Manish’s five bespoke lessons: Picking cloth

Manish’s five bespoke lessons: Picking cloth

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By Manish Puri.

This article is the second in a series dealing with my personal experiences of having bespoke/MTM clothes made over the last six years. The first covered some of my tips for working with tailors, while this piece focuses on the lessons I’ve learned when selecting cloth.

There are also many articles around PS giving advice on cloth selection - most obviously the Guide to Cloth, but also a few others that I’ve linked to at the end of this piece. 

Unknown brother

My very first bespoke order of any sort was from the travelling Neapolitan shirtmaker Luca Avitabile, who, at that time, was hosting trunk shows at the Travelers Club in Pall Mall. My initial, tentative step along the bespoke journey is a memory I’ll cherish forever.

In the club's reception, I spied another Permanent Style reader who too was psyching himself up to see Luca for the first time; his eyes, like mine, betraying intimidation, panic, but mostly excitement for the adventure ahead. We latched onto one another and proceeded to take our appointments together.

Luca was charm personified, patiently guiding us through his swatches and cloth books as we sweated over decisions with the same eye-popping intensity as the FBI guy that has to choose whether to cut the red wire or the blue wire at the end of every 80s action movie.

Later that summer afternoon, still giddy from our first commission, my new friend Tim (in a jacket from Sartoria Caliendo - top) and I celebrated at the rooftop bar of the Picturehouse Central cinema - drinking pints, dissecting the Drake’s 2016 lookbook (still one of their best in my opinion - above) and making plans to collect our shirts together.

Now, I acknowledge that my friendship with Tim (still going strong after six years and his relocation back to Australia) was a stroke of sartorial serendipity spun by the goddess Clotho herself. But, if at all possible, try and find yourself a Tim - a buddy-cum-enabler that’s at a similar point in their menswear journey. Someone to visit shops/tailors with, share tips and dispense truths. And if you’re very lucky, you too could be awoken in the dead of night by the ping of your phone heralding a fit pic with the caption, “What do you think of this?”

Tighten up

This reminiscence is by way of introduction to my tips on selecting cloths, because my first few commissions with Luca (above with Simon) held a couple of valuable lessons.

The first, deftly summarised by Confucius (presumably after commissioning yet another pair of mid-grey flannels) who said “the cautious seldom err”.  

After 20 minutes stroking our chins over various cloths that we had absolutely zero intention of ordering - butcher’s stripes thicker than prison bars and gingham checks you could play chess on - Tim and I sheepishly pointed to the very first cloth Luca had suggested: a lightweight, blue poplin. “Bravo”, he exclaimed, as if we’d solved Fermat’s last theorem and not, as the case was, wimped out and selected the bleeding obvious.

Of course, when my shirt arrived a few months later it met every expectation - because, even as a novice, I was pretty confident how my cautious choice would look and how I would wear it. Without hesitation I pressed on with my sophomore commission: another blue shirt (more on that colour later) in chambray.

Despite the second shirt being made to the same specifications as the first it felt tighter in the armpit, the elbow and across the shoulders. The heavier and more closely woven chambray had exposed minor fit issues that the tissue-like poplin had masked. 

To be clear, this wasn’t a Luca issue. I’ve had a similar experience with other makers where a jacket in stiff Irish linen has stubbornly refused to submit to my body in the same way that a spongier woollen had.

So, my other piece of advice for those commissioning something for the first time and debating between two cloths, is to opt for the tighter weave. If the resulting product fits well then subsequent makes are likely to run more smoothly.

In reality, you’re going to want the cloth that you want; so, I’d just keep the weave in mind and perhaps ask yourself when you have the final garment, whether the fit is truly good or is being ushered from decent to good by the forgiving nature of the fabric.

Beginning to see the light

If the night is darkest before the dawn, then the swatch is surely darkest just before the commission.

That small, rectangular, inert piece of cloth, often presented sandwiched between not-too-distant cousins, is burdened from the get-go with all manner of expectations of colour, drape, texture, and of how it will play under light and perform over time.

So, alas, it’s not that uncommon for the finished garment, realised in over two metres of cloth that flows up, down and around one's body to look somewhat different to the original swatch, and (more importantly) to the suit engineered by your mind’s eye from that initial unassuming token.

The first thing to consider is that the full garment will likely appear a shade lighter than it does on the swatch - not much of an issue for patterned jackets, but potentially problematic if you’re fixed on a specific shade of blue for a suit or blazer.

The second thing is that the premiere of a new commission in public is like a third date - full of revelations. The blue in the showroom now has a purple cast. The soft cream suddenly looks like it’s been left out of the fridge too long and gone pale yellow. The black isn’t black enough dammit!

I’ve mentioned blue tailoring twice here (and, a heads up, I’ll do so again later) because, despite the promise of blue being an idiot-proof selection, this particular idiot has managed to get it wrong on more than one occasion. 

We all carry a personal notion of what the perfect blue is, and every tailor stocks a plentiful number of alternatives which form a tight orbit around that perfect choice. And so the potential for error arises simply because of the sheer weight of plausible options. For example, a navy business suit I once commissioned came out just a shade brighter and a smidge glossier than I’d anticipated - too characterful for an office but still too corporate for evening wear.

