Custom Tailoring Related Information
TAILORED CLOTHINGSince the price of a suit constitutes most men's single largest clothing outlay, unless you are confident of your ability to select the best one, I recommend that you prepare accordingly, Wearing something that is reasonably representative of what you are shopping for provides the salesman with a starting point and the fitter with a tailoring guide. If you are considering a different take on your usual habiliments, this same garment can also provide a basis for comparison.
Should you go to the store intending to make a purchase, you should bring a dress shirt whose fit satisfies you. The dress shirt is a key element in the suit-fitting process; its collar height and sleeve length inform the tailor how you expect those components of the jacket to fit. You should also bring along all the items you normally pack into your suit. If you wear a pocket square or an eyeglass case in your jacket, or keep a wallet in your back trouser pocket, your suit should be fitted to accommodate these items. The time invested in this preparation will minimize the probability that you will have to return to the store for an additional fitting after discovering that you bulging billfold makes your coat's chest gap.
If shopping in a large store that offers a variety of suit styles - such as London's Harrods or New York City's Saks Fifth Avenue - and you do not have a relationship with any of its salespeople, spend a few minutes looking for one whose dressing style impresses you. Do not automatically accept the first sales associate to engage you unless you know exactly what you want and need him to act merely as an expediter. If you are looking for a high-fashion designer suit, the classically attired salesperson would not be my first choice to explain the nuances that distinguish an Armani three-button crepe suit from the latest Vestment confection.
Conversely, If you like to accessorize your more English-style suits with high-class furnishings, you might want to be attended to by someone whose taste demonstrates firsthand experience in such matters. The salesman who dresses as if he is interested in clothes usually regards his profession as something more than just an opportunity to bring home a regular paycheck. He prides himself in his taste and enjoys taking the extra effort to find something special. Ideally, in the course of your dialogue, he should be able to teach you something about how to dress better while assisting you with your decision-making.
FIT AND FABRICCompared to a decade ago, most men wear their clothes fuller in scale and lighter in weight. This means that today's average suit jacket has slightly broader shoulders and a bit more length. Its pleated trousers are worn up on the natural waist with its fuller thighs tapering down to cuffed bottoms that break on the shoe. Much of this reapportionment is attributable to the high-fashion men's design community's search for a more modern yet comfortable vessel to replace the stuffy, boxlike structure of the conventional male business suit.
In the early stages of latest reconfiguration, the suit jacket's dimensions were pushed outward to allow its softer and less padded shell to drape more fluidly from the wearer's shoulders and around his torso. Textured, crepe-weave fabrics were introduced to enhance the sweater like cushiness of the more advanced designer Suitings. However, as the contemporary men's suit started looking less like its old self and more like a piece of sportswear, men who required the articulation and dressiness of the more classically tailored ensemble began to make their preferences known.
The classic suit is returning, but like any garment caught up in the maelstrom of high fashion, it's just not returning in quite the same form as when it left. While swinging back to its military roots, with enough shape and padding to recall its former prestige and purpose, men's tailored clothing is now influenced by the more modern, drapey cloths. Previously, the only fabrics able to maintain such defined line and proper creases were the typical four-harness worsted from England and Italy. This is still the case. However, their tighter weaves and more substantial construction have now been made to feel soft and pliable. After you squeeze the fabric, the better cloths spring back without wrinkling. At the end of the day, a top-quality worsted wool suit still only needs to be hung out for a time to regain its pressed look.
Conversely, If you like to accessorize your more English-style suits with high-class furnishings, you might want to be attended to by someone whose taste demonstrates firsthand experience in such matters. The salesman who dresses as if he is interested in clothes usually regards his profession as something more than just an opportunity to bring home a regular paycheck. He prides himself in his taste and enjoys taking the extra effort to find something special. Ideally, in the course of your dialogue, he should be able to teach you something about how to dress better while assisting you with your decision-making.
THE SHOULDERSAs the widest part of the jacket, the shoulders' expression sets the mood for the entire garment. The assertive eighties saw jacket shoulders attain aircraft carrier proportions but then the nineties returned the shoulders to a less obtrusive, more classic positioning. Most of history's best-dressed men had their shoulders tailored to look natural yet smart. Unless a man is extremely slope-shouldered or self-consciously short and needs the illusion of height, padded shoulders should be avoided.
The square, high shoulder became internationally fashionable with the emergence of Rome's "Continental look" in the late fifties. Then, in the late sixties, Pierre Cardin's hourglass suit reinforced the notion that strong shoulders were a criterion for high style. Today, given the priority placed on understated comfort, even in the sculpted shoulder's birthplace, the sophisticated Italian wears his hand-tailored shoulders soft, sloped, and less studied.
Close attention need also be paid to the shoulder's width. Since they frame the head, if the shoulders are cut too narrow, the head will appear larger than it actually is; if they are cut too wide, the head will appear disproportionately small.
Their width should be generous enough to permit the jacket's fabric to fall from the shoulder in a smooth, unbroken line all the way down the sleeve. If the width hugs too narrowly, the man's shoulder muscle will bulge out from under the top of the sleeve head, that point at which the jacket sleeve is attached to the should.
The jacket also needs enough fullness across the front and back to lie flat on a man's chest without pulling open. A man with a strong chest requires a larger sized jacket just to accommodate this prominence. Fullness over the shoulder blades with breaks extending upward on the back from below the armholes allows ample room for free action. This extra fabric also causes the jacket to drape properly. A tight fit over the shoulder blades can make you fell as if you are in a straitjacket.
Sharp angles formed on either side of the head create an artificial formality. Stylish dressing is distinguished by its naturalness and unconscious ease. The more aggressive shoulder line is the mark of someone who is trying to look more important than he actually feels.
JACKET LENGTHThe correct length of an average man's jacket can vary up to 1 inch without diminishing its longevity. Altering its length can play havoc with the hip pockets, moving them out of balance with the whole. Your appropriate jacket length can be established using several methods. Regardless of which is chosen, one principle must be kept in mind: the coat has to be long enough to cover the curvature of a man's buttocks.
The first approach utilizes the arm as a guide, the other the torso. With the first method, a man uses the knuckle of his thumb to line up the bottom of his jacket. Though generally reliable, this formula has one draw back. A man with a short or average torso but long arms can end up with too long a coat. While its hip pockets may be more accessible, its excess length will swallow up his legs.
Employing the second method, the tailor measures from under the jacket's back collar, where the collar is joined to the coat's body, down to the floor and divides by two.
In the absence of a jacket, a buttoned shirt collar may be substituted as a starting point. This is the procedure taught in all formal tailoring schools. Both guidelines originated with America's introduction of ready-made tailored clothing for men, which needed to establish generalities upon which to base its standards of fit. However, since either of these can be influenced by dimensions unique to the wearer's physique, a top custom tailor will trust his learned eye to take in the whole picture before deciding on the jacket's ideal length.
THE WAIST BUTTONThe waist button is to a suit jacket what the fulcrum is to a seesaw. If it's off center, a delicate balance is lost. When the waist button is fastened, the entire body should be in proportion, with both legs and torso appearing at their maximum length. Since the button functions as an axis, raise it and you abbreviate the torso, lower it and the torso becomes elongated but the leg line is shortened. The correct placement of this critical element occurs about 1.5 inches below the natural waist. To find your natural waist, put your hands around the smallest part of your torso. With the suit jacket's final fitting, most custom tailors will pull on the fastened waist button to confirm that there is enough fullness in the jacket's waist while observing how the coat moves on the body. An incorrectly positioned waist button calls the garment's pedigree into immediate question.
THE GORGEThe gorge is that point where the two sides of the lapels meet. The coat's design determines its positioning. While there is some flexibility in its placement on the mid torso, move it outside of this area to where it becomes a focal point and you court instant obsolescence. The lapel needs to have enough sweep to produce a graceful upswing without finishing so high on the collarbone as to make the coat appear as if it were moving backward.
Twenty years ago, this design element was never an issue. Today if the jacket's gorge is out of sync it is usually because its placement is too low. Done initially to loosen up the coat's starchiness, dropping the gorge too low also loosen up the coat's longevity. Like all element of classic design, the placement of the gorge should follow geometric logic, not the arbitrariness of fashion.
INTO THE FITTING ROOMProper fitting can do much for a less costly suit, while a poor fit can scuttle the most expensively hand-tailored creation. If a$3,000 suit's collar is bouncing off your neck as you walk, the suit's value will be severely compromised. The jacket collar that creeps up or stands away from your neck is the fault of the tailor, unless he fit it while you assumed a posture other than your normal one. When standing in front of tailor's mirror, relax, Do not stand at attention unless that is your natural stance. Standing overly erect can affect the way the tailor fits the jacket collar to your neck. Collar alterations will be even more accurate if you wear a dress shirt's collar showing above the jacket; 1 inch should be exposed when wearing a wing collar.
Since there should be the same amount of linen rising above the jacket's collar as that which peeks out from under its sleeve, let's move on to sleeve length. Ninety percent of all men wear their coat sleeve too long and therefore are unable to slow that 0.5 inch of shirt cuff that dresses the hand of any well-attired gentleman. Since most dress shirt sleeves either shrink or are bought too short, they cannot be seen even if the jacket's sleeve have been correctly fitted. Most tailors, in an effort to cover the wrist, finish the coat sleeve where the shirt sleeve is supposed to end. The jacket sleeve should extend to where the wrist breaks with the hand. This length should reveal a half inch of the shirt cuff. The band of linen between sleeve and hand, like that above the jacket collar, is one of the details that defines the sophisticated dresser.
VENTSIn less than a dozen years, vent less jackets have gone from avant-garde to mainstream. This design gives the hip a cleaner, more slimming line while lending the suit a dressier stature. Though aesthetically pleasing, vent less backs lack function, as they prevent easy access to the trouser pockets in addition to wrinkling more easily from sitting. However, as this back gives a man's torso a leaner, sexier shape, most men ignore its inconvenience.
The center vent, an American predilection, is the least aesthetic venting option, though it offers more utility than having no vent at all. While perfectly designed for spreading the two sides of a rider's jacket across the saddle of a horse, its original intention, the single vent looks awful when a man, having put his hand in his trouser or jacket pocket, pulls it open to reveal his derriere and, if the vent is cut high enough, a fringe of disordered shirt. Savile Row custom tailors avoid the center vent like the plague unless it is imposed upon them by a visitor from the Colonies. The single vent's only saving grace is that it can be altered to better conceal a prominent hip than either the ready-made vent less or double-vented jacket.
The double vent or side slit offers the best combination of function and form. When you put your hands in your trouser pockets, the side vent's flap stays down, covering the buttocks. If you are seated, the flap moves away, thereby minimizing distortions thus created, because the side vent moves the observer's eye up from the bottom of the jacket. Since double-vented coats are costlier to manufacture and more difficult to fit than other models, you see them less frequently. However, the well-designed side-vented jacket gives its wearer a dash of style that bespeaks its English pedigree and custom-tailored tradition.
VESTSMost men's suits come two-piece, since adding a third element increases their price. However, the vest has always been favored by those style-conscious men who appreciate the quiet resplendence of a third layer of wool. The businessman in his three-piece suit who removes his jacket in the office can rely on the dressiness of his waistcoat to retain some decorum while enjoying the freedom of shirt sleeved attire. A vest also augments a suit's versatility, as its exclusion from a three-piece ensemble creates a different look.
