Jets and pockets: Signs of a good finishing
A reader recently asked about what constituted the ‘finishing’ of a suit - and what indicates quality.
I initially planned a response going through every aspect of this, with examples, but that quickly became unwieldy. There are just too many to go into.
So instead, I thought I’d focus on one less-obvious aspect, and perhaps we can go into other elements later.
In this article, we won’t look at obvious points like the fineness of buttonholes, or lines of pick stitching, all of which consumers can see and assess easily.
Instead, we’ll look at the humble skill of pockets.
The first thing to say is that most tailors don’t consider this ‘finishing’, because it is work done by the coatmaker, rather than a specialised finisher.
But it’s just as much a part of the finesse of a suit, and is in fact something a tailor will often look at in someone else’s jacket, when sizing it up. Particularly if they’re a trained coatmaker as well.
It’s a decent indicator of how well the jacket has been put together: of the dexterity and skill of the maker.
The trickiest thing about putting in a flapped pocket is the jets: those strips of fabric that run above and below the opening.
They need to be straight, the same width throughout, and finish neatly and precisely.
Above is an example of a tidy piece of work - from Ferdinando Caraceni in Milan. The jet is straight, and finished with small D rings at either end. The pick stitching on the edge of the flap is nice too.
There is a tiny bit of puckering below the jet, suggesting that the flap is a little bit bigger than the opening it had to go into. And the left-hand end dips very slightly. But those are small points - ones you’d never notice unless they were pointed out.
(Indeed, there might be a decent definition of the ‘character’ created by handmade tailoring here. Such character should come from little quirks that you rarely notice until they’re pointed out. As opposed to sloppy work, obvious to all, which some tailors try to cover up by describing as part of the appeal of 'fatto a mano'.)
Importantly, the edge of the Caraceni pocket flap also lines up perfectly with the end of the jet (top image above). They make one continuous line.
This makes it more likely that when the flap is tucked inside the pocket (second image), the flap is completely hidden. It looks just like a jetted pocket.
Note also how similar the two jets are.
The Caraceni can be improved, however.
If you look at tailoring by the French houses, by the likes of Michael Browne and Chittleborough & Morgan in London, or by Liverano & Liverano in Florence, you will see a higher level.
Above is the pocket from my purple wool jacket by Liverano. The first thing to notice is that the jet is thinner. Perhaps no more than a half millimetre, but it makes a difference.
Thinner isn’t necessarily better. It's subjective, and a question of style to a certain extent. My Vestrucci has even thinner jets, and they might be too thin.
But as with a Milanese buttonhole, whether you like the look or not, you can’t argue with the work. It is an obvious sign of effort and skill.
The Liverano is also beautifully precise. The ends of the jets are perfect, as is the pocket flap (with edge stitching so small you can barely see it).
This is the kind of thing that can prompt a tailor to say a piece is well made - rather than super-slim buttonholes or embroidery. Liverano is a good example of that kind of jacket.
Above is another beautiful piece, from Chittleborough & Morgan.
The thin, squared jets and precise pocket flaps are from my navy three-piece suit. The way the flap slips inside the pocket is particularly satisfying.
Of course, cloth and age make a big difference to these pockets as well. A soft tweed is never going to tailor as precisely as a worsted twill; and all pockets will sag and open over the years, if they are used.
But the suits here are not that different in age or use, and we can make allowances for material.
The next example is actually in a similar cloth to the Chittleborough. It is a green covert, from the double-breasted suit made for me by Vergallo.
It's not a bad piece of work, but you can see that the welt is wider than any of the others, and there is more puckering underneath the jet.
Vergallo is a more regional tailor, and less than half the price of most other tailors here, with suits starting at €2500. It is arguably better than value than all of them.
But it is in little points like this that a cheaper piece is often shown. It may be that the work is done faster, that the tailor is not as skilled, or the number of processes is cut down. Whatever the reason, it’s one way to cut costs, and in a way no customer would ever notice.
The high-end tailors - on the other hand - might take the attitude that they’ll do the best they can, with the best people, and put no pressure on them. Then it will cost what it costs.
My last example is interesting in a different way.
Above is the pocket of my Anderson & Sheppard checked jacket. It's actually a better piece of work than the photo suggests. But what’s interesting is they’ve matched the material of the jet and flap. The checks almost run uninterrupted all the way down.
Most tailors don’t do this. It’s much more fiddly to do, and it’s easier to take a vertical strip of fabric for the jet, and turn it 90 degrees, than it is to use a horizontal strip.
In the images from other tailors, you can see how the weave runs in a different direction on the jet to the body of the suit, or on the flap. If that were a stripe, the jet would be a dark line running across and interrupting it.
In fact, on the A&S you can see that the coatmaker has ended the dart just above the jet (indicated with an arrow).
This is unusual, as normally the dart would run right down into the pocket. By ending it here, the material is not distorted by the dart when it has to match the jet, making the matching possible.
Now arguably this makes only a small difference, given the dart and the seam further round distort the check anyway. (And arguably, the dart would have been better if it took cloth from between the checks, rather than on them.)
But it does look nice from a distance, and takes a decent amount of skill and effort to do. Just like any nice, neat jet.
So there you go - something else to pore over.
In closing, I’ll just say that I think the character of handwork is worth coming back to at some point.
It’s not something we’ve covered much, and the coatmaker I spoke to (I always interview people - I’m not just making this stuff up) commented that they sometimes prefer machine-made pockets.
Machine work can often look nicer. It will always be straight, and always the same. Ralph Lauren Purple Label suits in particular, used to have squared pocket flaps that most tailors would struggle to replicate.
But the one thing they lack is character, and individuality. Those tiny quirks and angles in the Caraceni seams, the top stitching, the corners of the pocket flaps. They all betray that hand sewing.
It’s a different argument for bespoke tailoring: not fit, not shape, but an aesthetic that bespoke has in common with many other handicrafts.
A topic for another day.