Video chat: Going to a maker for the first time
I’m not sure we really answered the question in this chat.
The idea of each of these videos is to take a frequently asked reader question, and then tackle it from every angle. Here the question was: ‘I’m going to a tailor or shirtmaker for the first time, and have a list of things to bring up - what should be on the list?’
We didn’t really give a list of recommendations. Instead, we gave broader - but perhaps more important - advice on commissioning bespoke for the first time. Start safe. Accept you’ll make mistakes. Don’t try and make the tailor do something they don’t normally.
All solid points, and I think brought into focus by the anecdotes that Alex (Cvetkovic, HandCut Radio) and I told about our first commissions. My Prince of Wales and royal-blue DB flannel; Alex’s Boardwalk-Empire three piece with the polka-dot lining.
It was fun, and perhaps avoids the danger with such advice, which is that it can sound a little po-faced and not fun.
I hope you enjoy it. The first in this series, on dressing up in an office, can be seen here.
Our main points are captioned during the video. But for those reading this before diving into the film, they are:
- Let the craftsman do their thing
- Understand the house style
- Accept you will make some mistakes
- Listen to the craftsman's advice on cloth
- Bring a list of topics, not demands
- Play safe to start with
- You will come to love little idiosyncrasies
- Don't be too prescriptive with cloth
- Bespoke is built on trust
Other videos we’ve produced recently are (also all on the YouTube channel):
- How a bespoke suit can be repaired
- How to look after tailoring
- How polish shoes part 1 and part 2
- How to fold a handkerchief
- How to look after suede jackets
- How to look after good shoes
And the clothes worn in the video are:
- Me: PS Everyday Denim shirt with large-knot grenadine tie from Drake's, under bespoke Anderson & Sheppard double-breasted corduroy suit. Plus Yard-O-Led silver pen
- Aleks: Bryceland’s denim Sawtooth shirt, under bespoke Timothy Everest houndstooth sports coat in vintage cashmere jacketing
How familiar those stories are! But hey, it’s part of the fun, isn’t it. In a way, despite the financial hit, I don’t think commissions that don’t get worn should be seen as failures, as they help you identify for yourself your likes and dislikes. Simon (love the suit btw) have you had commissions that were a bit risky but the in the end were actually very successful (define success as you wish, could be frequency of wear or joy derived form wearing etc).
Yes, certainly. My Liverano purple jacket comes under that category I think, and my Caraceni cotton DB. But both in the joy of wearing category, rather than frequency of wear.
I’d still say first commissions should be more conservative and versatile. I wish I had a navy suit or blazer from John Hitchock, for example, rather than the royal-blue flannel suit, Prince-of-Wales three piece, pale-grey flannel DB and others I did commission.
Interesting chat, thanks for it. That’s a generously lapelled jacket Alex is wearing: I wonder if he borrowed it off Ron Burgundy?
I do think picking a maker you like is crucial.
I don’t have to say anything to Ciro Zizolfi as we understand each other just by glance. And I do like his style very much, so that makes it great.
Does Alex’s sport coat have a flap breast pocket?
I’ve never seen one of those on anyone who isn’t Roger Moore.
Great video and nice to seeing you wearing the best suit in your extremely extensive wardrobe.
The importance of selecting a house style that you like and not asking the tailor to deviate from it is primordial and well made.
It reminds me of the story of the amateur flaneur who bowled in to Dougie Hayward’s salon to ask him if he could make him a suit like Giorgio Armani ?
“No I can’t” he retorted . “So why don’t you f**k off down the road and ask Armani if he can make a suit like Dougie Hayward ?”
Says it all really.
The only two things I would add are:
First off, don’t at all be nervous. You are the customer. Cash is king and if you don’t like the way you are treat, walk away. It’s their job to please you, not the other way around.
Secondly, be realistic about your own body shape. This is essential. Bespoke by definition is making their house style fit you. Making it fit won’t necessarily make it look good.
If their house style prefers a certain body shape and you don’t conform, it won’t work.
There are a couple of tailors I’ve admired from afar for years but I just know that their style is not for my body shape whereas A&S is.
Asking a Brit not to be nervous or awkward during any sort of transactional relationship is like asking a sloth to run the 100 meters in under 10 seconds.
Hilarious and true !
I probably lost my nerves in the 18 years I spent outside the country. Particularly during the 10 I spent in NYC.
In recent times I think there is soo much good and sensible information such as permanent style and other blogs, articles, podcasts etc that will reduce such learning curves/ mistakes.
Personally, having been a reader of PS for a few years now and just begining my professional life beyond uni I have ensured to keep to the ‘rules’ outlined in your wardrobe building posts. And continue to apply them in future commissions.
First commission was a navy sport coat then:
– Dark brown sport coat
– Navy 2 piece suit
– Mid Grey 2 piece suit
– Navy cotton safari
Planning purchases far in advance had helped in this regard, I guess it’s the old adage you make the mistakes before for the rest of us aha. Continue doing the good work!
This is great advice. And as you are discussing all of these details with your tailor he will be sizing you up and figuring out your pattern without you even knowing
For anyone out there who is looking at taking the plunge into a first bespoke purchase, I would just reiterate the point about listening to the craftman’s advice. I made my first bespoke purchase a little while ago, an overcoat. I had an idea of what I wanted, the staff asked me a few questions, and recommended I go with the house style of Ulster coat. To be honest I hadn’t heard the term “Ulster coat” before, but it turned out to be exactly what I was looking for. In the end I think the staff were even happier with the the coat than I was – I was given the uniquely high compliment that it was the same style and cloth that the tailor had chosen for himself. Try to liken it to your own job: if your boss asks you to do a task you are familiar with, it’s going to get done pretty well. If your boss asks you to do something completely differently than normal, problems will inevitably result. As for the overcoat itself, I also listened to Simon’s advice – get it classic, double breasted, navy, and long. I’ll also add in that I think an overcoat is a great bespoke purchase if you can only have one bespoke item – I get to wear it most days through the winter but would rarely have the chance to wear a bespoke suit.
I think the challenge is getting over this initial resistance – you won’t know that you’ve found a tailor you like buying from until you’ve been through the experience already, and for people who don’t live where tailors work or travel (and especially for whom a bespoke purchase is a significant amount of money) that’s a huge barrier to entry. I really couldn’t have found the tailor without PS, so I’m very glad to have this website.
I’m pleased the site has been so useful in your bespoke journey Adam
I really enjoyed this, Simon.
I remind myself to keep an open mind when I go to the tailor. The cloth choices are endless and beyond fantastic. That is one of the best things about the process. If you’ve made up your mind beforehand you may be limiting yourself. You just cannot know all the options until you’ve looked in the cloth books. For example, even if you know you want something as basic as a grey herringbone tweed, there are options ranging from a heavy, rustic Harris Tweed to a softer, springier Holland and Sherry tweed. Consider that, while looking in the books, you might find something else that inspires you, and change your mind. It’s a grand experiment and it’s supposed to be fun.
Take your time; refuse to be rushed. I know this is geeky, but I make notations in a notebook about the cloths that are catching my eye, with the book and the cloth number, along with a brief description, so that later I’m not confused about which cloths I liked. I always sleep on my decision, because a little time gives clarity. In the heat of the moment at the shop the overwhelming number of choices can become confusing, even paralyzing. It’s a blessing and a curse. The process always begins with massive confusion, and I’ve had to accept that muddling is an essential part of the process for me. Having made my decision about cloth, I then take time to consider my choice of lining and other details. My tailor completely understands my rhythm and doesn’t mind that I don’t make up my mind immediately. He knows it might take me a couple of days to make all my decisions.
Some tailors have spent more than fifty years making clothes, and their experience helps you. If you’ve not had something made before it can be very difficult to tell from a small swatch how light or heavy the cloth will make up, or what it might look like as a whole garment. The tailor will give you good advice about the weight of the cloth. They also tend to steer you toward more classic choices and details that have stood the test of time, lessening the risk that later you will have something a bit off.
But I also try to remember to follow my own inspiration. The tailor’s taste might not be exactly yours. If you really want that checked tweed jacket with the three open patch pockets and the maroon lining, rather than something someone says you should get, go with your gut. I have found I’m always happier in the end.
my advice to bespoke novices: consider remaining as conservative as you can, focusing more on the fit than the fabric. My curve was as follows: first I got the basics, then I engaged into more creative styles (because you can) but now after well over several years on this journey, I consider that conservative doesn’t equal boring and that there is nothing better than a perfect shade of blue or grey. Classic styles exist for a reason and I now massively prefer a safe style over something creative and if I am honest, I also feel better in it, since many formal occasions, for instance black tie but also regular business, asks for a subdued and not IG-like presence.
My first commission was a black heavy chalk stripe with scarlet lining – I looked like the Al Capone for the 1990s.
This has been both an interesting and useful video, thanks very much.
Personally, I would add one more thing…choose heavier fabrics.
JJ, why would you suggest heavily cloth and what would you say is heavier ?
After several mistakes, I tend to prefer heavier fabrics. Drape is usually much better, wrinkles are a pain in lighter stuff, and they also perform badly after a few years.
Ask your tailor…
JJ, Frank is a tailor.
JJ I tend to agree with you. I just wanted to hear your reasoning. And I agree. However 20 years ago 8oz Lesser tropicals and 9oz JJMinnis Rangoon did drape like a brick. Lesser Tropicals was my favorite cloth. ( was )
Hi Frank, I m so sorry to ignore you are a tailor.
Thanks very much for your comment.
Living in Southern Europe (Madrid), heat becomes an important issue for tailoring.
And although Madrid is quite hot, is also quite dry, so choosing the right fabric in summer can be important.