The properly fitted vest should be long enough for its fifth button from the top to cover the trouser waistband, yet not so long that its points extend below the hip. A well-made vest has its own definite waistline, which is where the trouser waistband should hit. Men who prefer low-rise trousers that rest on the hips should avoid vests. Belts and vests should also choose other dance partners, since belts not only add further bulk to the already layered waistline, but tend to poke out from under the vest. When the suit's trousers are supported by braces, with their pleats spilling out from under the waistcoat, the single-breasted ensemble achieves a tailored swank afforded only by the addition of this third layer.
A waistcoat should not have a skintight fit. It should be cut full enough to allow its wearer to sit comfortably with its back belt done up to keep it from riding up the trouser waistline. The top of the vest should be high enough to peek out above the waist-buttoned coat. A classic suit vest has four welt pockets, with a six-buttoned designed to leave the bottom button undone. Better-designed vests have their fronts slightly curved to conform to the single-breasted jacket's rounded fronts. A waistcoat's back should be longer than its front. This length is needed to cover the waistband should a man choose to bend forward. The vest's back lining usually matches the jacket's sleeve lining. Vests without adjustable rear belts or whose fronts and backs are of equal length are usually poorly designed and cheaply made.
Right down to its unbuttoned, cutaway bottom, the man's tailored vest is a legacy of upper-class fashion. Even the way it is worn is a tribute to royal style. Having unbuttoned his waistcoat to relieve the pressure on his royal ampleness, Edward VII neglected to do up the button when in court, and this eccentric fashion was ensured. It which survives to this day.
TROUSERSThe cut of today's tailored suit trouser is much more classic in shape than its predecessor from the fitted era. Pants have recovered from the hip-hugging jeans mentality of the sixties and the tight, plain-front Continental pant of the seventies. In the nineties, most men's trousers have a longer rise, deeper pleats, and full-cut thighs that taper down to the ankles - exactly the way the great tailors originally designed them - to give comfort and follow the lines of the body.
During the Second World War, when the U.S. government required manufacturers to conserve fabric, plain-front trousers became standard issue, retaining their popularity throughout the gray-flannel, Ivy League era. However, all suit trousers should have pleats, just as most custom trousers did prior to the war. Pleated pants look dressier and their fuller fronts provide greater comfort than plain-front trouser: hips widen when the wearer is seated, and with less wear to the trouser. Objects placed in a front pants pocket are better concealed within a pleated trouser than a pleatless one.
The classically designed pleated trouser has two pleats on either side of its fly - a deep one near the fly and a shallower one near the pocket to help keep the main pleat closed. This arrangement maintains the working relationship between the two pleats. The current trend for multiple pleat or some other gimmick of fancified fullness reminds ma of the recent gilding of the necktie with overwrought prints, a fad that was as fleeting as it was excessive.
While having your trousers fitted, make sure the pleats are not opening . Look down to see if each leg's front crease intersects the middle of each kneecap and finishes in the middle of each shoe. If it is off at all, the crease should err toward the inside of the trouser. A crease that falls outside the knee creates the illusion of breadth, something most men prefer to avoid.
The trouser bottom should rest with a slight break on the top of the shoe. It should be long enough to cover the hose when a man is in stride. Its width should cover about two-thirds of the shoe's length. Cuff give the trouser bottom weight, helping to define the pleat's crease while maintaining the trouser's contact with the shoe. Like any detail of classic tailoring, cuff width should be neither so narrow nor so wide that it call attention to itself. To provide the proper balance, the cuffs should be 1 5/8" for a person under five feet ten, 1 3/4 if he is taller. Cuffs of 1 1/7" or 2" reflect the erratic ness of their master: fashion.
QUALITYWith the transformation of the men's suit business into a world of designer fashion and the almost complete mechanization of its manufacturing process, determining the contemporary suit's quality and intrinsic value is the most elusive challenge facing today's shopper. Like women's ready-to-wear, the majority of men's tailored clothing today is sold on its name recognition, fit, and aura of fashionability. The era when men's suits were expected to carry a man from one decade to another and were purveyed based on the relative merits of their quality and hand tailoring is as dated as sized hosiery, exact-sleeved dress shirts, and the three-piece suit.
Except for a handful of factories left in the world that continue to tailor suit primarily by hand, most clothing manufacturers have either incorporated the latest technology into their production process or closed shop. The cost of skilled labor and the time required to create a garment in the old-world manner has limited this wearable's market to those retailers and consumers who appreciate the quality and work behind the hand-stitched garment's higher price. In his hallowed fitting rooms the specialty retailer must be able to explain the nuances of this handcrafted creation from its silk thread and hand made buttonholes to the superiority of its worsted fabric.
Beginning in the 1920s, before machine started replacing tailors, suits were grads from 1 to 6 in a system that specified the number of hand operations used to create the final product. For instance, a number 1, the lowest grade of suit, was almost entirely machine-made. A number 2 coat could use some handwork to finish the cuffs, collar, and buttons. A number 3 ha to have these three components finished by hand. A number 6, the highest grade on the scale, was made almost entirely by hand. Of course, some manufacturers would misrepresent these numbers in an attempt to sell their product at a higher quality rating it deserved, but at least the system gave the retailer and consumer some sort of uniform standard.
As technical improvement in machine-made clothes blurred the advantages of more costly hand crafting, tailored clothes have become creations of refined engineering and industrialized production. With the tailor's shears and hand-sewn stitches being replaced by computers, laser knives, conveyor belts, fusing, and high-speed pressing machinery, the modern men's suit has become a marvel of tailoring science and technological genius. And as with any automates creation, the measure of its quality is time, in this case minutes.
The modern suit that sells for $395 takes approximately 80 minutes of uninterrupted labor, while the higher-profile designer garment retailing for $1,495 requires approximately 150 minutes of continuous construction. In order words, little more than an hour of actual labor and quality control separate the least costly from the most expensive machine-made suit. While the higher-prices suit's shell fabric, linings, facings, and fusibles are more costly and produce a softer, more flexible garment, they do not account for the entire difference in retail price. A good part of the disparity represents the expenses involved in operating a high-profile designer fashion business; publicity, advertising, fashion shows, and the overhead of a design studio.
Today, most men's suits are constructed in the same manner as a dress shirt's collars and cuffs, whose outside layers are top-fused for permanent smoothness. First developed during the 1950s, the process of bonding or gluing a layer to an outside shell fabric has evolved to a level where it can nearly simulate the softness and flexibility of the hand-sewn canvas used in tailored men's clothes. Formerly, this layer of reinforcement placed between the coat's outer cloth and inner lining consisted of one or more ply of horsehair and regular canvas secured by numerous hand stitches. When suspended by the elasticity of its hand make silk stitches, its free-floating dynamic gave the jacket's front a lasting shapeliness and drape while lending pliancy and spring to the roll of its lapel. With the consumer requesting lighter, softer tailored clothing, these fusibles allow a cost to mold to the wearer, though they sacrifice fit and longevity in the process.
So, how does a man cut through all this industry mumbo jumbo to determine his prospective suit's level of quality? The answer is complex and difficult to translate into the written word, since these automated garments lack the visible handwork of top quality tailoring to act as benchmarks. The cost efficiency of the new technology encourages manufacturers to incorporate many of the details associated with more expensive tailored clothed into less costly products, rendering the ranking of quality even less clear. Crotch pieces and lines knees are no longer the exclusive province of the most expensively tailored suit trousers, while underarm sweat shields and machine stitching that appears hand-sewn grace jackets with less than lofty pedigree.
I will break down the subject into price brackets that represent various generic methods of manufacture so our investigation will have some boundaries and focus. Please remember that this is a discussion about the quality of the product's construction, not the beauty of its design. As you will learn later, a wearable's longevity is predicated more on its design than its quality. A well-designed $350 suit can provide more years of wear than an expensive hand-tailored worsted cashmere suit whose shoulders look as though the hanger is still holding them up.
The finest ready-made suits are constructed like those that are custom-made, except the workplace has been organized into a miniature factory. This means each garment is individually hand-cut, lining, pocket, and sleeves have all been sewn by hand; and everything is hand-pressed. At this level of quality, the construction or padding of the jacket's lapels and collar is stitched totally by hand. There could be two thousand stitches or more in a single-breasted jacket's lapel; these will hold the garment's shape intact through all weathers, fair or foul. For this rarefied ready-made suit, one must expect to pay at least &2,000.
The next ministep below this level of quality can boast the same level of workmanship, but the time-consuming lapel hand-basting is done by a special machine. Those parts of the coat that need flexibility and movement continue to be sewn by hand - armholes, shoulders, collar. At a minimum, you should be able to look at the inside of the jacket and confirm that the felling of its linings in these areas in hand done. Next, you should take the coat's bottom front, three inches from its bottom and two inches from its edge. Rub it between the coat's outer shell and inner lining. This confirms the coat has a canvas front rather than a fused one. It is the work of a tailor and the garment's shape will remain intact as long as it is well cared for. Selling for between $1,500 and $2,000, it will endure the ravages of extended wear.
Moving down to he next level of quality, you find the semitraditional or semi-canvas-front coat whose bottom front is fused but not its lapels, collar, and chest. Its canvas inner lining floats, held in place by hand stitches so it moves more naturally with the coat. The beauty of this hybrid is that its lapels roll and stay on the coat's chest more naturally than fused lapels will. The canvas inner lining gives the lapels more spring so that their edges remain in contact with the jacket's chest. One can always tell a fused lapel because its edges tend to curl away from the jacket. The semitraditional make has its shoulders, armholes, and collar hand-stitched so that the presentation around the man's face and upper torso appears supple and rich. The cost for such a suit usually falls between $850 and $1,200.
The majority of today's tailored clothing is sewn completely by machine and constructed through fusing. One version is made "open" or in what we call the American system. Parts such as the sleeve and collars are assembled separately first, then put together. In the "Two-shell" or German system, the entire inside lining shell is assembled separately from the outside fabric shell. Then the one is sewn inside the other, The two-shell calls for less labor and prides itself on its consistency. While requiring additional manufacturing steps, the American system utilizes more basting stitches, elements of make that in the end come out of the coat but help build in its enduring shape. The price of this type of garment can range wildly, from $395 up to $1,495 depending on whose label is inside
The only thing one needs to consider when making a choice between the least expensive methods of tailoring is alterability. Most men would never even consider this factor, but they must. Since the two-shell garment only has 3/8" Outlet in its seams, the man who gains ten pounds or more will find it impossible to have the coat let out.
In conclusion, I would like to remind you that the aforementioned has been written as a general guide. Within each of these categories, you will encounter garments that resist easy classification. I hope the information passed on here will enable you to ask the correct questions when trying to get a grip on this difficult subject.
SHOPPING AND THE BODY TYPEWhether short or tall, portly or slim, a man needs to shop for his clothing with his individual physique in mind. Since most people aspire to look like some idealized version of themselves, selecting clothes based on a particular body type is as old as fashion itself. Whereas I believe that familiarity with the geometric principles that downplay girth or emphasize height or breadth is helpful, such information should be viewed as a guide rather than dogma.
I have seen the most well-dressed men wear clothes in stark contradiction to the accepted dictates of fashionable physiognomy. I can recall one portly, older gentleman looking so debonair in his large, plaid, hefty tweed sports suit simply because it was cut to perfection. I am told that no other group of men would parade down Savile Row in the thirties with more panache than the contingent of Brazilian diplomats, most of whom were under five feet seven and all of whom wore their soft-shoulder, double-breasted suits with cuffed trousers. Proportion in dress in the foundation of all classic dressing. The truly stylish man knows enough about the rules to know how and when to break them.
