British sartorial splendour
Walking down any high street, numerous shop windows proclaim the word “Sale”. Sadly, for many town centres, the footfall has diminished and the conventional retail scene has suffered troubled times of late. Indeed, many once-famous retailers have disappeared from the British streetscape over the last few years.
The availability of low-cost clothing, increasingly sold online and in supermarkets, has led to more accessible and affordable clothing. In real terms, clothing has never been so cheap, courtesy of low-cost production facilities in Asia.
However, these types of garments are, by their very nature, disposable. They satisfy an immediate need, but often lack the longevity necessary to sate the desires of the discerning buyer.
In stark contrast, the finest garments are brought to life in a small prestigious enclave of London, Savile Row. This represents the very antithesis of mass production, compromise and intrinsic obsolescence. Indeed, these are clothes made to exacting standards, produced by artisans who employ skills passed down from one generation to the next and imbued with a potential lifetime of service.
Walking along the iconic street in London’s W1 postal district, tall buildings sit cheek by jowl, each proffering their own house style. Illustrious names such as Gieves and Hawkes, Henry Poole, Huntsman and Norton & Sons have become bywords for fine British tailoring, attracting the cognoscenti from around the globe.
“Ready to wear”, “made to measure” or “bespoke”
When procuring a garment of elevated standing, the prospective client firstly has to decide whether to select a “ready to wear”, a “made to measure” or “bespoke” item.
One aspect which may influence selection is the issue of budget. A “ready to wear” garment, as the name implies, will already have been made and will sit on a rack, awaiting selection. Often buttons will be absent, allowing the client to choose from a selection and there by adding a degree of personalisation. Sleeves on jackets will subsequently be finished to suit the length of the arm and likewise the trouser length will be modified to flatter the stature of the individual.
For those of regular, proportionate shape,”ready to wear” makes a lot of sense. Moreover, the time necessary to deliver a “ready to wear” suit obviates the need for patience, with shorter lead times offering a distinct benefit.
“Made to measure”, uses a generic pattern. The suit is personalised for the wearer, making it an ideal option for those individuals who do not conform to an “off the peg” body shape. The creation process is a little more protracted and the cost inevitably greater but, for many clients, this provides a very agreeable purchasing alternative. Furthermore, greater choice is available to the sartorially astute, with the client being able to pair an array of cloths, linings and buttons, allowing the individual to express some of their own character.
The ultimate expression of fine British tailoring is “bespoke” where a unique pattern, personal to the client, is created. It sympathetically addresses the subtle nuances of the individual’s body shape and optimally flatters those unwanted bumps and lumps which can come with the onset of middle-age. An experienced cutter will “strike” out cutting lines with chalk after laying the patterns out to ensure that all checks match and align.
Jackets will be constructed of several layers necessitating padding, pushing and, in some instances, a rope shoulder to create the desired structure. The jacket expert will infuse the garment with life, bestowing it with a highly desirable form. Trousers, by contrast, will be made by a specialist whose role is to focus solely on the southern hemisphere of the body. However, despite several artisans being party to the creation of a bespoke suit, the outcome will evince a sublime cohesion.
The client will often be overwhelmed with choice with numerous sample books gracing the walls of the tailor’s premises. The avant-garde gentlemen may well succumb to the charms of an Italian cloth with a high knot count. However, for the true British gent, tweed makes a compelling case for itself.
Some Harris tweeds capture numerous hues, coalescing to provide an apparent homogenous colour when viewed from afar, only to reveal a plethora of shades when seen at close quarters.
Alternatively, a navy pin stripe suit continues to be par for the course in many business settings. Several Yorkshire-based mills create this conservative fabric. It has always been favoured by those working in “The City” and continues to prove wonderfully wearable for a day at the office.
Alive and well
Great Britain has a long heritage of producing no-compromise, luxury goods. Despite economic woes impacting on some areas of commerce, the popularity of fine British tailoring has never been stronger.
Discerning clientele may choose to “dress soft” with an Anderson & Sheppard creation with its soft shoulder and trousers which break about an inch above the shoe. Alternatively, other gentlemen may prefer the high armhole and rope shoulder of a Huntsman single-breasted suit. However, one thing is certain, whichever tailor you select, you will be sartorially clad in timeless elegance.
Indeed, Oscar Wilde once remarked “Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable we have to alter it every six months”. The beautifully crafted garments of Savile Row will always offer a lasting appeal, eschewing the transience of the “trendy” and conferring an abundance of stylish splendour that won’t diminish with the onset of years.
At Garrick we celebrate Britishness and applaud the artisans who make Savile Row a truly exceptional British institution.