Silk Please

I thought I’d try to show you a dinner suit that we’ve just made. The reason is that everyone who’s looking for a dinner suit asks me what style I prefer. I can describe it easy enough but people always want a picture. So before I put this in the box I took a couple of snaps.

silk1Here at English Cut we try to give you the most honest insight as possible about about the world of bespoke Savile Row tailoring. Therefore we write the in’s and out’s of this craft as it is. When we take photographs we don’t stage them or pay a professional photographer to tale beautiful photographs of our clothes. This can sometimes be a problem because with my limited resources and time a picture of a dinner suit never really shows up any more than a black silhouette.

Alas, if you can forgive my slightly slanted pics you can see that my favourite style is a one button peak lapel with straight jetted pockets (God knows why but some people make them with flaps:() This is matched with a dress waistcoat with rolls or in other words a type of shawl collar. It’s actually quite silly that I complain that it’s hard to capture the details of a dinner suit on film because that is exactly what I try to create with such a garment. It’s not about details, in fact they should be as unobtrusive as possible. It is about the silhouette and a clean dark finish. I always try to squeeze as much shape as possible out of a dinner suit. I try to discourage use of pockets all together. As they say “If you’ve got it, flaunt it.”

silk2The picture above is also quite interesting because if you look closely the you can see that the silk facings are slightly lifted off the body. This because we use pure silk facings which you shape and steam very lightly. As they’re worn they settle and fall into the coat with a beautiful look. Again, another example of how you need to wear and let settle down any hand made Savile Row suit. The silk we use would retail (if our suppliers would sell you it) for about £110-20 per meter. Now there are some naughty people that don’t use silk but instead something that looks and dare I say it feels almost identical. The alternative has many attractions in that you can tailor it very easily and it’s very easy to press. Also it retails for about £20.00 per meter which makes it a very attractive alternative. Its proper name is polyester bonded facing. Hmmm,,, it looks as good and a lot easier to look after but do you really want polyester as part of your wardrobe?

Key People in a Tailoring Business

These are the key people in a tailoring business:

Sales People
They are normally not directly involved with the suit’s making, but usually have a first class knowledge of cloths and trimmings, and also are very aware of the business, the styles and details. This, of course, helps the customer pick the correct styles and fabrics for the right occasions. In some businesses with a CMT service (Cut, Make & Trim), a salesman will take basic measurements which are then sent to a factory for manufacture. This is not true “bespoke”, but depending on the sales person’s experience, this can produce a relatively good fitting suit for the money.

The Cutter
That’s me. OK, at English Cut I’m the salesman as well, which is the norm for a smaller outfit. As I’m sure you’re aware I’m more the architect of the suit. I take the measurements, I draft the pattern, I cut the cloth, then I send it off to the tailors for the sewing.

The Trimmer
These are the people who take the cut pieces of fabric and match them up with the canvas, linings and silk etc, so the suit can actually be made. And yes, that’s my job too. Again, it’s usually a full-time job only in the larger houses.

The Tailor
These are the people who actually sew your suit together. If I am the architect, then these are the actual builders. They usually specialize: making coats, trousers or waistcoats, and some only make dressware. But like me with other roles, tailors adapt their skills. Many of the tailors will turn their hand to making anything- except for trousers, which are usually left to the specialist trouser makers.

These are usually ladies who have perfected the art of hand buttonholes, felling the linings and all the hand-sewing needed to finish a coat and trousers. The nickname for them in the trade is “Kippers”. This is not because they suffer from the smell of smoked fish, but that they usually worked in pairs. This is so they could more easily fend off the flirtatious advances of cutters. We cutters do have a rather undeserved reputation for that, I might add.

Pat Gormley, a well-known & respected tailor

Pat Gormley, a well-known & respected tailor

Tailors and cutters always argue in the pub over who’s  most important, but we both know that we’re as dependent on each other as “needle and thread”. It’s true the cutter will usually get all the praise for a beautiful job, but he gets to feel the full wrath if it goes wrong- something the tailors are normally spared. To decide which suits you best you’ve got to decide which you prefer: the highs and lows of a cutter’s life, or the tailor’s more constant, steady flow of making beautiful clothes.

Ladies are often asking me what opportunities there are for them in the business. Quite simply, they can and do the same as men, often a lot better. However the only real restriction which I’ve seen is that I’ve never known any ladies do the actual measuring of customers.

They’ll often get the measurements from a colleague, then go cut a suit as well as anyone, hidden in the back of the shop. But sadly many of the customers don’t feel comfortable having the 4” brass end of a tape measure thrust up between their legs by a lady.

Tailoring is just a lot more personal than most industries, with the customer and the product always far more important than any money to be made.

As far as mastering cutting and tailoring, there’s no easy answer. Even if you’re brilliant, you’ve got to be humble and patient for a good few years – a quality that’s getting rarer than hen’s teeth these days.

However if you do have the right stuff for it, you’ll never starve, and you’ll never dread going to work in the morning. Can’t say fairer than that.

To read the unabridged version of this article, click here.

Image reproduced from

Sewing on a Button using a Matchstick

All you need to sew on a button: needle, thread, thimble… and half a matchstick!button1

Even if you pay £2000 for a suit, the sad fact is that buttons do fall off, even the ones sewn on by hand by the best Savile Row tailors.

Now I don’t think for a moment that the ladies and gentlemen who read English Cut are incapable of sewing a button on. But as with everything in life, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it.

Sewing a button on correctly is particularly important with the key button on a coat, the middle waist-fastening button (With Savile Row you only button the middle button; never the top or the bottom).

The secret here is to sew the button on with enough “shank” (the amount of space allowed by the thread, between the button and the coat). Ideally you want a quarter-inch shank. Anything more makes the button droopy, anything less can make the front of your suit look too tight, even downright awful.

Yes, even something as minor as this can create a serious problem.

Obviously the Savile Row tailors will have sewn on thousands of buttons in their time, so getting the right amount of shank is easy for them. But what if you’re a novice?

Here’s a great tip:

Get yourself a standard wooden match, and break it in half. Place it over the top of the button, then thread the button around it, as seen in the following picture.

button2Then once the button is good and sewn, pull the match away… the slack created by where the match used to be will give the thread that extra length needed to get the correct shank. Then finish the job by wrapping the remainder of the thread around the shank, and sewing through. Just like you would normally.


Sewn-on button with quarter-inch shank. Voila!

It’s a simple trick, but it works every time.

Here’s another great tip:

Ideally, you should run the thread through a piece of beeswax before sewing, or use prewaxed thread. First, this waterproofs the thread. Secondly, beeswax acts as a lubricant, allowing the thread to be sewn in more gently. Both help to prolong the the length of time the button will stay on.

What is Bespoke?


A lot of people use the terms “bespoke” and “made-to-measure” interchangeably. They are mistaken.

‘Bespoke’ is actually a term which dates from the 17th century, when tailors held the full lengths of cloth in their premises.

When a customer chose a length of material, it was said to have “been spoken for”. Hence a tailor who makes your clothes individually, to your specific personal requirements, is called “bespoke”. This is unlike “made-to-measure”, which simply uses a basic, pre-existing template pattern, which is then adjusted to roughly your individual measurements.

The first thing I’ll do is discuss with you what type of suit you are looking for, and its uses. Then a cloth is chosen from the full range available today, and also which type of style and fit would be most suitable for you.

Clothes made by me have all the hallmarks you would expect from true bespoke tailoring:

More than 20 measurements and figuration details are taken from the customer. Then a personal pattern will be hand-drafted and cut from scratch- not the basic, adjusted template pattern, as used by so many other tailors these days.

Using your pattern, the cloth is then cut and trimmed, along with the finest linings and silks available. A single tailor is then given the parts of the garment to sew together, from the earliest fitting stages, to the final, complete suit. Each suit is completely hand-made, even down to the button holes.

How to Sew a Flower Loop

It’s not really a life changing thing but a question for you. What does your average ready made suit never have but all bespoke suits do? Well, here’s a clue. It costs nothing and takes five minutes to do and you don’t need thirty years of Savile Row tailoring experience to achieve it?

Of course you all know. It’s the simple flower loop. Before you ask, those lucky enough to be wearing bespoke just turn over your left lapel and you’ll see a small line of sewing creating a small fine loop. Just big enough to fit and hold the stem of the flower that you put in your lapel button hole every day. Well, perhaps not every day but certainly when your the best man or something similar.

