Collar and armhole: How bespoke craft enhances fit

Monday, October 26th 2020
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In recent weeks we’ve done more coverage of top-end made-to-measure – the likes of Orazio Luciano and Jean-Manuel Moreau, Anglo-Italian and The Armoury.

Some of these approach bespoke in terms of the handwork involved, in particular hand-padding of lapels and collar. Add this to the more standard hand-sewn buttonholes and buttons, and you’d be forgiven for thinking this MTM was just as good as bespoke.

There are various ways in which this is not true.

The more minor ones were listed in our article ‘Is Bespoke Worth It’. They include the heritage of bespoke, the consistency, the relationship with a cutter, the ease of care and repair, the longevity and perhaps sustainability.

The biggest ones, though, are fit and quality. It is these that are held up most often as reasons for buying bespoke, and which are most directly challenged by the best MTM.

It is fairly easy to show how the quality of most bespoke is better. It’s visible in things like the jetted pockets, inbreast pockets sewn into the facings, and other handwork that adds strength as well as aesthetics.

We’ve started to cover these more, most recently looking at pockets and jettings.

In today’s article, I want to concentrate on fit. The aim is to explain a few ways in which bespoke tailoring (usually) still excels MTM in how well it fits the wearer.

Let’s look at the collar first.

Any good suit will have the collar attached to the jacket by hand. You can see that in the uneven stitches around the edges, when you turn the collar up. This makes it easier to create shape in the neck, and the fronts of the jacket.

The next step up in quality is to ‘pad’ that collar by hand, basically shaping it into a curve as you attached the different parts of the collar structure (canvas, felt) together.

You can see in the image above how this can be done to create a curve.

Some of the best made-to-measure, particularly made in places with lots of local crafts like Naples, does this hand padding. But bespoke goes one step further, shaping that curved collar to the customer specifically, using an iron.

It is this shaping when the collar is on the jacket itself, which allows the tailor to control how it hugs the neck of the customer.

And it’s different with everyone. Those with sloping shoulders need a rounder collar; those with squarer shoulders need a straighter one. Over two, three or even four fittings, the tailor can tweak each time how that collar sits precisely.

Often you can see this on the outside of the collar, even when an individual is not wearing it.

For example, if you look at the two jackets made by Michael Browne, below, you can see that the collar of the cashmere jacket (left) curves inwards as it runs up the neck of the mannequin, creating a concave line. But the leather jacket on the right does not, because leather can't be stretched and shaped in the same way (other tailoring materials like cotton have a similar problem).

A second important area is the armhole.

It is said that a smaller armhole fits the wearer better, as it separates the sleeve more from the body, preventing the arm from dragging the rest of the suit with it when it moves.

This is true. But in theory, there’s nothing to stop an MTM or even RTW garment from having a small armhole. They always need to make the sleeve smaller to get it into the armhole, after all; they could just make the latter smaller still.

The reason they don’t is that an armhole doesn’t have to be smaller absolutely to fit better – rather, it needs to fit the customer more closely.

And customers vary considerably. If RTW jackets were made with a smaller armhole, they would be too small for a greater number of customers. The armhole would be too tight, making it uncomfortable and causing various pulls and wrinkles.

Made-to-measure jackets can afford to make their armhole smaller, based on the customer, but they can’t afford to go too close, as they don’t have multiple fittings to get it right. So as a result, manufacturers err on the safe side.

With bespoke, the coatmaker will always baste the sleeve into the armhole by hand, allowing them full freedom of adjustment - and the ability to change that repeatedly over multiple fittings.

I compared a few of my bespoke and MTM jackets for this piece, and measured the armholes.

I found the difference was smaller than I thought. My Gieves & Hawkes suit recently made by Davide Taub, for instance, measured 7 inches, while my Saman Amel MTM (shown above) was 7½. (Jacket inside out on a mannequin, measuring distance from top to bottom, inside the sleeve.)

But that half inch makes a difference. I don’t have a side-by-side picture, but you can see in the image above that the Saman Amel jacket does drag at the body of the jacket a little.

Most ready-made jackets are much worse than this. And there is variation in bespoke too: cutters have different views on how tight an armhole should be, and the Neapolitan jackets I measured all had smaller armholes, perhaps compensating for a lack of structure elsewhere.

The way a bespoke tailor works in fullness to different parts of the armhole also makes a difference, though one that can’t easily be measured without taking the whole sleeve apart.

There are a few other smaller differences between bespoke and MTM.

For example, bespoke tailors are better at adding drape to the chest of jacket, I find, because they can use the chest canvas to manipulate where the drape goes. On an MTM jacket, it’s more likely to make the sides of the chest (under the armhole) messy.

Also, bespoke garments are more likely to have chest canvas that runs underneath the armhole, all the way to the side seam – rather than stopping at the undersleeve seam in front of it. This makes the sides of the jacket much cleaner (indicated on the image of my Gieves suit, below).

