Thinking back over the last 3 years of working with, getting to know and writing about some of the worlds’ best bespoke tailors, shoemakers and craftspeople (in menswear), now feels like a good time to cover off on some of the more painful lessons I’ve learned and what I’d now do differently with the benefit of hindsight.
Don’t skip fittings:
This one had to be thumped into my head on so many different occasions for it to finally sink in. I should have either a). not made this mistake in the first place, or b). learned from it much more quickly. For whatever reason, this one took ages for me to see the underlying pattern that kept hampering the finished product.
It’s come about exclusively when I’m travelling to see a tailor and have limited time. Meaning everything starts with the best intentions, namely, everyone being confident that we’ll have enough time to complete the relevant number of fittings. But it only takes one thing to get in the way (me being delayed in getting to a fitting, cloth not arriving on time, workload being higher than expected for the tailor or any other interruption) for a fitting to be missed and the finished product being slightly off the mark or having to be delayed until I can get back in the future. Neither of which is ideal for anyone. This happened with my Ambrosi trousers (we needed 1 more fitting to get them just right, but ran out of time), my shirt from Anna Matuozzo (a proper trial fitting would have been best), my trousers from Nino Corvato and my jacket from Leonard Logsdail. It wasn’t until Len’ and I decided to put the jacket on hold that I finally saw the pattern I’d been repeating.
The lesson is that if you don’t have plenty of time for fittings, including room for something/s going wrong, either don’t commission the piece at all, or be willing to wait until you can get back to see the tailor to have it finished properly.
Jackets on tailors mannequins may as well not exist:
Unless you’ve seen a tailors’ work on an actual human being, take their work with a grain of salt. It’s not hard for a jacket, sitting on a tailors mannequin, to look amazing, but it tells you nothing of how it will look on the customer it’s been made for. This comes from direct personal experience. The best way to know how good a cutter is, is to either see something they’ve made on another customer, or to see how they look themselves, assuming they’re wearing their own tailoring (most do).
Don’t expect a tailor to change their house style:
Like every one of us, tailors have preferences and biases. Not only their own aesthetic preferences, but a style in which they’ve learned to cut. Some tailors develop a greater range than others, meaning they’re skilled at cutting in different styles (a drape or fitted cut, for example) but most tailors have a house style which is consistent with their own personal preferences and which they’ve honed to consistently get right. Expecting a tailor to go against what they know best is unfair to you and the tailor. If you prefer the stronger shoulder and fuller chest of the Florentine tailors, don’t ask a Neapolitan tailor to cut that style for you if their house style is the typical unstructured, lightweight cut which Naples is famous for. The same goes in reverse.
This is why I went to Len’ and also Camps de Luca. I love their cut and silhouette. I didn’t have to ask either of them to make any exceptions for me, because their house cut and my aesthetic preferences line up perfectly. It’s also why there are countless others tailors I haven’t and won’t have anything made by.
Let the tailor cut how they know and if that style doesn’t fit with what you want, find another tailor.
Don’t assume the tailor you’re working with knows exactly what you want. If you’re having something made and a specific detail is important to you, spell it out.
Although bespoke is a creative pursuit, most customers want pretty much the same thing; conservative business or formal suits and shirts, which fit within a pretty narrow range of requirements. Once you want to go outside of the norm, you need to spell things out, so there’s no confusion or re-work later on.
If you want a pocket cut for your pen, bring the pen, so the tailor knows how wide and deep to cut the pocket. Otherwise, they might assume it has different dimensions and, all of a sudden, your pen doesn’t fit in your $6,000 jacket. Great.
This comes down to a bunch of things, from lapel width to the number of buttons on your jacket. If these details don’t bother you, then don’t bring them up, it doesn’t matter. Your tailor is likely to clarify the important things, anyway. But for any specifics which matter to you, bring them up early and make it clear.
As an example, when I’m having shirts made, I now always clarify the interlining I want in the cuffs and collar. With my Anna Matuozzo shirt, I’d assumed it was going to be made with a light weight, floating interlining, given that this style is common in Neapolitan tailoring, making the collar and cuffs soft and malleable. The shirt was made with a fused (glued) collar and cuffs, which is something I really don’t like in my suits or shirts. Not Anna’s fault, some people like fusing, and she had no reason to think I wouldn’t, but if I’d been clear about a detail which mattered to me, it wouldn’t have happened.
Don’t necessarily go for the finest cloth:
Cloth makers are always pushing their latest “super” number (basically referring to the fineness of the cloth) which is a misleading marker of quality. The higher the super number, the finer the cloth, but also the faster that cloth is going to wear out. If you want to brag about the fineness of your suit to your friends, knock yourself out, go buy a super 240’s cloth and watch it fall apart in a 2 years. My mistake was in choosing a cloth from “The Diamonds” range from David and John Anderson’s shirting range. It’s super fine (300 strands per square inch) and it’s a nightmare to iron. You could drop Africa on it and it’d still come out with creases everywhere. It also tears like paper (which I learned when the hook of a bra strap tore into it during the spin cycle in the wash).
Just look for well made and not stupidly fine cloths and your suits and shirts will wear better and last longer.
There are probably several other lessons which I can’t think of right now, but I’ll either come back and edit this post later on, or write another article once a few more lessons have sunk in.