If however you’re not wearing a bespoke your ready made will simply have a lapel hole, if you’re lucky. If you do have one sometimes they’re not even cut so it’s impossible to put a flower through them.

You’d be surprised how pleasant it is not to faff about with safety pins or whatever when fitting a flower to your lapel. Now, for the full test of technology. Using my iPhone I’ve done this little movie to watch on on your computer.  Just click the picture below and you’ll see Paul show you how it’s done.

I’ll do the commentary and then you can rush to your wardrobe and kit out all your ready made jackets with a little bit of bespoke Savile Row tailoring. Even more rewarding is that you can do it yourself.

For what you cant see on the film is that you need a double threaded (preferably silk) thread, thimble and a keen eye.

Of course I must point out that we don’t sew in such a light thread. This was of course so you had a chance to see what Paul’s actually doing. Also, we don’t always do this on all our suits. Quite simply because although the sewing is very fine it can show through on some very lightweights when pressed. A little point but at this level all these details matter.

Video reproduced from YouTube / englishcut

How to Pick a Bespoke Tailor


These are the four points that are important to me when picking a bespoke tailor:

Point 1

If you’re told it’s “bespoke”, make sure it is. Ask if he is the actual cutter.

Will he cut you a personal pattern? Any company or individual should have a pile of individual patterns adorned with names of his clients.  Be very wary here,  there are some good CMT houses (cut, make & trim) who merely receive your details and then effectively make you a ready-to-wear suit- using a standard template, not an individual pattern- that’s been slightly adjusted.

Yes, it’ll be a great suit, but it’s not “bespoke”. Remember, a BMW 640’s a great coupe, but it’ll never be a hand-built Aston Martin.

With a proper bespoke tailor, he’ll make you a set of patterns which will belong to you and nobody else but you. And he’ll hold on to them for next time, for years. Decades.

Cutting is an art. We’re like painters, novelists or film directors. Some you like, some you don’t, it doesn’t necessarily mean good or bad. Our job is to fit and flatter your body, and just as importantly, your mind.

Although I’ll have my style of cut, you’ve got to feel your own individuality being expressed, or it simply won’t work. If you already find this with your current cutter, for goodness sake, hold on to him for dear life, don’t come to me.

Point 2

But the cutter is only part of the equation. Obviously the best materials & trimmings (linings, buttons,etc) have to used. At this point we involve this next rare (& getting rarer) breed, the tailor, who actually sews the garments by hand.

Although they’re very few and far between, you may find an old tailor who cuts & makes all his garments, but you’d be lucky, it’s just not commercially viable any more.

So now we’ve more to consider. I have various tailors who work for me, ranging from 35 to 68 yrs old. As you’d expect, they contribute hugely to the outcome of a garment. They’re individuals, they express themselves in their work.

Some make a slightly firmer coat, with more stitches per inch and a little less fullness, thus creating a slightly sharper image. Another might add lots of fullness, with easier stitching, to produce a more relaxed, draped style.

Again, the cutter has to decide who’s best for you, and as importantly, keep it that way. In some of the bigger houses your suit can get handed out to different tailors every time you order, and believe me you’ll notice.

Point 3

Make sure it’s hand-made. Yes, I know we use sewing machines for parts of the garment, but that should be where it ends.

Make sure your coat has a “floating” canvas, this you should be able to feel, floating between the facing & forepart. If you can’t feel it, ask to be shown it at the fitting. A hand canvassed coat must be expected at this level. I point this out, as the far-inferior alternative is a “fused” canvas, which effectively glues the innards of your coat together.

The fused canvas looks impressive when it’s new, but it’ll subtract years off the gament’s life in the long run.

Oh, and wait until you’ve had a few trips to the dry cleaners, or a bit of singing in the rain, and it becomes unstuck, yuk.

Check out for the obvious- hand-sewn buttonholes, hand-sewn edges, and make sure the buttons are made of animal horn, not plastic.

Point 4

Don’t be convinced by the narcotic effect of labels, they mean nothing. Have your eyes and senses tuned. Don’t trust the glossy magazines for your info, they are writers, not cutters. Their world is about PR, not about the actual stitching.

No journalist ever had to spend seven years as a proper tailor’s apprentice. Their agendae are different from yours.

All business is personal. Especially in tailoring.

Mr. Cameron – a Story

Last Monday evening after work I was lucky enough to enjoy a couple of pints in one of the local pubs near Savile Row. I was in very good company; I was with Alan Pitt of Anderson & Sheppard (Mr Pitt made this coat, among others), and Alan Cooper of Welsh & Jeffries.

Though I’ve known Mr Cooper for a long time, I only found out yesterday that he also worked for A&S in the early ‘Sixties. Typical of Savile Row and its nomadic tailors.

(Mr. Sheppard’s shears lying on top of one my hand-drafted trouser patterns.)

Back then, the head cutter at Anderson & Sheppard was an infamous tyrant named Mr. Cameron.

No one would doubt Mr. Cameron’s abilities as a craftsman- utterly top notch and world class. But let’s just say his hot temper was as memorable as his red hair.

My teacher and former A&S head cutter, Mr Hallbery kept me on my toes, but even he would shudder when he spoke of what Mr. Cameron would do if he ever spotted a finished suit, waiting for collection by some important customer, that he wasn’t happy with.

After a close inspection of the cut of the lapel and drape of the shoulder, Mr. Cameron would explode and demand to see the young cutter responsible.

When the trembling wreck was summoned for his scalding (which I’m sure felt more like an execution), Mr. Cameron would show his utter disgust by taking his shears and cutting the offending coat horizontally in half.

It was of no consequence of who or what the garment was for. If it wasn’t right, then no way would it be seeing the light of day. Pretty terrifying. The only revenge I ever heard the cutters and apprentices ever exacting was to put itching powder in his overcoat pockets. That’ll teach the great Mr. Cameron. Indeed.

Two nights ago at the pub, after a long inhalation of his cigarette and a good chug of his India Pale Ale, Mr Cooper recalled how he he was witness to one of Mr. Cameron’s most famous tirades.

Whilst Mr. Cameron was fitting a illustrious, high-ranking member of English Society, young Mr. Cooper was then Mr. Cameron’s striker (undercutter), standing silently with pins and chalk in the corner of the fitting room, as Mr. Cameron masterfully fitted the gentleman in question.

The unfortunate customer made the mistake of inviting his wife into the proceedings. Officially that’s not a problem in Anderson’s, as long as the wife stands quietly in the corner in silence like the apprentice cutter, clutching her handbag instead of pins.

Sadly, this is where the good lady made a near fatal mistake, by daring to utter a minor detail with regard to the fit of her husband’s coat.

Within a split second Mr. Cameron’s tape was lassoo’d around her neck with more skill than any western wrangler, the chalk thrust into her hand, followed with the statement, “You seem to know what you’re doing, Madam. The job is yours.”

And with a swoosh of the curtain he was gone, like a Savile Row Batman.

My friend, the young Mr. Cooper, was greeted with an uncomfortable stunned silence in the fitting room, as he squeezed ever tighter on his chalk.

After a request of forgiveness from The Good Sir, Mr. Cooper crept out to find Mr. Cameron for an indication of what to do next. On finding his master, he asked on what he should tell his stunned customer?

Mr. Cameron simply replied… “Get rid of the wife.”

Thanks, Alan, for that great story. Yes, it was worth every last drop of beer I had to buy you, in order to get you to tell it.

What You Need to Press a Suit

Whenever we complete a new suit or have an older garment returned for alteration I always try to inspect and press everything myself. I know that’s not very practical but we admitted we’d never win any prizes for being the fastest tailors in town years ago;)

That said people are always asking me about dry cleaning and pressing etc. Most cleaners these days are pretty competent at the cleaning but their pressing often lets them down.  Under normal circumstances if you don’t wear your favourite suit every day and always remember to brush it down and hang it up properly you’ll be fine. However, a nice crisp crease in the trousers and lovely soft rolling foreparts makes all the difference. As I said, dry cleaners usually clean very well but often they’ll make a garment look flat and square with hard lapels crushed under pressing machines.

So the point I’m getting at is it’s better to do your final pressing at home. It’s pretty easy and with a little practice you’ll do a job to be very proud of. As with almost skilled operations you need tools. Thankfully not expensive or exotic ones but essential all the same. First of all forget about “ironing boards” used by most people without valets for their laundry. You’ll never successfully press a suit on one of these things. Also please note the terminology. If you’re ever talking with the trade on the Row. We “press” suits and never “iron” suits. You iron underwear and women’s blouses;)

A well used board

To tell you how to do this would be impossible so I’m going to do a couple of masterclass videos – one for the jacket (next week) and then the trousers (the week after). So back to the tools. You’ll need –

a, Preferably a good quality steam iron (if you cant get a steam iron then a standard one will do)

b, An old hand towel.

c, A piece of linen or cotton about 10″ square.

d, A sturdy table or board big enough to lay a pair of trousers on.

e, A strong sleeve board

If you can’t get a steam iron you’ll need a piece of rolled up old material about 6″ long and 2-3″ thick when rolled. In the trade this is called a “dolly” by the way.

Most people can get a hold of the things above but I know you’re panicking as you like me have never seen a good sleeve board for sale anywhere. We usually have them made for us but it’s not expensive or complicated. Here are the approximate specifications.

A sleeve board with a yardstick to help you size

About 30″ long and 6 3/4″ wide at one end and 5″ at the other. A comfortable working height is about 8 1/2″. A base board should be made a little bigger to make it sturdy to work on. It should be then joined as in the picture with a good strong hardwood or metal as there’s a lot of strain on this.

Finally pad and cover the board in a strong tightly woven fabric as we’ve done in the picture.

I’m sorry that if this sounds like hard work but get your local carpenter to make you one and I promise you’ll thank me for ever. It’ll last a lifetime and it will allow you to press quickly and perfectly every garment in your wardrobe.

Savile Row – Who’s Who

Anderson & Sheppard, My former employer; where I learned the cutter’s trade from the great Mr. Hallbery. Superb clothes, great traditions and very well priced. What still makes me smile to this day is their wonderful reluctance to change. They have no web site, and they only started taking credit cards in the mid-1990’s.

My beloved alma mater, Anderson & Sheppard

What doesn’t help me when I write a piece like this is Anderson’s preferred us never to mix with other cutters on Savile Row. We were a very elusive bunch. When the trade has its annual FMT dinner (Federation of Merchant Tailors), everyone on Savile Row would attend, apart from you-know-who.

Also, when a popular book was written about Savile Row in the late ‘eighties, the whole trade was clamouring to be involved. But as you’d expect, for all the author’s pleading, Andersons don’t give interviews, and that was that. So the only entries in the book about Anderson’s are by the author himself. And the only interior picture they could manage was taken through the window, off the street.

And yet they’re still the busiest and most respected on the Row. Brilliant.

Henry Poole’s, I believe they’re the oldest on Savile Row. Founded in 1806, a hundred years before even Messieurs Anderson and Sheppard got together. A top quality house with an excellent reputation. Not a particularly “hard” or “soft” coat, but a good mixture. They also specialize in court dress etc- lots of frilly bits. This requires a lot of specialist skill, and is not my field at all. I think Anderson’s will just beat them at the post for having the largest business on Savile Row, but not by much.

Huntsman. Utterly first-class quality and control in their manufacture, but make sure you’ve got deep pockets. They’re everything but inexpensive. A huge list of the great and good for clients. Quite a firm coat, seriously fitted. Their business had a bit of a stormy year in 2004, and they’ve made some big changes recently. Regardless, they’re a great and long established company; they’ll see it through. I wish them all the very best for the future.

"Savile Row"

Kilgour’s, complete with new shopfront

Kilgour’s (formerly Kilgour French & Stanbury). I have a very soft spot for this firm, as their old cutter, George Roden offered me a job when I was very young and just starting out in the trade. An excellent pedigree in classic tailoring (Carey Grant was a favourite customer), but even though they keep one foot firmly in the past, they’re not frightened to move forward. This is shown in the new contemporary facelift their shopfront just had. They also have an excellent ready-to-wear collection.

Dege & Skinner. A flexible company, who can adopt their house style for each customer. A lot of experience from cutting tweed suits to uniforms. The company chairman, Michael Skinner is also very active in promoting the trade and the future of Savile Row.

Gieves & Hawkes. Big military uniform heritage, especially with the Royal Navy. I don’t think the bespoke side of the business is that prominent any longer. They have very department-store feel in their shop; they also have a lot of concession stands around the fancy department stores. Imposing premises at No 1 Savile Row. Was flattered to be head-hunted by them whilst at Andersons. They wanted me to run their concession in Harrod’s. It was a good offer, but not really my thing. Nice to be asked, though.

That’s the big guns pretty much covered. There are also a couple of larger “fashion orientated” houses. Ozwald Boateng and Richard James. Very “In-Crowd” tailors. Big ready-to-wear and concession deals. If you’re into bright purple and orange, with narrow lapels and skimpy trousers, this is where you should go. Sorry, that’s all I can say on them.

There are plenty of other smaller businesses and one-man-band outfits, sharing premises. These you’ll find a’plenty on the Row, but also on the neighbouring streets- Old Burlington, Cork, Sackville etc.

I’m not just saying this because Malcolm and the boys are good pals of mine, but Welsh & Jeffriesare a super company, and although relatively small, they have a very high-profile customer base. As with most of the quality tailors, they’re pretty discreet. Their principal, Malcolm Plews is a classic example of a great Savile Row tailor. He’s been around the business for a long time with experience in different companies. He’s always willing to help out and is very respected by both his customers and colleagues alike. Last week I met a lady customers of his who was trying on a pair of high back ladies “trews” (seamless trousers). Both she and I were both staggered at the ability of his cutting. He really excels at ladies’ wear.

You’ll definitely find him in Mulligans pub on the occasional evening. Apart from the tailoring skills, he’s great company. If you want a friend in the tailoring business, get down to Mulligans and buy him a pint of Guinness.

And there are more, many more. There’s Brian Burstow, there’s Ravi Tailor over at A.J. Hewitt’s, and Roy and Joe at Chittleborough & Morgan. These fellows are all top drawer, but you’ve got to look for them.

Sadly, I really can’t list them all, or I’ll be here all day. But keep on reading English Cut, and with a bit of homework, you should soon be able to find a company or individual that suits your needs the best.

[PART TWO:] The one thing I’m not going to do is tell you who are the best tailors on Savile Row. For three main reasons:

1. I honestly don’t know. And frankly, neither does anyone else. Even if, like myself, you have worked on Savile Row for many years, we tailors tend to concentrate heavily on our own work. The only time we really get to have a look at other tailors’ work is when we get to see a sample in a tailor/alteration tailors’ workshop. And this only tells you half the story.

The only true way get a good evaluation of another house’s work is to get a good look at it on the customer wearing the product. This usually only happens because (a) they’ve had a falling out with their previous tailors or (b) they just fancied a change (which is actually quite common).

Customers do sometimes prefer to use one tailor for business suits, another for dress or tweeds. Also, in extreme cases I’ve known people order a suit with the jacket made in one house, and the trousers made in another.

2. This is just too personal a business to remain completely objective. I know many excellent, world-cass tailors on Savile Row. And I know with many of them, if they made me a suit, that the materials, the craftsmanship and the fit would all be excellent. Outstanding. But at the end of the day, I still wouldn’t like the final product. Why? Well, if you’ve been reading English Cut, you’ll see I’m very partial to the “soft” Anderson & Sheppard style of clothing. So not all makes would suit me, particularly from houses more famous for their “hard” style. Their cut would seem more like body armour than a proper suit.

And every tailor would tell you the same, so don’t be too judgemental right off the bat, just make sure you do your homework beforehand. All the tailors on Savile Row will give you plenty of time and info before you order.

3. You have the aforementioned big flagship stores on Savile Row, however the tailors inside those grand buildings are actually quite nomadic. The cutter from Such-an-such may have been working for three different companies in the last five years. Nearly all the tailors (sewers) are self-employed, so they will often work for two or three houses at the same time.

As I said before, if you find a cutter that you like, hold on to him with dear life, don’t come to me. Even if he changes companies a bit, change with him. Don’t worry, we never move very far – Savile Row’s only a few hundred yards long.

[BACKGROUND READING:] The English Cut homepage, plus the “About Thomas” and “Why Use Thomas” pages.

Savile Row in New York

When a Savile Row tailor visits NYC, it’s part of a continuous cycle.

I bring a good selection of cloth samples with me, which includes the basics of everything you’d want- classic worsteds, tweeds, lightweights etc. New customers are consulted on their requirements and have their first measuring, so I can draft a personal pattern when I return to England. Then the fitting will be arranged for my visit a few months later.

And naturally, I also bring with me the fittings to try on customers who ordered on my previous trip a few months earlier. After I fit my clients in New York I then return to the UK. There I recut and alter their suit and/or amend their pattern if necessary.

