Aidan Hartley is a brilliant writer and his piece for this website on buying a gun shows mastery over a subject I have limited knowledge of. He is, however, wrong about one thing, which is the insinuation that a suit is not as fun as a shotgun. Buying a tailored suit is potentially one of the most life-affirming, ebullient and rewarding pursuits available to us. It doesn’t involve standing out in the cold and it is much less hazardous than getting shooting wrong.
If you are considering buying a bespoke suit, you must remember that quality and fit are all too often forgotten in the pursuit of colour and flash, and there is nowhere better than London to find pared back elegance in menswear. You just need to know where to look.
Bespoke is the highest level of suiting. The first time can be quite intimidating, there will be plenty of questions and then at the end of the process, an enormous bill. The surefooted in this arena tend to be old hands who have had a single tailor for a long time. With little time on your hands but a desire to play catch up, there are a few things to keep in mind when taking the plunge…
Beware false idols
‘Custom-made’, ‘tailor-made’ and ‘bespoke style’ suits are descriptions bandied about liberally by those flogging mens’ suits. None of them mean bespoke, so don’t be fooled by the snazzy language. It doesn’t mean the suits are bad, it’s simply a means of trying to make the suit sound grander than it actually is.
You must have a price you are prepared to pay in mind because there is more disparity than you might think. Though it may be tempting to throw caution to the wind and plump for any old Savile Row tailor, there is something to think about with regards to this particular address. While the suiting will be great, bear in mind that the old-fashioned mise en scène, large fireplaces and carved wooden and marble décor, are factored into your bill. So essentially you are paying for more than a tailored suit, you are paying for other people to have a nice cup of coffee on a comfy sofa in tranquil surroundings before a fitting and you will kick yourself for not wanting to put them to any trouble when they offered you one. There are options outside ‘The Row’ that you should consider too, more on those later. The cost of the suit will start from a flat rate which will work its way up depending on how much work is done on it, and also if you are using a Loro Piana cashmere jacketing fabric, that may spike the price a bit.
Understand what it is that you are after before going in. Remember that you will be able to pick absolutely everything, from the fabric, the lapel width, the height of the gorge where the collar and lapel meet, the number of buttons on the sleeve and whether you have slant pockets or straight. You will also have several thousand swatches of cloth to peruse. So if you go in saying you want a navy blue suit with a weight that will cope in both summer and winter climates (10oz, I’d recommend), then this will whittle things down a bit. From there your measurements will be taken and the details (as above) will be decided on but can be changed as the process goes on. From here you still need to pick your tailor, so depending on what you have in mind, this list is intended to simplify things.
H Huntsman, 11 Savile Row – You will see a structured shoulder and a long jacket with a single button fastening that was an invention of the legendary Tommy Nutter. Huntsman are a legendary house, with a panoply of cool dressers as clients including Cary Grant and Gregory Peck.
Henry Poole, 15 Savile Row – If you are looking for the royal treatment, Henry Poole is the place for you. It has more Royal Warrants from around the world than any other tailor. Good for your sturdy traditional British look. I’d recommend here for tweeds and flannels rather than softer, lighter suits.
Chittleborough and Morgan, 12 Savile Row – An outrageously underrated tailor whose style is very specific. The legendary Joe Morgan still runs the show and is the nicest perfectionist you will meet. His work is meticulous and the result is an hourglass shape, sharp lapels and spectacular long jackets.
Off the Row
So as mentioned earlier, you would be very foolish to limit yourself to just Savile Row tailors. Here are four you cannot go wrong with…
Kent, Haste & Lachter, 7 Sackville Street – The best tailors in the world in my book. Terry Haste is a genius and he works closely with his partner John Kent, tailor to the Duke of Edinburgh. If getting the greatest talent with a needle and sheers available is not enough, the fact that it is half the price of the average Savile Row suit, for reasons expressed above, should seal the deal. They are also great fun to be around.
Edward Sexton, 26 Beauchamp Place – Edward Sexton is the Godfather of British bespoke. He made bespoke relevant again in the 70s, he was the first to make women feel sexy in suits and his clientele is among the most glamorous on the planet. He is still at the top of his game and also has a very good made to measure service, which is miles ahead of other M2M services on offer.
Anderson & Sheppard, 32 Old Burlington Street – Anderson & Sheppard is a tailoring institution, run by the brilliantly stylish Anda Rowland. The construction is soft so you don’t get the stiff military feel of a structured shoulder, but if that’s what you are after, then there is nowhere better. Their haberdashery round the corner on Clifford Street is fantastic too.
Steven Hitchcock Bespoke, 11 St George Street – Steven is the son of now retired (except when the Prince of Wales requires a suit) John Hitchcock, and is an extremely talented tailor and has a real knack of getting striking results from patterned materials such as windowpane check and pinstripe.
The experience of having a suit made shouldn’t be stressful and if you, having read this think that all the faff is unnecessary, then the alternative is to head to Ralph Lauren, who still make the best ready to wear suits. Then again, invest in bespoke, and your life will be enhanced by the fact that some of the finest craftspeople in the world have put their skill, passion and time into making something specifically for you. It is definitely worth it.
Tom Chamberlin is the editor of The Rake