Fit to perfection: How to select the best tailor for your needs
As you sew, you shall reap... a bespoke suit can actually change your lifeUpdated: Jan 12, 2020 00:03 IST
I spend a lot of time every day planning how I am going to dress. This is because I am scared and also because I am angry.
I am relatively successful. I earn enough money so that, as long as I am careful, I don’t have to worry. I am also well known in my field and so am treated with respect by people who know my name.
The fear I carry, and the anger too, comes from being brown-skinned in America. Some of this is from the past – when I was a child growing up in New Jersey, I faced a lot of racial abuse – and some of it is from how America is today – Trump and also the bias that many people on the street can show – asking someone who is brown-skinned whether he can speak English or, in a benign case, asking me if I am a doctor since so many Indians in America are involved in medicine.
For me, dressing well is a form of physical security. It is also a way to jab at people and force them to register that I am someone who matters.
I dress very carefully because I want people to register the beauty and perfect fit of my clothes almost simultaneously with my skin tone. For me, dressing well is a form of physical security. It is also a way to jab at people and force them to register that I am someone who matters.
Part of this effect is generated by wearing clothes that are bespoke, that are similar to what other people have but are so obviously better that they seem to belong to a different category from what one can get in a shop.
Even bespoke clothes can often be lousy. I have had jackets made, which are terrible. Almost all of these terrible garments were made because I picked a tailor for price instead of quality.
So, it made sense to ask some very good tailors what they’d advise about how to work with tailors.
Suit of armour
Suresh Ramakrishnan is one of the founders of Whitcomb & Shaftesbury, perhaps the world’s great bargain in bespoke clothing. Whenever I have met him, he has been wearing a perfect suit that elongates his body and makes his movements appear fluid. What makes Whitcomb & Shaftesbury most special is its relative affordability. The firm has two makes of suits. Both are measured and cut on Savile Row (the cutting of a suit is when the fabric is cut into panels that will be later stitched together, and the cutting is the most intellectually challenging part of a suit’s construction) but one type is stitched in India and costs £1,590 while the other is completely made on Savile Row and costs £3,790. The two makes of suits are interchangeable and in the world of ultra-luxury, these prices are considered extreme bargains.
Most people would admit these are ridiculous sums to spend on clothes. It is also reasonable, though, for every man to have one extraordinarily suit for weddings or important meetings. And even if one is never going to buy a Whitcomb & Shaftesbury suit, it still makes sense to hear what someone like Suresh might advise.
The easiest thing, Suresh advises, is to pick a tailor based on his house style – the type of style that the tailor typically makes. The easiest way to see the tailor’s house style is to see how the tailor is dressed. Another simple thing is to see if the tailor is wearing his jacket buttoned. A well-made suit should always be buttoned when standing because the buttoning is one of the key ways that the suit gives shape. Does the tailor, when he sits, unbutton his suit. If he does not, it means that his suit is too big and if the tailor cannot dress himself, how is he going to dress you? Also, look at the lapels. How high and wide are they? The lapels guide the eye and are a key part of the impression that the suit gives.
A second piece of advice Suresh offers is to just tell the tailor what you want the suit to do. What is the type of person you want to appear? Very high end bespoke suit makers are almost like psychologists. I tell Suresh that for me clothes are a form of physical security. I tell him that I want the clothes to draw attention but also not be too showy, and he says that one simple way to do this is to have two buttons on the cuff and have the buttons be slightly further from the edge. Almost anything a customer wants, a very good tailor can achieve. The key, of course, is to get a very good tailor.
A stitch in time
Davide Taub is considered by many to be the finest suit maker in the world. He is the head cutter for Gieves & Hawkes. His suits start at £5,400. When I meet him in New York, he is wearing a double breasted suit, which is close fitting and so suggests modernity, but with lapels that are high and wide, and suggest something old-fashioned. This combination of old and new is what gives Davide’s clothes a sense of being ahistorical, as if all of history exists simultaneously and not in sequence. Most of what Davide makes is very traditional suits, but some of the pleasure of working with Davide is taking advantage of his imagination
When I asked Davide how best to work with bespoke tailors, he said that a good tailor needs to guide you and ask a great deal of questions. Also, a good tailor needs to be able to give his client the language to experience what he is experiencing while wearing a suit because most clients are not sophisticated enough to express their experience.
Both Suresh and Davide also advised being conservative in what you have made. Get basic blue and grey. Aim for versatility. A good suit should last 30 or 40 years and so you don’t want to be chasing fashion.
I have met both Suresh and Davide a number of times, but aside from their elegance, what struck me about both was how protective they were in giving advice. They spoke like friends who wanted to save me from spending too much money.
I guess this kindness, this desire to do the right thing is yet another way to decide how to select among tailors.
Akhil Sharma is an award-winning Indian-American author as well as a professor of creative writing. He has penned novels like An Obedient Father and Family Life.
From HT Brunch, January 12, 2020
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