Once completed I courier the suit to the US. But this is not the end of the story. I ask my customers who have received their new suits to meet me my next visit in New York, so I can check the fit after they have been worn. Should they need a little tweaking, I arrange to have that done in New York.

And then, yes, if the client in happy with his latest suit there’s a good chance he’ll want to order a new one- the cycle begins again.

So it’s cycle of new clients, doing fittings and looking after old friends. Should a new customer meet me only in New York, it usually takes four to five months for final delivery. Yes, it’s a lot longer than the usual 6-8 weeks delivery for UK customers. But when you consider the logistics and all, people generally don’t mind the extra wait. If you can make it over to London for your fitting, then delivery of course will be much sooner.

I find my customers don’t mind the delivery time. Let’s face it, the suits could easily last you twenty years, so why worry?

As with all Savile Row tailors, my customers vary immensely. I have the regular buyers who order a couple of times a year. And there’s my big hitters who order a dozen or so suits then disappear for a few years.

I love meeting and making for all my customers. But there’s always that little extra joy when a customers try on on his first bespoke suit. It could be the successful young executive who’s just realized that bespoke REALLY IS as good as they say (Frankly, if it wasn’t, I couldn’t realistically stay in business). Or sometimes it’s the fellow who’s decided that before he dies he’s going to have at least one real suit in his wardrobe. It’s a great moment to witness.

I’d love to keep New York all to myself, but luckily for the customers, there are other wonderful Savile Row tailors who visit, so there’s plenty of choice. Here are a few:

Anderson & Sheppard.

My former partner, Edwin of Steed.

Welsh & Jeffries. They may not have a website, but they are seriously good tailors.

Dege & Skinner.

Henry Poole’s.

Yes, the deal in New York is business. Sadly, I have to pay the landlord and the taxman, same as anyone else. But I do have serious fun when I’m there. Of course I do. It’s New York. They say “Do a job you love, and you’ll never do a day’s work in your life”. To be able to ply my trade in the most exciting city in the world… Lucky, lucky, Tailor.

The Morning Suit

This is something I don’t get to cut on a regular basis - a classic morning suit. This is got to do with people dressing down at weddings to a certain degree, and the increased availability and quality of formal hire.

The main parts of a body coat

The main parts of a body coat

Formal hire is a perfectly understandable option, still, you should always have bespoke if possible. The cost is more than justified because of the fit and comfort. And also, because it’s not designed for everyday wear, it’s a real treat that will last for decades.

Of course, the morning coat’s uses are quite limited, but I’m delighted when people still treat themselves to such a classic. And happily for tailors everywhere, a morning suit in black or grey is still reasonably popular, thanks to weddings and grand days at the races.

Timothy Dalton as 007 in a morning coat in “License To Kill” (1989)

The morning suit is made quite differently from a usual coat, mainly with the tails at the back, and the seperate blade cuts which give that beautiful clean fit through the body.

It’s s a very difficult cut to get right, and it also takes a very special type of tailor to sew it together – many in the business don’t touch them.

Classic striped trousers to match, sometimes called cashmere trousers

Classic striped trousers to match, sometimes called cashmere trousers

As you can imagine, this specialist work doesn’t come cheap. I won’t tell you what I’m charging the gentleman for this suit, but I will tell you he was recently quoted £5,000 by another Savile Row tailor.

I can feel a price increase coming on…

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Savile Row – Worsteds & Super Numbers

There are all kinds of cloth material out there- wool, cashmere, vicuna etc. But for the moment I just want to let you know about the most widely-used cloth in the business, the classic “Wool Worsteds”. This is the main cloth bespoke customers need to know about. These are used for about 90% of our business. The exotics I’ll cover at a later date.

English Wool Worsted is mostly woven in Yorkshire, Northern England and the English West Country. Like all crafts, there are smaller independants dotted around the UK, however the town of Huddersfield in Yorkshire has the big slice of the business.

(Me working away with some classic 10-ounce Wool Worsted)

Wool worsteds are usually made from Merino wool (which usually means Australian and New Zealand Merino sheep) and are supplied by all the London cloth merchants.

Wool Worsteds are very popular for a reason- they make up very well, and with a little care they can last for years. I and most of my customers wear them for this very same reason.

They come in a wide range of qualities- but when you’re buying a suit, make sure you know what definition of “quality” you’re using.

Is it “quality” in terms of texture and design? Or is it about durability and strengh? Again, always ask yourself “What’s the suit for?” Remember this, or you could end up spending a lot more money and feeling sorley disappointed.

Worsted cloth is rated by numbers. Super 100’s, Super 150’s and higher. These numbers refer to the count, or fineness of the yarn used in the cloth. The finer the count (measured in microns), the more wool is used per square inch of the cloth. Hence the higher the number, the finer and softer the cloth.

To qualilify as a good, hard-wearing and attractive wool worsted, it must be rated at least in the upper 80’s and 90’s.

The Super 120’s and higher are beautiful cloths, but there’s a price to pay, and not only financial. Although they do feel wonderful, the simple fact is they don’t wear very well. They’re simply not as durable as their lesser-numbered cousins.

I know this seems a little tragic, but still, if money is no object and you want to feel the finest stuff against your skin, go for the Super 150’s. Or if it’s something special that you won’t wear too often, then go treat yourself.

The other advantage of high-number wool worsteds is, because of the finer yarns used, the weavers are able to get more colours and intricate designs into the fabric. This can make them wholly tempting as you gaze at them and stroke them, when the tailor is showing you a sample.

Rest assured, no Savile Row tailor is going to sell you an inferior cloth, as the result to his reputation would be utterly disastrous. But just remember the cost of cloth can differ vastly, and not all for the same reasons.

In summary, Super Numbers look and feel fantastic, but don’t wear as well, and can add 20-30% to the cost of your suit. Your more affordable, classic worsteds are usually made into the timeless designs- pin stripes, chalk stripes, Prince of Wales checks etc. So you’ll always have room for them in your wardrobe. They make up well and last for years. The downside is the designs are far more standardised.

Picture(39).jpg(Nicolas Guilbaud of Scabal, one of the top Savile Row cloth merchants.)

A word of advice. It’s very easy for some obscure manufacturer to produce a sample bunch with all sorts of fancy numbers and claims on it. And you’ll find out the hard way, a year down the line when the suit starts falling apart, how exaggerated these claims were. No tailor will know all of the manufacturers in the world. But if you look out for these familiar names you can be pretty confident of what you’re getting:

London-based to note are Scabal, Wain Shiell, Lessers, Dormeuil, and Holland & Sherry.

Some excellent out-of-town companies are Dugdale Bros., Lear Browne & Dunsford, and H.E. Box.

Fused Vs Floating

A roll of canvas and the skeleton baste of an overcoat, canvas visible, ready for the customer's first fitting

A roll of canvas and the skeleton baste of an overcoat, canvas visible, ready for the customer’s first fitting

Earlier when I talked about what to look for in a bespoke Savile Row suit, I mentioned the difference between a “Fused” and a “Floating” Canvas. I thought I might elaborate.

It very simple. Every suit coat will have a full layer of cloth between the outer cloth and the inner silk lining. It’s what lets the coat keep its shape.

With a machine-made, “fused” coat, they use a special synthetic material which effectivley turns to glue when heated. It doesn’t really do much, besides give the coat its body.

It can be done on a machine in a few seconds.

With a proper, bespoke suit, the coat is canvassed by hand. Yes, we use a real piece of wool & mohair based canvas. And yes, it does take forever.

Why have a hand canvas? It looks better. With a fused coat, there’s no give. Where the outer cloth goes, the fused material goes, and vice-versa. They’re just machine-stuck together. There’s no synergy between the two.

But with a floating, hand canvas, there’s give. There’s synergy. The end result is the suit follows the contours of the body more naturally. There’s less surface tension. The fit looks more relaxed and elegant without compromising form.

And as the coat now has a natural canvas in the layering, it expands and contacts depending on the body’s heat, making for a more organic fit. Fused coats, being synthetic in the centre, just stay the same.

The other great thing with a hand canvas is, if it isn’t put in  absulutely, 100% correctly, it doesn’t hang properly. It looks utterly dreadful. And it’s really, really hard to get just right. This is where real experience in you tailor’s hands in so important. This is one of the main reasons why the training takes so many years.

Another little detail: dry cleaning is absolute murder on fused coats. One of the main reasons why a bespoke suit lasts so much longer.