To assist some of the basic body types in choosing their tailored clothing, I would like to make the following suggestions:
SHORT, SLIM MEN
Clothes should elongate and add shaped fullness
SHORT, HEAVY MEN
Clothes should also elongate but work to de-emphasize breadth.
The taller the tree, the broader its branches, so the tall man needs fuller cut clothes for balance and style. The selections should de-emphasize length by breaking up the vertical lines.
For the man of average height whose chest size is at least eight inches more than his waist size, the principle is to reproportion the oversized shoulder with the smaller bottom.
Assuming a broad face and thick neck:
THE DRESS SHIRT
THE DRESS SHIRT COLLARWhen purchasing a dress shirt that is, one intended to be worn with a necktie - consider its collar first. Regardless of whether the shirt appears to go perfectly with your new suits, or is meticulously crafted with vast numbers of stitches to the inch, or even woven in the Caribbean's most lustrous sea island cotton, if its high-banded collar looks at if it might swallow up your neck or its diminutive collar make your already prominent chin appear more so, move on. You need to focus on that portion of the dress shirt responsible for exhibiting to best advantage the body part that should receive the most attention - your face.
The triangle formed by the V opening of a buttoned tailored jacket and extending up to the area just below a person's chin is the cynosure of a man's costume. The area is usually accentuated by contrasts between the darker jacket and lighter shirt, the jacket and tie, and the tie and dress shirt. This triangular sector offers more visible layers of textural activity than any other part of a man's outfit, and the point at which all these elements converge is directly under one's chin, where the inverted V of the dress shirt collar comes to a point.
Think of your face as portrait and your shirt collar as its frame. The collar's height on your neck as well as the length and spread of its points should compliment the shape and size of your face. Within the infinite permutations of angle, scale, and mass, no single article of apparel better enhances a man's countenance than the well-designed dress shirt collar. Since a person's bone structure is fixed, although it will be affected by a weight gain or loss, the choice of collar should be guided by the individual's particular physical requirements rather than the vicissitudes of fashion. Unlike other less visible accoutrements such as hosiery or shirt cuffs, this focal point constitutes one of a man's most revealing gestures of personal style. All sophisticated dressers have arrives at one or more collar styles that best highlight their unique features while managing to add a bit of dash along the way.
Choosing the appropriate shirt collar requires experimentation and common sense. A smallish man with delicate features would be lost in a high-set collar with points longer than 3 Ľ". Conversely, a heavyset or big-boned man would loom even larger and overshadow a small collar. Collars should counterbalance the facial structure by either softening its strong lines or strengthening its soft ones. Long straight point collars - those 3" or more - will extend and narrow a wide face just as the broad-spaced points of spread collars will offset the line of long narrow one.
Tab collars or other pinned collars have the necessary height to shorten long necks. Strong-chinned men require fuller proportioned collars, just as large tabletops clamor for ample pedestals to achieve aesthetic balance. Though, admittedly, button-downs can look casually stylish, they are too often favored by exactly the kind of men who should avoid them - the double chinned set. Softer-chinned men need slightly higher and firmer collars to compensate for the lack of a strong line under their face.
Throughout the eighties and up through the mid-nineties, most dress shirts-no matter how expensive-generally had collars that were to small for the average wearer's face. In an effort to convey a more casual and less structured formality, men's fashion has explored many approaches to neutralizing the collar's conventional starched and ordered format. Consequently, collars have been lowered, shortened, and softened to such degrees that the original precepts for their correct proportioning have either been distorted or lost completely. Button-downs have little or no roll, straight point collars are so short even the smallest tie knot prevents their point from touching the shirt's chest, while spread collars are so low on the neck they have been sapped of all their strength and flair. Except for those produced by a few high-end American, English, or Italian shirt makers, most dress shirts give the impression they are apologizing for their collars.
I cannot help but wonder whether the long-understood sartorial contract between a man and the conventional format of a buttoned-up dress shirt and drawn-up necktie - which, in effect, exchanged superior stature for a measure of restriction - is no longer able to be negotiated. Since many of the contemporary, more diminutive collar styles fail to heighten the wearer's appearance, they offer little compensation for their inherent discomfort. As a result, many alternatives have been put forth in an effort to replace the classic dress shirt collar composition.
However, as Oscar Schoeffler, longtime fashion editor of Esquire, once warned, "Never underestimate the power of what you wear. After all, there is just a small bit of you sticking out at the collar and cuff. The rest of what the world sees is what you drape on your frame." Therefore, the most important factor to weigh when buying a dress shirt isn't its color, fit, or price. It is the collar and its smartness for the wearer's face.
FITOther than the Italians, who are almost fetishistically meticulous about the fit of their dress shirts, most men wear theirs too short in the sleeve, too small in the collar, and too full around the wrist. The explanation for this is relatively straightforward: successive washings shrink collar size and sleeve length, while most shirting manufacturers allow enough breadth in a man's cuff to accommodate a large wrist girded by a Rolex-type watch.
The best dress shirt is useless if its collar does not fit comfortably. With the top button closed, you should be able to slide two-dress shirt. Most better dress shirt makers add an extra 0.5 inch to the stated collar size to allow for shrinkage within the first several washings. I would never wear a new dress shirt unless it fits perfectly around the neck in the store or when first tried on at home. If this not be the case, it is best return it or risk being strangled by a smaller collar before too very long.
The back of the shirt collar should be high enough to show 0.5 inches above the rear portion of the jacket's collar. Its points should be able to touch the shirt's body and rest smoothly on its front. When a tie is fitted up into the collar, its points should be long enough to remain in contact with the shirt's body, regardless of how sharply the wearer turns his head. No part of the collar's band should be able to be seen peeking over the tie's knot. Semi spread to cutaway collars should have no tie space above the tie's knot. In other words, both sides of the collar's inverted V should meet or touch each other while the edges of their point should be covered by both sides of the jacket's lapels.
DRESSING THE HANDThe band of linen between coat sleeve and hand is another one of those stylistic gestures associated with the better-dressed man. It has been so ever since the first aristocrat wore his lace ruffles spilled out from beneath his jacket cuffs. Some fashion historian mark the decline in modern men's style from the point at which ready-made buttoned cuffs replaced cuff-linked ones and men found their wrists swathed in excess fabric, which either fell down their wrists or pulled up too short.
Whether you choose a button cuff or a French cuff, the shirt cuff should fit snugly around the wrist so that the additional length required to keep it from moving as the arm stretches does not fall down over the hand. If you can slide your hand though the cuff opening without first unfastening it, it is too large. If the sleeve is long enough and the cuff fits correctly, you should be able to move your arm in any direction without influencing how the cuff sits on top of your hand. The shirt cuff and hand should be able to move as a unit.
THE BODYDuring the 1960s peacock era, when dress shirts had the fit of a second skin and were worn to flaunt the chest and arm muscles, the wearer had to pay particular attention to gaping shirtfronts if he inhaled too deeply or Sat down. Today, with comfort driving the fit of men's clothes, issues such as these are no longer of much concern.
The shirt should certainly be full enough to allow its wearer to sit without concern. Normal shrinkage or a slight weight gain should not render it uncomfortable across the chest or waist. Since shirts with blousier fits tend to have lower arm holes, one should pay attention that the jacket's armhole does not pull up the shirtsleeve, making it too short to rest on the top of the hand. A shirt's armhole should fit comfortably up into the armpit for easier movement and consistent length. The shirt's overall length should be such that you can raise your arms without pulling the garment out of the trouser top.
IN CONSIDERATION OF QUALITYThe most expensive component of any dress shirt is its fabric. As the layer in closest contact with the wearer's skin, the most comfortable and luxurious fiber to wear is unquestionably 100 percent cotton. Anyone doubting this need only examine the fiber content of almost all men's undergarments.
Better dress shirts are made in two-ply cotton or two-fold yarns, less expensive ones in single-ply. Cotton-poly blends are never two-ply, therefore these fabric tend to be found only in cheaper shirts. In a true two-ply fabric, the yarns used in the vertical warp and horizontal weft are made from two fibers long enough to twist around each other to produce the incremental strength, silk ness, and luster associated with the two-fold luxury fabric. The finer the yarn, the higher its threads per-inch count. Two-ply fabrics start at 80/2 (the 2 representing two-ply) and progress to as fine as 220/2 (which feels more like silk than cotton and is so expensive it is use only in custom-made shirts). Since two-ply dress shirt are costlier, most manufacturers will include this designation on the label. If it is not so designated, it usually means the shirt is of a single-ply fabric and its cost should reflect this.
Most two-ply dress shirts begin retailing at $75 for those privately labeled in large department stores and go to well over $200 for those more highly crafted with finer-count two-ply fabrics. This is not to suggest that single-ply dress shirts are necessarily inferior to or automatically less desirable than two-ply versions. Since we know how a poorly designed collar can scuttle the most expensive dress shirt, the two-ply designation reflects a garment's intrinsic quality and not its relative value.
The better dress shirt is one of the few products whose craft has been relatively uncompromised by modern manufacturing technology. Due to the many pieces that must be put together and the exacting sewing procedures required, there is no substitute for the skilled, highly trained labor needed to produce a fine dress shirt. As it is not covered over by linings and such, a dress shirt's construction, with the exception of collar and cuff, can be more easily evaluated than that of tailored clothing or neckties. All of its stitching, seams, and finishing are plainly exposed to the inquiring eye, especially if one knows what to look for and why.
There can be some details of workmanship that, should even one be found present, signal your investigation is at an end and the shirt's dearer price has been confirmed. Most of these benchmarks are holdovers from a less mechanized age when the standards for deluxe quality were set by bespoke shirt makers. No manufacturer would willingly invest in the labor required to make such a shirt without ensuring the fabric was of a quality that justified the product's retail price. He would be hard-pressed to recoup the cost of such craftsmanship if it was wasted on a shirt composed of inferior cloth.
The handmade buttonhole is a detail rarely found in shirt made outside of France or Italy. If you have a shirt with handmade buttonholes it represents a piece of workmanship that literally comes from the old country. Now, some custom shirt makers will argue in favor of a fine machine-made buttonhole over a handmade one, but handmade buttonholes are a mark of top-drawer threads. Ironically, their imperfect and visible portion can only identify them. As with legitimate custom tailored clothes, buttonholes are to be handmade, nothing less.
When dress shirts were worn closely fitted to the torso, their side seams were much in evidence and their width and finishing were considered two of the most important criteria for judging their shirt making craft. I can recall visiting Italy during the sixties and observing the Romans wrapped in their skintight, darted blue voile shirt with side seams that seemed to disappear into minute lines that traced the body. These side seams were of a single-needle construction. If the shirt you are considering has this feather, you are no doubt holding a garment that will command a better price.
Single-needle side seams are sewn twice, once up and once down the shirt's seam, using only one needle and leaving just a single row of stitches visible on the outside. This is time-consuming and requires greater skill on the part of the operator than other seams. Most shirts' side seams are sewn on a double-needle machine, which is much faster and produces two rows of visible stitching. Unfortunately, the double-needle side seam can, depending on the quality of its execution, pucker over time due to the thread and fabric's different reactions to washing. However, since most modern shoppers are not that informed, the single-needle side seam is rarely found on ready-made shirts, and is almost exclusively reserved for those dress shirts found in the world of the bespoke.
