TOHM: Rhys Twist
“Bespoke” has become one of the most misunderstood words in the English language. Today we’re offered “bespoke vacations”, “bespoke cocktails”, even “bespoke pornography” (a growth area in California, apparently). Endlessly misappropriated, “bespoke” has become a marketing catch-all for the flimsiest degree of personal modification.
After Coronavirus, I think people are going to be a lot more cautious of where they're spending their money. Hopefully that shifts people’s perception from quantity to quality and encourages them to invest in well-made garments that actually last. Perhaps there’ll be a little more appreciation for what actually goes into a garment as opposed to purchasing something mass-produced off the rack. That’s my hope anyway, but time will only tell.
I also wonder if Covid-19 will make people start wanting to dress up a little bit more. At the moment, while everyone's working from home, they’re wearing sweatpants and casual gear most of the time. The TV host Jimmy Kimmel recently started this initiative called “Formal Fridays” that turns the idea of Casual Fridays on it's head. Everyone dresses up in a suit to then go and work at their kitchen table. It’s certainly an interesting idea.
My earliest inspiration for tailoring came from watching old tap-dancing films, particularly Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. It all grew from there. There’s a scene in Singin’ in the Rain, where Gene Kelly is wearing high-waisted, grey flannel trousers with a white collared shirt and a burgundy, knitted jumper and he's just walking around with such grace and elegance. I remember seeing it and thinking: ''That's definitely where I want to be at.”
It used to be the art and construction that I loved about tailoring, but now it's more mathematical. I love seeing how we take the measurements of a three-dimensional figure and then calculate how to translate them into a 2-D pattern. That involves trigonometry, geometry, sometimes even a little bit of algebra. It’s highly technical, but that whole synthesis really inspires me now. I love watching that whole process unfold, from the client initially coming in to pick out his cloth to when he tries on the garment for the last time. That moment is the final tick at the very end of the journey that we all work towards.
Every man should have at least three suits in his cupboard. I would definitely suggest a navy blue suit - you can wear that for business, casually or to weddings. A black suit is another all-rounder, a bit like a ladies’ little black dress. After that a grey or charcoal suit can also be fairly versatile. From there, you can go into something a little bit more jazzy like, say, a Prince of Wales check. But my three top picks to start off a suit wardrobe would always be a blue, black and grey.
I still remember the first sports coat I had made. I commissioned it from one of my old teachers. It's quite a heavy Donegal tweed that’s navy blue herringbone. When I put it on, it was incomparable to anything I’d ever worn before. As it's made for you, the drape is just so comfortable, the jacket moves along with you like it’s stuck to your back. It remains one of my most prized possessions and still fits remarkably well.
When you’re seeing a tailor for a suit, it certainly helps if you have some sort of mental image of colour and shape from the outset. Have a Google, look through magazines, sniff about. Figure out if there’s a style or silhouette that you particularly like. Most of the technicalities - like pocket shape and lapels - you can talk them through with your tailor and they can guide you forward. But if you’ve got no idea about colour it can feel overwhelming. Your tailor will have access to thousands and thousands of cloths to choose from, so you could be rifling though the swatch books for literally hours.
There’s generally three types of fit - slim fit, regular fit and classic fit – that relate to waist suppression and the general boxiness of the garment. But within those parameters, every tailor will have their own silhouette they’ve developed over the years. There are great variations in the way that garments are cut to exemplify and hide different features of the body. On Savile Row, for example, Huntsman has a wide shoulder with a broad lapel that cinches into a really narrow waist and then flairs back out. That’s completely different to other houses on Savile Row.
If I’m going away, I always take a pair of grey pleated slacks and a blue blazer. The versatility of those two garments alone is endless. You can dress them up or down depending on the occasion.
The pinnacle of menswear for me would be art deco from the mid ‘20 to the early 30s when people were coming out of The Depression. Everybody was dressed properly and wore a hat and a three-piece suit. For me, that’s definitely when men dressed best.
If you’re considering bespoke, you need to be aware of the cost. Otherwise, people can feel a little bit shell-shocked. Bear in mind what's going into the garment. You're buying something that is made just for you with your specifications in mind from start to finish plus you also have complete creative control. What you’re investing in is that process, as well as the craftsmanship of the tailor and his years of experience. The specific cost really depends on who you go to, the different levels of construction and the quality of the cloth (it’ll be far superior to anything you'd find on the rack). But as a ballpark guide, you’re probably looking around $3000 for the jacket and anything north of $1200 for the trouser.
What nationality of men are the best dressed? In my personal opinion, you can't go past the English for cut, construction and silhouette. But when it comes to sheer panache, it’s got to be the Italians.