The perils of bespoke casual clothing
It’s easy to assume bespoke tailors can do anything. Once you see a skilled cutter draft and adapt a coat pattern, the possibilities for everything from suits to blousons seem endless. But the shift to more casual clothing is not an easy one.
I recently completed a six-month project to have a bespoke leather jacket made by cutter Davide Taub at Gieves & Hawkes. I have also closely watched Michael Browne at Chittleborough & Morgan as he recently attempted patterns for a mess jacket, leather jacket and bespoke jeans. Davide and Timothy Everest have also experimented with bespoke jeans in the past.
All have been successful to a degree. You can judge the success of my project yourself by looking through the posts on Permanent Style – just search for ‘bespoke leather jacket’. But all have also run into issues, which centre around how casual clothing differs in cloth and in fit.
Material that stays stretched
Tailors deal with a broad range of fabrics, from cashmere to cotton, worsted to linen. But they rarely work with leather or less formal cottons, such as denim, which are the foundations of a man’s casual wardrobe.
Most materials used for tailoring have some natural stretch in their weave – wool in particular – but they don’t change shape permanently. They are selected for their ability to bounce back to the original clean, sharp lines the tailor cut. The chest canvas might mould over time, but the cloth doesn’t. Leather and denim, on the other hand, are prized for their ability to mould with the wearer.
That makes tailoring a leather jacket or a pair of jeans less necessary, in a way. Like formal shoes, the best part is how they become more personal and better fitting over time. But it also means the tailor has to factor in this change when making them. The waist on jeans has to be particularly snug, so it is not pulled out of shape as the legs stretch. The back of a leather jacket has to be that little bit larger, so that it is not pulled on as the arms stretch and move.
The fact that tailors are not familiar with these materials is another reason not to have a bespoke version made. But even Davide, who has worked extensively with bespoke leather and helped develop off-the-peg leather patterns, will find difficulties with a new design.
This is the second problem: fit. All items of tailoring are built on the same fit principles, whether heavy, structured overcoat or lightweight Neapolitan jacket. They operate around the axis points of shoulder, collar and waist button. The latter two define the whole body of the jacket, while the shoulder controls the sleeve and side seams, or silhouette.
Casual jackets, often made to the classic ‘bomber’ or blouson style, are very different. What happens when the jacket is held, tight, at the waist? Making this point immovable, like the collar of a suit jacket or the waist of a pair of trousers, transforms it into the most important driver of shape. Suddenly the cut of the body has to work from the bottom up, rather than the top down.
I think my leather jacket was a success (though you could certainly question the value of having it made bespoke). Perhaps the reason I love it so much is that there were so many things that could have gone wrong – from selecting the leather from an inch-square swatch to entrusting a tailor (not cutter) I’d never met – but didn’t. Designing ready-to-wear clothing is not easy, and I still couldn’t say I recommend it.