As a final instalment to my report on after-sales service at Ralph Lauren, I thought it would be useful to recount some of the tips and lessons that Jan Ellul, the in-house tailor at the flagship store, had to offer.

I had written in a previous posting that shoulders are the hardest thing to alter on the suit. This is partly true, according to Jan. The shoulders are certainly much harder to alter than the jacket waist, sleeves or chest. This is because those alterations usually just involve opening up the seam, taking in or letting out some material and sewing it up again.

To narrow the shoulders, the tailor must detach both arms, shorten the material across the shoulder, cut back the padding and re-attach. “A bit of a major operation,” in Jan’s words, and not something to be given to a novice tailor.

[Note: strictly speaking, altering the arm length can require the arms to be detached, but only if the suit has working buttonholes on the cuffs – one good reason not to have this otherwise pointless feature on your jacket.]

However, even harder than altering the shoulders is altering the top of the back – the material around your neck and the collar of the jacket. To do this, the collar of the jacket must be removed, the back re-cut in one delicate slice, and re-sewn. Costly and risky.

So when you’re trying on that ready-made suit in the mirror, make sure the collar fits well first. It should neither stand away from the collar of your shirt nor hug it so tightly that folds of stress form across the top of the jacket’s back. Then worry about the shoulders, and only later consider everything else.

On the subject of the shoulders, Jaan notes that the way to tell whether they fit right is to find the point where your shoulder muscle is at its widest and make sure the suit’s sleeve material just grazes it. There should be a smooth line between that point and the edge of the shoulder itself.

Often, it can be hard to tell whether a shoulder is too big. It’s easy to tell if it’s too small – the shoulder muscle is bulging against the sleeve. But it can be hard to tell if it’s too small as in any case there is always a clean, straight line down from the shoulder of the suit. Jaan’s tip is the answer – find the muscle and make sure it just touches.

Finally, I asked Jaan’s opinion on Kilgour’s cut-price bespoke – where suits are measured in the UK, put together by Kilgour-trained tailors in China and finished off here. Jan is a Savile Row-trained tailor and I expected him to be conservative about it, but no. “There’s nothing wrong with things made in China, if they’re made well,” he said. 

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Terencesambowrites

i totally agree with you nicola :o)

Arctic Penguin

I’m in agreement with both of you… what better way to improve a country’s standing than to do something well and to brand it appropriately? I would rather purchase something made in China if it is done well than something shoddily made somewhere else. My iPod is from China and it’s top-notch. Of course, while I was in Cambodia I did see several shops and tailors making shirts and other garments who would simply stitch tags which read “Made in Indonesia” or “Made in India” or “Made in Malaysia” into the seams of whatever they were working on… so to be honest, I don’t really trust tags anymore. And being as how fashion houses like to meet the bottom line, I’m not convinced they’d be above such a practice. I guess trial and error and examination of a product with an educated eye are the only ways to really ascertain the quality of a brand or an item.

On the topic of the post, though – does this mean GQ has been leading me astray by posing it’s models in skinny suits whose sleeves hug the arms and shoulders so tightly that I sweat I can count their muscles? Good god!

Arctic Penguin

On a tangential note, Simon, how can one communicate to a tailor (made to measure for me) that high arm holes are a priority. Is this something an MTM shop can do? I do quite enjoy the suits I’ve gotten made here in Korea, and the quality seem to be reasonable, especially at the price point, but a more functionally-fitting sleeve is something I’d appreciate in future suits.

Or perhaps I should be paying attention to a store label known for this design feature?

asdrubal76

Can you explain the buttons on jacket sleeves? I was intrigued by your comment about jackets with “working buttonholes.” I’ve recently gotten the sleeves on a couple of my jackets shortened because, as you’ve often pointed out, jacket sleeves are always made too long, covering up the all-important shirt cuff. This has led me to consider the curious space between the lowest button on the sleeve and the edge of the sleeve. My tailor advised against shortening one of my jacket’s sleeves any more (he’d already altered them, but they weren’t showing enough cuff in my opinion) because then the button would be too close to the edge. This led me to wonder if there was a school of thought in men’s style that considered it a no-no to have the faux buttons on a jacket sleeve too close to the edge of that sleeve. In my mind, the buttons on jacket sleeves are silly: they’re not functional and they just get in the way when it comes to getting the length of the sleeve right. What do you think?

asdrubal76

Thanks, Simon. Is there a rule of thumb about how MUCH material to leave between the last button and the edge of the sleeve? I read somewhere that 1.25″ from the middle of the last button to the edge is considered “correct,” and that at the very least one should leeave about 3/4″ of material. But arms are slightly different lengths, so the buttons on my right sleeve (because my right arm is a little bit shorter than the left) are a bit closer to the edge than the ones on the left sleeve. Should I care about this? Or should I just enjoy the look of my shirt cuffs poking out from my jacket sleeves and forget about the buttons?…

initials CG

Simon…the working buttonholes actually have a a purpose…

Gentlemen never take their jacket off in public. That includes public washrooms. So when you wash your hands you would unbutton the jacket sleeve buttons and roll them up a bit. Then unbutton your shirt sleeves and roll them up. Wash your hands, and rebutton your shirt sleeves. You dry your hands and walk out. That’s when you begin to roll down your jacket sleeves. AS you walk back to your table, people “oh and ah” witnessing your working buttons.

You see, not totally useless…

Oli

A good tailor would normally move the button closest to the sleeve to a position above the top button, allowing for further shortening. This wouldn’t work on all materials and would depend on how the fake buttonholes where stitched, but is a great option in many cases.

Jan Ellul

Dear Simon,

Thank you for your kind words, but I must clarify that all Ralph suits are made in Italy not China.
In regards to Kilgour ‘off-the-peg’ suits being possibly made in China,I re-iterate, there is nothing wrong with a Chinese-made suit as long as the standards are high, which I believe are so, as I am sure Kilgour would not settle for less.
As a purist I would always choose hand-made clothes for myself, which is why I choose for most of my suits, the Purple Label line from Ralph Lauren.
They are hand-made, hand-canvassed and hand-finished in Italy.
In essence, a great suit!!
Black Label is also hand-finished, but with a sleeker, lighter, more contemporary styling.
I am greatly enthused by the positive experience you had at Ralph Lauren, and I hope you have many more,

Jan

Ebenezer Howard, Jr.

Initials CG–Have you just used the bathroom or rotated your car tires? I don’t think it requires that much effort to wash hands in the bathroom. As for ostentatiously buttoning your sleeve…I mean, really… much more fun to return to the table still buttoning your flies.