Another telltale sign of an expensively made dress shirt can be found in the bottom tail's design and finishing. Charvet, the famed French chemisier, designs its shirts with a square bottom and side slits or vents, which they feel produce less bulk under the trouser. They also believe their deeper sides keep the shirt better anchored. Turnbull and Asser, the Jermyn Street shirt maker, prefers the rounded bottom but reinforces its side seam at the bottom with a small triangular gusset. Either of these designs demands greater labor and expertise than the typical hemmed bottom. Prior to World War II, the gusset was a common feature on better shirts, but production costs forced many manufacturers to abandon this old-fashioned finishing technique.
The next nuance of detail that signals a dress shirt's loftier pedigree is the direction of its sleeve placket's buttonhole. All better shirts come with a small placket button and buttonhole to close the opening running up the inside sleeve from its cuff. However, a horizontally sewn buttonhole is evidence of meticulous crafting, since the button must be lined up perfectly with the buttonhole, unlike a vertical placement, which allows a greater margin for error. Since this detail is easily detectable, it can make any examination a short one.
The last sure giveaway of rarefied shirt making can only be detected in a shirt made of a striped fabric. Should the stripe of its sleeve line up exactly with the horizontal line of the yoke's stripe when they meet at the shoulder seams, you are in the presence of shirt making art. Generally, this kind of work is reserved for the custom-made dress shirt, but should you find it in one ready-made, be prepared to pay at least $150.
The next passel of workmanship details should be present on all deluxe-priced ($125 and up) dress shirts whether they are representing themselves as better ready-to-wear, made-to-measure, or even custom-made. While it is more difficult for the beginner to identify these details once learned, less well-made dress shirts become much easier to spot.
The stitching on a shirt's collar and cuffs should be so fine as to be nearly invisible. If you can clearly see each individual stitch sitting on top pf the fabric, its manufacturer is less costly. All better dress shirt collars have removable stays. The shape or pattern on either side of a shirt's collar parts or cuffs should match exactly. Pockets should be lined up so that they virtually vanish from sight. Buttonholes should be finished so that it is difficult to see their individual stitches. Buttons should be cross-stitched for extra strength, an operation that cannot be performed by machine.
Real pearl buttons are to fine shirt what authentic horn buttons are to expensive sports jackets. If a sewing machine needle hits a plastic button, the button shatters; should that same needle strike a pearl button, the needle shatters. Authentic mother-of-pearl buttons, especially thicker ones, are incredibly sensual to the hand and eye, as well as costing ten times the price of the typical plastic button.
DRESS SHIRT AESTHETICSWhile the dress shirt functions as a backdrop for necktie, braces, jacket, and pocket square, there are two options in furnishing this stage. The first and by far the more popularly practiced method employ the dress shirt as a neutral foundation. As such, the elements are either harmonized upon it or one is emphasized over the others, such as the bold print tie against a solid white shirt. In this presentation, the shirt acts purely in a supporting role.
The alternative approach casts the dress shirt as leading man at center stage. This style emanated from England and is reasonably easy to execute if the principles governing its execution are well understood. In socially conscious London, an upper-class man would signal his membership in a particular club, regiment, or school through his choice of tie. Since these neckties' designs were fairly standard and limited in number (there being, after all, only so many organizations the wearer could claim as his own), he tended to punctuate his somber and predictable business ensembles with more strongly patterned dress shirt, the very reason that London's Jermyn Street became so renowned for gentlemen's dress shirts. In this approach, the tie and pocket square act as subordinate players to the shirt. A well-endowed collar was essential to convey the shirt's leading role and the wearer's loftier station, which is why English-bred dress shirt tend to have more prominent collars than their European or American counterparts.
As either of these approaches can project considerable sophistication, one last issue remains in guiding a man toward an informed dress shirt purchase. This concerns the stylistic consistency of the shirt's parts. For example, regardless of how beautiful its fabric or fit, a double-breasted jacket with a center vent remains a half-breed, a mixed metaphor, a sartorial mutt. A garment's detailing must be in character with its fabric, or else, like a pinstriped suit with patch pockets or flap pockets on a tuxedo, the wearable's integrity and classiness is compromised
Here are some general guidelines specific to the styling of men's dress shirts:
The smoother and more lustrous the fabric, the dressier the shirt. On the scale of relative formality, blue broadcloth ranks above blue end-on-end broadcloth which, in turn, ranks above blue pinpoint oxford, which in finer and dressier than regular blue oxford. But royal or queen's oxford, which is made of a two-ply yarn that gives the oxford weave greater sheen and a finer texture, is comparable to end-on-end broadcloth in its formality. The more white that shows in the ground of a check or stripe, the dressier the shirting.
Different collar styles also connote varying degrees of dress-up. Spread collars are generally dressier than straight point collar and become even more so with each degree of openness. White contrast collars dress up any shirt no matter its pattern or color, and should only be worn with a French cuff in either self fabric or contrasting white. However, a straight point contrast collar in white is as much a sartorial oxymoron as button cuffs on a dress shirt. White collars look even less authentically classy in collar models less open than a semi-spread, because their progenitors could only accommodate a four-in-hand if there was enough width to the collar opening. Tab, pinned, or eyelet collars can also give a fabric a more decorous look. If you see a blue oxford shirt decorated with a white spread collar or a button-down collar loitering on a dressy white ground English striping, avoid these mongrel offerings, for their questionable propriety will do nothing for yours.
Most of the criteria for purchasing a classically styled dress shirt have little to do with price or even the quality of the fabric. If a relatively inexpensive shirt made with a mediocre fabric has a collar that is flattering to your face and affords you the right fit, it will render greater value to you than a more expensively made shirt with neither of these attributes. Value has to do with longevity of wear, as ultimately, the most expensive clothes a man can buy are those that rarely come out of the closet.
FORMAL WEARIf a man's suit ranks as the most articulate garment in the language of cloths, them his formal wear should guarantee sartorial eloquence. Due to the ritual surrounding the way it is worn and what accompanies it, formal wear's original spirit has been relatively well preserved. The simple combination of richly textures black accented by fresh white contrasts bespeaks refinement. And so it is that this last vestige of upper-class attire continues to live on in the dinner jacket, with its comforting certainly that all men look good in it.
Acquiring high-pedigree dinner clothes represents one of the more difficult challenges facing today's male consumer. That is not because, as with neckwear or sportswear, its variety can overwhelm one; rather it is because truly classic dinner clothes are so different from his normal business attire that the average man is ill prepared to accept it easily. This not only applies to commercially produced tuxedos, but to the majority of expensively hand-tailored ones offered in fine specially stores as well. In some cases, straying from the archetype particular trimmings is expensive because of the requirement of more labor. Often, however, its lack of pedigree is a function of simple ignorance resulting from not having been sufficiently exposed to the genuine article.
In spite of male evening clothes being highly formulaic and regimented by their very nature, opportunities to observe this particular masculine attire being worn correctly today are surprisingly rare. Mens wear designers offer their alternative renditions for each year's televised awards ceremonies. Most of the innovations they concoct are motivated by the desire for individuality and comfort, and the resulting confection usually turns out to be less than classic. The fact is that many men go to considerable effort to look special in a tuxedo when to do so is simply a matter of having the right information.
I feel that before one attempts to improvise in the ceremonial world of men's evening attire, it's important to understand the original design's intention and aesthetic logic. Trying to improve upon its ordered predictability in an effort to achieve a more personal expression is to be encouraged. But to create something unique and stylish, one should base such decisions on practical knowledge, rather than personal opinion or ephemeral fashion.
Since the culmination of the dinner jacket's final format in the late 1930s, nothing has improved upon the genius of its line or the refined aesthetics of its component furnishings. This does not mean that to own a fine tuxedo, one must have it cut or even tailored like those from the tuxedo's heyday. It does mean that its modeling and detailing must respect the exquisite relationship of form and function that were worked out through the collaboration of English tailors and shirt makers with their fastidiously dressed customers of that stylish era. No other period could have produces such a success, because each step of the new form's evolution was being compared to and measured by the perfection of the outfit it was intended to replace, the grand daddy of male refinement, the evening tailcoat and white tie. Not only did the tuxedo's final form end up projecting the same level of stature and class as its starched progenitor, it did so while providing considerably more comfort.
I will introduce briefly the dinner jacket's unusual history and its relationship to the tailcoat-and-white-tie ensemble, so that we may apply its rationale to selecting proper dinner clothes today. As W.Fowler said in his 1902 book, Matter of Manners, "The man who knows what to avoid is already the owner of style."
THE HISTORY OF THE DINNER JACKET
Black Tie, TuxedoAs the name suggests, the original dinner jacket was to be exactly that, a less formal dining ensemble for use exclusively in the privacy of one's home or club. The original design was created during the mid-nineteenth century for the English prince who later became Edward VII. He decides there should be a comfortable alternative to the constricting swallowtail evening coat and bone-hard white-tie getup worn at the dinner table. The consensus is that the very first model of this shortened jacket must have been a rolled collar (shawl) double-breasted lounge suit in black worsted with grosgrain facing. The same design in velvet was worn as a smoking jacket by gentlemen at home, its grosgrain facings lifted from that of the tailcoat's lapels. Victorian ladies did not smoke and insisted any husband who did should confine this activity to his den. The smoking jacket could then be left there, in situ, so as not to radiate the noxious fumes around the rest of the house.
Edward's dinner jacket was admired by the husband of an American houseguest visiting him at Sandringham, his country estate, and the man asked the prince if he could copy it. Edward consented and the American brought the innovation back to his millionaires' club in Tuxedo park, New York. In 1886, one Griswald Lorillard, sporting his version to the club's autumn ball, scandalized his hostess and hastened his departure, but forever established the jacket's place alongside the tailcoat-and-white-tie ensemble.
From the point in the late nineteenth century up through the early days of the 1920s known as the golden age of the British gentleman, black-tie attire continued as an option at home or in a men's club. However, for an evening in public, white-tie remained the dress of choice by polite society. The 1920s produced men wear's first unofficial designer, the new arbiter of fashion, David, the Prince of Wales, who was later crowned as Edward VIII but is better known by the title he took after his 1936 abdication, the Duke of Windsor. Clothes-conscious and bit of a maverick, he was determined to throw off the stuff formally of his father's generation of court-ruled attire and make clothes more comfortable for himself and his fellow aristocrats.
The prince often arrived for dinner in dinner coat and black tie when everyone else was decked out in full tails. Sometimes he would wear a lounge-coat-like double-breasted dinner jacket with silk facings on the lapels or he would take the pique dress vest from the tailcoat outfit and wear it with a single-breasted dinner jacket. Before giving up the throne, he abdicated the boiled-front evening shirt and its separate stiff wing collar, replacing them with a soft, pleated-front dinner shirt and its attached soft turndown collar. He devised a backless a waistcoat with lapels to wear in warmer climes. Although he was not the first to wear it, he helped popularize midnight blue for dinner clothes, which by artificial light looked richer than black. By the end of the 1930s, with his international coterie of friends adopting such elegant comfort in public, the dinner jacket, an amalgam of the tailcoat and lounge suit, began to replace the swallowtail dress coat and white tie.
WHITE TIE AND TAILSThe king of all male civilian garments is the evening tailcoat. Its long tails confer dignity while its starched white expanse of pique waistcoat, shirt, and tie flatter even the most rubicund of faces. The evening tailcoat has changed very little in the two hundred years since it was a riding coat. Its major alteration occurred when its double-breasted model was altered so it no longer buttoned in front. The single-breasted cutaway retained the button stance from the double-breasted model, as it does today. The outfit was, and still is, pretty straightforward, entailing very little choice in either color or detail. All that is needed is to tailor its established proportions to magically turn average men into movie stars.