Regardless of who makes your suit, if you’re paying over a certain amount you should make sure the coat is canvassed by hand. Otherwise you’re being swindled.

If the tailor tells you a hand canvas is overrated or unnecessary, he is either incompetent or dishonest. Probably both. Turn around and leave his shop at once.

At the skeleton fitting, you should be able to see the canvas clearly, running down the inside of the coat. You can also feel for it quite easily if it’s finished, off-the-peg. It feels like a seperate piece of cloth underneath the outer cloth, “floating” independantly, much like how the silk inner lining also floats independantly of the outer garment.

With the inferior fused coat, you feel nothing. The outer cloth and the fused, “glue” material will feel like one; a single layer of suit.

But now we both know they aren’t.

Of course, canvas comes in different weights and varieties, just like any other cloth. I happen to favour a lighter canvas. The very famous (and also the most expensive) Huntsman’s of Savile Row prefers a heavier make.

Nothing wrong with that at all, every tailor has his own style. Though their suits are not my cup of tea, the Huntsman look is one of the more distinctive, and I greatly admire them for that.

In case you’re wondering, I use mainly “Nochetta Sahara” canvas, which I buy from one of my trimming merchants, Guilt Edge Suitings, based in the North of England.

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If You Can’t Afford Bespoke

Tailor's chalk is shaped roughly like a guitar pick, & used it for marking the lines on the cloth before cutting

Tailor’s chalk is shaped roughly like a guitar pick, & used it for marking the lines on the cloth before cutting

I happen to believe that a bespoke suit is worth its high asking price, or else I wouldn’t bother selling them. They look better, they fit better, and they last years longer than their competition. It’s really that simple.

Even so, £2000 is a lot of money, let’s not kid ourselves.

Luckily for suit lovers everywhere, with modern technology there are now some really good ready-to-wear, manufactured suits being made, starting at only a few hundred pounds. Fifty years ago, suits that were both good and cheap did not exist. The tech simply wasn’t there.

So regardless of your budget, you have a lot of options. Here’s the basic hierarchy to consider:

1. A totally machine made, off-the-peg suit.

These cost around £100 to £600. The production systems for these is so slick, a suit is literally made in minutes. My first boss, Mike Wigglesworth of Redmayne once very kindly took me to visit a clothing factory to witness this mechanization. What sticks in my mind the most about that day, apart from the disconcerting efficiency of the machines, was the fact that designer-label brands were coming off the same production line as the “apparently” far less exclusive makes, such as Marks & Spencer [For the money, the British high street retailer, Marks & Spencer makes as good a suit as anyone. I rate them highly].

With machine-made, all manufacturers have pattern designers who create a basic pattern which, in “their” interpretation, would fit most people. So what you’ve got to do is be guided by the fit and the feel of a jacket around the neck and shoulders. Make this your priority.

If you’re in-between sizes, get the larger size and pay a high street alteration tailor £20-£30 to have it taken in or whatever. Don’t fool yourself that just because it’s a Hugo Boss or Armani it’s a better fit than than the Marks & Spencer. Doesn’t work that way. Forget the cost, just be honest with yourself. Like I said, pay attention round the neck and shoulders.

2. Made-to-measure.

Not to be confused with “bespoke”. What you’re getting is the same machine-made as Number One, but the basic pattern will have slight alterations made at the factory to improve the overall fit. Expect to pay anywhere between £450 to £800. You will also get more possibilities to personalize the suit, pocket details, style etc.

Bear in mind the guy who measures you  may only have been in the job for a few weeks, or even a few hours. He’s only running a tape around you and ticking style boxes on the order form. So don’t expect miracles.

There are high street chains that offer this service, and even proper tailors as well. A.J. Hewitt, an excellent tailor, is a good example. The principals, Tony Hewitt and Ravi Tailor (yes, his real name) offer true bespoke that’s up there with the best. However they also offer made-to-measure. This in no way compromises their bespoke suits, they’re just simply allowing their customers the option of only climbing halfway up the sartorial ladder.

Ultimately with made-to-measure, your suit is at the mercy of the manufacturer. But at least with having an experienced cutter like Tony or Ravi to measure you, there’s far less chance of disappointment.

3. Hand Made Off-the-peg.

These are made by hand, and yes, the quality is generally very high. But it is still an assembly line. It’s just using humans instead of machines, cutting from generic, standardised patterns, not your own individual measurements.

Yes, the button holes will be hand-sewn, just like “bespoke”. Yes, your coat will be made with a “floating” canvas, just like bespoke. But the assembly line will still be cranking out twenty five “Size 40s” in a single shift, unlike bespoke.

That being said, it’s still quality stuff. And you can order the suit in the morning, and be wearing it by the afternoon. The fit won’t be half bad, either.

[DISCLAIMER:] This area is of personal interest to me as I designed the ready-to-wear suits of  Reuben Alexander. I had made bespoke for the owners of Reuben’s for several years. Then one day they phoned me up and said they wanted to put the same soft look as my bespoke into a ready-to-wear. The rest is history.

Their shop is in central London. At around £1000 Reuben’s is one of the best. I’m not saying you’ll like them (not everybody likes me, either), but they’re definitely worth a look.

In this category, there’s quite a good selection out there – Chester Barrie, Brioni or Oxxford Clothes etc. These are good clothes, ranging from around £1000, up to £3000.

Frankly, I think the expensive end of this category is asking a lot of money for something that comes off an assembly line. I’m really not convinced it’s money well spent. These companies also do a form of bespoke, which involves things being sent away to base manufacturers. Again, for that kind of money, I really don’t think it’s personal enough.

4. True “Bespoke”.

Congratulations. You’ve arrived. The highest rung on the ladder. Keep reading English Cut on City Connect and I’ll tell you all about it.

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The Car Coat

The Car Coat: shorter and easier to wear

In bespoke tailoring the main thing that gives so much pleasure for me is that I’m dealing with individuals. People who have different ideas and personalities which I have to remember and adapt my fitting and styling to so that we both achieve what we want. Yes, we’ve a house style but subtle differences are what it’s all about.

As I’ve always said you’re only as good as your last coat. This is not simply a matter of technical ability or quality of workmanship. It’s very much to do with understanding what your client truly wants from his commission. In simple terms you can cut what you think is perfect but find your client’s not as convinced. In exactly the same way I may not be happy with the result but my client is over the moon as we’ve hit the spot exactly. This is of course is because it’s for an individual who thankfully has different ideas from everyone else which lets me enjoy a different challenge every time I put my shears in the cloth. It’s the old saying, “one mans meat is another mans poison”

The picture above is a classic example of this. This belongs to a lovely client who’s been kind enough to order a very substantial wardrobe from us. He’s all the classics then some very unusual suits that break the mould. He owns a beautiful classic single breasted overcoat but he wanted something shorter, more fitted and easier to wear on all occasions.

When I started in the trade this type of garment was called a “car coat”. You don’t hear the term any more but it was for exactly as its name suggest. Originally it was from the great days when most cars where open topped. The were rather chilly and and a nice coat was always needed, certainly in the UK. A classic overcoat would be too bulky and awkward to wear so the driver needed something sporty and comfortable but still had you looking elegantly dressed upon arrival.

So out of necessity the car coat was born. Shorter with a little flair for sitting comfortably with easy to access pockets to get your keys etc. Usually made as our example here of a sportier less formal material such as this lovely tweed from W. Bill which we’ve cut with back darts and a half belt for a little extra style. I’m not sure if my client will be wearing this in an open top vintage Bentley but when he does arrive at his destination he’ll definitely look the best dressed.

Wedges: How “Bespoke” Is Bespoke?

The idea of “bespoke” is not only is it hand-made, but it’s designed to fit just you and only you.

And the mark of a Savile Row tailor is that he pushes that idea to the extreme.

Left arm & right arm patterns. As the gentleman's arm is permanently bent, I had to create a "wedge" to compensate

Left arm & right arm patterns. As the gentleman’s arm is permanently bent, I had to create a “wedge” to compensate

Here’s an example. In the photo above, I was drafting the arm patterns for a client. The gentleman, for whatever reason, had an arm that could not open fully; it was permanently bent.

If the suit was off-the-peg, there would only be one solution- take it to an alterations tailor and have him shorten the sleeve.

But with bespoke, that’s not how it’s done. What I did as a standard procedure was create a wedge, using extra paper stapled together, to create a unique pattern for the gentleman’s right arm, different from his left.

