The pattern in bespoke tailoring: A new jacket at A&S

Wednesday, May 11th 2022
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When I first had a bespoke suit made at Anderson & Sheppard, 12 years ago, the head cutter John Hitchcock made a paper pattern for me. 

This pattern is one of the fundamentals of what makes bespoke, bespoke. Or rather, it’s the fact that the paper pattern will be subtly adjusted - after the first fitting, after the second, after the suit is completed. And then after every future suit, if the customer changes. 

This is different from made to measure, where a set of measurements is used to adjust a more standard shape. There too, adjustments can be made after the (usually sole) fitting, but they can never be as precise, as creative, or as three-dimensional as bespoke. 

I might go into these differences in more depth separately, including how I’ve experienced them on my bespoke and MTM over the years. It’s a perennial topic. 

But for the moment I wanted to simply illustrate them, as part as a series on having a new A&S jacket made, with a new cutter (Danny Hall, below).

Danny and Mr Hitchcock both use the same method for creating the pattern - as you’d expect among A&S cutters. 

The back panel (on the left, above) is fairly standard, based off the measurements taken of me and the ratios between them. A&S is known, for example, for having a consistently small back neck (the top line of the back panel, where it meets the collar). 

But the front is drawn more freely. The shape of the lapel, for example, has a measured start and end point, but the curve in between is drawn by hand - referred to as ‘rock of eye’. 

The importance of this is often exaggerated. It’s not what separates a bespoke pattern from a MTM block - that’s more the adjustments made through the fitting process, as mentioned earlier. 

But it is charming watching someone draw out your suit free hand, sharpened chalk on thick brown paper.

Danny, by the way, is A&S through and through. He’s been at Anderson & Sheppard for over 30 years, and those shears he’s using above belonged to his uncle Bill, who was an A&S coatmaker from the 1930s to 70s. 

Bill was also a footballer, and after the Second World War was asked to turn professional at Arsenal. But he turned it down to stay at A&S. 

Danny grew up seeing what his uncle did, but interestingly didn’t think to join the profession until his plans to be a builder fell through. “I panicked, didn’t know what to do,” he says. “I ended up working in my uncle’s workshop in Peacehaven. But I actually loved it - it was amazing watching him put a coat together. And it’s lovely to be continuing here after him.”

I found it interesting comparing my old measurements to the new ones Danny took - particularly given the way they’re included in the elegant A&S records.

But Danny was more interested in looking at the old paper pattern, and comparing to his new one. Which I think underlines the point about what makes bespoke - for Danny it’s entirely a visual thing, a question of seeing in his mind’s eye the three-dimensional shape of the jacket, and how it has to twist and turn around the body. 

“Your shoulder is wider on this new pattern,” he noted. “It’s gone from a 6.5 inch shoulder to 7 inches.

“That’s not because your actual shoulder has grown wider, but because you’re a bit more muscular in the chest, upper back and upper arm. As a result the space inside the top of the jacket needs to be larger, to curve around it.”

After the first fitting (which I’ll cover more in the next article), Danny always returns to his cutting table and adjusts the pattern according to what he’s seen. 

“I find that absolutely crucial,” he says. “You don’t want to forget anything. Even if you’ve written everything down, there are little points you keep in your head.”

This is a problem when A&S travels for trunk shows, because the paper patterns don’t come with them. Instead, during a busy trip to New York for example, Danny will spend every evening writing down detailed notes in a separate, dedicated book, before ripping down and recutting each suit.

Below you can see Danny making changes to my pattern after our fitting: reducing the length on the front and side body, deepening the armhole, slimming the sleeve. 

Above you can also see the notes that Danny sends to his coatmaker Tony, along with the ripped-down jacket. 

This could give the impression that the changes are simple, and just as easily communicated using a computerised MTM system. But the note doesn’t include all the subtle changes Danny has made to the jacket itself with his recutting. 

I’d actually never seen a jacket being ripped down before, and if you care about the thing being ripped, it can be quite alarming. 

