How To Choose A Tailor For Your Suit
God made man.
A Tailor makes a gentleman- anon.
Working in an office every day with a virtual who's who in the business world affords me the opportunity to see a lot of designer clothing labels. Time and again I see young executives, up-and-coming entrepreneurs, and even established movers-and-shakers waltz in with today's most prestigious designer brands. Before I educated myself and learned what to look for in a well-tailored garment, I must admit that I was awestruck. A top-shelf suit, not unlike a Rolls Royce or a Bentley, is often construed as a status symbol- a testament to one's level of success and achievement. But no matter how expensive the fabric may be, or what the label on the inside says, if a suit's not tailored properly you may as well wear it to wash the family car. The key ingredient to an appropriately personalized garment is a good tailor.
We've all been to the larger department and men's specialty stores that promise to have you looking your best in minutes, thereby making you a life-long customer. More often than not the salesman has a predetermined idea of your size, and will ask you to try a size that reinforces his conclusion. Before you know it the jacket is off the hanger, on your shoulders and you're wearing a garment that is literally swimming on you. Sound familiar? You know this suit doesn't look or feel right but your sales associate not so subtly reassures you that "all that extra fabric can be taken in here and there", and "don't worry about a thing". Personally I'm uncomfortable with this degree of guesswork and would like a more precise fit from the get-go. Sometimes the best alteration is no alteration. People today are busier than ever before, and men supposedly don't like to shop anyway. This heightens the temptation to buy an ill-fitting suit quickly because a supposed seasoned professional says it looks good on you. Instead I advise to take your time shopping for a suit- be thorough in examining all the garments that appeal to you in stores in your area. Be sure to include at least one well-recommended local tailor in your search. Making your final selection doesn't have to consume an entire day, but allow at least two or three hours to do the job properly. After all, if you didn't care about your appearance you wouldn't be buying a suit in the first place, so why rush something that is so critical to your personal presentation and how others perceive you?
In your hunt for that master clothing craftsman you should keep a few things in mind. First- do your homework. Finding the right tailor can be a formidable task if you don't know how to look or what to look for. There's a wealth of information on the subject on the Internet, in books and magazines. Begin by searching the GQ or Esquire online archives; many articles on tailoring have been written in these two magazines in recent years. Log on to www.StyleForum.net, www.SuitYourself.com, or www.AskAndyAboutClothes.com. Don't be afraid to ask advice on purchasing tailored clothing at any of these sites. Many of the gentlemen who congregate there are seasoned suit buyers, and are only too happy to assist you. Many excellent books also exist on the subject- Bruce Boyer's Eminently Suitable and Elegance, Bernhard Roetzel's Gentleman, and Gentleman's Guide to Grooming and Style, and Alan Flusser's Style and the Man, and Dressing the Man. For the most comprehensive listing of tailors and specialty stores with great in-house tailors, pick up The Men's Clothing Guide by Steve Brinkman, or check his web site at www.MensSpecialtyRetail.com.
A truly competent tailor should interview you, rather than the other way around. He should ask you questions about your lifestyle and what sort of person you are. What career have you chosen and what are your short- and long-term goals? What kind of office environment do you work in, with what sort of dress code? What image do you wish to project about yourself- today and in the future? A tailor worthy of your trust should ask these questions because he or she should be more interested in you, and working together to achieve a style that works for you, than the size of your wallet. Finally, a prospective tailor should determine if it's really necessary to make you a true custom garment. Are you difficult to fit? Can he make some minor alterations through a vendor's made-to-measure program before suggesting the time and expense of true custom? If you've agreed that money is no object, then your tailor is free to work with you on selecting fabric, cut, and style that will make your clothing a true work of art that will stand the test of time. In reality most men, even if they're difficult to fit, can buy off-the-rack or made-to-measure tailored clothing. Few men are candidates for the rarified air of the $3,000 and up custom suit, but it is the ultimate expression of personal style.
In The Men's Clothing Guide Steve Brinkman raves about the service he received at a tailor in Fairfield, CT. Mr. Brinkman reports that this establishment was the only store of over 1300 he visited that took the time to press his shirt and suit while also dispensing invaluable advice about style, fit, and what worked best with his body type and occupation. Before I ventured into this store for the first time, I had fallen prey to the department store routine, buying one ill-fitting suit after another. Few things can deflate an ego faster than a co-worker or loved one telling you that your new suit is beautiful, but it looks a little big on you. Such was not the case at this tailors who asked all the questions outlined above before even allowing me to try on a garment. Then he took a tremendous amount of time with me to make certain that the fit of my suit was perfect both for my physique, hair and eye color, and my complexion. He also made sure the suit I selected was a good fit for my budget and my lifestyle. In contrast, department store salespeople rarely took the time to explain anything to me and always seemed more interested in closing the deal than making sure I looked my best. From my perspective the problem with the larger department stores is the lack of intimacy, the salesman see so many people on any given day, that's its difficult to remember a specific individual. You're likely to be remembered as "the 46 regular I sold last month", rather than by your first and last name.
When interacting with your tailor, try to keep an open mind. Sometimes we like to remember ourselves as being a size 42 when in fact time and Mother Nature have subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) changed our dimensions. A good tailor will point such matters out to you, never to offend or humiliate, but to be certain that your suit is tailored to your body type, and not the other way around. You're not fooling anyone but yourself trying to fit into the same size you wore to your wedding! A proficient tailor will make you look two inches taller and twenty pounds lighter. In the end you're the boss, but keep in mind your tailor has much more experience in the sartorial arts. Have fun with the process, but if you go into it with a negative attitude, that's what you'll get out of it. And who knows, you may learn something new about yourself. Maybe your tailor will suggest a new color that really makes you shine or perhaps a particular pattern or weave that's just the kick that your wardrobe needed. Your tailor will be able to point you in the right direction.
I hope that I've been able to shed a little light on the subject of selecting a good tailor. If you take away nothing else from this article, I implore you to remember that designer names and labels can be wonderful, and many are certainly synonymous with the highest quality craftsmanship. But what would a Rolls Royce be without the hand finishing and painstaking attention to detail? The same thing an expensive designer suit would be without a skilled craftsman tailoring it to your body- a bad investment.
By: Bobby Richards
Edited By: Steve Brinkman
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