The outfit consisted of white pique bow tie and matching stiff white pique-front evening shirt with attachable wing collar, worn with a single- or double-breasted pique vest, black worsted swallowtail coat, and matching trousers trimmed with two rows of braids on the outside of each leg. Black silk hose worn under patent leather oxfords or opera pumps with grosgrain bows completed the uniform. A white linen handkerchief with hand-rolled edges graces the breast pocket, while a colored carnation as boutonniere was optional. The only dressing errors egregious enough to scuttle its perfection were if the waistcoat's points extended below those of the tailcoat's front (a common occurrence today) or if the length of the coat's tails were not resting exactly in line with the back of the man's knees.
THE WHITE-TIE EVENING SHIRTThe pique-front evening shirt had a separate stiff wing collar whose shape evolves from turning down the corners of a stiff Beau Brummell fashion. The white pique bow tie was made to exact neck sizes, so that in addition to covering the exposed metal head of the front and back collar studs, the bow's intended width was fixed.
The wing collar sat high under the chin, giving extraordinary stature and definition to the face and chin. Its high back was to show a half inch above the jacket's collar, or a half inch higher than the black-tie's more comfortable turndown collar. The collar's wings helped to keep the pique bow in place by pressing it forward. The angle of the opening and height of the collar determined the style and size of the bow tie. The outer edges of the bow never finished outside the edges of the wing collar. This boilerplate guide for all bow-tie wear was established during that time and is respected even today.
Complementing the wing collar, the evening shirt's sleeve took single, stiff cuffs that, like the collar's height, were intended to show more than the softer French-style double cuffs of the black-tie dress shirt. The "boiled" shirtfront look took one or two studs, and the type of stud fastener determined the size and shape of the opening through which it connected with the stud's head, thus covering any evidence of the shirt's construction. The shirt's bosom, a biblike design in stiff linen or pique, was to fit so that its width did not extend under the trouser's suspenders, and its length was to stop short of the trouser's waistband. Because of its stiff front, if you sat down without it being secured to the trouser, it would billow out like a sail in full wind. A tab with buttonhole affixed the shirt to a special button in the trouser's waistband, keeping it in place and worry-free.
For all of this arithmetic to add up, the dress trouser needed to fit on the natural waist and not below it. This was accomplished with the help of suspenders (termed "braces" in the King's English). Without a high-waisted fit, the vest would not cover the bottom part of the shirt's bib and have its points finish above those of the tailcoat. With all of these studs, straps, and buttons needed to keep everything in place and in proportion, it may seem to be a form of Victorian bondage. In fact, when the clothes are tailored correctly, they are both comfortable to wear and move in graceful lockstep with the wearer.
Most of these design were transformed and worked into the classic tuxedo's final composition. Thus the stiff white-tie and "boiled" shirtfront gave way to the black-tie's softer lines without compromising its formal look, and so on. Let's move on and consider this information as it applies to today's black-tie dressing.
DINNER JACKET DOGMA - THE DETAILS
WeightMost formal affairs are held indoors, Where central heating and air conditioning insure comfortable temperature. So most men prefer a fabric weight that provides comfort for more than a single season. Unfortunately, contrary to popular opinion, there is no such thing as a year-round weight; no cloth can both warm you in the frost of winter and cool you in the heat of summer. However, a fine worsted cloth of nine to ten ounces will get one through most climate-controlled environments rather handsomely. Since most affairs include dancing and dining, when in doubt, err on the lighter side. While your dinner jacket may never drape like the gravity-prone, fourteen-ounce ones worn in the old movies, you should not have to suffer in pursuit of elegance either. If you wear a dinner jacket frequently enough to justify owning more than one, a choice of weights will certainly expand your style and comfort quotient. You could drop to a lighter, seven-and-a-half- or eight-ounce fabric for summer wear and move up to a fuller eleven- or twelve-ounce weight for fall and winter.
ModelA man of any size, shape, or weight can look stylish in a double-breasted tuxedo; it just depends on how it is cut. Both single- and double-breasted models are equally authentic and correct. The single-breasted model in worn unbuttoned, requiring its exposed waistband to be covered by a cummerbund or dress vest, and providing more opportunities for accessories and thus versatility. The double-breasted model relieves you of this additional layer around the waist, but the jacket looks better buttoned when the wearer is standing. Men tend to unbutton it when seated, so this model ends up being fussed with more than its single-breasted counterpart. A double-breasted dinner coat is never worn with a vest or cummerbund underneath.
ColorBlack is the norm, while midnight blue with black trimmings is also worn, Midnight blue comes across less green and more rich in artificial light than black; however, such a garment is rarely offered in the ready-to-wear world. In America, between the beginning of the summer season, June 1, and the end of august, an off-white or tan-colored dinner jacket may be worn. On trips to the South or warmer climates. These light-colored jacket are perfectly acceptable throughout the year.
LapelsOnly shawl or peaked lapels are used for dinner clothes. Peaked derive its heritage from the tailcoat, shawl from the smoking jacket. The shawl lapel produces a softer, old-world image and tends to be used on alternative tuxedo jackets such as the white summer dinner jacket, velvet smoking coat, or more idiosyncratic ones in wool tartan or cotton madras. Men with round faces or less muscular physiques generally look smarter in the uplifting, sharper-angles, pointed-end peaked lapel. Both lapels possess the sweep and self-importance that helps differentiate the black-tie coat from the less formal suit jacket.
A dinner jacket with notch lapels is a sartorial oxymoron, like sporting a dinner shirt with a button-down collar. (Actually, I've seen this done as a kind of tongue-in-cheek old-boy eccentricity.) Not only does this sportier coat lapel design lack the aesthetic logic and refinement required of formal wear, its casualness makes the rest of the ensemble look common and less dignified.
All dinner jacket lapels require a working buttonhole on the breast pocket side for a boutonniere. Many times, one finds himself in a wedding party or other official circumstances as an usher where he is asked to wear a flower. There is nothing more sophomoric-looking than having to pin one on the lapel. It makes this one flourish of tailcoat elan appear almost clown like.
Custom-made dinner clothes pay even more attention to the buttonhole area by sewing a loop as a stem keeper under the lapel. You could ask the store if they could cut a buttonhole in the dinner jacket's lapel, although they will probably discourage you. It takes a qualified tailor to correctly determine its proper location and to execute a well-finished buttonhole through the silk-faced lapel. It is done all the time in custom clothes, however, and even if the buttonhole is machine-made, the boutonniere will cover it up. The buttonhole should be no less than one inch in length.
PocketsThe tuxedo pocket must be dressy, yet simple. There is really only one type that should appear on the dinner jacket and that is the jetted or double besom pocket. Besom pockets can be of self fabric, as on a dressy day suit, or trimmed in the lapel's silk facing. Flap pockets belong with notch lapel; neither were ever intended for formal clothes. While flap pockets are cheaper to make (as are notch lapels), they also add a layer of cloth to the thip, and are thus neither slimming nor simple enough for such elegant apparel. Just as you would not expect to find peaked lapel on a tweed sports jacket or cuffs on dinner trousers, you should not see pocket flabs on a dinner jacket.
VentsThe original dinner clothes were made vent less and then later offered with side vents. Vent less jackets are more slimming while side vents provide easier access to trouser pockets and are more comfortable to sit in, something one does a lot at formal occasions. Single vents are fine for horseback riding, as they open up, providing comfort while in the saddle. Unfortunately, They also open up when a man puts his hand in his coat or trouser pocket, exposing his back side as well as a patch of dress shirt. Single vents are acceptable on single-breasted coats, never on double-breasted ones, and with their sporting heritage, they compromise the intended formality of the tuxedo.
TrimmingsBecause grosgrain or ribbed silk was originally used on tailcoats, this style of trimming has always been considered a bit more refined than the shinier, more theatrical satin. In the early days of off-the-peg English tuxedos, many carried satin facings, so the ribbed silk came to be identified with the Savile Row-made tuxedo. The best facing are made of pure silk, while less expensive ones contain a synthetic component. Shawl lapels look fine in satin or grosgrain. Grosgrain facings permit some contrast in textures for the bow tie, while satin facings demand the bow tie to match which, especially if not hand-tied, will produce a more contrived effect.
The dinner jacket's buttons can be plain or covered in the lapel's facing. Some of the more old-world custom tailor cover their dress buttons in a fine, woven silk design, which at first may look a bit fancy, but can be quite subtle and distinguished. Like the tailcoat and better lounge suit, the jacket sleeves are to be finished with four buttons, their edges touching. Forever buttons is not dressy enough, more is frivolous.
THE DINNER TROUSERPleated trouser are compatible with a cummerbund or waistcoat. Sitting is certainly a lot easier and more comfortable in pleated trouser than plain front. Their waistband must be covered, so they need to fit as high on the waist as is comfortable. Suspenders help to maintain their correct height, and keep their pleats lying flat under the waist covering. The side seams are trimmed with one band of facing (as opposed to white-tie, with two rows), which should confirm in texture to the lapel facings-satin for satin, braided for grosgrain.
Dinner trouser pockets are usually cut on the side seam. Vertical pockets are dressier and easier to get to, especially if their top section is partially covered by a weskit or cummerbund. Better dress vests have side slits to facilitate pocket access. Dress trousers never take cuffs. How could they with their side-seam decoration? A wonderful depiction of this tradition can be enjoyed watching the Fred Astaire classic Shall We Dance.
THE BLACK-TIE WAISTHardy Amies, the English tailor, would term it "naf or off," while the legendary English fashion journalist George Frazier would certainly sigh and complain it lacked any duende (style) at all. A trimmed waistband, as a substitute for a waistcoat or cummerbund, is thoroughly "bush league," to borrow a phrase from the days when this novelty was first introduced. Formal dress is ultimately about good form, and sometimes quick fixes that compromise such form need to be recognized as such and be avoided. The tailoring or finishing in high-class evening wear should be invisible, starting with the dress shirt's stud hole and extending to the trouser's waistband and side seam.
While shawl-lapel dinner jackets look elegant with either form of waistband covering, the cummerbund's curved design harmonizes particularly well with this shape of lapel. A fine-quality cummerbund has a little pocket stitched behind its deepest pleat on the wearer's right side. This was to provide a handy and dignified place to keep theater or opera tickets at the ready, which explains why the cummerbund is always worn with its folds pointing upwards. The single-breasted peaked-lapel jacket, like its sartorial antecedent, the evening tailcoat, synchronizes better with the dress waistcoat, as the vest's points below the waist echo those of the coat lapels worn above the waist.
THE BLACK-TIE DRESS SHIRT
The CollarTow collar styles qualify as dignified enough to support the more formal design of the dinner jacket. The original, appropriated from the tailcoat ensemble, is the stiff wing collar. The second, introduced by the Duke of Windsor as a more comfortable alternative, is the attached semi spread, turndown model.
Both collars do justice to any of the classic dinner jacket models, but of all the possible permutations, the one combination that tends to look better balanced is the wing collar with the single-breasted peaked-lapel dinner jacket. Again, its dramatic points are in perfect harmony with the coat's lapel design. Other than that particular combination, both collar styles are correct with either jacket or lapel style.
However, one of the more unfortunate casualties of the modernization of black-tie attire was the wing collar evening shirt. Its separate collar succeeded uniquely in framing and refining a man's face because of its stiff, high, wing design presentation of the bow tie. Once attached to the shirt, it began to be lowered and softened to fit a broader range of necks, and lost not only its stature but also its function. In spite of its resurgent popularity, today's wing-collar evening shirts make most men look like mad scientists, as with one twist of the neck, their collar points crumble and roll over the bow tie. They have little height, no snap, miniature wings, and not surprisingly, little presence, It's no wonder that ideas such as a banded collar evening shirt with a fancy button closure is being substituted. At least it offers a modicum of interest in an area where the drama of the wing collar would have formerly have formerly upstaged all the competition.
