Sartorial Elegance – An Odyssey

A few years ago, my wife started complaining incessantly about the style of clothing I was wearing around the house. I was done up like a walker: fleeces, old blue jeans or Rockhoppers trousers, and thermals, with walking boots when I went out. When we went out for an occasion such as to the cinema or to dinner, I varied this outfit little.

I was also looking a bit scruffy in the professional wardrobe department as well. Yes, I wore suits, but they were generally low quality off-the-peg sorts one could buy for, at most £200.

Having been a bit of a clothes horse at different points in my younger life, I figured it was time to up the game a bit.

A few years ago, I decided to go into a place in Brighton – which was slightly more upmarket and edgier than the shops I went into – to outfit myself ahead of a new job I was taking up. So I went the next notch up: although I bought off-the-peg, these three suits were clearly much better suits, and they added alterations in to the mix for me as well. I also bought a load of shirts and ties to mix it up a bit.

Although the suits and ties were outstanding and of really good quality as far as the fabrics and designs went, out of eight shirts that I bought, I returned five because they had various little quality issues. As with the ties and suits, the fabrics were amazing, but there were problems with the dyes on the coloured shirts. So it turned into a bit of a palaver returning them. And there was a stitching issue with a lapel on one of the suits.

I sent a nastygram to the proprietor, but received no response other than my money back and a bit of inconvenience. As a result, I’ve never gone back, as it was clear no matter how much money I was willing to spend, my money was not as valuable as that of this designer/tailor’s celebrity clients, whose pictures adorn the walls in the upstairs fitting/changing area. An acquaintance told me that she has encountered others who went to this same place, and has only one person who swears by them, all the others swear at them. So it appears my experience is not unique. I’ll not name them, but if you know Brighton a bit, you may know exactly what shop I am speaking of.

Since going there, I have decided to up the game even further and find out more about menswear and grooming and how to do it properly, old school stylee. I picked up a book called Gentleman: A Timeless Guide to Fashion by Bernhard Roetzel. I also began checking out web sites that gave wardrobe tips such as The Art of Manliness (which can be forgiven its American flavour at times) and I subscribe to The Chap, which is sort of tongue in cheek lads’ mag for guys who like to do it old school.

I discovered the joy of pocket squares (subject of a future post,) which expanded my wardrobe variations geometrically: with the right pocket square I could once again wear ties that had fallen out of favour because I, mistakenly, thought that they would not match with shirts that I had, thus varying the suit/shirt/tie/shoes combos I could throw together for work.

Outside of the office, I gradually varied my wardrobe by using a couple of my older, smarter suit jackets as sport jackets with Ben Sherman button-down shirts (or some of my older dress shirts where the collar had either shrunk too much or my neck had gotten too big) and blue jeans or casual trousers (no chinos any more!). No trainers, and no more walking boots (unless I am going tromping through the Downs.) And the pocket square gets a look in on these outfits as well. As a result, my wife no longer complains of my scruffiness, and I tend to get treated better when I go into different establishments to conduct business.

About two years ago, I made the decision to get something made to measure. I had read a lot about the difference a bespoke or a made to measure suit makes (and there is a difference between the two, as well), especially if it has been well-crafted. After seeing an advert in The Chap and doing a bit of research, I took the plunge and decided to give Cad and the Dandy a try for the purchase of a new suit. Although they were not Savile Row, they employ people who work or who have worked on Savile Row to take the measurements and do the cutting (which is key to a well-fitting suit.) They then send the suit off to China – I believe – for stitching – which is where they get the significant savings over a Savile Row suit: one of their suits with two pairs of trousers is about half the cost of an equivalent Savile Row suit (and rumour has it that some – or many – of the Savile Row shops employ similar business models, with the stitching taking place anywhere but Savile Row, anyway.)

I had an evening appointment with a cutter named Michael in an establishment on Savile Row, in which, I understood at the time, he had a day job as a sort of apprentice to an established firm. He was very friendly, and spent about an hour and a half taking me through the variations of cloth and design that were suitable for the suit I was looking for. The session was an education in itself. He took my various measurements and put them onto the company’s database, which I can access via the web site, as well, for reference.

Rather than a strictly no-frills made to measure suit, I opted for the half-bespoke option which meant that there was horse-hair lining in the chest, so that it would evolve to fit my frame better. It was at this point I decided to forego belt loops in favour of braces buttons and side buckles at the waist. When my suit was ready, two months later, I picked up a pair of braces (suspenders to those of you with a yankified vocabulary) to go with the new suit.

I have loved wearing braces with suits ever since. The amount of freedom of movement they afford versus a belt is incredible, and there is no need to constantly readjust one’s shirt throughout the day. Braces will be the subject of another short post at some point, too.

As a result of knowing more about how a suit should fit, after my trip to Cad & the Dandy, I have since had my other suits converted to have braces buttons, slimmed down the trouser legs, and had the sleeves raised slightly to give a better fit with measured shirt sleeves (available from TM Lewin, for an extra £10 per shirt – a fantastic deal if you are picking a bunch of shirts up in one of their continuous offers.) This was done to a top quality, and the woman who did the alterations also repaired a ripped lining (because the aforementioned off-the-peg suits did not have enough spare lining as a well made suit should.)

So, what next? Well, I haven’t had much occasion for a dinner jacket, but that might be the next buy if it appears I reach a point where I do. In which case, I may find myself back at Cad & the Dandy. (I did once wear a Highland dress outfit with an Argyll jacket to a wedding where we were instructed to dress to the nines, and wouldn’t mind picking one of those up, though.)

However, I have managed to buy a few ties and handkerchiefs from Hugo Morris Bespoke in Brighton, and because the proprietor is a stickler for detail and customer service, I may use them for my next suit (albeit they do made to measure rather than the horsehair lined bespoke,) given that I rarely have occasion to go to London.

So, as it stands, I tend to be one of the smartest dressed people I encounter in my day-to-day dealings, but I don’t mind. It tends to get me noticed, and treated better…

Until I open my mouth!  🙂

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