Suits – The Three Main Fittings

Recently, I was contacted by a potential customer informing me he wanted to meet for a fitting at Savile Row, next Tuesday. This was news to me as I had never met the man, let alone run a tape around him. There was nothing to fit! However he‘s not alone in his naivety. There’s a lot of confusion out there about the stages involved in acquiring a bespoke suit. So I’ll try to clarify things.

Ideally your new tailor should be recommended to you . But if not, you’ve probably been persuaded by good PR in the magazines. Alternatively, you may just be making a leap of faith. Which ever route you’ve taken, the process should go something like this:

First off, make sure you let your cutter know what the suit is to be used for. Sounds obvious, but when a huge array of cloths are presented for the first time, it’s tempting to go wild.

(The 3 fittings you get between getting measured and getting a finished suit: 1. The “Skeleton baste”- notice canvas showing 2. The “Forward”, and 3. the “Finish bar finish”. Click on the image to enlarge.)

So you order that 20oz, double-breasted black chalk stripe. Like De Niro wore in the Goodfellas. Great, and why not, you’ve always wanted a suit like that….

Sadly, the suit was supposed to be for your Mother-in-Law’s second wedding…. Oh, and its on the beach in Tahiti.

Sounds stupid, but it happens. So think about it.

After you’ve made a wise decision on cloth, the measurements and style details will be taken. A bespoke savile Row suit usually takes around four to eight weeks for delivery. Keep that in mind. If you want the suit for a special date, let the cutter know. But give him a date a week earlier. Unless youre middle name is Methusalah don’t tell the cutter to take his time. Or else it’s STRAIGHT to the bottom of the cutting pile for you.

Then the process should go something like this.

1. After a couple of weeks you will get a first fitting, or “skeleton baste”. This fitting is used by about 99% of the world’s tailors. This basically means that the basic parts of the suit are sewn together. Simply using a simple, white cotton “basting thread”. Using only the minimal interior construction, canvas and shoulder pads/wadding etc.

Although first fittings are quite basic, they are popular, as they allow for more and larger inlays (seams) to be used.

This enables the cutter to check the basic fit of your pattern, and also allows more chances for later alteration, should he need to correct any major errors in the pattern.

Getting to this point can be done with the minimum of expense.

As I said, this stage is used by most tailors, especially for new customers. With older customers this stage can usually be skipped as the cutting pattern would have already been perfected.

Anderson & Sheppard , myself and a few other A&S expats miss out this stage altogether. We go straight to a forward (second) fitting.

Why? As my former mentor at A&S, Mr. Hallbery told me, “If you need the inlays, you don’t know what you’re doing”.

It sounds a little harsh, but as I found out, as usual, he was right. It sharpens your mind and blades when you’ve no room for mistakes. Also, you and the customer get a better idea of feel and fit of a suit from the beginning.

I guess it’s a case of what you’re used to. However, A&S and I still have a first fitting for dress/morning coats and any new customers who have a difficult figure. The other benefit of a skeleton baste is that you can have a fitting within a few hours, when time is a problem.

After the first fitting, alterations are made to your suit and pattern. And any necessary re-cutting.

2. Then we have the “forward” (the second fitting).

Your suit will now have all the major construction, including pockets and facings etc. The collar will not be fitted and the sleeves will be the at the same stage as the skeleton baste. Again, this will give you a truer picture of how your suit will look. Again, any alterations needed are made to the suit and pattern.

The suit is then usually completely finished after this stage, minus a few tweaks.

3. Sometimes we have an extra third fitting. This is called “finish bar finish” (fin bar fin). At this stage the suit will be completely finished apart from buttonholes and hand felling(sewing) etc.

This is used if time is limited or perhaps if the cutter is unable to see the customer for a final fitting. This may happen when the suit is to be shipped ahead to the customer. Very common for Savile Row tailors.

When final adjustments are made, you should both be delighted. You can now go off and enjoy the pleasures of bespoke. But remember, cloth is almost fluid. And none of us can tell how it’s going to react after its been worn a few times. Your cutter should always ask to see you again in a few months. Then he can make sure your new suit has settled properly. And most importantly, you are delighted with the result.

Sadly, there are people who are not entirely satisfied. And instead of taking the suit back, which in most cases all problems can easily be rectified they do the worst thing, and just complain to everyone else.

Remember tailoring is very personal. Try to give your cutter every chance to get to know exactly what you want.

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About Thomas Mahon

Thomas Mahon is one of the most experienced tailors on Savile Row with a list of clients including royalty, celebrities and business icons. Tom has almost thirty years experience of hand tailoring in Savile Row including five years at Savile Row’s most famous and respected tailor, Anderson & Sheppard. His clients experience the traditions and expertise of the finest bespoke tailoring available today using a soft and unstructured style typical of Anderson & Sheppard. His workshop is based at Warwick Hall in Cumbria and also meets clients at his office in London, Tom also makes regular trips to visit his growing international client base in Europe, the USA and further afield. When not creating beautiful bespoke suits, travelling to see clients or sharing his sartorial advice with his internet followers, Tom enjoys teaching sailing and is the boats officer for the Sea Cadet Corps near his Cumbria home. For the full story visit
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