In fact it reminds me of the series of articles we did years ago, showing a beloved pair of my Edward Greens being ripped apart at the factory, in order to be refurbished. It’s quite hard to believe the thing you love will return in quite the same state - let alone a better one. 

I watched Danny take a blade to the basting stitches on my jacket, then separate the jacket into its constituent parts, press out the shoulders, and fold everything up into a neat bundle for the coatmaker. 

Cutters will usually work with only one or two coatmakers, and always try and use the same one for each customer. 

The relationship they have with the coatmaker is crucial, because each time the coatmaker puts pieces of the jacket together, he makes little decisions about how much excess to allow or how parts should sit together. The cutter has to effectively anticipate everything the coatmaker will do, his work and his tendencies, and cut the jacket with those in mind. 

Like most aspects of bespoke, it is a more complicated system with far more potential to go wrong. But it also has more potential the other way - to create a beautiful, sculpted piece of clothing that you can’t achieve any other way. 

Which is also, by the way, why really cheap bespoke is often a bad idea. 

The cloth for the jacket is a heavy linen from de Le Cuona, something I said I wanted to try in this article on the interior designer. 

It’s beautiful, if unusual, and the weight means it will be better for English summers than Mediterranean ones. More in the next article in this series, on the fitting. 

The first article, which went through all the Anderson & Sheppard tailoring I’ve had in the past 12 years, is here

A bespoke jacket from A&S starts at £3588 including VAT.

Photography: Alex Natt @adnatt

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Lindsay McKee

Simon,
Another interesting venture with A&S and pattern cutting. I hope that this commission goes well for you. What is the bunch No. and weight of the linen from Le Cuona that you have chosen in this commission?
Many thanks
Lindsay

Alex

The question mark after “turn back cuff” in the shot of A&S’s notes made me chuckle a bit. Another lovely read, Simon.

Gary Mitchell

I think I was a schoolboy the first time I saw turn back cuffs on a chaps jacket and I wanted them from then on… Years later a few of my suits do have them and I do like them but… Im absolutely sure I would not like them on everything as they do have a limited appeal for me. Never thought to have them on an odd jacket though.

Gary

The herringbone cloth looks similar the Anthology jacket’s in the “this feels like me” article. It would be useful to know how they compare (especially value for money) and why you have ordered this one as you like the other so much.

Gary

I thought you were having both cloths made up! Orange linen is a bold choice for Britain, one that would I expect Michael Portillo to wear on a hot summer’s day in Europe.

Sam

Hi Simon,
Sorry if it’s something you are already aware of but your adress appears to visible in the photo of the handwritten ledger.
Best wishes,
Sam

Judah

Hey Simon, just a heads up. Looks like one of the photos show your home address, you might want to hide that.

Ralph

I’m torn a little with A&S. On one hand, they seem to have done a good job with your suits and you seem happy. On the other hand, the suits that the team wear on their website look rather poor – they look shapeless and unflattering.
I assume all the front-of-house team all get / get to make a suit, so that they look the part in front of customers?
Additionally, the double breasted suit made for Daniel Craig for the new Bond film just looks really bad – very tight and unflattering (covered in this post by Matt Spaiser: https://www.bondsuits.com/daniel-craigs-sky-blue-anderson-sheppard-suit-in-hollywood/). Not sure if this is due to the difficulty of working with cotton or not.
I’ve often toyed with the idea of getting an A&S suit but just cannot persuade myself.
It would be good (at least for me!) if anyone else had experience of the finished product and could chime in with their opinions here.

Matt

I’d also be very interested to hear others’ views on the A&S finished product. Never used them myself, and keen to know more.

