What’s a floating canvas?

A tailor, from Flickr: Smabs Sputzer

My thanks to Adam King of Surbiton-based tailor King and Allen for a convivial couple of hours and a coffee last week, during which we discussed some of the finer points of tailoring. He’d invited me along to one of his pop-up tailoring events partly because he wanted to meet me and I accepted for that reason plus the fact that I’ve been guilty of writing mostly about one tailor alone in this blog so far.

I’m pleased to say he wasn’t one of these people who believes in diminishing the competition – although he (along with A Suit That Fits) was bemused by a recent Financial Times interview with another of the competition for budget tailoring which referred to the interviewees (established 2008) as more established than his company (set up 2004, and A Suit That Fits launched in 2006).

He was keen instead to communicate his enthusiasm for what he does and the difference between his outfits and those of some for which you might pay a good deal less. There was the quality of the cloth – we met at one of his suppliers (Holland and Sherry) in Savile Row to underline this point.

But there was also the floating canvas. This I found quite interesting. If you go to the High Street and pay your £200 or so for a suit, you’ll get the best approximate fit you can (I always find the shoulders ruck up terribly because I’m this awkward square-backed shape) – and there will be a lot of glue in the suit. It holds the canvas reinforcement to the cloth people will actually see.

There’s nothing wrong with this, nobody should be getting snobby about it, but it’s a fact. This is why less expensive suits pucker up quite a bit when they’ve been dry cleaned too often, because the glue has melted at high temperatures, or when it rains – I’ve had to take suits back because a downpour has ruined them (and the tailor replaced them by making new ones for me, I should add, then investigated why there was a problem – I have no complaints at all).

When you move towards the tailored, you move away from glue. At the less expensive end of tailored suits, say £250-£300, you’re likely to get a partially glued, partially-sewn suit or “partial floating canvas”. You couldn’t commission someone to sew it by hand at that price. So the suit will be more durable (and therefore probably less expensive in the longer term) than an el cheapo jobbie and it’ll be an excellent fit. I have a number of these at this price point and believe me they look good.

King and Allen majors on the fully floating canvas – so you can soak the suit, boil it, anything, you’ll find only cotton and wool and silk for the lining in their suits, so there’ll be no puckering, after a press it shoud look fine again. You can even pour oil all over it – mind you, that’ll ruin it completely so I wouldn’t.

You can actually get a sense of where these various companies are in the market. Move away from off-the-peg as I’ve done and you can be delighted to find A Suit That Fits costs only a little more, and you can design clothes online and have them delivered once the measurements are right – you can even take your own. Their founders have told me that their business is based on the principle that too many people buy off the peg. King and Allen (only my opinion) is nibbling away at the customers of the more traditional tailor – they won’t let you take your own measurements, they sell a fully floating canvas and there’s another couple of hundred quid in the equation accordingly.

Then there’s Gieves and Hawkes – no. 1 Savile Row, all of the ritual and comfort of ordering from an upmarket establishment with access to the very best materials. And you’ll pay more than I paid for my last car – I can’t see myself troubling them unduly with my custom in the foreseeable future but if anyone could supply me with the next lottery tickets I might – and I’m gaining an understanding of why you might want to.

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4 thoughts on “What’s a floating canvas?

  1. I'm lucky enough in that I'm that perfectly average size and shape that means I can easily buy off-the-peg suits that look very good. But what I won't do any more, and what still surprises me, is that you can spend £800+ on a designer brand suit that will never look as good on you as the lower cost “partial” tailored suits you mention.

    Interesting ideas. I don't wear suits often in my line of work, though I used to. If I was back in that game I'd certainly be taking a different approach.

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  2. Thanks for that. I should stress that the “partial” bit refers to the floating canvas, in other words it's part-glued and part-sewn – there's nothing partial about the measuring, cutting and your selection of cloth and lining, these are fully tailored from the lower-budget types.

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  3. Hi Guy
    I was just wondering if you ever write about fine tailoring that is based outside London? We are a small tailoring house based in Gloucestershire (Barrington Ayre Shirtmaker & Tailor) who have all of their bespoke and made to measure clothing made right here in England, but find that no one ever seems to write about companies who are not in London? We are very proud that we have all of our clothing made using English manufacturing but feel that people never seem to look outside of the Capital.
    I hope that you may consider looking further afield
    Thanks very much
    best wishes
    Tom

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