Reader Question: Taking Pictures To The Tailors

Amrit: Simon,  I am new to your blog but have read your experiences with your Hong Kong tailor with great interest. I really like the double-breated suit by E Tautz in a recent post as well and was wondering to what extent it is advisable to show such pictures of suits you like to tailors

tautz-pictureThe short answer, Amrit, is that it is very helpful but should be no substitute for personal research.

A picture is useful because it answers questions that the tailor may forget to ask you or you may forget to tell him. It may also help steer him away from a house style. But if you’re not careful, he may take too many cues from that photo – you have to tell him what you don’t want as well!

Let’s start with an example. The E Tautz suit you like (link) is quite shaped, nipped in at the waist with a jacket slightly on the short side. The trousers are also very short and the sleeves are pretty narrow.

If you go to a tailor and give him a long list of requirements – 4×4 fastening, three-inch drop to the lapel from the shoulder seam, 2.5-inch wide lapel, patch pockets (side and chest), working cuffs, half-lined, one rear (buttoned) pocket on the trousers, slanted side pockets on the trousers, roped shoulder, flat-front trousers, uncuffed – you may feel you’ve covered everything he could possibly want to know. It’s such a long list.

But you’ve forgotten to mention the jacket length. He doesn’t know, forgot to ask (perhaps because he has a standard he normally works to) and now can’t ask you. But he has the photo. So he can check that, get an idea of your aesthetic and go for something close.

Having a photo is also useful to avoid that house style or standard that he might work to. Asian suits, for example, tend to be boxy, big in the waist and wide of trouser. If you don’t specify a width to the trousers, he might cut them pretty wide. And even if you’ve specified a width, he might tend towards the more conventional (his conventions) to be on the safe side. Having an image reinforces your point of view and helps convince him that you know what you want.

Give him this photo and you will not get a suit in a typical Asian cut.

However, check carefully for things in the picture you may not want. I commissioned a Norfolk blazer (an invention, really) a while back from my tailor in Hong Kong, and gave him an image to get an idea of the belt I required (link). Unfortunately, he also copied the front corners of the jacket – making them square rather than rounded. That had to be changed at late notice.

Equally with this suit, I doubt you want your trousers quite that short. They’re not even resting on the shoe; they’re a good inch above. Have you thought about whether you want your breast pocket to be patch as well? It’s not a style I like.

So use a picture, yes. But look at it very carefully and make sure you know what you don’t want from that style. There’s no substitute for personal research and knowledge.

Style Movie: Coco Avant Chanel

coco-avant-chanel

One of the most interesting things about ‘Coco Avant Chanel’ was that for all its triumphant, feminist messages about suffragette-era women, succeeding ‘in a man’s world’, and rejection of conformity (including the institution of marriage), it actually paid peculiar, and not necessarily intentional, homage to the man.

Certainly, the ‘beast’ was duly embarrassed; boorish aristocrats proved to be no match for the cutting wit of little Coco, very well played by Audrey Tatou, who flicked her French fingers facetiously, clucked disapprovingly and smoked incessantly whilst the men surrounding her somehow succumbed to her interesting beauty and evident charm. She practically devoured Balsan, the boozy beast in the castle, and though she was certainly ‘targeted’ by the love interest, Arthur ‘Boy’ Capel, you couldn’t help but conclude it was she who had fired the arrow.

However, the reason the film was made was not because Chanel was simply another story of a determined woman who had battled sexism and prejudice before feminism had been invented, but because she was a fashion designer. The message of the film was valid but I was far more interested in what had possessed this sometime milliner, what had influenced her in achieving not, as some have concluded, merely parity with men but a style of such simplicity and grace that it completely changed the way males and females perceive dress.

The irony of the film is that Chanel inadvertently credits the timelessness and refined simplicity of Edwardian male style. It’s obvious that she isn’t wearing trousers, boaters, shirts and jackets simply because she is rebelling but because they appeal to her. And, of course, though men are blamed by Chanel for imprisoning women in the over-elaborate dresses of the early 20th century, she also admires them for the way they wear their own clothing. She copies them, borrows from them and not only finds inspiration in them but also genuine friendship; it’s very odd that so many have written it up as a battling, feminist tour de force.

To view her adaption of male clothing, pyjamas and rejection of frilly fuss as merely bog-standard, feminist nose-thumbing is to miss the point; Coco Chanel was an aesthete who happened to respect male clothing more than female clothing and it was clear she had not merely made a self-conscious decision to reject male oppression. Some of her comments about corsets and skin-exposure did have resonance of suffragette grievances but largely, her adjustment of female clothing seemed to have a lot more to do with her distaste for overcooked fashions.

Beautifully presented, Anne Fontaine’s film has plenty of examples of majestic menswear; glorious white tie, country tweeds and pre-war pinstripes. As much as it is a toast to one of the most influential personages in fashion, and one of the most famous women of the twentieth century, it is also a nod to Chanel’s famous line; “Fashion fades; only style remains the same.”

A Brief Visit To Anderson & Sheppard

Anderson & Sheppard sign

In the cutting room at Anderson & Sheppard, under the front table on the right, is a cardboard box with swatches of all the cloths the firm has made up for Prince Charles. It’s secured with two rubber bands; because without them it wouldn’t stay shut. In a way, that is one small illustration of the tailors’ heritage (as well as its client satisfaction). All those patterns, weaves and wools; that have been made into suits, trousers, kilts and overcoats.

Taking up rather more than their fair share of room in the box are two pockets. They are patch pockets that were replaced on one of HRH’s jackets. Why both are kept as a record I don’t know, and didn’t ask. But the texture and colours in the tweed is lovely. Unfortunately, head cutter John Hitchcock pointed out to me that an old, multi-coloured tweed had been replaced by a duller version in the bunch – the variegated original just wasn’t made any more. Such a shame, for I swear it had every colour imaginable in there, in greater or lesser quantity.

Speaking of tweed, if you do get a chance to visit Anderson & Sheppard then look out for their house tweeds hanging up on the left, just before the cutting room. In particular, the blanket of various colour patches that the mill sent A&S so it could pick a few to stock. So attractive is the blanket that one customer had a suit made out of just that material, patches and all.

cutting room

John Hitchcock was kind enough to give me a short tour last week, which is how I got to rummage around in Charles’s leftovers. Other points of interest included the silk thread used for sewing the jackets (or coats, to be strict) and how the natural stretch of the silk, combined with the hand stitching, creates natural give in the shoulders and chest. It’s pretty hard to break silk thread; by comparison, normal thread snaps like a twig.

All the suits waiting to be collected or fitted are kept on normal, slim wooden hangers. Of course a hanger with more support for the shoulders is recommended for long-term storage, but it does rather undermine the hyperbolic claims made about wide hangers and collapsing shoulders.

And lastly I never knew what determined the roll of a jacket’s lapel. True three-button lapels sit so stiff and square, whatever their canvassing and no matter how it is attached to the jacket front. Apparently, the key is how close the canvas is to the edge of the cloth. Give it room and keep it loose and the lapel will roll easily to whichever button you choose to fasten.

In the image below, the staff are: John Hitchcock, managing director and senior cutter; Colin Heywood, shop manager and sales consultant; Michael McSkimming, accounts; Karl Mathews, sales consultant; and Leon Powell, under cutter.

experienced team

The Coat Project 2

coat-project-1

My thanks to all of you that either commented here or emailed me about my decision on the polo coat I am having designed at Graham Browne. The response was fairly unanimous: go for double breasted as it best fits the classic style of the coat, and it won’t look too busy because the full pleat and belt will be the other side to the pockets and double breast.

So that’s the final commission. A double-breasted polo coat with raised seams, patch pockets, split sleeve, turn-back cuffs, welted breast pocket and full pleat in the back to be fastened with a one-piece belt.

The belt will be a single, detachable piece that is attached with six buttons sewn onto the coat – three on either side. Although we only need three settings, six buttons are needed to stop any setting being lopsided. (It also gives us half settings if desired at any point.)

coat-project-2

The advantage of a detachable piece of fabric is that it can more easily fold the pleat in on itself, rather than create other folds in the fabric near to the side seams. As can be seen on the picture of an Austrian jacket (being made by Graham Browne for a client), a two-piece design necessarily pulls the side seams first, creating unwanted folds. At the coat’s widest setting, a detachable belt will also keep the pleat open. (With this jacket illustrated the pleat and belt are more decorative, so other folds are less of a concern.)

The size of the pleat will be eight inches at the waist (four inches wide when closed, doubling back on itself, to make a total length of eight and the possibility of opening to eight at the coat’s biggest setting). It will flare out towards the bottom, so that there is still ample room to walk when the pleat is closed. Probably with a maximum width of 16 inches in the pleat at the very bottom.

The length of the coat will be a couple of inches below the knee – or as this is often measured, 13.5 inches off the ground. That is still quite long, and the old standard of 11 or 12 inches from the ground would seem very long to most men.

coat-project-3

To material. The choices were between camel hair and cashmere, J&J Minnis or Harrisons. The four shades of camel hair available from Harrisons are shown above, with the Minnis options shown at the very top of this piece – the shade I went with being uppermost. The weights are fairly consistent, between 18 and 21 ounces. The tan Minnis that I selected was 20 oz.

Neither cashmere or camel hair are meant to wear well, but as this will not be my first-choice coat for business, and as I often cycle to work, it will not get very heavy wear.

The lining is a cream, heavy twill, of the type usually used for military linings and so very tough. I was tempted by cream buttons as well, but in the end went for the mottled brown you see on the cloth below. Next post at the first fitting in a week. Then we can see how the belt works and how best to fit the shoulders over a big jacket.

coat-project-4

Oh, and finally I thought readers might be interested to see the formalwear that Graham Browne is making for the Lord Mayor of London. The front jacket is a new piece that is being made in a lighter-weight fabric for day-to-day wear rather than functions. Behind it is the heavier, formal version.

coat-project-5

Reader Question: Packing For A Trip

Adam: Can you offer some advice on packing for traveling and extended holidays? I will be on a 10-week holiday in western Europe this late summer-fall. I am at a loss as to how many sport coats, shoes etc I should pack. I know that I will be able to do laundry, which helps with some trousers and shirts. Given your obvious propensity for rigor and depth, the type and degree of information I am looking for would be something like: Can you recommend a shoe that is suitable for traveling and walking through museums etc. a lot? Some days will be touristy, while others are less packed. How does one look cool, wear cool shoes and not wear down shoes or kill one’s feet? Trainers/converse just won’t do. (Other questions: how many shoes? Should I bring my polish kit?)

Wow, that’s a lot of questions Adam. Specific advice on what you should take would require more information though – on your taste, formality of dinners or evening events etc. But I can certainly pass on some advice.

First, once you’re away for more than two weeks it doesn’t matter how long you’re away for. The amount of clothes is the same. You just have to look after them better and wash more.

Next, the key to shoes and jackets is to take a range that is flexible and, together, will fit any situation. So, for jackets I would take something like: navy cashmere blazer, checked sports coat (in perhaps a pale grey ground) and a corduroy or Harrington jacket.

The idea is that the blazer would be smart enough for anything, bar the opera; and the corduroy would be rough enough for anything (walk home across a field from a country pub, perhaps). In between these two extremes, they provide variety. And they can be alternated during the day as well – donning the blazer for a nice dinner out, for example.

Three is also a good number for shoes. You need at least two, so they can be alternated every day, and three means they can also be changed in the evening if they’ve had heavy wear.

oxford-lace-ups

Again, you want to cover all your bases. So at one end, perhaps a smart pair of Oxford lace-ups in chocolate calf, at the other a pair of desert boots in biscuit suede, and in between something for variety – monk-straps, perhaps, or slip-ons for easy days at the hotel.

desert-boots

These will cover all eventualities unless you want to go running, hiking, to the beach or to a business meeting. Unless there are any formal evening events, you won’t need black shoes. And the desert boots will be rough and ready enough for that walk back from the pub.

As to your more specific questions, a good pair of well-fitting leather shoes should be the best thing to walk around in all day. Lace-ups support you better than slip-ons or boots. And you probably won’t need your shoe-polish kit. Just brush the shoes down every day after you’ve worn them and take at least one pair of travel shoe trees, to put in after you’ve brushed them.

Make good use of good dry cleaners and cobblers where you are staying, and give all of your clothes some love when you get back home.

Any more specific questions, let me know. And enjoy your trip!