Sadly, there’s no surefire way to avoid this - although, when in doubt, opting for the darker blue is pretty sound advice and might have steered my blue suit in a safer direction. The truth is, in the pursuit of a bespoke wardrobe, virtually all of us will order something that we hope will make us look like Pierce Brosnan and wind up looking like Piers Morgan. 

Besides nobody likes someone who’s executed flawless commission after commission. It’s like people who pass their driving test on the first go - they’re not to be trusted. You now have a war story (if your definition of war extends to grown men consoling each other by saying "it doesn't look that bad"). Wear it like a badge of honour and use it to forewarn those naifs who will look up to you for wisdom. 

However, to minimise your risks, the first thing you can do is ask around. Permanent Style events, for example, are filled with people (myself included) politely waiting for the opportunity to tell you all about their most successful commissions. 

Secondly, expose the swatch to as many different (and relevant) lighting conditions as possible. Often that involves getting it under some natural light (which isn’t always in ready supply at trunk shows) but, if you’re commissioning a dinner suit in black barathea, how it looks under the midday sun is probably not that illuminating (no pun intended).

What I've recently taken to doing is getting a few prospective swatches that I can carry around with me. That way they can be examined under different lights, compared against similar colours in your wardrobe, combined into outfits at home, and, perhaps best of all, you get to ask everyone you meet “do you reckon this is a mid-grey or charcoal?”

If, after a week or two of playing around with a swatch you’re still excited about it being made up, then you’re about as prepared as anyone ever is.

Hot in herre

Reader questions about wearing heavier fabrics are quite common on PS, specifically around whether they wear too warm in an age of milder winters. As someone who works up a light sweat if they have to break stride to catch a bus, I would simply say don’t worry too much about it. 

In recent commissions I’ve favoured heavier fabrics - especially for trousers. I like the way they feel, the way they drape and the way they hold a crease. A particular favourite of mine is Fox Brothers Heritage Flannel which weighs in at 17/18 oz. (My current commission-under-construction by Taillour is a mid-grey chalk stripe flannel from this bunch - above).

Overheating in winter is a genuine concern for me. There’s no more forlorn sight in menswear than when weather finally becomes cold enough to wear beautiful layers of tailoring only for one to step into a toasty pub and have to start frantically disrobing like the forbidden lover in a Jane Austen novel.

However, in those instances, I’ve found I’m baking hot because of my overcoat and scarf, the chunky knit with the shirt underneath it or the extra thermal t-shirt underneath that. Seldom is the case that I sit there thinking, “I would be so much cooler if I just went for that 12oz flannel trouser”.

My way

In a sketch from the nineties South Asian comedy Goodness Gracious Me, a Hindu teenager asks his father how one goes about untangling their religion with its numerous ancient texts, surfeit of deities, and a billion adherents with nearly as many local dialects and customs. The father nods in agreement, before sagely offering this advice as the foundational pillar of the 4,000 year-old faith: “No beef”.

I often think of this sketch when I read guides to tailoring. There’s so much great information on finding the right tailor, selecting cloth and building a wardrobe, and yet so much of it boils down to “navy blazer”.

Now, I’m certainly in no position to deny the primacy of the navy jacket - I’ve commissioned a couple myself (a hopsack for summer and a lambswool twill for winter) - they’re supremely wearable and versatile. But, and this is often true of staples, whenever I try to wear it I found myself unconsciously mimicking the way other stylish people wear it. 

Of course that’s one of the strengths of the blue blazer - how easy it is to reference and incorporate into a uniform - but with each incremental boost to my sartorial surety those guide rails began to feel like constraints.

My ‘eureka’ moment came when I gave myself permission to deviate from a prescribed formula and commission something that wasn’t part of any capsule wardrobe, but, instead, was just something I liked.

I’d been bookmarking gun-club jackets on Instagram for a couple of years, and with no sign of that particular obsession fading, I commissioned The Anthology to make the jacket above from a tweed cloth by Fox Brothers

By gun-club standards, it’s actually pretty tame as it’s essentially different tones of brown (any hint of blue is a pareidolic illusion stemming from the pattern’s similarity to the Acquascutum check). The jacket has quickly become a favourite and (dare I say) a signature look.

Of course, ploughing your own furrow is risky when you’re new to tailoring - yet another reason why navy is such a great first choice: it’s a safe space for the uninitiated to play. But once you’ve found your footing, perhaps by your third or fourth commission, following your gut can be the glorious inflection point where a bespoke journey starts to become your bespoke journey.

Manish (below with Tim at a PS pop-up party) is @the_daily_mirror on Instagram

Some recommended PS articles to delve into this deeper:

Lost in translation: What menswear phrases really mean

Lost in translation: What menswear phrases really mean

Wednesday, December 27th 2023
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By Manish Puri

Powering up one’s menswear game isn’t merely about honing the perfect silhouette or mastering colour combinations. It also means becoming fluent in a whole new language. 

That will, of course, initially mean becoming familiar with the jargon: a key building block of any sub-culture. But to elevate your status, you must learn that those building blocks make structures and structures conceal as much as they reveal. Within menswear, the aficionado understands that a great many truths hide in plain sight.

In the pursuit of those truths, I’d like to offer myself up as a latter-day St Jerome (or at least José Mourinho) by providing translations of common menswear assertions. Below you’ll find a list of things that have been said by me or to me - doubtless you will have uttered or heard similar things. Alongside these statements I present their true meaning, naked and unadorned.

That’s the context for unpacking the subtext. But what’s the pretext? Well, it’s Christmas (translation: ‘tis the season to be jolly).

What I said What I meant
I favour a more relaxed silhouette these days I ate too much cheese at Christmas
I think gentlemen should start wearing ties and pocket squares again I bought too many ties and pocket squares at the last Drake’s sample sale
It’s a unique piece I have no idea what to pair it with
I think it will last forever Because I’m never ever going to wear it
Wow, I’ve been looking for something similar for ages You stole my look!
I don’t like to overthink my clothes I do like to overthink my clothes. I just don’t have an answer for that specific question 
It’s important to think in terms of cost-per-wear I overpaid
How do you keep finding so many great items for so cheap on eBay? I hate your guts
The Neapolitan look is over My Neapolitan tailoring doesn’t fit me anymore
Just look at how badly kids dress today It must be nice to have the energy for lots of casual sex
I’m thinking I should maybe have gone a shade darker with the cloth Oh my god!! What have I done?!

 

(Real things) people said to me What they meant
How many fittings did you have for your suit? The fit is terrible
Our house likes a longer coat, Sir You can get fucked if you think I’m shortening this jacket
It’s a classic look You look like your Dad
He’s a bit fashion forward  He scares me
Take your time. We don’t do a hard sell here.  Please don’t buy this
You're looking very distinguished Is that more tweed?
I’m thinking of switching tailors My tailor has put their prices up
I love the hunt for vintage My bank has put my mortgage up
I like to play with the conventions of black tie and make it ‘alternative’ I don’t know how to tie a bow tie
My preferred knot is a four-in-hand I didn’t even know there were other tie knots
I’m transitioning to a capsule wardrobe My wife said she’s going to leave me
Alright Chef, got your mise en place ready? I really do like your striped seersucker trousers, mate. I’m just masking it by making a world-class burn.

 

What my partner said to me What they meant
Don’t you look dapper? Why are you so overdressed?
What are you wearing tonight, darling? Please tell me I can wear jeans and a t-shirt
I'm so happy that your clothes make you so happy I prefer you in jeans and a t-shirt
How much did that really cost? I’ll take whatever figure you give me and know it was double
Ooh, that’s a nice jumper darling, be careful not to shrink it  Watch me “accidentally” put it on a hot wash so that I can have it
I think you can pull it off I don’t think you can pull it off

Manish is @the_daily_mirror on Instagram

Where to buy a RTW double-breasted navy overcoat

Where to buy a RTW double-breasted navy overcoat

Wednesday, December 20th 2023
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By Manish Puri

Some years back, I was having a drink with my partner, Gemma, and a friend, Nathan, who shared my interest in clothes. Over a few pints and packets of bacon fries we delved deep into matters political and philosophical, before turning to the personal, and nothing is more personal than style.

"What item of clothing do you think a woman notices first about a guy?" asked Nathan.

"Their coat," Gemma replied, without hesitation.

Nathan and I were both surprised. Lad's mags had been insisting for years that women are constantly scanning men's feet and judging them by their choice of shoes - it was almost as if the magazines didn't know what they were talking about!

The more we pondered it, the more sense it made. Many guys (and this was true of me for a time) have a 'one-and-done' policy when it comes to outerwear, the whole of autumn/winter to be spent wearing the same coat regardless of the occasion. And, if that's the case, the coat you've chosen to wear to work, on a date, and for a night out can speak volumes.

If that actually is the case (and I'm breaking out in a cold sweat just thinking about returning to having only one coat), is there a better candidate than a double-breasted overcoat? I don't think there is, and I know Simon agrees, going so far as to say the double-breasted overcoat might be his favourite piece of menswear.

And so, this guide has been written to look at some of the best RTW options in navy - arguably the most versatile colour. I've focused on coats that I've been able to try firsthand in London - and my, how lucky us Londoners are to have access to so many excellent options within a mile of each other. However, I know there are many more choices online, and so, as always, the comments section is open for your best recommendations.

Cordings (£795)

The Cordings polo coat is undoubtedly the workhorse option in this guide. Hewn from a robust Yorkshire wool (at 26oz the heaviest in the list) it should easily shrug off being balled up in the corner of a pub or getting snagged by a branch on a country walk. It doesn’t feel like the most luxurious cloth, but then again, the cashmere option in this guide is five times as expensive.

I tried the UK38 and it was a comfortable fit, even over the chunky Shetland roll-neck I was sporting at the time. The coat was longer than a Bollywood movie, finishing in the middle of my shins; an unapologetic length for a classic coat and the longest in the guide too.