This is something I particularly notice myself when comparing bespoke and MTM.

However, this point also introduces our first caveat, which is that jackets with more structure benefit more from this bespoke work.

A jacket with three layers in the chest gives the tailor much more to work with, and manipulate. This makes a bespoke garment more noticeable: it is only in these jackets that you notice a real three-dimensional element to the tailoring, which cannot be achieved by MTM.

The side of view of my Edward Sexton coat below shows that, to an extent. The roundness of that sleevehead and the shape of the chest is impossible to create without both bespoke work and greater structure.

Most of my Neapolitan jackets just have two layers of canvas in the chest – no horsehair, no domette. They also don’t run that canvas under the armhole, as mentioned earlier.

As a result, there is usually a much smaller difference between MTM and bespoke with softer tailoring. You’re more likely to look at my Jean-Manuel Moreau, for example, and see little difference to a Solito.

There's also a second, big caveat, which is that all this depends on the skill of the tailor.

As I’ve said in the past, bespoke just expands the possibilities of tailoring – it doesn’t necessarily create something better. It gives the tailor a bigger tool kit, but they also need to be able to use it.

You’ll have noticed in the two major points above (collar and armhole) that both were dependent on the tailor having multiple fittings to play around. There was no need to get it right first time – and so err on the safe side – as there is with MTM.

But some tailors might do fewer fittings, or rather, not make use of the fittings they have. (I had some great bespoke fitted with John Hitchcock - below - in one fitting; some tailors struggled to do something similar in three or four.)

So bespoke is usually better in these respects. It certainly has the potential to produce a better fit, and it really should do.

Houses with more experience are also more likely to get this right, especially with varied body types (a particular problem with that one-shot element of MTM).

There is some wonderful made to measure out there, and some of it is easily good enough for what that customer wants or needs. But there will often be points of fit that could only be created with bespoke.

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Leo

Congratulations on yet another great post!

The nerd in me greatly appreciates the more technical posts of yours. For all I’ve learned following this blog there always seem to be more to learn, thank you!

Penn

Demette: do you mean domet(t), a cotton twill used for interlining? When I came across “demette” in your new book, I tried searching for it on Google, in an unabridged Webster dictionary, and a couple of Fairchild specialised dictionaries. No luck; but perhaps it’s an alternate spelling of “domet”? I’m puzzled.

Anonymous

Simon,

Thank you for an infrequent commenter for providing such high quality content.

Regarding suit construction, what (if any) are the significant differences between a standard worsted suit and one made as a kosher (Shatnez) suit? Is there a difference in the ability of the suit to be shaped by the tailor and to continue to shape with wear? Are there differences in the collar and/or pockets?

Thank you.

Anonymous

That is correct. Mixing of animal and plant fibers.

My questions focus on the functional aspects of these changes. Would you be willing to inquire with a tailoring contact in the industry?

Thank you.

Ben

Um, I hesitate to call myself an *expert* here, but I’m glad to pitch in on a topic I never expected to come up on this site!

I’m fairly certain that shatnez only applies to *linen* – not to plant fibers in general. So unless linen is involved (which it wouldn’t be with a worsted suit, right?), I don’t see where there would be an issue.

Ben

Ah, got it – didn’t realize that.

In that case some technical questions would come into play.

The big no-no, obviously, is wool-linen blend cloth as the main body of the garment.

Peter

That’s correct. Linen and Wool cannot be mixed in any part of the suit. That would include linen thread for attaching the buttons – I generally substitute silk buttonhole twist for this purpose.

Anonymous 2

Actually, that is not what it is. It is mixing of wool from sheep and linen in a single garment. No other animal or plant fibers matter–not cashmere, camelhair, cotton, etc.

The best person to ask about Shaatnez and quality would probably be Yosel Tiefenbrun, a bespoke tailor in NY.

Chancellor

Love these kinds of pieces. Perhaps you’ll be able to collate them into a book someday on the detailed craft of bespoke.

Stephan

Great read, Simon!
What are your views in this respect towards top-end handmade RTW e.g. Brioni, Kiton, Attolini, who do essentially the same processes as bespoke so getting the lapel and collar hand-padded etc. From my experience a great handmade RTW fits fantastic as long as the wearer is around the confection number. Thanks!

JB

Hi Simon,
I have a vague recollection from somewhere in the comments that you had a MTM Attolini suit in the making, but this was quite a while ago. Did I dream this or is it still on it’s way, slowed by the general awfulness of 2020?

Philip

‘They are not hand padding the collar or the chest. There’s a lot of handwork, but it’s not in those points.’

Marketing driven allocation of resources. Focus on what the client is looking at in the showroom – buttonholes/pick stitching etc? e.g. I gather with cheaper brands the cost of working button holes on the sleeves or somesuch comes at the expense of something else.