Thanks very much again.
Thank You JJ. You might consider Fox Brothers Fox Air. And thank you Simon for getting us going again. It’s great to have the discussions again.
Several comments: I agree with most of the advice but would add the proviso that much of it assumes that you live near London or a similar city where there are plenty of tailors and a variety of house styles to choose from. But suppose you live in an area without a dozen tailors and have fewer choices. If the tailor is good, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask for a deviation (especially if it’s something like jacket length – as opposed to shoulder style).
For me the biggest consideration is proximity. Although many tailors travel, it’s hard to develop a relationship or get a good level of service from a tailor who lives 1,000 miles away. At the end of the day, I’d rather work with all all or regional tailor who is good but not great than with a world renowned tailor who happens to stop by your city twice a year.
Very enjoyable video – good tips in a succinct, intelligent interview and it is so reassuring to hear that even the experts have made expensive mistakes in their past choices. I hope in due course, Simon, you might be able to cover a few provincial tailors. I appreciate you’re based in London but many of your readers are not.
Great! Thaks very much. Hilarious to see your interview partner talking about mistakes when ordering bespoke and see him wear a jacket with gigantic lapels and a flap beat pocket. I really wonder how that board walk empire suits looks….
Google “Charlie Sheridan Boardwalk Empire “ and look at his suit.
Hi, what do you think of Fred Nieddu’s work as seen here on Aleks? Any plans to cover him?
Fred does great work, and of course cuts at Timothy Everest. And yes, we are working on something
Watching through the video, I start to wonder on some things.
So I am going to move up to Steven Hitchcock for my next suit and hopefully it will be a long term commitment. However, Steven has quite varying styles. Where do you strike the balance of getting what you want and what the tailor can do? I don’t want something that is not in his style (Neapolitan or structured)
But I want a long draped coat with a high collar, extended shoulders and low notch lapels. Frankly, this is a style many tailors have made through the years, just not recently and this isn’t the type of suit anyone would cut me today but was in the 80s. I like high waisted wide pleated trousers.
Frankly, I want the style of the tradition Steven was taught in but just not with the current trends, short jackets, skinny lapels, skinny flat front trousers.
How do you view this? How can I overcome the issue that nowadays nobody really cuts a suit like this?
It sounds like you’re fairly informed in this area, and you know that a rather structured or Neapolitan cut is not possible.
You can make some of these adjustments fairly easily, but how many really depends how extreme you want them. Lowering the gorge by an inch might be OK. But really low might not be something Steven is capable of.
If you want to know whether he would be happy cutting that style, I would send him a picture of what you want and see what he thinks.
There is then a completely separate risk, that the result will not be what you envision. Because Steven is doing something he isn’t used to, and you don’t know all the intricacies of how that old style was cut.
Basically, if Steven is happy to do it, you still need to accept that there is a big risk that what you get won’t be quite right. Because this is clothing design – and neither of you is a designer.
Hopefully you can help me with some recommendations. I’m looking to go to a tailor for my first bespoke suit – planned for a wedding I will be attending this September. I’ve noticed your advice in several videos to wear what you already like as a starting point for the conversation with the tailor.
My issue is, I have lost over 30kg over the past year due to cancer and (ongoing) chemotherapy. So the (off-the-rack) suits I do have no longer fit me at all, they resemble cloth bags more than anything. The same goes for my shirts and more casual pants.
Do you have any recommendations for me to make the initial visit to the tailor most likely to be a success?
I’m so sorry to hear about your health problems, Derk.
Wearing a suit that you like to meet the tailor is helpful, but it’s only a minor point. If you can’t, it won’t be a big issue.
There are some other tips you might find useful here
What do you actually wear to a tailor appointment? Dress shirt?
Yes, you want to wear the things you would normally wear with the suit you’re buying – so dress shirt, dress shoes, perhaps tie.
And also wear things you like the fit of. It will make it easier to communicate any changes you would like
Thanks Simon. Getting a sport coat this time and will wear it with roll neck, dress shirts, ocbd, shaggy sweaters etc. But I´ll take you advice on dressing a bit more formal attire for the meeting. Not sure what the dresscode is, for visiting a tailor, but definitely buying sweat pants for the occasion:)
Yeah, do also take a shaggy sweater if you want to wear that underneath.
definitely not.. haha
I would love to know how to find a tailor- who can make a kilt jacket. We live in Surrey, England, is there a directory?
I don’t know anyone I’m afraid Ruth, or anywhere you’d find out
Hi – a brief question if I may. On a first fitting, is there anything that can be done if a jacket looks a bit too short (in this case an inch or so)? The piece has the look of something which has been already cut-to-size so I would fear there is little scope to change it?
It depends whether it’s bespoke or MTM, but with bespoke you can lengthen at the first fitting yes, just not later
Thanks, Simon. It is bespoke. I will ask them.