The shoulders were slightly padded, but I’m pleased to report that they didn’t appear as prominent or as stiff as on Cordings’ website (below).

The only quibbles I had were on the design side. For example, I found the coat’s matte, textured exterior jarred with the satin burgundy lining, which is emblazoned all over with the Cordings crest. 

Or how about the patch-flap breast pocket, which didn’t appear to be wide enough to foppishly stuff a nice pair of gloves into - as is de rigueur with a polo coat. (I know, I can’t believe there isn’t a support group for poor tortured souls like me either).

But these points aside, I would recommend this coat to anybody that’s looking for a more classic style and length, and a more economical proposition. 

Also available in chestnut

New & Lingwood (£1250)

I’ve been really impressed with the collections released by New & Lingwood of late. (I’m also annoyed I didn’t give them a shoutout in my article on pink, because I’ve not seen a brand use the colour so well - whether it’s pyjamas, gowns or knitwear). 

Their pieces are full of character, or, in the words of the shop assistant who helped me, “charisma” (wind your neck in Stefan, I’ll do the writing). Their double-breasted coat is no exception with two standout elements.

The first is the use of a gently textured cloth made of 85% wool and 15% silk, the latter injecting a little lustre and elegance to the coat. As a result, the cloth is marginally lighter than the other coats in this guide - still plenty snuggly, but it might require bolstering with chunky knitwear in a cold snap.

The second element is the shorter, Buddha-belly lapels which evoke the feel of an old naval coat (although perhaps that idea has been implanted in my mind by the brand’s styling with a white roll neck - above). The shorter lapels (with a jigger button situated near the bottom of the ribs) affords the skirt of the coat a generous drop; it might look incongruous with low to mid-rise trousers, but I found it wonderfully expressive.

I tried a size 40 and that fit well in the shoulders, had room for layers and finished at my platonic ideal of coat length - a couple of inches below the knees. Generally, as long as the basic fit of a RTW overcoat is good, I don’t tend to fuss too much with alterations. However with its stylised lapel, darted waist and lighter cloth, I’d make an exception for the New & Lingwood coat to preserve the sharpness of the cut.

In my case, the shape through the waist was ever-so-gently interrupted by a few ripples caused by excess cloth in the back. Stefan was as quick with the pins as he was with the adjectives and restored the intended line, which could subsequently be altered by their in-house tailor.

Anglo-Italian (£1550)

The Anglo-Italian martingala coat has been a constant since the business was founded. It was also one of my first serious menswear purchases, having previously bought overcoats at High Street retailers such as River Island, Zara and (this must have been in another multiverse) G-Star.

I remember browsing Anglo-Italian’s earliest range of products (whilst trying very discreetly to check price tags before getting too excited or attached to anything) when Jake Grantham (the founder) invited me to don their new overcoat.

The lining of the sleeve may as well have had a card swipe machine stitched into it, because as soon as I put my arm through I was sold. The substantial 25oz wool weighed heavy on my shoulders, but, at the same time, propped me up straight and proud. It was one of those garments that wasn’t just pleasurable to wear, but revealed a mode of dressing that I’d been grasping at with limited success for a while.

And so, it’s with a heavy heart that I inform you dear reader that (after several winters of denial) I recently sold the coat to a fellow (slimmer) enthusiast. Alas, amongst the martingala’s many properties preventing weight gain wasn’t one of them, and I had to accept that the IT46 was simply too small for me and I would never again wear it with the intended repose.

Were I to get a replacement, an IT 48 would do nicely. Indeed, in the intervening years, the only thing that has changed is my body, the coat remains as it was: patch flap pockets, turnback cuffs and a more discreet lapel than anything offered by the other brands in this guide.

However, it was the details of the back of the coat which originally fired my imagination, as I’d never seen them on a High Street coat before: an action back to allow ease in motion, a buttoned rear vent, and a half-buttoned-belt to nip the waist just so. 

On reflection, perhaps I was too hasty and should have enquired if Anglo-Italian would consider a part-exchange?

Also available in mid-grey and charcoal

Edward Sexton (£1,750)

The Edward Sexton top coat is a relatively new addition to their range of RTW coats and is patterned after a coat that Edward himself used to wear (below).

It is, as with much of the Sexton range, a statement piece: full-bodied lapels swelling through the chest and demanding attention be paid to the strong, roped shoulder. And, as with many statements, they’re best made when you know exactly what it is you want to say. 

In other words, if you're tentatively building a more tailored wardrobe (in the manner that I was when I purchased my Anglo-Italian coat) the Sexton top coat may just overwhelm the rest of your wardrobe. For everyone else, it’s a superb option - steeped in Savile Row history - at a good price.

I tried the UK 40, the first time I’ve ever put on a Sexton garment, and was jolted by a frisson of excitement. I felt the beginnings of a smirk developing on my face, an unintended consequence of knowing you look damn good.  

The coat was perfect through the shoulders, but, owing to the thick folds from an overly long jumper and the thick folds from an overly long lunch, it was too tight through the waist and seat when buttoned. 

The coat has a few hallmarks of Savile Row tailoring: hand-made buttonholes, pick-stitching and generous inlays. And so, I could easily have let out the waist by an inch or two to allow me to button the coat more freely. However, the advice from Dominic (Edward Sexton’s Creative Director) was to size up to the 42 and bring the waist in to preserve the Sexton hourglass silhouette.

Thom Sweeney (£3,995)

Of all the coats I tried, the Thom Sweeney model was the one I would have walked out with on the spot. (An act I may have contemplated had there not been a staff of pesky, youthful assistants who looked like they could run quite fast).

This is partly because of the fit - the IT48 was absolutely dead on for me in the shoulders, sleeves (which are usually a shade long) and waist (which is usually a smidge tight). 

The only note of caution I’d sound is the length, which is gently flirting with being on the shorter side - fine if you’re below six foot (and at the age of 43 I’ve recently accepted that I’m unlikely to grow beyond that threshold), but, any taller and you might risk exposing the knee (and you wouldn’t want to set tongues wagging in the local Parish, would you?).

But my main reason for favouring this coat was the composition. Whilst the other options in this guide are predominantly fashioned from wool (a material that’s well represented in my coat wardrobe) the Thom Sweeney offering is made from 100% Loro Piana cashmere (a material that’s tragically less well represented).

And so, I could easily envisage a prime, central hook of my coat rail being cleared to make room for the Thom Sweeney coat. However, if you’re in the market for a one-off coat purchase to be worn regularly and without a care then I’d suggest a hardier and cheaper wool (such as those used by Cordings or Anglo-Italian) might be a better choice for you.

Also available in ash oak

Other options

The Anthology, in collaboration with Permanent Style, have developed a terrific polo coat. My only reason for not featuring it in the main body of the guide is because there’s currently no RTW navy option - it’s only available in herringbone donegal tweed ($1950) and camelhair ($2050).

However, customers can commission a navy polo coat via MTO, and, having seen it on a couple of friends (including The Anthology co-founder, Buzz - above), I would wholeheartedly recommend it.

One of the pleasures of working on these guides is that it gives me an excuse to pop into shops that I haven't visited before. And so, I recently found myself in the Cifonelli showroom on Clifford Street for the very first time. The range, as you’d expect, uses some of the most luxurious fabrics in the world - it’s certainly not cheap, but, when compared to some of the luxury brands housed on nearby Bond Street, it suddenly appears quite reasonable. 

Their double-breasted coat (€3,600) is a good option for anyone looking for a more luxurious piece. The coat is made from a very soft, thick, spongey, double-faced wool (which you can see as it’s unlined) and has some hand-sewn details like the milanese buttonhole. 

As is characteristic of Cifonelli, the coat does fit quite close to the body and high in the armhole, so I found sizing up to IT 52 offered the best fit. If you too find yourself with any fit issues, it’s worth noting that in-store alterations are included in the price.

When I visited the Ralph Lauren store in London they’d sold out of their navy polo coats (£1899) and had just a few large sizes in camelhair left. 

You might have more luck in your local store but I would expect a similar model (made from a double-faced melton wool) to be available most Autum/Winters.

And finally, a more budget-friendly polo coat option (£795) is also available from John Simons - made in Florence from melton wool.

My warmest thanks to Matthew Coles, Mila Dastugue and Nina Penlington for their help with this guide.

Manish is @the_daily_mirror on Instagram

Manish’s five bespoke lessons: Working with a tailor

Manish’s five bespoke lessons: Working with a tailor

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By Manish Puri

I’ve been commissioning made-to-measure and bespoke garments for six years. 

In any other sphere, that amount of experience might qualify me as an expert. So, it’s telling about the nature of bespoke - the slow production times, the incremental improvements to a pattern, the subtle differences in house style, and the gradual evolution in taste that comes from having a broader palette to create from - that I still very much consider myself a beginner!

Even so, in that time I’ve commissioned tailors from London, Hong Kong, New York, Naples and Stockholm to make pretty much every type of garment save for an overcoat (note to self: ooh, an overcoat).

I’ve had one almighty calamity (aborted partway), a few things I’ve outgrown (figuratively and literally) and have ended up with several pieces that fill me with joy and gratitude whenever I wear them.

So, this article (the first of two) is about some of the lessons I’ve learned from working with different tailors. Of course, this is just my experience and the Permanent Style archives are stocked with articles dealing with Simon's take on similar matters - I’ve added links to key pieces at the end. 

My target reader is someone who is about to embark upon having clothes made for the first time. For the old hands, I hope it gives you the satisfaction that comes from knowing the safe route through a minefield - and I insist that you share your hard-earned wisdom in the comments.

In the final reckoning, to be in a position where you’re even considering having clothes made for you is a gift of fortune. By all means research tailors, agonise over fabrics, measure and remeasure garments, snap selfies, curate look books, and interrogate makers. But, my best advice is to enjoy the ride.

1. More than a feeling

In Simon’s review of his bespoke suede boots from Roberto Ugolini he wrote something about the bespoke experience that had me knocking the nearest table in agreement:

“I am increasingly specific about what I need…and it seems to be paying off. When I was younger I didn’t, and a lot of shoes were just too small for me. Partly it was awe at the bespoke process itself - the work these makers were going to do on my behalf, the combination of skill and strength. But just as importantly, I didn’t have confidence in my own opinions.”

I’ve been guilty of this myself (and perhaps it’s that “natural English reticence” that Simon alludes to). I subordinate my own gut instinct to the tailor’s skill and experience. And on the occasions where I have voiced a concern that something is too tight (and, by the way, it’s nearly always an issue with something being too tight, because, barring your pants falling down, it’s amazing how quickly you can adapt to something being slightly more relaxed than you’re accustomed to) I’ve learnt that reassurances of things ‘giving’ through wear are futile if the current state is so uncomfortable that you can’t bring yourself to wear it - I’m looking at you dry denim!

As Simon says, “it takes time to know what you need”, and over the years I’ve gotten to know that my tailoring ‘pressure points’ (the areas where an uncomfortable fit can mark even the most beautiful garment for the eBay corner of my wardrobe) are around my elbow, across the shoulders and in the crotch.

And so, I’ll try and take a seat at the tailors to see if I can feel any pinch. Not a prim perch on the edge of a stool mind you, but a full gangster-lean back into an armchair with legs tightly crossed. I’ll take imaginary phone calls to see if the elbow feels tight. And I’ll reach into the air as if I’m gripping the hand strap of a Tube carriage to examine if the collar creeps away from my neck. 

I sometimes feel a little silly and even (here comes the English in me again) rude doing this - as if I’m casting aspersions on the quality of the work done. Your tailor won’t care. They’ve seen it all before. One told me that they had a regular client who would go to the corner of the room and assess the fit by contorting their body into shapes that would make Houdini wince.

2. I’ll be your mirror

If the front of a finished jacket and its attendant embellishments (lapels, quarter, pockets, buttons) conveys a tailor’s style, then the back, a landscape of pure cloth, is where their skill is on naked display. 

The large (and largely interrupted) length starts wide at the crest of the shoulders, peaks over the shoulder blades, troughs and narrows through the small of the back, before spreading its form to envelop the tuchus. This undulating journey reveals a lot about how the jacket fits and how comfortably it will wear.

And, so, it’s a minor frustration (and surprise) of mine that not all tailors have a setup that offers customers a closer look at the back - a rear view mirror, if you will. This is especially true of travelling tailors and trunk shows, although I can forgive them for being reluctant to check a full-length three-way mirror onto an aeroplane.

Fortunately, these days we all carry our black mirrors with us so, if you do find yourself trying to catch a glimpse of your own posterior like a dog chasing their own tail, I would encourage you to enlist your tailor’s help in documenting the back of your commission - photos will give you a sharper picture to nitpick over, while video will offer a sense of how it looks in motion.

And to those who say this tip is essentially just a 21st century repackaging of Cher Horowitz’s advice in the film Clueless to never rely on mirrors and always take polaroids, my retort would be that you’re a virgin who can’t drive.

3. My love is your love

In Permanent Style’s infancy, Simon would often bemoan the fact that tailors didn’t have enough examples of their work on display to help prospective customers get a clearer picture of what the house style was.

I think this is undoubtedly an area where tailoring houses have improved - both in the showroom and through the curation of a library of commissions on social media. (Indeed, at the last Mortimer House talk, Anda Rowland of Anderson & Sheppard appealed to customers to tag them when posting looks online).

However, even within the relatively narrow parameters of a house style there are still so many decisions to be made where even a modest adjustment can have a dramatic impact on the finished product.

Shoulders. Drape. Notch height. Lapel width. Belly. Buttoning point. Skirt length. Openness of the quarters. Like you, I’ve done my homework and I have a notion of what I want from each of these, and I also understand the theory of what a change to any one element might induce. 

However, what this looks like in practice, and how multiple tweaks might work (or not work) in concert sometimes escapes my aphantasic mind. The problem becomes particularly acute on a second or third commission with the same maker where you’re starting to find your bespoke legs and are emboldened to subtly develop your silhouette.

In those cases, you’ll find a helping hand on the commission rail, where finished and semi-finished garments dangle like ripe berries. By trying on other people’s commissions, I’ve been able to answer questions about how closed I want my quarters, how I like the collar to feel, how much belly I want on the lapels of a DB, and how extended I want my shoulders more precisely than I ever would otherwise. It doesn’t matter a jot if the coat is ill-fitting, you’re only looking for visual cues on one or two elements.

Personally, I’d be delighted if one of my commissions helped to steer a fellow enthusiast in the right direction. Just remember to ask the tailor first!

4. Lisztomania

Once you’ve made those micro-decisions, make a list of them. 

You might not realise it (because it’s probably been skilfully done) but you’ve just shared more information on your style, and made more choices about your wardrobe, than you ever have before. And even with a relatively quick turnaround (six to eight weeks minimum) you’re going to forget some of them. Or, if you’re like me, you’ll start daydreaming about the next commission and conflate the two in your mind.

