A reader commented that the way he spots a good bespoke suit is to look under the lapel and look for the little pinpricks that betray hand padding. This does indeed show where the tailor has come through the suit cloth as he sews the parts of the chest together. But not every bespoke tailor thinks this is a good idea.
As my recent series on Henry Poole demonstrated, its tailors do wonderful work in padding the chest by hand, but use a machine for the lapels (James, from Poole, is pictured above). The sewing machine works a special padding stitch: a loose loop that is joined to its neighbour by a long connecting thread. Poole says that these loops do the same job as padding by hand but make it easier to control the tension in the lapel. And that tension is crucial – it determines how much the lapel will roll when not fastened to the top set of buttons.
Many other tailors disagree, using hand padding on the lapel as well as the chest. Examples that I have seen being made for me include Anderson & Sheppard and Cifonelli. There is no question of cutting corners here. Both sets of tailors are aiming for the same thing – control of the tension in the lapel – but believe their method is superior.
Tailors at the lower end of the scale disagree in different ways. Graham Browne, being a lower-priced, City tailor, uses tailors that pad half of the chest by machine and half by hand. But some of those only pad the centre of the chest by hand, others spend their time on the top half up to the shoulder, and still others emphasise the importance of the lapel. When the budget restricts what time can be spent on handwork, they all have different priorities.
(A small number of GB’s tailors do the whole chest by machine, but only for business customers who want a clean look more in keeping with ready to wear.)
Many tailors agree that little is lost if some parts of the suit are made by machine – such as the trouser seams or the jacket lining – but it is interesting to the see the points where many still disagree.