Close-up of the wedge. Three pieces in all, stapled together

Close-up of the wedge. Three pieces in all, stapled together

Wedges are very common on Savile Row, and not just on the arms. It’s not just that no two bodies are ever identical, but no individual body is ever 100% symmetrical or perfectly shaped. Therefore the tailor must compensate accordingly.

It’s just small detail, but small details matter.

Machine Vs Hand Canvas Debate

A fused sample in the Austin Reed window

A fused sample in the Austin Reed window

Following my article, Fused Vs Floating, here’s something about the machine/hand canvas debate.

With bespoke Savile Row, all suits are canvassed by hand- a chap sitting there, needle and thread in hand, sewing away. However with the ready-to-wear market, there are different manufacturers out there who fit a floating canvas by hand and/or machine.

Obviously then, for ready-to-wear, many of you want to know which you should go for. Machine or hand? Which is better?

Frankly, the end result result from both hand or machine will be much the same, in regard to appearance and function. But there are other things to consider.

OK, I’m sure you’ve gathered by now I want everyone to wear hand-made. I don’t care if it’s from me, from Savile Row, the guy in Chinatown or the big department store in Chicago, I’m partial and I’m biased. If enough people buy hand-made, that way we’re going to keep the craft going. And when I’m seventy, this will all help me enjoy the free drinks from the admiring/confused apprentices of the trade. Well, why not? When I was an apprentice, I spent a fortune on the old buggers.

But seriously, I’ve previously listed what’s available out there in my article How to Pick a Bespoke Tailor. Regardless of your budget, whether we’re talking about canvasses or buttonholes, I’d personally go for the coat that’s had the most human involvement. Even if the only difference is £10 in the cost, because it’s got the buttons sewn on by hand, that’s what makes the difference. It was made by a person. There’s a story behind it. It has an energy to it no machine can ever recreate. And this holds true whether you’re spending £2000, or £20.

By choosing to buy the most humanly-touched products we can afford, or at least striving to do so, we’ll not just benefit the craftsmen out there. It will give you the impassioned knowledge that someone, somewhere, has added a little of their character into your suit. No machine can imitate this. It’s what makes the coat, Bespoke or otherwise, truly unique and frankly, that’s what keeps the customers coming back. Yes, the fact that their coat has a human story behind it makes it seem more special to them.

Strangely, this little dash of humanity is often what gives a suit that je ne sais quoi, that “I don’t know why, but I just prefer this one”. I think you know what I’m talking about.

But if you’ve got to decide if the little extra’s worth it, think of me, old and thirsty in the Windmill pub. Or if you’re an animal lover, what about these poor mice in the Tailor of Gloucester…?

Some readers have kindly pointed out that some dry cleaners can do a lot of damage to canvassed coats. This is true, but again it depends on the the individual cleaners, how they finish with pressing etc. And also the quality of the garment.

Earlier today I spoke to Mrs Payne of Sketchleys in Mayfair, she’s been in the business for over twenty years. They now use a new cleaning solution called “Green Earth” which she told me is the most gentlest cleaner they’ve used to date. As she rightly pointed out, you should have no problems with hand-canvassed coats.

Whenever there is a problem with machine-canvassed, it’s usually down to the fact that the canvas hasn’t been shrunk properley before manufacture. Obviously this is what can cause the puckering as the canvas shrinks. So ask before you buy.

Dry cleaners are very important in Bespoke. Like tailors, they’re not all the same. Make sure you pick a good one. Might be best to get your tailor to recommned you one.

If you want another angle on the fused/canvas, have a look at my old boss’s site Redmayne. He makes some very good points.

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Mr. Anderson’s Shears

Mr Anderson’s shears (of Anderson & Sheppard, the most respected tailors in London)

These shears were given to me by head cutter, Mr. Hallbery on his retirement, after forty years with Anderson & Sheppard. They were the original shears used by Mr. Anderson of Anderson & Sheppard, which first opened its doors in 1905. Before that, his teacher, Mr. Cameron gave them to Mr Hallbery, decades ago, when he retired. And before that, Mr. Anderson gave them to Mr. Cameron, when he retired. And doubtless I’ll hand them over to some young turk when my turn to step down arrives. The torch is passed on.

My teacher, the great Dennis Hallbery (circa 1990)

I was very fortunate to work at Anderson’s with Mr. Hallbery and the two other senior cutters, Colin Harvey and Brian Russell.
I was Mr. Hallbery’s striker (undercutter), and my future partner, Edwin was striker for Mr Harvey. Although this was comparatively only a few years ago, the company was still very much old school. Ed & I had to address the cutters as ‘Sir’ or ‘Mr.’… The use of first names was far too informal.

It may look as if I’m painting a very austere atmosphere of the company, but although it was quite Dickensian at times, it was a great environment to be part of. Mr. Hallbery was every bit your Swedish expat cutter, silver hair & steel blue eyes. His attitude to the profession was as sharp as his shears, he didn’t suffer fools gladly; neither staff or customer.

On a red hot August day in early 1990, I sneaked out of the side door of Anderson’s to a cafe, no more than 50 yards away, for a sandwich to go. Unknown to me I had been spotted by Mr. Hallbery.To go out at lunchtime was not a crime, however I had committed a cardinal sin. Not only was I without a jacket, but I was wearing braces (suspenders). For this I was summoned and duly berated for my sloppiness. As Mr. Hallbery said, cutters of A&S do not go out in their shirt sleeves, let alone their underwear.

When I write of my time with A&S it feels as if I worked there in the 1950s , not the 1990s. But you got used to such a formal atmosphere- no idle conversation, no whistling, no music or anything that could distract.

You remember how unique it was to just hear the clipping of shears into endless privileged clients’ clothes (Royalty, movie stars, that sort of thing) and the soft drone of the overhead fans. We had no air conditioning, and the fans were kept slow or they’d blow the patterns off the boards, if they were turned up to any worthwhile level. Comical really, but who’s complaining, we would’t have dared. Mr Hallbery is well and living in Harrow. We send Christmas cards and talk from time to time, but he’s never been back to check on the old place. Mr Harvey sadly died in 1995 and is greatly missed.

Brian Russell left A & S and I still think he has a sitting within Tom Brown’s (they’re the tailors that cut the school uniforms for Eton College). I‘m not sure, so don’t quote me. If you can find him, he’s a good cutter. Very fastidious. Edwin came to Cumbria with me and we started Steed together. We parted company a while ago, though we had a great time while we were together. We’re still pals and he’s doing well.

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.

You Get What You Pay For


NB: Yardsticks can hurt

Recently I have had a huge amount of people asking my opinion about various tailoring companies, offering what appear to be very good deals on made-to-measure, and even “bespoke”.

I hope people are not too disappointed with my usual reply, which is I really have no more idea of the product than they do.

This is because, as I said earlier, I really only know the abilities of people closest to me i.e. on Savile Row. Many of the tailors I’m asked about are in Hong Kong or elsewhere abroad. All I can do is recommend you look out for what I’ve told you already, and best of luck.

When I was 19 and an apprentice at Redmayne, a good friend of mine who I worked with bounced into the workroom one Monday morning with an advertisment from one of the Sunday papers. At that age we were all sports-crazy and also convinced that we led tough and exciting lives. So when we saw what appeared to be a rugged, black waterproof diving watch for £1.99 + 50p for postage and handling, we went wild with excitement. To have a watch that looked as good as James Bond’s, for about £5.00 in today’s money, seemed like the deal of a lifetime.

My teenage colleagues scrutinised the advert. It was totally clear; it was definitely a “diver’s style” watch with dual display. Press the button and it even showed the date. It also had an action-black-moulded-plastic wriststrap, even better to resist the salt water on all those deep sea dives we would doubtlessly be taking.

Our excitement somehow bubbled through to our elders, who also got excited at the thought of cheap presents for their husbands and their young nephews’ sixteenth birthdays. In the end the apprentices ordered, as did the cutters, trouser makers and the finishers. Even the office secretary had to have a piece of the action. Voila, seven “diver’s style” watches please, as quick as you can. And things got even better, because as we had ordered more than five, we only had to pay the postage for one. Gosh, why can’t all Mondays be as good as this?

After 28 days of mounting excitement the watches finally arrived, Hurray! You see, it wasn’t a con after all, they delivered as promised etc.

What was so great about this watch was that it had a dual display, very cool, digital and analogue. However, the hands only told the correct time twice a day.