Making a quick note of the fabric code, lining (cloth and type), number of sleeve buttons and any other atypical design choices can really help. Now, the tailor should make notes too, but this is a human transaction - accidental error or misinterpretation can occur, and you should prepare yourself for that possibility within reason.

Or course, if you went in for a navy worsted single-breasted suit and your tailor fishes out a lime-green corduroy double-breasted then run for the hills. Your diligent transcriptions in a notebook won’t help you in these forsaken lands.

5. Tell her no

The golden rule of retail is that the customer is always right. However, as someone that has previously purchased stretch denim, I can attest that not only is the customer frequently not right, they're often crying out for a style intervention where the errors of their ways are patiently and systematically laid out in front of them.

I do understand why some tailors are minded to tell the customer “I'm going to make whatever you want”, but, in the long term, you’ll benefit from working with a tailor that is comfortable saying no to you.

I’m a regular (and very satisfied) customer of The Anthology, for example, and still remember messaging Buzz (one of the founders of the brand, above) to enquire about making a jacket out of a cashmere glen-check cloth that had caught my eye on his Instagram stories.

In characteristically polite fashion, he steered me away from it. He understood my budget, my existing wardrobe, my style and my lifestyle, and he knew what I didn’t at the time: that this wasn’t the right piece for me at that particular stage. 

That careful handling of a customer when there’s a sale at stake gets to the heart of what makes a good bespoke relationship - trust and longevity. You can’t build a long-term customer relationship without their trust and you won’t gain their trust without looking out for them in the long-term.

Manish is @the_daily_mirror on Instagram

Six recommended PS articles to delve into this deeper:

Visiting Bel y Cia in Barcelona, home of the Teba

Visiting Bel y Cia in Barcelona, home of the Teba

Friday, October 6th 2023
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By Manish Puri

Bel y Cia opened in 1842 as a camiseria (shirt maker) on Passatge de Bacardí – a narrow walkway that connects Barcelona’s Las Rambla to Plaça Reial.

Following the demolition of the city walls (1854-1866) and the end of the Spanish Civil War (1939), Barcelona grew rapidly, and its locus changed. So, in the early 1940s, Bel y Cia took up new premises at the southern end of the grand shopping boulevard, Passeig de Gràcia, where it has remained ever since - a flag bearer for quality, luxury clothing surrounded by outlets of the Spanish fashion monolith, Inditex.

Over the years, the business has grown to become a full-wardrobe menswear retailer, and in 1989 a womenswear department opened in the same building. However, my recent visit to the shop was concentrated on the garment that has become synonymous with Bel over the past 80 years: the Teba.

Tales of the jacket’s origins vary, but it’s widely accepted that the first Teba was created as a shooting cardigan for King Alfonso XIII (above in Palma del Río in 1929).

Many believe the garment was commissioned on Savile Row at an unknown house – we know the King ordered suits from Henry Poole (since he was a boy of 10), Huntsman and Davies & Son.

There are, however, some that claim the jacket was the creation of María Sorreluz Múgica, a dressmaker from San Sebastián.

The King was a keen hunter and, at that time, the Count of Teba, Carlos Alfonso de Mitjans (nickname ‘Bunting’), was considered one of the finest shots in the world; naturally, the two aristocrats and bon vivants became good friends (both above on the right).

On a particular hunt, presumably after some envious glances and gentle enquiries (something I’m sure all PS readers can relate to when they’re out with a stylish friend), the King gifted his jacket to the Count - from whom it eventually took its name.

(Again, recollections differ here, and some insist it was the Count that offered his jacket to the King).

Some years later, in 1943, in an all too familiar scenario of menswear-enabling, Bunting (above in a signed photograph addressed to Bel y Cia) along with two sartorially minded friends - the Count of Caralt and Enrique Maier (a Wimbledon mixed-doubles champion in 1932) - decided to commission new Teba jackets. (I can virtually hear the glugging of vino tinto being poured and the crescendo in determination: “Shall we get some?”, “I think we should get some”, “I’ve ordered them, lads!”)

As the three gentlemen were existing customers of Bel y Cia, and therefore their measurements were already on file, they turned to the Barcelona shop, who proceeded to refine the jacket that has remained a classic to this day.

Unsurprisingly, given its hunting origins, many of the Teba’s characteristics are functional elements that suit a day spent roaming the estate.

Bel’s Classic Teba is fashioned from a knitted wool or wool/cashmere mix – a light, smooth and malleable fabric that follows the shooter’s form as they raise their arms to take aim – more so than a denser, stiffer weave like cotton or linen at any rate.

While the slightly relaxed and square silhouette helps further reduce any strain on the shooter's stance, it also allows the jacket to sit away from the body in warm weather and permits layering up on a cooler day.

Indeed, keeping the elements out is the key driver of the Teba’s style choices. The four buttons that run the length of the front of the jacket, the straight hems, the ventless back, and the button fastening on the cuffs all co-operate to shield its wearer from the wind and rain.

