Bespoke basted alterations: Chittleborough & Morgan suit

Friday, February 12th 2021
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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

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David

Great post Simon. Your comment about tending towards close fit on early bespoke commissions really resonnated with me. I’ve been exactly there, looking for a super clean back and waist suppression to give the perfect silhouette. But after more pieces I often encourage leaving a bit more fabric here and there to make the jacket easy to wear comfortably above all else.

Tommy Mack

Same here: when I was younger I was really into the mod look and had a tailor (George of Haringey) make me a 3-button gunmetal-grey mohair suit with the tightest silhouette possible. I still wear it on occasion but it feels somewhat snug and I often leave the jacket open or fasten only the middle button.

I had the trousers let out a little and even went back to George to have him make me a new pair when I put on weight. I’ve now lost some of the weight and find my waist size irritatingly somewhere between the original and replacement trousers!

Sean

Hi Simon
Suit looks great! Was the vent height shortened as well?

James

Hi Simon! How much were you charged for the alterations? Thank you

Jerome

Hi Simon! lovely post – would you cover bespoke face masks one day? any idea where to get bespoke ones in london?

Anonymous

The crucial question… How much do you (or a normal customer) get charged for such an intensive alteration?

Ben

Are these types of alterations during the life of the suit included in its orginical cost or are they additional?

Dr Peter

As for repairs adding to the character of good clothes, I remember seeing two images of Prince Charles, one with a patched grey worsted DB suit, a largish patch on the bottom quarter of the jacket; and the other with a very neat patch on the side of his black oxford captoe shoe, probably an old John Lobb. Can ordinary Britons be far behind their Prince? At any rate, I think the Prince is to be admired for getting the most out of his attire.

Troy

Hi Simon,

This post triggers a question I have long meant to ask.

I have spent years collecting French bespoke suits mostly from tailors that have since disappeared i.e. Henri Urban, Claude Rousseau, Max Evezeline etc.

Some need to be altered, and since they are precious to me, I’m leery to take them just anywhere.

Is it a faux-paux to take them to another active French bespoke house for alteration, assuming I am already a customer?

Anon

I’ve had Kilgour MTM suits given a new lease of life with alterations done by Timothy Everest’s team a while back…

Robert

My tailor often joked he only charged for letting out the pants or jackets on his bespoke pieces. If you slimmed down it was no charge. Over the years he was definitely money ahead.

Peter O

Dear Simon,
Your fascinating article on adjustment to keeping yourself fit shows your early retirement benefit your real love (as I presume PS is). Mr Morgan has a three button (T&A?) sleeve cuff with sharp 90° design which he opened after adjusting your beautiful suit. Your back hump seems to have vanished, I still think you’d
enjoy curative Eurythmy which will give you good fluid natural arm moves when you are on stage.

Ben

Properly widening the shoulders is a huge alteration, involving not just letting fabric out from the shoulder seam but also reshaping the fabric/padding around the new neck/trapezius/shoulder line. I can’t imagine it feasible to widen by more than a few eighths of an inch. The new shoulders still seem too narrow based on the frontal shot above: both shoulder caps clearly push the sleeves beyond the shoulder seam, leaving a dimple beneath. But that was a problem as far back as the 2018 style breakdown post for this suit.

I’m a huge fan of C&M’s clean and sharp lines. But they do make for unforgiving jackets.

Hak

Interesting to see it took you five fittings for the first suit whereas I needed eight! Subsequent suits have averaged out at five to six. Perfectionist indeed. Nice to see this suit worn in a casual manner with no tie.

Noel

Thanks Simon for the article.

Regarding traveling tailors did you wait for them to visit London and then for them to come back with the altered jacket? I have a solito jacket that needs some changes and I’ve wondered if I should use a local tailor or wait till I can get solito to alter it.

Perhaps this is a strong argument to choose local tailors when commissioning new garments (if a suitable is available): it’s easier to get garments altered or fixed when needed.

