If you are a man of a certain age - lets say over 40, you need to face up to a very important and disappointing fact. Assuming you don’t want to dress like a skater, or Nicky Haslam, most of the threads on sale in clothing shops won’t fit you.
Why? Because men’s clothes in 2010 are based on some kid who is 6’2” and as thin as a stick, so coming from a generation six inches shorter and packing reasonable timber, it’s no surprise even XL is a tad snug. But a solution is at hand. It requires restraint, self- belief and trust in a professional who isn’t a doctor.
You have to find a tailor.
A tailor you may think, is an anachronism in an age of Suit Warehouse and 24 hour internet shopping. Someone your dad may have turned to back in the 60’s and 70’s while you were desperate for a Harrington or biker jacket. But there is a reason for that. Your dad was smart. Years of experience taught him that to waste a sizeable wedge (or even a small slice) on high street suits from Next was a crime. Best ask around to find a tailor to invest in, meet them and then discuss your dream and begin your journey. And save up. This is the restraint bit; Do not be tempted in the sales or by ebay.
After wasting enough of my own wedge on high street suits that fell apart after a year, I had my epiphany while watching Mad Men. It reminded me of the suits my dad wore in the 60’s, hand made in Leeds, my manor, which I ended up wearing in the late 70’s when the narrow lapel and box style were hip with early punks. They were solid, impeccably made, single breasted, 2 button works of art.
I knew I wanted that quality and style, hand made to my own design using the cloth I would personally choose. Yes, it would be indulgent, but hell, I thought, it’s time to put cheap suits behind me and man up. The suit would be for work, because we spend more time at work than doing anything else. And because as mature 21st Century gentlemen, we owe it to ourselves to look the bomb in our professional lives. It may also assist a raise or promotion.
I wanted the full monty, the full Montague Burton, a three piece with extra trousers. He drew a quick sketch noting the details and we were off.
Following tradition I asked around, and found my guy. George came recommended by my mate Chris and his dad, who went way back with him. A favourite with ex mods and members of the criminal underworld, George had his training in Leeds with John Barrie making uniforms for the Coldstream guards and then went on his own. I’d looked at a couple of other guys with LS1 addresses, blogs and awards, but I liked the sound of George and went to meet him.
It was a surprise to find a small shop on the edge of the city. Not posh, but a packed workshop, busy, full of cut suits ready for sewing. We talked about mutual friends, football and finally what I was after. I described my Dad’s old suits and had a jacket I felt was closest in feel - I wanted the full monty, the full Montague Burton, a three piece with extra trousers. He drew a quick sketch noting the details and we were off.
To begin, he sent me over to Bradford, the former woollen capital city to by the cloth, (not fabric - that’s for dresses) from a reputable merchant he’d used for years. It was a revelation. Stacked to the ceiling was every kind of cloth, from worsteds and tweeds, to mohair and alpaca. The majority were milled and woven within about 12 miles from where I was standing. I chose a medium weight, 100% wool worsted, in dark navy with a black Prince of Wales check, made in Huddersfield. Paid cash, and dropped it off with George.
I had three fittings; for the flat front trousers, with flap pockets, tapered to 14 1/2’ bottoms, no problem. The jacket was coming on; I’d stipulated wadding shoulder pads not foam, because over time they mould your natural shoulder line, and rather than giving you the Joan Collins look, they enhance nature’s gift. I also wanted a real chest canvas, hand stitched, not fused (iron-on - that bubbles after dry cleaning). It gives a strong smooth outline and retains the silhouette. “Real canvas, eh?” said George. “One of my oldest customers came in last week ordered two suits and said: ‘Gotta be real canvas. Don’t forget.’ “He’d just got out of Armley, he’s about seventy and I won’t forget.” For the waistcoat, I had a pic of the Stones from ’64, and Keef is wearing a dead cool double breasted waistcoat, almost a full wrap over, no collar, two buttons. That’s what I wanted. It’s fair to say it took a while, but a waistcoat adds an easy formality to someone who doesn’t like wearing a tie.
Finally, the day arrived for collection. On the jacket and w/coat George had suggested a distinctly Mod touch – covered buttons, I trusted him and damn, it looked great. The collar was perfection, not quite the DB step, something more and the balance of the jacket dimensions, quite short – semi tailored (not Steed-fitted) and the tapered line of the trouser was spot on. Add in the waistcoat and it is on.
Of course, it was the fruit of collaboration, discussion and the occasional crossed word. I’d wanted the ‘Leeds’ trouser, just a single pleat, loose with almost a peg finish; George merely went quiet and talked about line and form, like Corbusier probably did when talking to some Alderman who wanted thatched roofing…so no pleats. He conceded on the cuffs. I agree with tradition, however four buttonholes seem excessive. I only need two, in harmony with the jacket and the waistcoat? Deal.
Result: my first hand tailored suit.
You want to know about the cost? I could direct you to many tailors that start at a grand or more; that’s your prerogative, but use a guy who is recommended, bespoke. Mine was about the price of two decent high street suits; but the cloth was Gucci quality, the style unique and the fit perfect. It will last for years.
I’m already saving for the next one.
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