Dinner Shirt DetailsThe less dressy turndown-collar dinner shirts usually have a soft pleated front. Sometimes they are made with a pique collar and matching front, called a Marcella dinner shirt. Since the wing-collar dress shirt commanded a more severe formality, it took a stiff and simple front, either in pique or starched cotton. Even though it is common to see today's wing collar mated with a soft, pleated front, it is yet another example of mixing sartorial metaphors much like wearing a tassel loafer of patent leather. All fine dinner shirts should be made with a bib-type construction so their fronts do not billow out of the trouser tops when seated. Better dinner shirt fronts finish above the waistband and have a little tab that attaches to the trouser's inside waist button to keep it from pilling up. The width of the shirtfront should not extend under the wearer's suspenders. Wing collar shirts take one or two studs, turndown collars take two or three. Black-tie dinner shirts require a double to French cuff.
THE TUXEDO BOW TIEThe bow's color and texture are governed strictly by the jacket's lapel facing - satin for satin trimmings and a ribbed or pebble weaves variation for grosgrain facings. Its thistle or bat's-wing shape is a matter of personal preference. The bow's width should not extend beyond the outside edges of the collar's wings or spread collar's perimeter. Bow ties are always worn in front of the wing collar. The original collars were bone hard, and therefore it was impossible to place their parts over the bow.
Although the black-tie ensemble is a rather strict form dress, its bow tie and pocket-handkerchief offer some latitude for personal expression. They both look best done by hand, and a lack of perfection is desired. Humanizing the ensemble and making it appear more individual. Most men cringe at the very thought of having to knot their own bow, but it is rare to find a stylish man who has not overcome that fear. It is one element of formal wear that continues to separate the skilled dresser from those who are content to let the form wear them.
FORMAL FOOTWEARThe most aristocratic and elegant of all evening footwear is the black calf opera pump with black grosgrain bow. The man's pump, a word believed to derive from "pomp," is the oldest surviving vestige of nineteenth-century court fashion still in popular use. Originally worn in concert with silk stockings and silk knee breeches, its somewhat effete image accounts for its being misunderstood by the more macho contemporary dresser. Today it can only be found at Polo Ralph Lauren or Paul Stuart in Japan. Still the favorite of the connoisseur, its slipper like club elegance bespeaks the unique character and upper-class heritage of black-tie attire. A more conventional alternative used to be correct shape; this shoe is quite classy in its own right.
The ideal ankle wrapping to augment all this polished swellegance is the black silk, over-the-calf or garter length hose with a self or contrasting clock design down either side. The silk's dulled luster echoes the understated sheen of the trouser's side braid while enriching the dulled matte surface of the surrounding worsted trouser and black calf shoe. The silk's surface also repeats the texture of the opera pump's grosgrain bow, adding the relief of illumination at the end of a long stretch of dark black worsted.
COLLECTIBLE TUXEDO ACCESSORIESIn aspiring to make your formal attire appear less penguin like, it is very easy to end up gilding the lily rather than personalizing it. The idea is to accent the composition of black and white with a single flourish of spice, a pinch of dissonance. The safest strategy is to replace one element in the arrangement with either a third color to two-color pattern, leaving the rest to keep the structure pulled together.
The best colors are those rich enough to hold their own against the severity of black and white, such as bottle green, burgundy, Vatican purple, deep gold, or dark red. If a pattern is chosen, it should be a recognizable classic such as polka dot or hounds tooth, or tatters all in two colors with black as one of them (that is, black and red, black and gold, or even just black and white) . The ideal position for this dollop of panache is where it can be surrounded by black and thus integrated more into the whole. A vest, cummerbund, dress shirt, and pocket square all have enough dark color framing them to pull an alternative design into the composition. Some men choose patterned hose as their expression of personal badinage, but that is best left to the more assured dresser.
Less recommended, but by far the more practiced, is the contrast bow tie. However, if the ensemble's only discordant item is located directly under the chin, it ends up either distracting from or competing with the desired focal point, the wearer's face - something to be avoided at any level of formality.
Matched sets - such as bow ties and cummerbunds - should be shunned. The introduction of more than one contrasting accessory dilutes the form's symmetry, forcing the eye to move from one to another, thereby breaking down its whole into smaller, less important pieces. The black-tie ensemble is already regimented and predictable; adding coordinates that make you appear even more prepackages not only suggests the wearer's lack of sophistication, but produces an effect of something more akin to gift wrapping. Proust said that elegance in never far away from simplicity, and that thought is especially applicable in accessorizing one's black-tie attire.
BLACK-TIE ALTERNATIVES (TO BE USED ONE AT A TIME)
MODERN TUXEDO FASHIONIf the invitation reads black-tie, and the desire is to effect a less traditional, more contemporary look, one must move to the softer and more chic side of the fashion spectrum. This means replacing the starched high contrast of black-and-white attire with something less buttoned-up and self-consciously stiff.
The popular fashion for wearing one dark color from head to toe quickly separates one from the well-scrubbed mix-and-match crowd. Introducing softness into formal wear automatically helps to make it more casual and less authoritarian. By combining the more feminine element of shape and texture with the rich historical trimmings of male formal wear; tuxedo dressing can take on a modern mien. I will offer one example and elaborate on its potential applications.
The most important item around which to construct any ensemble is the jacket. If designed well, it affords more options to dressing up or dressing down an outfit than any other kind of garment. The most versatile model for the man is the double-breasted peaked-lapel with its six-on-two button stance. If the model is to function as the centerpiece around which touches are to be added, its silhouette can be made more contemporary, but its styling must be kept simple and classic. Its proportions should be enlarged, with a slightly wider but sloped shoulder, slight taper in the waist, no vents in the back. Its trimmings should be similar to those of its more traditional brother: grosgrain-faces lapel, properly trimmed dress trousers, and so on. For example, if the jacket is made from a black high-twist, semi textured wool, its chameleon like character will meld the swagger of today's fashion with the suthenticity of the part.
When the jacket is worn separately, like a secondhand vintage tuxedo with blue jeans, dinner shirt, black tie, and opera pumps, it becomes hip enough for a downtown artist's black-tie opening. With matching trousers and black silk banded-collar shirt, the ensemble's monotone swank can be transported uptown, still keeping considerably to the left of the stereotypical black-and-white ensemble. Worn with matching of the tuxedo, taking you anywhere button-down convention beckons.
Because of its slightly old but new, classy but drapery aesthetic, the modern dinner jacket can accommodate a wide range of accessories. A simple black T-shirt or vintage H Bar C western shirt, or black jeans, or black cowboy boots (pointed-toe and angled-heel only) can be played off against its classic but modern flavor.
The American fashion designer Geoffrey Beene has adapted the Gorbusier smock jacket, in various seasonal black fabrics, for his own formal outings. Its Mao-jacket lines are as timeless as the aforementioned men's tailored dinner jacket, and it functions as a neutral foundation to which personal elements can be added.
To dress in a modern way is to buy clothes that permit a maximum of accessorizing, clothes that convert from day to evening, dress to sport, inside to outside with the addition of one or two accessories. Develop an eye for the beyond-fashion classic. One man's oversized black cashmere cardigan sweater can be another's winter tuxedo jacket.
CUSTOM - MADE CLOTHESWearing something created expressly for one's body and mind is an intoxicating luxury particularly for men accustomed to buying off the rack. After realizing what such personalized raiment can do for him both physically and psychologically, it is the rare man who doesn't become a convert for life. Even in today's culture of instant gratification, a large majority of the world's best dressed men still go to the effort and expense go having their clothes custom made. Bespoke fashion allows its wearer to act, in concert with whatever skilled craftsmen he has chosen, as the architect of his own look. This collaboration usually produces a dressing style that is individual and worldly.
Custom-made apparel is the product of exact measurements taken on a known individual. It's the difference between designing a garment on a real person and designing one for an imaginary figure. No ready-to-wear garment, no matter how well it is altered, can ever be as accurately fitted as one made by a skilled craftsman who constructs it right over the bones and bumps of his client. The maker must be an artist who can compensate for whatever nature has withheld. In cases where a considerable remolding of the client's form is required, the end result can become a glorified abstraction of subject's better self.
The advantages of well-designed custom-made wearable over off-the-peg are significant and self-evident. With proper rotation and care, handmade apparel will outlast any item produced in a factory. A custom-made suit will yield at least ten years of good service, while a handcrafted shoe can easily last over twenty years. Amortized over the life of the product, the cost per annum favors the custom-made quality.
However, value is not the primary reason many men prefer custom tailoring. In the bespoke world, everything revolves around the pampered customer - his build, posture, coloring, and personal taste dictate all. Buying custom clothes represents the sort of focused and efficient use of time that top executives try to cultivate throughout their business day. Additionally, the relationship forged over time between maker and client can provide pleasure above and beyond the work produced by this alliance. Given the privacy and intimate attention afforded each customer by this process, a man can relax during his fitting and then return to the rigors of daily life refreshed.
Having described the real upside to the bespoke experience, we must now consider its potential downside. One of the inherent disadvantages of custom making is that the finished product cannot be judged until it is too far along to be substantially changes. Therefore, much depends on the tasted and aesthetic sensibilities of the maker. If he adheres to the time-tested step of the custom-tailor tradition, the materials and workmanship that normally accompany such a process usually ensure the garment's superior quality. However, the quality of its design is another matter.
The highest-caliber workmanship or carriage trade service will not undo the unsightliness of a poorly designed peaked lapel, an unflatteringly shaped dress shirt collar, or an inelegantly formed toe box. Whereas most men operating as custom makers are terrific mechanics and skilled craftsmen, their tastes tend to reflect their own working-class backgrounds. Many well-established firms are now owned by an employee who stepped out of the workroom to take over the business after the founder retires or passed on. Years of laboring over his craft hardly give him the appropriate social frame of reference to act as arbiter of taste and style in this collaboration.
Examples of this can be found in most Hong Kong tailored clothes. Compared to the average ready-to-wear suit, the Hong Kong creation, which generally features better fabrics and workmanship, offers a good value. However, most are poorly designed, inexpensively finished, and, therefore, unsophisticated in appearance.
Choosing a custom maker is difficult for the man traveling in this rarefied world for the first time. Some protection is assumed if the choice is based on a friend's recommendation. However, you remove considerable risk from the selection process by employing an artisan who has a definable "house style." The finest bespoke firms are still thriving because their signature approach to design has transcended the vagaries of fashion as well as the tastes of their employees. Most of the top firms have their own long-considered ideas on what style shows off a man to his best advantage, and you should listen carefully to see if their beliefs reflect your own. Establishments that claim they will make "anything you want" are to be avoided, unless you yourself are a designer and are prepared to take responsibility for the garment's final form.
If you desire a look all your own, find a craftsman who already makes something recognizably close to what you want and is comfortable adapting it to your needs. I would not go to Bill Fioravanti in New York City for a soft-shouldered, drapey suit, just as I would not ask London's Anderson & Sheppard to make me a fitted, built-up, English-style hacking jacket. Such judgments are easier to reach, since these makers have a clear-cut point of view. While you cannot totally eliminate the risk factor from the custom-made product, choosing a craftsman with a "house look" minimize the margin of surprise. However, in the hands of a craftsman with a strong sense of style, the outcome's unpredictability becomes part of the experience's attraction.