SC

This C&M suit has always been among my faves of all your commissions…the back looks so clean! And Joe is so nice to talk to also. Too bad the prices have gone astronomical, and being not from UK, very difficult to commission a suit with Joe’s perfectionist propensity for extra fittings until HE is satisfied…

Anonymous

Is the shirt light blue or a darker shade of Blue like sky blue? I think reverse striped is really underappreciated.

JJ

When were these photos taken? I thought it wasn’t possible to visit tailors during lockdown in the UK.

Goha

Hi Simon,

I know this is not to right topic to type down but just wanted to get your attention

This summer I am planning to get married at a summer place at sea side, the wedding concept will be like French Riviera style at the seaside.

As the future groom, I am very much excited and would like to have a bespoke tuxedo for this special day. I previously had couple bespoke suits and jackets with my local tailor but for this one I am very much excited to commission from a very good tailor.

I am considering either wear a white dinner jacket with black trousers or navy tuxedo but not find out how to proceed yet.

I am living at south of Europe therefore I should choose a tailor either from London or Italy and travel with plane for fittings. Hope to finalize process by having only 2 vacations.

I usually like Tom Ford/Cifonelli type peak lapel suiting since I have broad shoulders and muscular body. Most probably you won’t recommend me since it is a personal taste but could you at least try to name some of your favorite tailors especially have expertise in evening wear.

I checked your previous posts but couldn’t find many articles about black tie and evening wear.

I would appreciate if you can support me on this… Many thanks in advance

Gohan

Dear Simon

ı would like to share my deepest appreciation for your prompt reply and recommendations.

I contacted with Michael Browne waiting for his return to my email.

Regarding the suit color I decided to take no risk and go with black, the classic. Since the occasion will be on summer and the weather will be quite hot what kind of fabric would you recommend …

All the best

Manuel

Hallo Simon,

since I am interested in a similar commission, I am wondering if a lightweight fabric and an English suit construction are not a contradiction. Won’t a tailor like Michael Brown or Joe Morgan have to put a lot of canvas into the jacket to achieve their specific silhouette that the jacket would wear warm despite the lightweight fabric?

Thank you

Manuel

Denis Turecek

Yes, I must say, this is a great post and I want to write a similar on my blog. Lately, my favourite 3 years old made to measure navy suit started feeling tight around legs, especially thighs. And I also changed my opinion on leg opening.

Thanks to my tailor, who made it, it is now perfectly wearable again for many years to come and I truly love this possibility. Very strong argument for everyone to consider have at least part of the wardrobe made on himself.

John

This post inspired me to look through my own wardrobe, and found a flannel suit that I used to adore (the cloth being literally unique is part of it). Problem is, I’ve lost some weight since, and while taking it in a bit at the waist shouldn’t be too much of an issue (truth be told, it still falls quite nice) – the main issue is that it has some shoulder divots on the back half of the shoulder. Im not sure what the cause of this is (weight loss, posture change or if its always been like this as I haven’t really gotten much use from it). Do you have any experience with this (I notice some slight divots on your pictures as well)? I haven’t discussed it with a tailor, but would taking it at the back (as that is an area where a cm or so cloth could be removed) solve the issue? As it is a casual flannel suit, I don’t think that the overall size is too big of an issue, but I can’t unsee the shoulder divots. Any comments?

John

Yeah, I kind of figured. I don’t live in the same city as my alterations tailor anymore (and I don’t travel unless necessary due to covid) so my visits there are quite sporadic, though I have a trip planned in 2 weeks or so. Most resources seem to agree that the solution is to alter the sleeve pitch, and that this alteration is both complex and “risky”. I have never had to have any major alterations done, and I can’t seem to find a resource where someone has tried it (and posted results/experience).

I think a large part of it is due to the suit jacket having otherwise a natural shoulder, with more built-up ones it doesn’t seem to look out of place. Oh well, thank you anyway!