Suits and tailoring: choosing the features

I tend to buy suits tailored these days. There are two reasons for this: first I’m a slightly awkward shape even if I lose some weight, a very square back makes off-the-peg jackets ruck up on me terribly and this in turn leads to the lapel area bowing out. Frankly, they don’t fit.

The second reason is that it’s nowhere near as expensive as you might think. The linen suit in the picture came in for under £300 and although I’d freeze half to death if I wore it right now, I’m presenting at Bafta this evening and will be wearing another tailored jobbie from the same place (anyone wanting more info is welcome to mail me – they have a loyalty scheme so I can refer people and get points against future purchases).

I was wearing one yesterday, though, and one of the women at the meeting said she was surprised anyone would choose such a non-fancy lining for a bespoke suit. She probably had a point; it was one of my first tailored suits and I probably went in too conservatively. On the other hand you don’t want to look an idiot – so what to do? Here are some points to consider when you’re going tailored for the first time (I’d have loved a list like this when I started, and I’d welcome additional thoughts).

1. The fit
Luckily I was advised that slim fit isn’t just for slim people. Ultra-fitted would make me look fat (and yes I understand it’s no use blaming the suit); slim, as in the picture, is just that bit better shaped than a standard fit.

2. Working cuffs
One of the things that distinguishes a well tailored suit from off the peg in many people’s eyes – I’ve read it often enough. It’s a mark of quality, some people say; in my tailor’s case it’s a mark of my throwing an extra £25 at the thing so I can undo one of the buttons and pose a bit. Whatever. Don’t have these for your first made to measure suit, though; if you’re not happy with the sleeve length the tailor won’t have the same leeway for alterations as they would with non-working buttons.

3. Lining
Go on, treat yourself to a slightly fancy lining. Patterns, something with a sheen, have some fun – nobody’s going to see it much until you take it off, but it definitely adds to the effect. Make sure the back of the waistcoat (if you’re having one, which I wouldn’t necessarily recommend as they can look a bit stuffy and also emphasise any protruberance of gut) matches the lining of the suit and you’re automatically co-ordinated. Opt for a pocket square (or “hankie” as they’re sometimes known) of the same stuff and you’re really co-ordinated. Go for something too quiet and the suit’s likely to look off the peg – which of course may not be a problem to you.

4. Stitching
A hand-stitched lapel used to add an air of authenticity, proving something had been hand made. Since Marks and Sparks now have handstitch lookalike jackets available off the peg I suggest the benefits are diminishing – I like the look so I have it, but it’s purely a matter of taste.

5. Buttonhole stitching
Tailors will be pleased to stitch the lapel button and the cuff buttons to match the lining rather than the suit if you want. I wasn’t sure at first but went for it on the suit that arrived yesterday and am very pleased with the effect; nobody’s going to notice unless they look for it but it’ll give me a bit more confidence this evening. My tailor, at least, doesn’t charge extra.

Oh, and always examine any guarantee they offer in terms of the fit. Some will guarantee to alter a suit even if there’s nothing wrong with it and you’ve changed shape through weight loss or gain.


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