Equally important is understanding just how customer-made the article actually is. Today, the term "customer-made" has come to represent a wide range of different manufacturing processes and qualities, so caveat emptor. Legitimately bespoke products involve a specific series of steps with commensurate degrees of quality and thus price. If a customer is going to order something represented as customer-made, and he is going to receive something made by a different process, he should know this beforehand.
CUSTOM TAILORINGWith retailer cutting back their slower-turning stocks of tailored clothing to bolster their cash flow, more stores than ever before are offering made-to-order clothes. And given the reduced selections and available sizes, more men are testing these waters. Because the price of a better designer or European hand-tailored, off-the-peg suit has, in some instances, surpassed that of one custom-made, the interest in bespoke clothing has increased. However, the first thing you must establish is to what degree the clothing you are about to order is genuinely custom-made.
The term "Custom-made," when referring to tailored clothing is used so loosely today - particularly by those who have something to gain by its obfuscation - that it is now applied to almost any garment that has not been purchased off the rack. However, the criteria for judging whether a man's tailored garment is authentically custom-made have changed little since the early part of this century. There produces must be observed if the product is to earn such a designation.
First, the individual parts must be cut from a paper pattern that has been created specifically for the wearer. In the old days, the tailor who measured the suit would cut the pattern immediately upon the client's departure. This meant the wearer's unique carriage and manner, elements that inform the garment's character, were kept fresh in his mind's eye. Second, all the work required to create the suit was to be executed on the premises where the measurements were taken. This insured authenticity and aesthetic consistency, and acted as a quality control. Finally, except for the straight seams of the trouser, all work was to be executed completely by hand.
The terminology presupposes that the material is of the highest caliber, the sewing thread of silk, the linings of fine silk or rayon Bamberg, and the buttons of genuine horn or a vegetable derivative. The entire process required at least two or three fittings to take the garment from its first to final stage. Any suit that went through these rigors was recognized for the Savile Row tailors who invented and refined this production process. The long-term advantage of having a suit made in this manner revolves around its original paper template. Once created, it can be adjusted to further perfect the next garment. Nothing controls the consistency of each subsequent suit's fit and look more precisely than this finite individual pattern.
One step below custom-made is made-to-measure. Instead of a paper pattern being made expressly for the client, the manufacturer's stock pattern being becomes the starting point. Various adjustments for fit and posture are incorporated into it to individualize the final garment. The coat is delivered to the store without buttonholes, allowing the shop's fitter to position them correctly while the customer is wearing it. This technique for capturing a person's fit works well for most men unless their posture or bone formation requires something more particular. How well it replicates the custom-made suit's fit depends on the extent to which its base pattern can be manipulated to resemble an original pattern.
Since made-to-measure defines a process rather than the degree of craft, this product can vary widely in quality and cost. It can be made from a superior cloth or an inferior one, by hand or by machine. However, how closely it comes to matching the bespoke coat's quality will depend on its ingredients and workmanship.
Last on the scale of individually cut clothing is something called a stock single. Too many suits represented today as custom-made are usually from this group. Though it doesn't afford the same degree of customized fit as the made-to-measure, this creation in certainly a step up from ready-to-wear. Since a stock single is cut one at a time, it offers the wearer an opportunity to personalize a factory-produced suit. If you have an athletic build, say a forty-inch chest with a thirty-one-inch waist, the suit can be ordered with a smaller trouser and its jacket's waist will be tapered accordingly. Or if your measurements indicate your jacket should be longer than a regular but shorter than a long, and, additionally, your trouser requires a longer rise, these adjustments can be made. However, under no circumstance should this be mistaken for anything other than what it is, and it is clearly not a custom-made suit.
The differences between the made-to-measure and stock single vary according to the manufacturer. Some makers permit various fitting adjustments on a stock single while others permit none at all. Today, a computer generates individual cutting instructions and a customer's pattern is created and retained to record subsequent alterations. If the customer body reasonably approximates the stock pattern, the computer will provide a fit approximates the bespoke blueprint. However, if the customer requires significant adjustments, the computer-generated stock pattern will not measure up.
Most of the nuances that distinguish one top custom tailor from another are too esoteric to describe in mere words. Before engaging any tailor, you should ask to see a recent sample of his work, preferably something that is about to be collected by its owner. Unfortunately, inspecting the jacket's cut or fit when it is not being worn by the body it was designed for won't be of much benefit unless you are a tailor or bring a learned eye to such matters. Though its fabric, modeling, and detailing reflect the patron's wishes and most of its tailoring craft is concealed beneath its linings or shell fabric, you can learn much by examining the buttonholes. The sensibility and execution of the buttonholes reflect the creator's training and taste in a way that can be illuminating.
Examine the lapel buttonhole first. As the detail closest to the wearer's face, it offers the most visible evidence of the tailor's artistry. It is the last element of needlework to go into the garment before its final pressing. If its color, size, or placement is off, it can undo the forty or so hours of painstaking work invested in your garment. As founders of the woolen tailoring world, Savile Row tailors established the standards for high-class buttonhole decorum many years ago. Depending on where he apprenticed, each tailor on the Row may favor a different silhouette or style, but each jacket's buttonholes are a consistent part of this legendary culture's pedigree.
Creating a proper buttonhole is a dying art usually performed by trained women with excepting finger dexterity. The lapel buttonhole should be long enough (1"/ 1 1/8" ) to comfortably accommodate a flower, though you may never choose to wear one. There should be a keeper for the flower stem on the lapel's underside. The buttonhole should be precisely angled on the same line as the slope of the lapel's notch. If the coat has a peaked porting. If a flower were places in it, it would be framed by the lapel's outer edges.
The buttonhole on the lapels and sleeves should be hand-sewn so skillfully that their individual stitches become hard to discern. Although there are sewing machines that try to simulate the look of a handmade buttonhole, legitimately custom-made clothes require that they be hand-sewn. Many tailors choose a machine-made buttonhole because their own hand-sewn buttonholes end up looking ragged, as if a dog had gnawed on them. A handmade buttonhole is clean on the both sides. When finished, the buttonhole should be supple to the touch.
Quite important is its color, which should disappear into the cloth. For example, a buttonhole on a black-and-white glen plaid suit should have an inconspicuous, medium gray tint. If I saw a color such as charcoal gray or even black, contrasting upon such a cloth, as is found in most middlebrow custom-tailored clothes, I would note the tailor's lack of taste. The jacket sleeve's buttonholes should be aligned straight and close enough to one another so that the buttons appear to kiss. The distance from the edge of the jacket's cuff to the middle of the first button should not exceed 1 1/8". More than that, and they look as if they are floating on the sleeve and have abandoned their historical relationship to the cuff as its fastener.
If a tailor seems knowing about buttonholes, I would defer to his judgment in other matters. This is critical, since no matter how specifically you instruct any tailor, many aesthetic judgments concerning taste are going to be made by him in the course of his work with little input from you, and these are the ones that will ultimately infuse the clothing with a sense of class and character.
CUSTOM SHIRTINGBesides the individualization of its styling, the advantages of the custom-made dress shirt over one that is ready-to-wear can be found in its precise fit as well as the superior quality and taste of its fabrics. The most visible and important component of the dress shirt is its collar, and the bespoke process allows for one that is designed to best present the wearer's face. The fit of the dress shirt's cuff to the wearer's hand, its second most noticeable detail, is another area where the custom route is decidedly the higher of the two roads.
In choosing a shirt maker, you must inquire about what process he will use to produce your shirt. The maker should begin by creating an individual pattern from which he makes a sample shirt. having been worn and washed several times at home, the shirt should be examined on your body for final approval or further altering. After those washings, the collar should fit comfortably while still allowing for some shrinkage. The shirtsleeve should still be long enough to show ˝" of cuff from under the jacket sleeve and also have enough length to offset further shrinkage.
If cut from a stock pattern rather than an individual pattern, the shirt is not custom-made. In some cases, if you are a standard fit, the shirt might require little adjustment, but it would be inaccurate to call it bespoke. Shirts deserving to be called custom-made cost $150 and up and should be made from thirty-six-inch-width, 100 percent cotton, two-ply cloth. This is easy enough to determine. Ask the salesman to show you a bolt of the fabric and ask him to measure its width. Since fabric woven in this old-world width is always two-ply, this is a fail-safe checkpoint. Thirty-six-inch narrow-width shirting fabrics are made on Europe's older, slower looms, which produce a luxurious cloth of richer colors and hand than the fabric will feel even silkier with wear. As long as the shirt's fabric is woven in either Switzerland or Italy, you are assured of a finished product of deluxe caliber.
To confirm a shirt's pedigree, you must establish the shirt's level of sewing artistry and manufacturing skill. The entire shirt, including its side seams, should be sewn with a single needle. This construction allows for the smallest stitches, the narrowest seam, and the most meticulous finishing. The shirt's side seam should be precisely narrow and the individual stitches on its collar so small as to be almost invisible. The collar so small as to be almost invisible. The collar and cuff lining should be cotton (not fused) and from Europe. Switzerland makes the best. The yoke on the back of a custom shirt should be made of two separate pieces joined in the center and the button should be genuine mother-of-pearl and attached by hand. If there is a monogram, it too should be hand-embroidered as opposed to machine-made.
If the answers to these areas of investigation are satisfactory, you can be assured of receiving a top-quality product and should be prepared to pay $150 to $300, depending on the country where it is bought and any extras and collars. Choose to have the shirt's excess fabric set aside rather than made into a finished collar. If you lost or put on weight, it's better to have fabric on hand. The costs can also vary according to the quality of two-ply cotton fabric used, which can range from 100s up to the very expensive, silk like 220s.
Of course, all thing being equal, the cost of the bespoke dress shirt ultimately rests on the genius of its pattern and the nuances of its fit. However, there are some aspects of shirt making that do separate the masters from the top makers. These details include special gussets to reinforce the shirt's side seams where they meet at the hem bottom, pattern matching on the back yoke to the sleeve, hand-sewn buttonholes (found only in Europe), horizontal sleeve placket buttonholes, and extra-thick mother-of-pearl buttons.
All of the above quality the product as custom-made. Below this, there are a variety of methods of individualized shirt making that are often called custom-made. Obviously, this term stands for a specific process of creating a particular shirt with an attendant quality of shirting fabric and shirt making. Make-to-order, individually cut, and made-to-measure are all terms that indicate something less than custom-made, and that is why they need to be understood if one is to compare apples with apples. If you pay less than $150 for a dress shirt and it is represented as being comparable to the top-of-the-heap bespoke ones, something is amiss. That is not to say that a custom-made shirt will always look better than a less expensive garment. A well-designed ready-to-wear shirt can look more flattering than a bespoke one with a poorly designed collar. As with all wearing apparel, design, not quality, is the ultimate arbiter of stylish longevity.
TRAVELING WITH YOUR WARDROBE : PACKING AND CARE THE SECRETS OF WRINKLE-FREE TRAVELThe basic objective of packing a suitcase is to get as much in as small a space as possible, while managing to arrive at your destination relatively wrinkle-free. An under packed suitcase leaves too much room for clothes to shift and crunch. Conversely, an over packed one produces hard-to-remove creases. When carefully folded and arranged, the contents of a suitcase should snugly fill its interior with its weight distributed equally throughout the bag for easier carrying.
