London is the centre of the world of men’s tailoring and one street, Savile Row, personifies that focus. So renowned is it that the Japanese word for a suit is ‘sabiro’. The basis of this reputation is the bespoke suit; the highest quality, priciest version available. But the description ‘bespoke’ has been much abused and some retailers and tailors describe their suits as bespoke when they are actually made to measure or even ready to wear. So, what is bespoke and where can you go to find genuine bespoke tailoring?
Before I describe the characteristics of bespoke, let’s look at the terms ready to wear and made to measure:
Ready to wear is bought from the peg. It has already been made to a preexisting design and pattern (or block). Quality varies hugely, the best RTW suits are well-made, with hand-stitching and quality detail, the worst are truly awful and fall apart very quickly. The style, fit, shape, cloth, colour and trim are as you see it on the peg. It may be possible to make limited alterations to improve fit. Prices for a suit vary from around £150 (or less!) to thousands. Most menswear stores and bespoke tailors offer some RTW.
Made to measure involves the customer being measured and a pre-existing block is altered to fit. This gives some flexibility in fit; MTM can fit extremely well, but there will always be little details that would be improved by a bespoke fit. Choices of cloth, trim and (to an extent) style are wide. The assistant who measures you is more likely to be a sales person than a tailor. Price start at around £750 and can reach lower prices for bespoke (from around £3500).
Bespoke involves an initial fitting at which many measurements are taken by a qualified tailor or cutter. The fit, style and colour are entirely at the discretion of the customer (but the wise client listens to the tailor). The process involves several fittings and many hours of patient and skilled work by the cutter (who measures you and cuts the cloth) and the tailors who make trousers and jacket (or coat as they call it). Every curve and bump of the body can be catered for by skilled cutting, stitching and pressing of a garment as it’s made.
The feel of a bespoke coat is quite unlike anything else – best described as snug while giving total freedom of movement. I own two genuine bespoke garments; a suit from Savile Row’s Dege & Skinner and a Norfolk jacket made by Brita Hirsch of Hirsch Tailoring. In terms of fit, style, looks and comfort they eclipse everything in my wardrobe. Wearing them puts a smile on my face and a spring in my step.
A small selection of Savile Row bespoke tailors:
Dege & Skinner
Brita Hirsch, Hirsch Tailoring
Anderson & Sheppard
Norton & Sons
Gieves & Hawkes
A section of tailors and retailers offering a variety of bespoke and/or MTM (and often RTW too)
New & Lingwood
Harvie & Hudson
King & Allen
Gieves & Hawkes
Cad & The Dandy