- Vivian Hendriksz |
London - A man's wardrobe is never complete without the perfect fitting suit. Sometimes three pieced, sometimes two pieced, the suit can be dressed up or dressed down, worn for formal or special occasions or for work - becoming the go to outfit for men throughout the years. Born in London, the suit is seen as an iconic ensemble across the globe, coming in an endless array of colors, fabrics, textures and cuts. A perfectly engineered suit can transform the body of its wearer through the secrets of its tailoring on the inside. In order to learn more about the anatomy of the bespoke suit, FashionUnited took a moment to talk to Robert Bailey, Senior Cutter at Savile Row Tailor Huntsman.
Suits throughout the Years
The origins of the modern suit seen today can be linked back to the 17th century. The three-piece suit, which consists of a waistcoat, jacket and trousers in a matching fabrics was born on October 7th, 1666 in the heart of London and introduced to men's wardrobes by the restored monarch, King Charles II. The first waistcoats were originally quite long and extended past the hips and crafted from vibrant and luxurious materials. Tailored suits came later into play, inspired by the fineness of military uniforms in the 18th century,featuring various sized collars, sleeves and ornamented buttons, which lead to the emergence of Savile Row. However, it is said the iconic George "Beau" Brummell, the father of the British Dandy, who speared the way for perfectly fitted and bespoke suits.
Over the years several sub-cultures like the Teddys Boys, the Mods, and the Punks, influenced and reinterpreted the form of the suit leading to the emergence of styles such as the Zoot suit of the 1940s, the Safari suit of the 1970s and the Power Suit of 1980s. As the suit continues to evolve over the years, one aspect behind the success of the outfit remains the same: fit. "A great suit fits the customer well and flatters the wearer, making him taller and slimmer," points out Bailey. "It can hide a myriad of flaws." An ill-fitting suit on the other hand does the exact opposite and can even highlight unwanted flaws. So what makes a great, bespoke suit?
The Anatomy of the Bespoke Suit
When asked what the main components of a bespoke suit, the answer was surprisingly simple. "The coat, consisting of two foreparts, the back and the sleeves." Of course, this can be broken further down into separate areas, like the shoulder pad which straights and broadens the natural builds of the wearer and the chest piece, which is designed to give an impression of a smooth and flat figure. "The construction is assisted by a full floating canvas made from natural fibres that help with the structure and breathability of the garment," adds Bailey, who has over thirty years of experience working as a tailor and cutter. He notes that Huntsman uses natural materials throughout the construction of its suits to ensure the suits longevity.
The coat's outer layer sits on top of the floating canvas and is cut in a way to provide the wearer with an indented waist. The placement of pockets and flaps are usually positioned in a certain way to place attention on the hips. In some cases, extra pocket padding is placed on the inside of the coat to help achieve the ideal coat shape. However, it is the suit lapels which are the centerpiece of the coat, as they provide framing for the tie, the neck and the face. Diagonally hand-sewn stitches under the outer-layer of the lapel help in keeping the line of the lapels sharp and clean throughout the suits lifetime.
The Production of the Suit
Although the anatomy of the suit may seem fairly straightforward, the production of a bespoke suit is anything but. With an average of four people working on a single suit - the cutter, the coat maker, the trouser maker and the finisher - it can take upwards of 60 to 80 hours for a team at Huntsman to produce one bespoke suit. "We start by taking a full set of the customer’s measurements and selecting cloth and styling details," explains Bailey, with over thirty measurements taken to ensure the body blueprint is accurate. "Cloth is ordered and the measurements are transposed into a paper pattern by the cutter. This is then chalked up and cut out. It is then 'trimmed,' which means that a kit containing the chest canvas, linings, threads, shoulder pads and all other components is put together before being passed onto the relevant tailors."
"Afterwards, the coat and trouser maker interpret the pattern and notes and work together with the cutter to sew the suit together into a 'baste' for the first fitting. Once the customer has returned for a first fitting, adjustments are made to the pattern and baste. This is then ripped down before the coat maker evolves it further, making changes in readiness for the second fitting. At this point, the suit will have progressed and pockets will have been added too. The same process takes place, with all details being noted and made. The order is then pressed, before being passed to a finisher to ready it for the final stage, where the garment has its buttons, edge stitching and lining sewn in meticulously by hand."
The team at Huntsman place high emphasis on the use of natural cloth and fabrics for their suits, as they both look and wear better than their synthetic counterparts. "A good medium weight wool cloth is always a winning ingredient," noted the cutter. "Something with a tight weave and high twist will always be beneficial too. Synthetics are always terrible, result in shine and do not last. They are also very hard to work with. Our favourite weights of cloth are between 8-11oz." However, they are open to using new cloths for their suits - provided they pass all tests. "We always check how well a cloth will wear, whether it is subject to creasing, whether it will tailor well and respond to the cutter and tailor without being too 'lively' while ensuring that it does not pull."
The Bespoke Suit of Today and Tomorrow
Even though the style of the suit has changed throughout the year, Huntsman has a more traditional approach to the bespoke garment. "Within Huntsman our suits have changed very little, primarily because the cut and style is timeless. We stick with our own traditional style as it never goes out of fashion, but endures." Nevertheless, Bailey and his team are aware of the changes in suiting styles and adjust their bespoke suits accordingly. "We have noted the trend for shorter coats, narrower lapels and a closer fitting cut," he points out.
"Most customers also request a one button coat and on occasion two." In fact, the most popular style of suit at Huntsman is their signature single breasted coat, one button house style - a style he also recommends for 'fuller' figured men. "There are a lot of techniques we use or incorporate to make people look bigger, trimmer or taller. We have a lot of tricks up our sleeves."
However, even the perfect bespoke suit, one that both "fits and flatters" may need the occasional replacing. "A good suit should last a customer well, but we recommend alternating your suit on a daily basis in order to keep it fresh," stresses Bailey. "It very much depends on cloth choice, construction and how often the suit is going to be worn. We often recommend our customers opt for a second pair of trousers if they are likely to give a suit a lot of wear."