Robin

Very interesting article.
Certainly the kind I’ve requested and requires careful reading.
It opened up my eyes to the finer points for what can be achieved between Bespoke and MTM .

More like this are welcome .

Fred

Hi Simon,
My experience has been that I have one armpit slightly lower than the other. With RTW I have one side uncomfortable or I have to go larger on both sides.
I suppose we are all asymmetrical to a degree, and that only bespoke can address those small differences.

Stephen

Regarding “Kosher Suits”. A very close friend of mine’s late father was a bespoke tailor who hade a lot of experience with Shatnez, I will try to find out for you

Jason

Great points.
I recently bought a suit from Anglo- Italian and am very pleased with it.
Great style, good cloth and excellent service. All at a very correct price.
It was my first excursion into MTM for a very long time and I don’t regret it.
That said, it is no way as comfortable as my habitual A&S bespoke and that is really down to the armhole. A&S do a great job with a high perfectly dimensioned armhole on top of a wide sleeve.
The result is comfort, movement and drape beyond anything you will ever achieve with MTM.
However, all of this comes at a price and justifying it on formal suits that are worn so frequently is a problem.
Personally, I am continuing to go bespoke with my casual tailoring (Cord and Linen suits) because I wear them a lot but on more formal births, deaths and marriages suiting, MTM will get my business and I will suffer the armhole issue.

Ben

Very valuable information in this post.

There’s no doubt that bespoke has unique benefits when it comes to fit. It’s important, at the same time, to not fetishize individual bespoke elements and forget what really matters: a smooth, flattering silhouette that holds up with the wearer’s movements. I’ve encountered people who obsess over the high arm holes and close-fitting chest canvas on a suit that’s, for instance, comically tight. And I still get a lot of mileage out of my Paul Stuart off the racks: somebody’s sample size somewhere.

John

Hi Simon,
The focus on these two areas is instructive indeed. Yet I wonder whether when worn the difference in matter of fit between MTO and bespoke could easily be pinned down by someone else than the wearer?
An off-topic question: which are the British Mills that offer fairly heavy pincords?
John

John

Yes, MTM.
Thanks for the tip!

A.

Are you sure? I remember P&H having 25oz corduroy.

george rau

I would guess Martin Greenfield has made more Shatnez suits than anyone. He would be the person to ask

Moses

Hi! I haven’t researched bespoke tailoring and whether linen is used or not, but this article makes it seem that all high quality tailoring has, and should have, linen lining under the collar.
https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.gq.com/story/the-rabbi-tailor-of-brooklyn/amp

Julian

Brilliant article once again!

Among the higher-end MTM makers, which 3 or so would approximate bespoke tailoring the most, in terms of both quality of make and the ability to get fit right (due to factors you mentioned, such as attachment by hand of collar and sleeves, hand-padding, smallness of armholes, doing one or two fittings, ‘eye’ or skill of the ones running the shop, etc.), taking into account that unstructured, soft or Neapolitan tailoring probably affords less differentiation between MTM and bespoke as you alluded to in your article? I’m leaving out ‘style’ from the question as this is far too subjective. Thanks!

Randy Ventgen

Oxxford was considered once by Alan Flusser for non bespoke to have the most hand work; is that still the case?

Randy Ventgen

The Oxxford website describes their process and the handwork doesn’t seem to have changed.

Malcolm M

Simon. Do you have enough personal experience, or alternatively, broader knowledge of MTM offerings in Savile Row to be able to rank the offerings in terms of quality? Or, in case that’s too rigid, to give examples of who’s towards the top in this regard.

I have had 2 MTM experiences to compare. The first was Gieves and Hawkes, the second was Edward Sexton offshore bespoke.

I would personally rank the results of the Edward Sexton suits much higher although, to be fair 1) the cost was much higher and 2) I’m sure it benefited from the parallel process at Edward Sexton of ordering a bespoke suit, which had a couple of fittings before the offshore bespoke were started.

I understand you might not want to be too detailed or equally too sweeping in your statements, and that bespoke is the area you feel best placed to comment on, but I’m genuinely interested in your views here, as I feel the quality to cost of some of these offerings could hit a sweet spot for quite a large portion of your readership, while equally some may end up being very disappointed with MTM depending on where they go.

Malcolm M

I understand Simon. Whether you, or someone else, I think it would certainly be a useful exercise to differentiate what is actually done as a process under that broad banner. I think that MTM as a generic title offered by the Savile Row tailoring houses covers such a wide base of process and outcome. Some make an individual bespoke pattern, cut on site and then outsource the making up, and finally make all adjustments on site again. Almost bespoke. More commonly, and as most people would understand it the other end of the spectrum is basically either significant modifications based on multiple measurements or minor adjustments based on a few to a standard RTW pattern.

