Dealing with losing and gaining weight

Friday, April 13th 2018
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I've been on holiday for the past two weeks, swimming every day, and have noticeably lost weight. I'm tightening the side adjustors on my trousers where I didn't before.

It reminds me how frequently readers ask about such fluctuations in weight, and how to deal with them when commissioning bespoke clothing.

Such changes can be frustrating. I find it particularly annoying how it not just makes things loose or tight, but changes posture. If you gain weight on your stomach, for example, you naturally start to lean back, to adjust your centre of balance.

This can lead to you pushing on the collar of a jacket, and creating wrinkles below it. Losing weight, meanwhile, can make you to stoop forward and have the collar stand away. 

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Losing or gaining weight on the belly is the commonest problem for men, as it affects both the waist of the trousers (where you'll tend to notice it first) and the buttoning of the jacket. 

There's more tolerance for gaining muscle mass, perhaps on the upper body from gym work, as there is usually more room in the chest.

However, extreme gains in muscle are a bigger long-term problem, as beyond a certain point they fundamentally change your neck and shoulders, which is much harder to adjust for. Taking the waist in by a couple of inches is easy by comparison.

(For advice on altering tailoring, see this very popular post, and all its follow-up questions in the comments.)

In terms of how to deal with weight changes, it certainly makes sense to go to the tailor or shirtmaker when you are at your average or normal weight. Not just after Christmas; not just after a marathon.

I'm always surprised how many people I overhear in tailors saying that they expect to lose weight over the time in takes to make the suit.

In that case, wait. Unless it's a wedding and you have a strict deadline, be patient. Start the bespoke process when you are at your normal, or new, weight.

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It also puzzles me when men say they are concerned that bespoke has little capacity to deal with changes in weight.

The opposite is true. Most obviously, because bespoke suits will leave more inlay (extra cloth) at the seams than ready-to-wear RTW, to aid future alterations.

Bespoke comes from a world where it is assumed you will have the suit for decades, and it has to change with you.

With RTW, by contrast, every centimetre of inlay is wasted cloth, and therefore cost.

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A less obvious point is that bespoke is more able to flatter you without being too tight.

Because bespoke jackets are hand made (in particular, with a hand-padded chest), they can be shaped to flatter the body, with a chest that is slightly bigger than your own, perhaps a slightly extended shoulder, and shape through the waist that is gently and smoothly suppressed, rather than tight.

This is why some tailors will say that a bespoke jacket makes you look better than RTW, even if it isn't made for you. That three-dimensional shape is still flattering.

Those new to bespoke also sometimes don't appreciate the difference between tightness in the back and in the front of the jacket.

I helped a reader recently through his first bespoke experience, and he consistently wanted the jacket tighter. He was pulling at the waist button, seeing room to spare, and thinking this meant it was too loose.

I asked the cutter to pin the jacket tighter, and showed the reader that it didn't actually make the waist look any slimmer from the front.

The excess he was feeling was in the back of the jacket, and was needed to create a smooth and flattering line through the small of his back and over the seat.

This can lead to a jacket being comfortable in the waist, while still having the trimmest possible silhouette.

I suspect that when men say bespoke is less able to deal with changes in weight, it is because they tend to have any custom piece - bespoke or MTM - cut tight.

I'd encourage them to have it slightly larger. It's more comfortable, retains its shape well when you move, and enables you to wear fine knitwear underneath.

(This can also extend to other categories of clothing. It's amazing how wearing a size too small in a pair of shorts, or a shirt, can make a slim man look fat.)

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Of course, the other concern about fluctuating weight is that bespoke is expensive - and you don't want to waste that on something that doesn't fit for long.

But by that same logic you would never spend significant amounts on clothing - not just bespoke. And bespoke has that little bit more adaptability.

Some also say that investing in quality clothing is the best possible motivation to stay in shape.

I've always done a lot of exercise. I was a distance runner when I was young and have always played a variety of sports.

This helps keep me in shape, but also means that I fluctuate quickly when I'm ill, travelling, or for any other reason can't exercise.

Unless I significantly cut down on what I eat, I get fat fast.

Bespoke has always been able to adapt. I'm not quite as skinny as I was (the five suits/jackets I had made at Anderson & Sheppard about eight years ago - one below - have all been let out once) but I've averaged around the same weight for the past five years.

I'm sure I'll put on weight when I get back home and starting working full-time again.

If I don't, the jackets will still look good and the trousers have side adjustors.