam what I meant in terms of a belt that overlapped across the front and fastened with two buttons. While I pointed out that there were several things in the image that I wanted differently, I didn’t specify the two points above. I assumed that in these areas he would follow the designs of previous suit jackets and only make the additions I described.

So when I tried on the final Norfolk Blazer it was rather fuller than I expected around the waist. This was because the design in the picture had a less tapered waist, no doubt more practical to the Norfolk’s normal outdoor pursuits. The belt was the correct length, cinching in the waist to my preferred size.

And the jacket finished with square fronts at the bottom, as in the picture but unlike a suit jacket, which would always be curved. I hadn’t even noticed this about the picture, but now it was pointed out it seemed obvious. The angle here was even mirrored in the squared-off patch pockets.

So my first prototype is still in Hong Kong, having the waist taken in an inch and the jacket fronts rounded off. I’ll include a picture in the next post.

In the meantime, my lesson from this is to always use an item you have had made in the past as the base for any commission. I’ll have jacket number two, but in brown with peak lapels, for example. Or shirt number three in a pale-blue herringbone.

You always need a base item because there will be many items you will forget to specify otherwise. No matter how many lists you make.

The mistake I made was not giving Edward a base – so he used the picture instead. Still, no harm done, just a few frustrated days while the final Norfolk Blazer catches up with me.

Hong Kong: The Fitting

One sure sign that a tailor knows what he is doing is how he reacts to innovation. Granted, many houses have their own particular style and justly stick to what they know. But for smaller tailors with less tradition in a speciality, it is always interesting to see they react to making something a little bit different.

Thankfully, Edward Tam reacted manfully to my Norfolk Blazer and double-breasted waistcoat requests. He was a little unsure on the belt, as he had never made one in wool before, and suggested that a single pleat in the middle of the jacket’s back might work better than two at the side.

But a few specifications on the former allayed his fears (a two-inch width, it turns out, was what I was thinking of) and I was happy to acquiesce to his suggestions on the former – in his experience a classic bi-swing back often remains stubbornly open a lot of the time, no doubt due to the fact that modern man is so often reaching for his computer’s keyboard.

My inspiration for the double-breasted waistcoat was taken from a recent Brioni model, and featured vertical points on both sides of the vest at their extreme corners, so that the line from the buttons went straight down to a point, before angling up again. As a result, the waistcoat has two points exposed when it is done up, with the rear flap of cloth peeking out below the front flap – much like the pointed finish that a single-breasted waistcoat has.

Double-breasted waistcoats nearly always have a clean, horizontal line to them at the front – something confirmed by Edward’s book of classic style illustrations. So he was a little unsure about this modern take, but again thought he could reproduce the look and had an intense conversation with his studio about it (in Cantonese, unfortunately).

This contrasts with Edward’s unswerving insistence that my waistcoat had to be made when I was in Hong Kong, so that it could have at least one fitting. I commented on this a few months ago and it supported something Flusser has written, about how hard it is to tailor a waistcoat, given that it needs to be snug to the body yet retain freedom of movement.

So Edward is not one to accede to a customer’s demands not matter what. He has his principles but he’s willing to give my bizarre creations a go.

The final fitting is this afternoon. I’m almost too excited to write proprely.

Return of the Mac

Although I am most certainly a follower of Irving Berlin and his music, I must take issue with him on the absurdity of his lyrics. In a particular number;

“Let the rain pitter patter,
But it really doesn’t matter
If the skies are grey.
Long as I can be with you,
It’s a lovely day.”

Irrespective of the company I am keeping, if it is pouring down with rain relentlessly, there is every possibility that I will be visibly, and sorely, vexed if I am not properly equipped. I am a romantic sort but in my opinion, romance has its place; the quiet, warm candlelight of a corner table, for example. Standing out in the rain without proper attire and accessories deadens any beatific feeling I might have had for the world. To me it really does matter that it pitter patters; on days when there is every chance of being absolutely drenched, I always turn to my long rain trench coat and a large umbrella. I haven’t given in to the practice of wearing galoshes as of yet but as my expenditure on shoes rises, surely, I will be seriously considering the possibility.

There is a curious defiance against rainwear and accessories in some quarters. ‘It’s only a bit of water for crying out loud! You don’t think the same thing when you step in the shower.’ Of course not because I know, as do all those who use showers, that when I step from the cubicle, sloshing wet, I will reach for a warm and dry towel which will prevent me from developing hypothermia. When you waltz through the cold and windy streets of London, laughing at those fidgeting and fussing with the paraphernalia of rain-avoidance, you little realise the danger you place yourself in. Whenever I have been stuck without an umbrella, proper coat and means of transportation I have invariably developed a long lasting cold – the unpleasantness will make you wish you had not forced your poor body into a state of such susceptibility.

Raincoats are often divided into two categories – those that are completely waterproof and those that are merely ‘shower proof.’ Waterproof clothing is not easy to find and does not often appear on the shelves of elegant gentleman’s outfitters. The thinking being that a gentleman of proper means is hardly likely to require the same material as a North Sea fisherman when caught in a Regent Street storm; for both aesthetic and practical reasons. However Mackintosh, the British brand that gave the ‘mac’ its name, claim a patent for rubberised waterproof cloth that goes back to 1823. Despite the early failures of the firm, the technique was perfected and Mackintosh today continue to provide excellent, waterproof rainwear for gentlemen.

