To the uninitiated, the world of men’s tailoring – in particular having a made-to-measure or bespoke suit made – is a little mysterious.
While the fundamentals of the process are the same, the environment we’ve created and our very special team are worlds apart from the old-fashioned ‘stuffy’ image of tailors that comes to mind when you think of Savile Row.
Tailor (and sometimes PR expert), Dennis Sterne walks us through having a suit made in our Bishop’s Stortford store.
The first consultation
Dennis admits that “First-timers do come in quite nervous, particularly younger guys who aren’t used to the process.” For that reason, every aspect of Alexandra Wood has been deliberately created to be ‘non-stuffy’. The store environment is very calming – as soon as you enter you know that you aren’t going to be judged. You’ll be offered a drink and then lead to the (very comfortable!) sofa for an informal chat. We understand that you’ve probably had a stressful day, so relaxing in the lounge area with a drink is an important way we help you to slow down and focus on the experience.
The first consultation is the most important point in the process as it’s when all of the information the tailor needs is gathered. We always allow for around one hour for this appointment to cover the style consultation, measuring and fabric selection. Dennis pointed out that the biggest hurdle at the first consultation is that people are in a rush a lot of the time. “In a luxury environment, that doesn’t work – it’s all about craftsmanship and service, so I have to explain that. It’s not a fast food outlet so I need to get customers to attune to how things work,” he said. As a guide, a made-to-measure suit will take between six and eight weeks, and a bespoke suit can take up to six months to perfect and complete.
If you’ve never had a suit made before, you may be surprised at how many questions you get asked. Dennis generally starts by asking what the occasion is and what kind of suit you want. “Around 50 percent of customers are at a loss as to where to start so I ask what they already have in their wardrobe. They may already have half a dozen navy suits so I feel it’s my role to steer them away from what their wardrobe is already full of and encourage them to look at something new.” Once the tailor starts asking questions – such as whether it’s for daytime work wear, general purpose or evening wear – it becomes easier to hone down what is required. This also helps you, as a first-time customer, think about the logic of the process and feel more confident as you understand how decisions are made.
But it’s not all serious: we firmly believe in the enjoyment of life through clothes – and that means there is always lots of laughter in the store. Ultimately, this session is all about you – so this is your license to chat away about yourself and your interests. We want to know what makes you tick (Rugby fan? Theatre aficionado? Travel bug?) and what physical activities you enjoy. This gives the tailor an impression of how your body works which inform the making of the suit e.g. they will be able to tell if your posture is off kilter from a knee injury and how to compensate for that. A conversation about accessories and shoes might reveal that a customer needs instep support which affects the shoe they choose and pant length.
You may be wondering if you need to bring anything with you. Well, you don’t need your whole wardrobe, but it’s a good idea to bring the shirt and shoes you intend to wear with the suit. This will help you visualise the overall look you are hoping to achieve. Tailors have a trained creative eye and can instantly imagine what your outfit will look like. They can also advise you on what accessories you’ll need, provide style advice down to your hairstyle, and help you avoid faux pas e.g. don’t wear brogues for formal wear! Trust them – this instinct comes naturally to them.
We then go straight to measuring; or make fabric, linings and button choices first if the customer wishes.
Knowing how often you will be wearing the suit makes the fabric choice much easier. For example, if you are wearing it for work you will need a more durable fabric. If the suit is for evening wear, then you can start looking at more luxurious fabrics such as wool/cashmere blends or silk. The tailor will guide you through your options.
On average, there are eight fundamental measurements that need to be taken for a made-to-measure suit, many more for a bespoke creation. The most important measurement and overall starting point is the shoulder seam – it has to be absolutely right.
Dennis explained that measurements and lines for traditional British suits have changed to make the suits more wearable. While the Italian style offers a softer cut, historically the British sensibility demanded strong, straight lines. Traditionally, British suits were hard to wear, almost uncomfortable like armor. Today’s versions offer more movement. In particular, the arm hole is cut higher so that the wearer can rotate his arms without the entire jacket lifting up.
At Alexandra Wood, you may even have your photo taken. This gives the tailor a good reference point for particular features of the client’s body. Everyone is slightly asymmetrical and experienced tailors are very good at studying body alignment and taking into account each person’s particular body quirks. e.g. a dropped shoulder, or a stoop. Dennis summed this up well, saying “A bespoke suit is one that only fits you. Only one person in the world can wear that suit. Off the rack suits just can’t do that.”
Your posture, arm length, and shoulder shape (believe it or not, there are three types) greatly affect construction. If your neck stoops forward it affects the measurements needed for the back of the jacket. Allowing for shaping in at the waist makes the difference between looking larger than you are and attaining that very desirable V-shape definition. A protruding belly can be minimised by curving the suit.
You’ll be called in for fittings after the initial consultation so that the tailor can make adjustments. If the measurements are on point, it is possible that you’ll only have one fitting before picking up the final masterpiece. However, we generally allow for two fittings for made-to-measure or three for a bespoke suit.
As with the first consultation, it’s an informal affair and the tailors do their very best to keep the situation relaxed, even when it comes time to de-robe. “A lot of the time it’s something about getting undressed that lets your guard down and it lightens everything up,” Dennis mused. “It gets funny in the changing rooms – people open up when their trousers are off.”
Again, bring shirt and shoes and any accessories (ties, pocket squares, belts). You’ll be asked to try the suit on again to make sure it’s perfect. Alexandra Wood’s staff only ever want to see customers totally happy with their suits and will ensure you walk out with the most flattering outfit possible.
What separates luxury from everything else is that feeling that you look your absolute best. For Dennis, this is the most satisfying part of the process. “I love seeing that moment when someone who doesn’t like shopping enjoys the process and realises that it makes sense for men to pamper themselves as well. It’s amazing to see the change that these clothes make to people. It’s just fabric, but it’s magic what it does for people.”
If you are now thinking a bit more seriously about a made-to-measure or bespoke suit but would like to hear about the experiences of others, these blog posts may be helpful: