After over 20 years in tailoring, I started to look back on how much I’ve learned and have evolved. I write about what it takes to become an expert in tailoring:
Becoming an expert doesn’t happen over night. It takes years. You can know a huge amount about a subject but until you start practising it, you don’t realise all the intricacies that there are to find out along the way….
I’ve measured and made approximately 5’000 suits and done well over 10’000 fittings. Trust me, you learn a lot and you also quickly realise that it’s not just about the customers measurements, there are so many aspects to take into consideration.
Paying attention to the body is vital. You could shake hands, take quick measures and make a suit, but for me, it’s about really looking at the customer from head to toe. When customers come in, (as we all probably would), we think “Yikes, I’m in a tailors, I better stand properly and get my posture in check”. The problem is with this, is that we all slump, we’re not all symmetrical and we all have our quirks, after all life would be pretty dull otherwise. So when I take a customers measurements, at the same time I’m looking at how they stand and it becomes more natural the more you talk to them and the more comfortable they become.
I look at the customers stance, arm pitch. overall posture and I can even tell if someones had an accident, where there shoulders may be out of sync and that may need taking into consideration. I ask myself: Do the hips naturally sit forward, is one shoulder lower than the other (which by the way, you’d be exhausted to try and balance out physically. I have one ;-)) there are so many tiny details to take into consideration and I make everyone of my tailors take all of these factors in. To become very aware of someone’s body shape and posture.
I’ve heard tailors say- ‘ah, I’ll measure with a bit of room, or I’ll do it tight, then it’ll be really snug’. In my view, paying attention to getting every measurement as precise as you can is very important, it keeps you as a tailor focused. (This by the way is roughly with one finger behind the tape). Every measurement from shoulder width, sleeve length to bottom trouser width has to be discussed with the customer and has to be done to precision.
What the customer wants
I like to ask a number of questions. I want myself and my tailors to fully engage with all aspects of someone’s suit, their personality and what the suit means to them. Whether they have no idea what they want, or they have a full Pinterest board, whether they like a super fitted suit or want more breathing space, these are all things we like to become acquainted with. There’s no point making a suit that’s generic for everyone. On the other hand, if I feel like a customer wants a style that doesn’t fit with the brand, I’ll always recommend them to someone else more in line with their style, as ultimately, we want the customer to be happy with their suit whoever is making it. (i.e.: 50s suits or super baggy) I design suits to make men look sexier and the best versions of themselves, so it’s going against my passions and style beliefs to design something I’m not passionate about.
Educating the customer
If a customers a lawyer, it’s likely that unless he has a passion for tailoring on the side, that like me with law, he also knows nothing about suit constructions.
Nothing should be taken for granted. It’s easy to assume that they’ve read every page on the website and know all about everything you do. Highly unlikely by the way! As much as I like to massage my ego 😉 So, it’s our place as the tailors to ask what they know about bespoke tailoring and if they’d like to be guided through the constructions available and what the finish and feel is depending on each choice. The last thing you’d want is for your friend to say- did you choose a full canvas and you respond with – nope, what’s that?
Things do change in the tailoring world and more rapidly now than ever; with an enthusiasm more towards lightweight construction and unfitted garments. However, again I refer back to what the customer wants and what will make them look their best. If a lighter construction works well on someone: great. If not, then let’s go for a half canvas and so on.
It’s about keeping up with the changes, being mindful of them and educating both yourself and the customer. For example, when I started years ago, with made to measure you could only slightly adapt a pattern, now you can completely change every aspect of a suit. Also, half canvas was the only suit construction that was available years ago, so the offering now for made to measure in particular, is huge.
Learning takes time but it also takes integrity to get right when it’s getting difficult. When something does go wrong, I can’t just leave it. There has to be an answer and I’m always prepared to take the time to fix it and I encourage all of my tailors to do the same. To really take notice of why it went wrong in the first place, so you don’t do it again. Sometimes, someone’s body shape can react very differently in a suit than you imagined and this is a little out of your control but it’s about how to deal with it that counts and learning from it.
One of my very first customers was 6ft 5 and had played rugby all of his life. He apologised that he wasn’t the standard size and may be difficult to fit. I went back and forth, took off sleeves, re-pitched them, scratched my head and felt frustrated. I thanked him for being so patient and said ‘gosh, you must think what a nightmare!’ (Not getting things right quickly pains me). He said ‘Not at all!’ He told me that he’d had disasters in the past and knew how difficult his body shape was and that I’d done everything to make his suit right and that he really appreciated it. Adam, Partner of Linklaters is still one of my most loyal customers 11 years on and all of his clothes that I deliver to him, fit to perfection every time and if anything doesn’t, he knows I’ll fix it.
“I have worked with Alexandra for a number of years now. She is very professional, fun to work with and passionate about getting my suits to fit me perfectly, which is no easy task given my size and shape! I would recommend her services to anyone.” Adam Freeman, Partner, Linklater
You may like to read more on suit constructions
If you have any tailoring questions, however big or small, always feel free to contact one of our team. We are always happy to help, even if you want to be directed to how to tie a bow tie!