Roy Chefets

A&S make a very nice suit, both single breasted and double breasted. The suits fit well but the finishing is only ‘fair”. Several years ago an American magazine sent one of their employees to A&S for a bespoke suit. The magazine then sent the finished suit to a professor at the famous Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York. (Its a famous trade school.) The professor said the suit looked like “it had been sewn by an orangutan”

Will Tell

I remember the opening scene in one of the Daniel Craig (DC) Bond films, the one that starts in Mexico City during the “Day of the Dead” and I was horrified by what DC was wearing. I learned later that Tom Ford had paid for the rights to dress DC ($7MM?) and, well, that was that. In stark contrast, Ralph Feinnes (M), looked the epitome of classic English tailoring rather than the skinny-boi look espoused by Tom Ford. I understand the business of things but it’s a pity; Bond is English and it would be nice if he wore (and thereby promoted) English tailoring. By the way, I did like the tan linen soft-tailoring suit he wore in the Moroccan scene of the last film. That’s certainly a setting where deviation from the standard English tailoring is welcome.
I’m originally English but have lived for decades in NYC. I get my winter suits, jackets and trousers from Henry Poole. But in the warmer weather, such a boxy look is frankly odd. So I’ve started going to Ascot Chang. So far so good.

Ben

Very interesting piece—lots I didn’t know here. In which houses have you commissioned from, if any, has the pattern-maker and coat-maker been the same person? I know of a few young, independent artisans who do this but suspect it’d get quickly infeasible with scale.

Andy Parker

I have used a Leeds based tailor, Des Merrion, for many years. I believe him to be unique in that he is the only person to handle your garment. He measures, cuts, fits, recuts, and sews your garment himself. Nobody else involved.
Very special.

Andy Parker

Thanks Simon. Yes, of course Old Henry does the same in the States, but my reference point was really intended to be the UK.
Des would of course have access to outworkers, but took the decision to do all the work involved himself as the ultimate way to control quality.
As a customer, it adds an extra dimension knowing that the guy who measures you up is the only person who has touched your garment from then until you walk out of his workroom with it.

Andy Parker

Thanks. I would be really interesting to hear from your readers if they know of anybody operating in the same way. All the best.

Stephen

Hi Simon,
Whilst I am unlikely to buy much more bespoke (long time retired) , I find these types of articles on how menswear items are made and / or repaired extremely interesting.
I find it fascinating how things are made whether it’s buildings, clothes and general science. These articles fit nicely into that interest and a good change of pace.
Look forward to more in the future.
Thanks again

Andrew

Hi Simon, apologies if I missed the explanation, but what was your rationale for having a new pattern made? Were you finding that your jackets didn’t fit you as well as you’d like having put on muscle in your upper body?
Having now dialled in my own pattern with a different tailor over the last 5 years, I would be concerned about having a new pattern made and subsequently having to refine the new one over the next few commissions, as is the case with the first few orders from any tailor. In other words, starting over in some way.

Andrew

Thanks Simon. That makes sense. I haven’t changed cutters yet which I suppose is why I haven’t had that happen.

Dan James

Looking forward to article on the linen jacket. As said above a bold choice but for summer, why not? I am interested in the weight of the linen as I am already struggling to keep cool in an Irish linen jacket and linen shirt but then again I do seem to run hot. As the linen you have chosen was originally for upholstery, I would be concerned with it not breathing so well and being rather heavy. I suppose that would be counterbalanced by it gradually softening and moulding to your body and developing a lovely lived-in appeal.

Dr Peter

Fascinating piece, Simon. How complex the entire bespoke process is! One question: Was the choice of colour for the heavy linen from De La Cuona motivated by the desire to have a jacket in Breton red (in this country, Nantucket red)? I like the idea of using materials made for other purposes to make clothing. I once had shirts made from a bolt of parachute silk given to me by someone who had access to military surplus material — just as an experiment. And they wore very nicely.

SVT

I liked the shade of the fabric, quite bold and unusual. Let’s wait for the continuation of the story)

Doug

When your measurements change, does the cutter redraw the pattern, cut new paper to add to the pattern if the customer has expanded, cut the old pattern of the customer has slimmed, or something else? Usually the customer will have expanded. In that case, I suppose the cutter could save time by tracing out the original pattern over blank paper and then adjust for the new measurements on the new paper. In my own case I have both expanded and contracted.
I worry sometimes that when I place a new order with the tailor who has made for me before that the cutter may rely too much on the old pattern, or the cutter will make incremental adjustments rather than rethinking the pattern more fully to make sure everything remains good proportion.

Martin

Thanks for including the price Simon, it’s good to have that frame of reference when considering a dabble in bespoke.

Stephan

A very interesting article, Simon. Pieces like this are always my favourite ones. Cannot wait for the next one, feels like a weekly serial column in a newspaper 🙂 What are those called by the way?
Also, when you say “I might go into these differences in more depth separately, including how I’ve experienced them on my bespoke and MTM over the years. It’s a perennial topic.” I would say yes please. Particularly if you could explain how the three-dimensionality of bespoke helps with achieving a perfect fit on some more difficult parts of the body, such as shoulder line, one lower shoulder, arm curvature, small of the back, seat of the trouser etc.

David Gerald

Simon The only thing I don’t like about the way A&S makes their suits is the belly on the lapel. I find it too big and too round. I’m a short man 5’4” so big lapels or well rounded lapels do not look good on me. If that’s the only thing I would want changed how willing would A&S be to do that.

Sandoval

Dear Simon,
Another very interesting article, just like the previous one on A&S.
Given my particular build – narrow shoulders and wide hips – I have had to go full bespoke for at least 20 years. My tailor – Italian – has unfortunately (for me, not for him!) retired, so I have to shoot with the pieces I’ve had made since then, but as there are a number of them, I’m safe. However, I have always dreamed of having a suit made by an English tailor, and I have particularly by A&S, but I have always been held back by a doubt.
So – and this is where it might be of interest to Ralph and Matt – I jumped at the chance with Tom Mahon, using their suit copying service. Tom was a cutter at A&S for a long time, then went off on his own and finally landed at Redmayne. So he has the typical A&S style, drape, very soft shoulder. Unfortunately, the result was not convincing. Not at all because of their fault, the tailoring is excellent, but because the English-A&S style is definitely not for me, unfortunately: it accentuates my flaws, and erases my qualities. So obviously, it’s not bespoke, there was no fitting, but I think that even if it had been, I would have been disappointed, just as I was disappointed by a Neapolitan attempt at a jacket, with its typical spalla camicia. Result, unwearable.
I must resign myself, I’m afraid… the English style must not be for me, even if I only had a glimpse of it. Unless I find a tailor who does a lot of shoulder work, something military perhaps, to increase the V shape that I don’t really have. And that’s where I need your advice, dear Simon. Assuming I get a suit made at a du Row, to get the opposite effect of A&S, who would you advise me to go to? If I don’t go to the extreme C&M, which I find very racy, but which doesn’t suit me for house style reasons, should I consider Dege? Or Poole? Or maybe Gieves? What do you think?

Sandoval

Thank you dear !

NB

Do you know where full A&S two-piece suits start nowadays price-wise?

Ben Frankel

As linen can’t be shrunk, steamed and moulded like wool- does this mean a different method is needed to achieve the character and shoulder of an A&S jacket?

Ravi Singh

Simon, this is a wonderful piece. Takes you into the world of bespoke and helps one understand the work that goes behind the scenes.
It was articles like these on bespoke that drew many into your blog and a nice departure from the focus on more casual wear.

zo

You talk of the merits of the cutter communicating with the coat maker. Surely that merit is lost when the savile row houses use off-shore services? Your review of the sexton off shore suit was largely positive..(similar with W&S I think?) so im guessing that communication is not that valuable…certainly not worth the extra £4k. What do you think? And A&S don’t yet offer a cheaper part-off-shore service do they? Thanks in advance.

Andrew Jones

Really appreciate the article Simon and the whole website – it has been a great resource and I’ve purchased a few times from the shop a few years ago. I had a DB pinstripe made at A&S cut by Danny six years ago which has been a beautiful suit that I’ve been very happy with. I ended up losing weight since then and kept meaning to come and have it altered but finally did so and just was in the shop last week as Danny had slimmed down the pattern. Just remarkable how much better the fit is – I think I had forgotten how good it was 6 years ago but seems like a new suit. Trouble is that a DB pinstripe doesn’t get as much use as I would like so I’m having a navy jacket made which I think will get far more use.