Before making any other packing decisions, you must first choose the sort of luggage, hand or soft, that best fits your traveling requirements. While a hard suitcase offers your clothes greater protection and can be a terrific makeshift seat if there in nothing else available, its inflexibility can be a hindrance if you are forced to squeeze it intro a tight, awkward storage area. If it is bulky as well as heavy, transporting the hard suitcase can also bang your shins to a fare-thee-well. Luggage made along the lines of the old-world-elegant Vuitton or Asprey's steamer trunks look exceptionally stylish, but they will also soon look exceptionally battered after being pummeled about in today's taxi trunks or airport conveyances. Of course, if you travel by limousine to the Concorde or Queen Elizabeth II, such problems will be of little concern. But for those whose mode of transportation to the airport, dock, or train depot usually has a meter in the front seat, the luggage's vulnerability is an issue.
Softer cases give you greater flexibility around their sides; should you acquire anything during your travels, they can accommodate the additions more easily than harder luggage. They are also more manageable in difficult-to-fit spaces, a fact you'll appreciate if one ends up jammed beneath your legs. And your shins are in little danger if you have to carry one across a crowded airport. The softer bags range from the ballistic nylon - lightweight, slash proof, and Prada chic if well-designed and black - to the printed canvas and leather-trimmed bags by Etro, Gucci, or Fendi, which last a lot longer than their soft appearance might suggest.
If you opt for the semi-structured luggage, you should consider whether you will travel with suitcase large enough to accommodate a single-folded coat or a garment bag. The idea that your clothing, especially your suits, should hang in your luggage just as they hang in your closet has made the garment bag a popular choice for many travelers.
Since packing and unpacking the garment bag are easy matters, over packing the garment bag is always a temptation. So, when faced with a choice between the three- of four-suiter, give serious thought to the smaller of the two. Garment bags come with several zippered compartments. Designed to hold specific items such as shoes or toiletries. The better ones come with a "wet" bag for damp exercise clothes or laundry and have compartment that are accessible from the inside as well as the outside. Choose one with mesh or clear vinyl compartments, so you can see whatever you are looking for without having to completely unpack. Also, be sure to find a bag that can utilize different types of hangers, so that you are not stuck if you lose or damage one. Garment bags can be heavy and unwieldy, so make sure yours has a wide, padded shoulder strap. Finally, whether you choose the suitcase or the garment bag, there is a technique to packing both.
Packing the suitcaseAs a first order you must decide which articles will be packed at the bottom of your bag. Many experts recommend putting trousers in first, leaving the leg out until everything else is in, and then folding them over the top of the pile. I disagree with this on two counts. First, since the trouser would rest against the top and bottom sides of the suitcase, you risk exposing it to any number of hazards, including moisture, that could not ruin the trouser but effectively the entire suit. Second, travelers often arrive at their destination without enough time to fully unpack before having to keep some business appointment or social engagement. Therefore, the last thing to pack is a suit, since it is the first item that you will want to hang up to air out and dewrinkle. The first thins you pack will have to absorb the full weight of the clothes places on top of it. So the garment to place at the bottom of your bag should be some item like a sweater, jogging clothes, jeans, or bulky trousers, anything that can wrinkle or get wet without causing you anxiety.
While packing, place tissue paper or plastic between each layer of clothing. Acid-free, crinkly tissue paper is the butler-approved device, while plastic, which allows your clothes to slide rather than settle and crease, is a close second. As you pack these items, a small moat should form around your island of clothing. This is the place for your footwear. Since packing and unpacking exposes fine leather shoes to scratching, your shoes should be protected by bags. The best shoe bags are made of brushed felt, which shields the shoe's uppers while maintaining their polish. They also prevent the shoes from leaving polish marks on your suitcase or clothes. Plastic bags will not prevent scratches and scuffs and, if the climate is humid, can stick to the shoe, diminishing its luster. Face the soles of the bagged shoes against the walls of the case so that they are provides with the maximum protection while lending structure to the other packed garment.
Beside being covered, your shoes should be trees. Without travel shoe trees, your footwear may become deformed. Wooden trees are preferable, since they absorb moisture; shoe repair shops sell light plastic ones that will do in a pinch but should otherwise be avoided. If trees, plastic or otherwise, are unavailable, you can provide your shoes with temporary support by stuffing then with socks or underwear. Never separate a pair of shoes; if you pack a left and a right in different container, you double the chances that the pair will not arrive intact. Once the shoes are positioned, soft items such as linen, hosiery, and handkerchiefs should be stuffed in the spaces between them to provide additional cushioning.
Dress shirts can now be added with their collars alternating at each end. A professionally folded dress shirt with collar support in the cleaner's plastic bag is going to emerge from its casing more wearable than the ones you folded your self. Shirts folded off hangers always need more touching up than shirts folded by the cleaner. However, if you insist on folding them yourself, choose the "long" fold, with the shirt folded below the waistline, ensuring within the collar for additional support.
Everything that is now in your case should be firmly set in place. If the moat between the outside wall and your clothing island is well fortified, the contents should move as a unit while the surrounding items can move independently as the weight of the parcel is redistributed during travel. Your trousers, folded in two with each waistband alternating with the other, should be packed next. In between each trouser, place four or five neckties folded once in half. The trousers will keep them flat and any resulting crease in the tie will come at the back of the neck where it is concealed by your collar. A traveling tie case offers an even safer mode of travel for your neckwear, and it can easily be hung in your closet.
Your jacket is the next article to go in Experienced travelers pack the night before, leaving their tailored clothing out until the very last moment to save unnecessary creasing. Fold your jacket lengthwise in half, inside out, taking care to push the shoulders through while making sure the sleeve meet each other inside and hang down without wrinkling. Place plastic inside the coat's vertical fold. If your case is not long enough to accommodate single folding, put a layer of plastic or tissue over the folder jacket and fold it a second time between the button nearest the waistline and the top of the inside pocket. This is one place where a recalcitrant fold will easily come out.
One of the final items for packing is the leak proof dopp kit, which allows for any last-minute additions. This can be used to plug up any gaps on the perimeter created by the stacking of the trousers and jackets. Just as with your first layer, the last thing to be placed over your suit jacket should be a robe, second coat, or even some plastic, anything that will prevent moisture from reaching the garments below.
Packing the Garment Bag
PERMANENT PACKING FOR FREQUENT TRAVELERS
CARE FOR THE TRAVELLER'S WARDROBE
Tailored ClothingAs soon as reach your destination, unpack and hang up your tailored clothes. Jackets should always be hung on wooden, wishbone-style hangers. Wire hangers are the bane of good clothes, so avoid hanging your jackets from them. Ordinary wooden hanger are an acceptable alternative if the heavier wishbone hanger are unavailable. The trousers can be folded over the center bar. However, it is always better to suspend them by their cuffs from a clip hanger, or, if your hotel is really classy and proc\vides them, small wood trouser hangers with felt pads to prevent the trouser cuffs from wrinkling. When suspended by the cuffs, the full weight of the trouser is brought to bear, retaining the unbroken crease down the leg. If there is no time to have your clothes professionally pressed, hanging a suit in a steamy bathroom and then letting it dry in a cool room is a good way to remove its wrinkles. A good-quality travel press can also work the wrinkles out.
Try to arrange your schedule so your clothes can be properly pressed after unpacking. A freshly pressed suit will always look better than one that was pressed just prior to packing. If you have your suit pressed at the hotel, find out what quality of work it provides. Too often, either dry cleaning chemicals or an inexperienced presser can take the life and bounce out of a fine suit. Fine tailors prefer to do their own pressing when possible, because a bad press can ruin a well-made suit, while a good one can totally rejuvenates one. Ask the hotel's concierge or valet service to have your garments soft-pressed by hand. Tell them you want the jacket's lapels soft-rolled and the trousers steamed, brushed, and hand finished.
Avoid dry-cleaning a suit unless it is absolutely necessary, for instance if perspiration has seeped completely through it. Other than a light-colored summer suit, if the suit becomes stained, have it spot-cleaned first, then pressed. It is important to attach a note to the garment, telling the cleaner what caused the blemish. Technology has developed specific chemicals suspected raspberries were the culprit, he might try a fruit cleaning agent, whereas if it were blood, a protein-based solvent would be in order. Allow the cleaner as much time as he needs to deal with the stain. Some stains never get properly removed because the job was rushed to meet the traveler's schedule.
If you spill something, blot it up immediately. The more you get out of the fabric, the less there will be to eradicate later. Putting seltzer or water on oil-based stains such as salad dressing, mayonnaise, and the like only spreads the surface of the stain, making it ten times harder to remove. For water-soluble spill such as wine, the soiled garment should be placed on top of a dry, flat surface where it can be daubed with a warm, wet cloth. If it needs further attention, the spot can be dispatched with proper dry cleaning. Some food stains are harder to remove than others, therefore the more time you allow the cleaner, the better the chance of receiving a spotless garment.
Dress Shirt CareNothing more discourages a man from investing in an expensive dress shirt than the prospect of having it professionally cleaned. Few places know how to press one properly. However, armed with some specific instructions, you can contain the damage and even be pleasantly surprised by the results. First, do not dry-clean dress shirts. Cotton dress shirts surrender their fresh, linen like crispness and eventually turn gray if regularly dry-cleaned. Some men mistakenly believe this is the only way to prevent the garment from shrinking. Far better to buy a shirt in a size that allows for shrinkage.
Never allow a partially soiled dress shirt to be pressed; the heat from the iron can permanently "cook" the dirt into the fabric. Ask the laundry to wash the shirt separately without machine drying. Most shirts are washed en masse, which just spreads the dirt from one garment to another. Request that the shirt be hand-pressed - never allow it to be machine pressed - with as little starch in the collar and cuffs as you can bear. Heavy starch reduces the life of the collars and cuffs and accelerates their shrinkage.
Shoe CareThe only thing profligate about owning expensive shoes is scrimping on their care. Plastic shoe trees do to shoes what wire hangers do to jackets - avoid them if at all possible. Wooden shoe trees are the best protection your investment can have and should be inserted as soon as the shoe is removed from the foot. The shoe's interior is subject to some astonishing conditions including continual moisture, heat, friction, and bacterial growth. Its exterior is exposed to heat, cold, precipitation, chemicals, abrasions, and good old-fashioned grime. Shoes must be rotates and allowed time to dry out. Wooden trees speed the drying process, deodorize, and prevent wet shoes from curling at the toe. If the shoes have been soaked, keep them away from heat, which can crack the leather. Stuffing them with newspaper will draw the moisture from the leather. Once they have dried, buff them with a soft cloth.
Leather is a skin, so treat it with the same care as you would your own. Shoes must be polished for protection and appearance. The first step I would take with a new pair of shoed is to treat them to the best shine available. There is nothing worse than getting a scuffmark on some unprotected portion of new shoe; it will be with you in some from for the remainder of the shoe's life. Wax, which shields the leather against the elements, should be the first layer applied to the shoe. Polish is used only to achieve surface luster and should not be used as a substitute. Do not take your shoes out into the rain without first making sure they are protected by a good coat of polish. You should also polish the stitches of the shoe's welts; this helps to waterproof them.
Caring for Your NecktiesNo stain is more difficult to remove than the one that lands on your silk necktie. However, if cleaned properly, most stains can be removed, provided the soiled tie has not sat for months in the back of your closet. This task should be performed by a professional service, such as New York City's Tiecrafters, Inc. (212-629-5800), which has the special equipment to press and roll the tie back into its original shape. Avoid cleaners who claim they can do this, because most will not invest money in such expensive machinery for the few neckties they clean each month.
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