They might scoff at Burberry, a brand who can only trace their rainwear heritage to 1880, the year they invented gabardine, but Burberry is better credited with providing raincoats of iconic design; particularly the oft-copied trench coat, worn by officers in the soily tunnels of Northern France during the First World War. The trench became popular and was featured prominently in deliciously designed Hollywood Oscar horses like ‘Casablanca’ with Humphrey Bogart and ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ with Audrey Hepburn, worn appropriately in moments where the vulnerability of humanity was most exposed.

Shower proof clothing is easier to find, particularly on the high street; however, I was particularly nonplussed by the wet patches that appeared after a day out in the rain on the lining of a ‘raincoat’ bought from a high street store. Some rainwear will keep the water off and away from clothing underneath if only it is applied lightly. Some cheaper, fashion rainwear is best described as ‘rain resistant’; in such a case, always take an umbrella in addition. The rich putty coloured double breasted raincoat available at Burberry is certainly the product standard, but it’s rather common place and, in my opinion, when entirely wet looks rather like sodden cardboard. Navy blues and blacks are far less common, but the really dandy version is surely the creamy white – perfect for brightening the most frightening of storms.

Inventing the Norfolk Blazer

One of the most enjoyable parts of having bespoke clothes made is coming up with your own creations. Designing unique jackets and suits not only guarantees that you will never meet yourself coming the other way; it also allows you to express yourself in every aspect of their construction.

For my latest commission from my Hong Kong tailor, Edward Tam, I have designed a casual blazer with a twist. A three-button jacket in navy cashmere, it will feature patch pockets, a bi-swing back and a removable belt that buttons across the waist. The belt will overlap, using two buttons to fasten, and hang on two loops exactly half way around the waist – that way it will be able to fold over and button across the back.

It will also be half-lined. Although an autumn/winter jacket in the weight of the wool, the lack of lining across the back will make it cooler and more comfortable in the office – hopefully allowing me to wear it at my desk all day while working at a computer. (The bi-swing back will also help in this manner, giving quite a new use to a feature that originally helped you train your gun on an airborne duck.)

It is essentially a merger of a traditional blazer and a Norfolk hunting jacket. It will have a deeper, more blazer-like neckline than the original Norfolk, but will still have three buttons and feature a hidden button under the lapel, which fits into the working buttonhole on the other side. This way the jacket will be able to button all the way up against the cold, as the original Norfolks were designed to do.

Without bellows on any of the pockets, it will lack much of the bulk of a Norfolk jacket, yet it will retain that casual feel through the belt and the fact that the pockets are patched rather than sewn inside.

My hope is that the resulting creation will be smart enough for me to wear to less-formal meetings (probably with the belt removed, an open-necked shirt and cotton trousers of some description) and yet casual enough for the weekend (with the belt, perhaps the collar turned up and a polo shirt).

My fitting for the jacket will be tomorrow afternoon and the final product should be ready at the end of the week. Expect further reports on the success (or failure) of this creative endeavour.

Review: Indochino Suits

Given that fit is more important than anything in men’s style (at least according to me), an online service that can provide you with bespoke clothes – even made to measure – has to be a good idea.

Not everyone has a high-quality tailor around the corner, and so access to bespoke is limited. Perhaps more importantly, the lack of tailors at the lower end of the price scale has moved bespoke out of the range of most men.

Indochino aims to correct both of these problems, by providing bespoke tailoring at reasonable prices over the internet. The suits range from around $250 to $400, which is cheaper than you can get made to measure pretty much anywhere, and shipping is free. Suits are shipped within two weeks and can be altered for $25.

I was invited by Indochino to try out its service and agreed to give it a go. The first thing I noticed was that it offers three different ways to get your measurements. You can measure yourself with a tape measure, measure a suit that fits you well or take instructions to a tailor and ask him to measure you.

This is an improvement on the offerings of most online suit or shirt stores, many of which invite you just to measure yourself – I’ve tried that and it can be tricky. So I went for the second option, to see if this was a viable alternative that might work online. It certainly makes more sense, and seems to offer less room for error.

There are quite professional videos demonstrating how to take the measurements, and the number asked for is impressive. However, the instructions are not necessarily clear. You are asked to lay your jacket flat. But does that mean with the side seams at the edges? Or with the jacket buttoned? Or should their be no overlap of the front panels?

These little points make a big difference – buttoning the jacket reduces your waist measurement by at least an inch, and so it is unlikely to fit. After watching the video several times, and trying to make out how the tailor had his jacket laid, I decided the jacket was buttoned.

Which was the right decision, for when the jacket arrived the waist fit perfectly, as did the arms and the waist of the trousers.

Unfortunately, that was all. The jacket was too small across the chest and the shoulders, and the collar stood away from my neck by about an inch. The trousers were also too short, almost comically so, not even touching my shoes.

Now the length of trousers is easy to alter – I can do that myself. But as I have written in previous posts, the neck is the hardest thing to change and the shoulders the second hardest. It will be expensive to correct and take time.

I have to say I wasn’t that impressed with the quality of the material either, despite it being the most expensive in the range ($400). There were signs of quality elsewhere – the jacket was canvassed, not fused. And it came with a free tie, tie bar and cufflinks.

But I’m afraid it was a disappointment. A service that sells itself on a great fit needs to get that right and it was wrong in many ways. Perhaps I should have gone for the tailor-measured option, for this route obviously didn’t work for me.