I suppose if one really does the research from multiple sources, including the tailors own sites, the differences are clear. But comparing prices under the MTM banner is more misleading, in my opinion, than comparing bespoke prices, as the differences are more fundamental than style, detail and finishing.

I think the Edward Sexton approach was very well done, but it might cost double some other offerings. I’ll be interested to see your thoughts on it,as I don’t know whether my very positive experience of it was driven by advantages of the bespoke process being transferred to the offshore bespoke pattern, or whether the quality would have been the same regardless. I would certainly use that service again if I wasn’t going full Knightsbridge bespoke.

Ben

Hello Simon,
I’m new to your website and men’s tailoring in general. I thought I’d just take this opportunity to thank you for creating such a comprehensive and informative resource, there’s nothing else comes close!
I was wondering, given your experience with so many different styles and tailors, which style of jacket would you say is most comfortable?
I’ve heard arguments for both Neapolitan and English drape. It’d be nice to get your input.
Cheers
Ben

Stephan (another one)

Thanks Simon for the post!
Would you mind clarify how you measured the armhole? I want to compare your measurements to the ones from my suits.

Henry

Excellent article! May I ask how do you measure armhole? Regards

Nick

Dear Simon,

I have found in my bespoke commissions that fit improves with the first several wears, unlike RTW which basically stays the same. Is it just me or is this something that is actually a factor?

Matt H

Interesting article. Considering how well MTM and even RTW can fit, I always find it surprising (shocking, even) that there can be problems with bespoke after several fittings. I would have thought that even a single fitting would be enough to sort out the issues in most cases, and after three or four I would question the ability of the tailor if there were problems remaining.

Jon

Excellent post; very informative and helpful. You mention ironing WRT the shape of the collar. Does the ironing effect a permanent change or is it temporary? My only point-of-reference is ironing my own clothes, where, obviously, the wrinkles are removed for a couple of hours before new ones take hold.

Anonymous

It would be helpful to learn more about armhole shape in general and as between tailors. If I compare the fit of bespoke commissions over my thirty years of buying bespoke, the difference in the quality of fit between them seems to have a lot to do with the shape and positioning of the armhole. The armhole is usually egg shaped and how the egg is positioned is very important.
The fit of the shoulders is also critical as the smaller the armhole, the more critical that the arms fall naturally into the armholes while the coat hugs the shoulders and deals with factors like a drop shoulder. I was drawn to bespoke because I am not an easy fit. I have had far better experience with firms run by tailors/cutters than with those run by designers or stylists (in fairness, my experience with the latter is with one firm run by two different though very knowledgeable people). There is no substitute for dealing directly with the tailor/cutter over a long period.

John

Dear Simon, I have a bit of a dilemma. My second jacket from the same tailor fits slightly worse than the first. The first was super heavy and double-breasted and the second slightly less heavy and single breasted. The single breasted has a bit of a gap in the neck/collarbone area which is just about okay if worn tieless but obvious is the shirt is buttoned. I was thinking of doing another commission (cotton suit) with these guys but now slightly hesitant. Is this an issue that, if pointed out, can be easily solved on future jackets or would you advise moving on? The benefit of this tailor is accessibility, I am happy with the style and the fit elsewhere and the price is acceptable.

George

Hi, I was just wondering your opinions on the color brown. Do you think it can work with a suit that has a distinct pattern.

James T.

Have you met Martin Greenfield? If so what are your opinions on him? Also what is the difference with a tailor and a clothier.

Andrew N

Simon,

I am working with a local tailor on my mtm suits. We have been using a formula for the size of the armhole, as follows: 1/8 chest + 1/16 height + 0.5cm. As I am a 41 inch chest this comes to about 9.75 inches. These armholes are comfortable but still dont seem as tight as they could be compared to what I’ve seen of your garments. Is there a methodology that your tailors use to tighten the armholes further, or is it purely from experience? Do you have a recommendation on how I could guide my tailor based on how your tailors do it?

Thank you

robert

Hey Simon-
You frequently mention “top stitching” on the shoulder seam especially with Cifonelli. I’m having a hard time visualizing this finish. Getting ready to start two tweed jacket commissions with my local tailor. Is top stitching reserved for finer fabric suits only or is it appropriate on a more casual garment? Do you have any posts on top stitching ?

Robert

Thank you. I see it. As always this is such a great resource.

Óscar

Simon, do you know if any of your non-hand padded lapel mtm jackets/suits have been done using the Strobel single thread roll-padding machine? Sure it is not the same as hand padded, but I’m curious if there is a real difference between using this kind of machine or not. Thanks!

Rayadi Surya

I Have an MTM suit. Since I gained a little weight, I feel like the armhole is too tight that causes shoulder divot. Is it possible to lower armhole in MTM suit?