Why, was the mechanism faulty? No, it was just that the hands wouldn’t turn. Oh, so the hands were faulty? Wrong again, the hands were just “painted” on. With real paint. The digital bits worked fine, but it was still so thin and cheap, I think you could’ve found heavier tatoos to wear if you’d wanted.

It had looked the part, and technically it was a “divers’ style”. But the key word in this company’s marketing was “style”. They hadn’t lied to us per se, they just cleverly compared it visually to the product that we actually wanted to own. Not a “diver’s style” watch, but a real “diver’s watch”. Big difference.

After my pal and I had been beaten with various yardsticks, scalded with irons and stabbed with needles by our hapless colleagues, we all laughed and realized how dopey we’d all been.

The moral of the story is that you get what you pay for. If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. I know there are companies who offer “bespoke” for under £300.00. I’m sorry, but to offer a product for a for a tenth of the competition? Well, it’s your decision, but don’t be surprised if you find some of the buttons have been painted on!

No Strings Attached

strings attached

A little bit of trivia:

This beautiful length of pure silk lining arrived yesterday. Notice, and you can see that tiny white piece of string tied on the edge… lying over the yellow table.

That string was put there by the cloth merchant, to indicate a slight flaw in the silk weave. You can only just, just see the flaw in the photo- a tiny light thin line going across the fabric, perpendicular to the string.

It was a very minor flaw, but that’s how it works with the best merchants. Sometimes a piece of cloth will arrive at my door with a piece of string attached to it, and I won’t be able to see the flaw unless I look VERY hard, sometimes more than once.

But these cloth merchants are extremely strict with themselves, which is how it should be.

So when I need a perfect, flawless length of cloth for a job, I’ll say to the merchant, “Give me 3 metres, no strings attached.”

Yes, that is where the phrase “no strings attached” comes from. And yes, it’s still being used with its original meaning on Savile Row to this day.

Image reproduced from

A Rather Grand Uniform

Peter Day of Denman & Goddard

When I was in our London office recently I had the chance to have a good chat with a friend who’s been on Savile Row longer than we’d both care to remember. Peter Day of Denman & Goddard was telling me all about this lovely garment that was made around 1895. It’s a junior diplomats uniform, or secretary to the ambassador with the diplomatic corps. This is a rather grand uniform but these were the grand days of the British Empire when dignitaries from around the globe wouldn’t have expected anything less.

The workmanship on this material is incredible. Let me elaborate on a few things. First of all every stitch is by hand, every one, even the the long side seams. Also the doeskin it’s made of is far superior than anything available today. Sadly, you can’t feel the texture but to give you some idea the bottom of the coat is a raw cut edge. As in there’s no turn up or seam. The fabric’s so tightly woven it’s not frayed in the slightest. Of course today we’d never dream of leaving a raw edge like this. However, if we could you couldn’t get anything as clean and elegant.

Back pockets to keep your credentials

When this was supplied by the military tailors of the day they took care of everything the hat and even the sword. As you can see below the tailors name of Meyer & Mortimer can be seen on the sword blade. Obviously it comes as no surprise to find all the gold leaf embroidery is done by hand using 2% gold over silver wire laid on silk velvet.  There was a few people who specialised in gold embroidery at the time such as Hands & Co, Hobosons of Tooley Street. There were more and it’s amazing they employed a lot of people creating the beautiful embroidery that was needed in those grand old days.

I can’t thank Peter enough for such an insight and I must say he always makes time for people. Apart from being a very nice chap there’s no doubt how respected a figure he is in our craft. However, what made me smile most that day was how after all these years he was still so excited when he was looking at such beautiful work. After all that’s why we’re in this business.

Why English Cut?

One great thing about Savile Row is there’s usually plenty of work for all the tailors. Sure, it comes and goes, but the fact is, there aren’t that many proper bespoke tailors out there, and the market, once you’ve reached a certain level, is amazingly steady and robust.

So when somebody buys a suit from say, Kilgour’s or Welsh & Jeffries instead of from me, I’m always perfectly happy for them. Both these tailors are world-class, and the clients are usually very informed about the market, so I know the choice was probably a good one. And like I said, there’s plenty of work out there. My turn will come around soon enough.

But recently a lot of English Cut readers have been sending me e-mails, asking the dreaded question, “Why should I buy a suit from you, instead of the other bespoke tailors you’ve mentioned?”

It’s a perfectly reasonable, straightforward question. To save everybody’s poor typing fingers, including my own, I thought I would just answer them here directly.I would list four main factors. They’re not so much “Reasons To Buy”, more “What Makes Me Unique”. Drum roll, please…

1. Mobility and Economics.

The most singular difference between myself and the other tailors I rate highly, is that I’m not permanently based on Savile Row. Though I do the lion’s share of customer measuring and fitting on Savile Row, I do my cutting at my workshop in Cumbria, near the small village where I grew up. But because of my Anderson & Sheppard, background, I only use sewing tailors who have been trained to sew “The Anderson & Sheppard Way”, which means the majority of the tailors I use are currently used by A&S as well. So there’s no loss of quality for my customers in my business model, just an improvement in the quality of life for one humble tailor.

This benefits my customers in two major ways. Firstly, basing my workshop outside of London saves me the huge overheads. This allows me to sell my suits at about 20-25% less than the big houses on Savile Row. This is something I’m sure nobody would complain about, especially our American cousins, who are not encouraged by the current exchange rate.

Secondly, staying mobile has made my business far more flexible than my competition, mentally as well as physically. I don’t wait for customers to visit London, to visit Savile Row before I ‘condescend’ to take an order. No, I happily travel to them. If they live in Paris, I can go to Paris. Or New York. Or Chicago. Or San Francisco. Wherever the market dictates.

And of course, if the client is wanting more than just the suit, and desires the full-on, real-time Savile Row experience with all the local history and colour, I happily meet them there at Number 20, where I have my London offices. [UPDATE: As of January 2006, my London Offices are at No 12 Savile Row.]

To me, Savile Row is a proper business, not a tourist attraction.

I know the grand houses of Savile Row are wonderful institutions, and they have a big part to play, but Savile Row’s tailoring heritage was formed on that street simply because, frankly, the the Well-to-do of London “Society” lived in the immediate vicinity.

Two hundred years ago, if you wanted the Well-to-do’s custom, you had to set up shop where they actually lived. Making sure your customers didn’t have too far to ride in their horse & carriage. Savile Row is in Mayfair, the West End residential neighbourhood that occupies the top slot on the British version of “Monopoly” (i.e. where “Boardwalk” lies on the original American version). Savile Row evolved there for perfectly mundane, ordinary, economic reasons. That is where all the business was.

But now my market is global. Some of my customers come to London now and then, but seriously, they live and travel all over the world, and it’s my job to keep track of them. However grand and magical Savile Row can appear on an early morning walk, all that’s really needed to do the job is skill, a tape measure, a cutting table, a sharp pair of shears and the ability to keep one’s word. I’m as happy meeting my clients in a Manhattan hotel suite as I am meeting them in London.

Ergo, I’m open for business, anywhere on the planet. Who wants a suit?

2. Credentials.

Without tooting my horn too much, here are a few anecdotes to help illustrate my worth.

After I had decided to leave Anderson & Sheppard, I got a bit of a rush of people, who suddenly wanted to work with me. Stephen Hitchcock, who was an apprentice, became my striker {undercutter) for a few months before my departure. Gieves & Hawkes headhunted me, offered me a great package. This I turned down, as they said I could cut any style of coat I wanted, should I have taken the position. This I found flattering, but utterly bizarre.

More interesting was when Anderson’s first found out I was leaving, they made me train their present Managing Director, John Hitchcock [the father of Stephen]. This I found rather strange at the time, as Mr Hitchcock was nearly twenty years my senior.

[An old photo from circa 1990: My teacher, the great Dennis Hallbery.]

But the best bit of all is that Mr Hallbery, who was one of Anderson & Sheppard’s most respected cutters of all time, gave me Mr Sheppard’s shears, which were handed down to him a generation before by his teacher, Mr. Cameron, who was given them before that by Mr. Sheppard, the man with his name on the door. Yes, you could credibly argue that Mr Hallbery was one of the greatest tailors of the twentieth century. I have no problem going on record with that belief, especially as his work is on display at the Victoria & Albert Museum.

So if you like the Anderson’s cut, I guess you could say I’m the one currently wielding Excalibur. At the time, it felt like Obi Wan Kenobi was handing me over his lightsabre. It certainly made me smile.

Any tailor I’ve so far mentioned- Messieurs Hitchcock, Anderson’s et al- are all great, world-class tailors, not to mention the rest of the Row. To have their collective respect is the by far the greatest achievement of my life.

