The Matching Myth

This has been the bain of bespoke tailors for generations: the little detail of matching pinstripes [and chalkstripes] through the shoulder seam of a bespoke coat.

Over the years, I’ve had to constantly wrestle with customers to educate them that if you’re tailoring a hand-made coat properly, it’s practically impossible to match the stripes through the shoulder seam, if you still want it to fit properly.

Unmatching stripes at the shoulder seam - classic Savile Row bespoke

Unmatching stripes at the shoulder seam – classic Savile Row bespoke

And I already know that I’ll receive numerous e-mails and comments  from Ready-To-Wear and Made-To-Measure customers alike, arguing the very opposite.

But hear me out. First, we need to to think about the part of the body that we’re trying to fit- in this case, the shoulder.

If you reach and place your hand on your shoulder as you’re reading this, it should require zero medical training to realise that back of your shoulder is convex i.e. it’s full, round and muscular. Whereas the front of your shoulder is much flatter, more hollw, and has more evident bone structure, with far less muscle.

So it stands to reason, if you have a shoulder width of say, six and one half inches, the material required to cover the longer curvature of the back is going to be greater than it will be at the front.

So how do we poor tailors cope?

The answer, as you shall see from the picture below, is to cut the back seam from three quarters of an inch, to an inch bigger than the front. Then with great skill from the tailor, he eases the extra fullness of the back into the shoulder seam.

The forepart and the back of a freehand cutting pattern, meeting at the shoulder seam. Note how the back part - at the bottom of the photo - is much longer than the forepart

The forepart and the back of a freehand cutting pattern, meeting at the shoulder seam. Note how the back part – at the bottom of the photo – is much longer than the forepart

This is a great art, perhaps the hardest skill to acquire in the trade. This is because if the fullness is not “eased in” perfectly  through the seam, it either looks clumsy and puckered, or if not enough fullness (i.e. extra cloth) is put into the seam, this causes the shoulder to feel tight and cause what we call “kinkus”, which is an awful stretched appearance around the collar bone, that can also feel very uncomfortable for the poor customer.

This skill cannot be taught- it is only developed in the tailor’s fingertips after a large number of years’ practice. Any decent Savile Row tailor will have this art, but it will have taken them an aeon to learn it properly.

Then the fullness in the back shoulder will be shrank away by your tailor through constant pressing, so it looks smooth and perfectly shaped, like the “stripe” photo below at the bottom.

This method is very unlike the Ready-To-Wear and Made-To-Measure world, who only use a maximum of about 3/8th of an inch of extra fullness on the back shoulder- about half what Savile Row uses. Often they’ll use even less.

The reason for this is, the shoulders of their garments are designed to be machined together in a matter of seconds, which often allows the stripes to match. Then with shoulderpad inserted, and other technical movements, they produce a clean but, in my opinion, an unnatural shoulderline.

In other words, because of more-or-less equal amounts of fabric in non-bespoke being used on the front and back of the seam, the stripes can more easily be matched. However, this happens at great cost to fit, style and comfort.

So now you know- when the tailor says he can’t match them for you, he’s actually not kidding.

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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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