Even the Teba’s signature notch-less lapel (which I previously described as “a shawl collar sketched by a cubist”) can be buttoned to keep the neck covered on the Bel model. The lapel is also the area that has seen the biggest change from the traditional models sported in the 1930s and 1940s, having been slimmed down.

The finishing is akin to a shirt – shirt-sleeve shoulder, no padding, no canvas, no lining. What impressed me most was the roll of the lapels - which I don’t think is entirely obvious from Bel y Cia’s webstore images but is hopefully more apparent from the selfies above and the mannequin image at the end of this article.

I’ve tried other RTW Tebas and the lapels are often pressed flat above the top button, so the lapel line appears quite squashed relative to the long drop below. When I asked Xavier Cañadas (the shop’s manager for the past decade) how the Bel y Cia roll is achieved without any internal structure he proceeded to lead me toward the back of the shop.

Here in the centre of Barcelona, behind their retail space, spread across two floors, is where every Bel y Cia Teba and bespoke shirt is made. It’s an operation akin to a large bespoke house.

Under the watchful eye of the workshop head Ignasi (a textile engineer by training), the shirt cutter Ferran (who has been with the business for 30 years) and the Teba cutter Jordi (above) were busy preparing bundles to be stitched together by the team of tailors.

Each Teba (bespoke or RTW) is made and finished entirely by hand, save for the buttonholes which are machine finished – although Bel can hand sew them if requested.

In one corner, a lady armed with an industrial iron, suffused the garments with heat and steam to impart shape and animation – the critical step towards creating the lapel roll that caught my eye.

The workshop produces a range of RTW Tebas – the aforementioned classic knitted as well as similar alternatives made from cashmere, cashmere/silk, high twist wools, and suede.

They have also developed a more sartorial Teba-Sports Coat hybrid (the Stanley, above) which retains the notch-less lapel and button cuffs but incorporates rear vents, a central seam in the back, three buttons on the front, curved quarters, patch pockets (instead of the standard patch flap pockets), pick stitching, and a more tailored fit.

The amount of RTW available instore and online is relatively small – there’s no auxiliary production capacity in a local factory that stands ready to rattle off 50 navy jackets at a moment’s notice. However, not everything available is shown online, so if there’s a particular size or fabric that you’re looking for it’s worth emailing Xavi to enquire about what’s in stock.

Customers can make minor adjustments to the RTW model - sleeve length, jacket length, waist - at no additional cost. Similarly, MTO Tebas - where the customer can make alterations and select from bunches including Loro Piana, Lanificio di Pray and a variety of hardy British tweeds - are available with no surcharge to the RTW price. Altered RTW and MTO Tebas take 3-4 days – another advantage of the flexible on-site production.

Bel’s bespoke offering involves Ferran taking a series of torso measurements which are stored, as they have always been, on paper in a handsome wooden cabinet behind the shop counter. (I’m chuffed to say that my measurements are happily secured there, ready for future orders - although Xavi and Ferran think a small RTW jacket which has been let out in the waist would serve me well) The information is then translated to a paper pattern, and a fitting jacket prepared.

As you’d expect from bespoke, there are more options: some older customers add padding to the shoulders to compensate for postural changes. A bespoke order will typically take 3-5 weeks.

The Stanley jacket is not available in bespoke.

As I was finishing my tour with Xavier (above), the camera-shy proprietor of Bel y Cia, Señor Jordi Ballbé, came out from his office to thank me for visiting. Neatly attired in a navy blazer and paisley tie, Sr Ballbé spoke passionately about the business (which he’s owned since the late 1970s) and the importance of continuity and consistency - he employs staff that have been with the shop for 40 years serving customers that span three generations.

He regaled me with tales of when he had an office at 13 Savile Row and developed an enduring affection for Edward Green shoes. Consequently, Bel y Cia are the British shoemaker’s only stockist in Spain and have declined opportunities to create a house line of shoes because, as Sr. Ballbé puts it, “we can’t do any better”.

We discussed the history of the Catalan cotton industry, its status cemented by production of the fashionable chintz cloth that was in short supply across Europe following English and French bans on calico imports from Asia in the 1700s. (The painting below depicts a Spanish chintz (indianes) shop in 1824).

Every now and then, Sr. Ballbé would graciously break off our conversation and greet old customers with a kiss on each cheek. The whole experience seemed less like retail management and more like being welcomed by the host of an intimate soirée.

Our final conversation centred on opportunities to franchise the business – of which there have been many. Sr. Ballbé has resisted this lure for years – the only other physical space where one can buy a Bel y Cia Teba is at their Geneva store, run by his son Daniel – his rationale encapsulated by a mantra I know will resonate with many PS readers:

“I tell my staff every day, it’s more important to last than to grow.”

Manish is @the_daily_mirror on Instagram

Photos by Manish and courtesy of Bel y Cia.

Bel y Cia’s prices (at the time of writing)

  • The Classic Tebas retail from €1560 to €2550 – depending on cloth
  • The Stanley jacket is €2180
  • The bespoke Teba ranges from €1870 to €2990