Bespoke basted alterations: Chittleborough & Morgan suit
One of the biggest things that affects how great clothing ages, is the extent to which it can be altered and repaired.
The best things for repairs are often casual clothes, like jeans, where visible repairs can even be seen to add to their character.
But the best for alterations is probably bespoke tailoring. No other type of clothing has as much spare material sitting in the seams, waiting to be used. Nothing else has the same combination of reworkable wool and hand-sewing.
And with few other things do you bring the clothing back to the same person that made it, so they can make it all over again.
We covered what alterations are possible in this video with tailor Davide Taub at Gieves & Hawkes. In today’s article I want to talk about some I had recently - with Chittleborough & Morgan.
Unusually, Joe Morgan took much of my suit apart and basted it back together, in order to do the alterations over several fittings.
The navy-twill three-piece suit was cut for me by Joe (above) back in February 2013.
In the intervening eight years, I haven’t put much on the waist - no more than an inch - but I have put on muscle in the chest, arms and upper back.
This isn’t from doing weights regularly, or trying to bulk up. I’ve just been doing different types of exercise - HIIT, boxing, pilates - that have involved a little more upper body.
I know from friends that any serious muscle bulking is very hard to accommodate in altered tailoring. You often have to start a whole new wardrobe. Plus, I’ve always preferred sports or doing things that focus on keeping healthy as I age (particularly pilates) rather than just trying to look muscly.
The changes I needed, therefore, included a small letting out of the waist of trousers, jacket and waistcoat. But more significantly, more room in the back and adjustment around the shoulders.
The original suit was also cut pretty close, and these changes gave me an opportunity to have the suit fitted more comfortably.
A close fit is Joe’s default, and the effects can be stunning - the shot taken here of the back of this suit has always been one of my favourites, really showing how bespoke can shape cloth to the body.
But that kind of fit is not that practical - perhaps OK for an evening, but not all day - and I found I often ended up leaving the jacket undone.
Plus, I think there’s a tendency when you first have suits made, to want to push the fit as much as you can. Not necessarily tight from a fashion point of view (fortunately I was never afflicted with that urge) but rather to make it as different as possible from the RTW you’re used to.
I have had similar alterations by other tailors in recent years. They include Liverano, Solito and Anderson & Sheppard.
But interestingly, Joe was the only tailor who wanted to baste parts of the suit together, in order to have fittings on the changes.
Talking to other tailors, they would also sometimes do this - but only for bigger alterations, bigger changes in physicality. Not for what I needed.
I think Joe’s desire to do so reflects his perfectionism - the kind that meant the original suit took five fittings to complete. But it also meant more changes were possible along the way too.
For example, we widened the shoulders of the suit slightly, by I think half an inch on either side.
This doesn’t sound like much, but as anyone that’s been reading this site for a while will know, a whole suit silhouette is built in half inches.
Joe suggested the change in order to deal with my now slightly more rounded shoulder muscles. But I also enthusiastically agreed because I’d always felt the original suit could do with wider shoulders. Those large, rounded lapels felt like they would be better matched by a longer shoulder line, for me.
No other tailor had suggested a change like this. The alterations had all been in the side seams and central back seam - with A&S also working on the sleevehead.
The images here are taken from our fitting, with the shoulders widened.
However, the jacket and waistcoat were still a little too close in the back and waist - as you can probably see in the profile image above - so they will be let out further.
I won’t be able to comment on whether Joe’s alterations are any better than those of others until I get the completed suit. But even then, any differences might be due to the C&M suit just being made or cut differently. Certainly, I haven’t been unhappy with any of the changes elsewhere - only Solito needed anything re-done.
The clearest advantage of this approach to alteration, I think, is just that it makes other changes possible, and prompts you to consider what those could be.
It's a reminder of the potential for alteration that bespoke has. Not just opening up the side seam, or the back seam on a pair of trousers, but taking the suit apart and re-fitting it around you.
Of course, most changes are still not possible. The front edge is finished and prevents most of those, as do the pockets. This is nothing like the basted fitting you had when the suit was made the first time.
But, the craft and quality of bespoke is such that arms can be taken off, backs opened up, and sleeves played around with. None of which would happen with RTW - even if the salesperson had a clue what you were talking about.
Thanks to Joe, for going the extra mile, and chatting warmly through every part of the process. It was a real pleasure, and reminded me how much I miss his company.
And that relationship is, of course, yet one more benefit of bespoke.
Photography: Alex Natt @adnatt