Also via the Row, I have recently been asked to give a pattern-cutting “masterclass” (their term, not mine) for one of the Universities here in London. It’s nice to get the occasional bit of outside recognition, as long as nobody gets too carried away.

Sure, with my globetrotting, mobile ways I may seem to be a bit of a heretic, but the fact is, I know this business. And best of all, I know the best bits of it. First hand.

In truth, I’m as hardcore Savile Row as you’ll get.

3. Temperament.

I love Savile Row, and love being there. But I know myself, and know the rest of London doesn’t suit me nearly as well.

I don’t want four hours of commuting on tubes and trains, every day. Nor am I particularly interested in getting my name in the right glossy magazines. I can’t be bothered with the trendy parties. You never get a decent drink, anyway.

Call me old fashioned, but I have an independant streak. Yes, I prefer to rough it up here based in beautiful Cumbria and keep visiting my customers where they need me, not where it’s ‘cool’ to be seen.

4. My Age.

There are a very few top tailors left on Savile Row, realistically, maybe a dozen left on the very top shelf. I am the youngest one I know of, and I think I know most of them. I am not yet forty. Most of them are in their sixties. I know one person who is considered one of “the younger ones”. He is in his late fifties. More than a few of them are set to retire within the next couple of years.

A decent wardrobe, built as a collaboration between the client and his tailor, takes a long time to build up. Like English Cut, the plan is for me to still be around in 20 years.

Thanks for reading. Should you wish to discuss any of this further, here are my contact details.

Sleeve Pitch

Sleeve Pitch [the way a sleeve hangs], now what’s all that about?

Natural pitch, where the sleeve wants to hang

Natural pitch, where the sleeve wants to hang

It may only be two small words describing a small detail, but it causes its fair share of panic and disappointment, both to customers and novice cutters alike.

You can try your best from start to finish when producing bespoke. The best materials, skilled craftsmen and years of experience. And yet even after all the diligence of checking again and again, things can go wrong. And pitch is often where disaster strikes.

When a suit is shipped to the far corners of the world or even dropped off at a customers hotel just around the corner, any cutter worth his salt will try, if physically possible, to slip the jacket on before the day of the fitting, just to see how it looks. Yes, a big chap’s jacket is going to look a bit daft on Skinny Me, but I can still see how it hangs. Which to an experienced eye will give a good idea of the final outcome.

This is where sleeve pitch can catch you out. Often when the customer or even some cutters think the sleeve is too big or tight, the problem may not be that at all, but the problem is with the angle the of pitch that the sleeve has been inserted.

Is it a tad high or low? The thing is you can’t tell, not unless it’s being worn by its intended owner. I know this sounds obvious, but we do a lot of tweaking with bespoke. So if I meet a man who’s suit looks super, apart from the fact we’ve got a little too much width in the shoulders, because they’re often about to literally to catch an aeroplane, I say, “No problem Sir, I’ll fix that and courier it to you”.

Trickier than it looks.

If I take the jacket and do this simple alteration, the sleeves will often be removed. This is also done when we need to clear the scye (armholes). This is normally not a big deal, but unless the sleeve is returned to the same pitch as it was fitted, then we can get problems. With a changing scye shape or similar alteration, it’s easy for the tailor to re-fit the sleeve a little high or lower than before.

move the arm back, pitch now too high, hence the big furrow at the back

move the arm back, pitch now too high, hence the big furrow at the back

It only takes a quarter of an inch to change this. And this is the problem- it’s very difficult to notice it when you look at the coat on yourself. And it’s nigh on impossible to measure for in a fluid bespoke.

So what can happen is that the customer who’s jacket was almost perfect, apart from the shoulder width or suffering from a little too much chest fullness, now has an unsightly bagging and collapsing at the back of his sleeve, or certainly as bad, a diagonal strain line at the front. Right where everyone can see it. Something that will definitely make you grind your teeth and curse the tailor.

There is an average position of pitch which will work for most people. But there are extremes, such as a military man who’s always standing to attention i.e. with his shoulders and arms well back. He will than need the sleeves to be pitched low. Conversely an older gentleman with a stoop for instance will need to have his sleeves pitched high i.e. forward.

The pictures are just an average gentleman’s fitting on me. However you can easily see what happens if I move my arm forward or back a little. It can make the sleeve seem big or tight. Then if I move my arm to match the sleeve it’s as clean as can be.

move the arm forward, pitch too low, hence the furrow at the front

move the arm forward, pitch too low, hence the furrow at the front

So if it happens to you, don’t worry, it’s not as disastrous as it looks. Stand sideways on to a mirror in your favourite suit and see if the pitch matches where your arm naturally hangs when relaxed. Just move your arm back or forward a little and you’ll see what I mean.

In the old days if a cutter got a job from a tailor which was obviously too high or low, the tailor would be scolded and told the job is either “scratching its *****” or “picking its ****”.

I know, not very English Cut or PC these days. But that’s the way it was.

So now you know. Simple, really.

Image reproduced from

Savile Row & English Heritage

savile row sign

If the tailors on the Row are guilty of anything, is that we have failed to inform people about what bespoke is. We’ve not communicated the good information properly.

It’s a double edged sword- Savile Row isn’t about changing; and why should they? They’re in the suit business and they make the best suits in the world. In the past when the world was a much bigger place, Savile Row was security. A man of standing was always impeccably dressed. So customers were introduced to the Row by family and trusted friends, as existing customers knew their kith and kin would be in the the most competent hands, to sartorially prepare them for all of life’s pleasures and trials.

The world is a much smaller place now. Global travel and communication is a wonderful thing, however the fact is we’re now open to much greater influence, both good and bad. Our friends and children don’t feel the need for bespoke, nor want such personal advice. They can get supposedly it themselves, without the help of experts, and this is where the media has been quick to take hold with a vice-like grip. This is where we’ve failed on the Row. We need to use proper, modern communication to let our steel shears prise open the misinformed market within that vice. Certainly, the ready-to-wear marketing skills are impressive, but their product is generally not.

The bespoke marketing skills are dire, but the product is peerless.

And aside from Savile Row’s chronic undermarketing, there is another enemy, namely, various Westminster leaseholders and Westminster City Council. ‘Enemy’ is probably too strong a word, but they don’t make life any easier for the tailors. I know they’re in business and they deserve the going rate. However, I do think the institution that has clothed most of the world’s most influential people for the best part of two hundred years deserves Heritage Status. And it doesn’t have it. Unofficially it does, of course. But officially it doesn’t.

We have an organization here in the UK called English Heritage; as the name suggests they look after all that’s dear and special to this green & pleasant land. They protect everything from ancient monuments and city parks. Also they help to maintain historical artifacts like old coal mines and waterwheels for future generations. Now what about the tailors? Don’t you think they’re part of English Heritage?

I certainly do, and I think if there are any grants going to help combat the huge rates and other assaults from the heavy-booted march of progress, then the heritage-packed Savile Row will gladly use it well and honourably.

Lapels Are Back

Mr Sinatra with proper lapels

Mr Sinatra with proper lapels

I don’t know if it’s just me but there’s an interesting shift in style ideas going on, certainly with a lot of our bespoke at the moment. Although many of the high street suits and including James Bond’s are going for an almost 60′s style slimmness of cut and thin lapels.

"James Bond", "007"

Daniel Craig promoting Skyfall at Dorchester Hotel

However, many of my clients are asking for wider lapels, especially in double breasted. Also, there’s a strong return to shawl collars, such as the one I’m cutting here. This is particularly unusual as it’s a shawl collar on a double breasted dinner jacket. There’s no doubt it’s a beautiful classic style but I have haven’t cut something like this in years. When I talk about the DB lapels being wider I mean really wide, almost coming out the full width of the shoulder.

Cutting double breasted dinner suit

Cutting double breasted dinner suit

It seems strange to cut these these days but I must admit when a client of mine dropped in to see me in NYC recently he did look fantastic. It’s literally time travel, back to the 30′s and 40′s. It’s not a look everyone can pull off and the rest of your dress has to match but there’s no doubting that that’s from an incredibly stylish era. All we need to do is get a run on the hat wearing then we will have gone full circle.

Basil Rathbone, a very elegant Sherlock Holmes

Basil Rathbone, a very elegant Sherlock Holmes

So you’ll have to decide if you want to be James Bond or Sherlock Holmes.. I’m begining to prefer the latter 🙂

Image reproduced from