Well Dressed Rebel : Seven Things to Look for in a Suit

Sonya Glyn NICHOLSON

Well Dressed Rebel : Seven Things to Look for in a Suit

Something happens when we first step into the oasis of handmade suiting.

If you have commissioned a handmade suit before, then you remember the lake of fabric at the tailor’s house, and being asked to choose just one.  You recall being asked to direct how many buttons you want on your coat, the type of fit your prefer, whether you would like cuffs or not on your trousers…single or double breasted?… pocket placement?…lapel style?…labeling?  More decisions mount by the minute and the measuring tape flies, and finally the soft shock of the waiting period before your suit will be ready waggles the brain until it feels like a maraca rumba shaker.

Attolini 11

Soon after, it seems we learn to tread more gently into the world of crafted garments to avoid such a head-on collision. And perhaps it is an over-romanticization, but finally welcoming the tailoring experience puts new lifeblood  into our core; and oddly, if we try to explain it to someone else, words can’t really pay tribute to the emotion that has been created (as I struggle here to convey this very emotion to you).

This esoteric transformation that is so difficult to define, can be sensed in the letters that we have received from several young men of 17, of 19, of 23 years of age, who tell us that their lives have been completely transformed since they learned how to set themselves apart from the crowd through understanding how to dress well.

These young men who have dipped their toes for the first time in the sartorial stream of cutting and tailoring, may initially feel a type of agitation— a sort of acquaintance with a «Moses viewing the promise land» innervation, that nudges us towards peeking further under the veil of the previously unknown world of craftsmanship.

And, as we assimilate into this expanding group— we notice that this guarded sect of seekers, who prefer this craft called tailoring, are full of members that are so discreet that not a word is spoken about subtleties, like personally knowing the tailor who put his hand to the buttonhole on a coat, or understanding the secret of a Solito suit– whose jacket’s front is cut slightly longer than the jacket’s back.

Once exposed to the world of cutting and tailoring, the initial agitation to «know more », soon turns to a feeling of astonishment, and we see over and over again, men who fall in love with the practice of dressing well, with consideration for the emotion that is being creating through objects like flannels, glen plaids, chalk stripes and brogues. Once dressed well, these strenuous souls freely dance in the realm of a transforming sartoria, without moving even a toe.

Romanticism aside, the first step to understanding tailoring and cutting, almost always requires first learning the basic mechanics of the suit— taking hold of an understanding of  lapel rolls and shoulder construction, knowing the difference between Neapolitan and English tailoring, as well as an appreciation for yarn count and the silhouette, all within in this realm that we call suiting.

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE ?

Advanced style may not come easy, but you know it when you see it. From Rose Callahan’s upcoming  book, “I Am Dandy, the Return of the Elegant Gentleman.”

The natural question at this point is: where does  one go next– after the mechanics of suiting are understood and the spirit of dressing well is globally known?

Taking a cue from Rose Callahan’s book “I am Dandy”, when we come into our element in terms of dressing well, it is then that we can scale the wall of freedom and unique self-expression…forgetting about boundaries and instead shifting towards the sphere of intuitive dressing. Yes, ” First learn the rules, and then break them” could not be more freely applied at this point of progression.

But as we tap into our creativity in the way that we dress, we notice that there are two types of creativity:

* creativity for the sake of creativity, or

* creativity that expresses an inner emotion.

Creativity for the sake of creativity can become a sad affair when dressing becomes more of a dog-and-pony show, rather than an act of sincere expression.

On the other hand, creativity that expresses inner emotion is more complex, since it is a practice cannot be taught (or copied from an instagram photo), but rather it is assimilated through exposure and experience…and put plainly: in terms of creativity that expresses inner emotion: we all know it when we see it.

In this text, we look at seven standards for good suiting, that once known, can lend confidence to the gentleman (or woman) who is driven to a place where quality meets emotion, and who wants to freely explore breaking sartorial rules with ease.

SEVEN THINGS TO LOOK FOR IN A SUIT

1. Correct Size

The number one infraction in regard to poor suiting. We estimate that 80 percent or more of all men purchase suits that are too large.  In short, don’t be afraid to let a suit conform to your body. Notice these examples:

2. No Collar Gap please !

Nothing says ” cheap suit ” more quickly than a glaring collar gap. Compare the two examples below, and it will be easy to see who has the correct collar fit, and who does not.

The second photo shows a nice collar fit, sans the collar gap. Also note (!) that the second photo shows the correct amount of shirt collar fabric (around 1/2” or 12.7 mm) behind the neck, while the first photo exposes the entire shirt collar in back.

3. Clean Shoulder Line

And, very few things say “handmade suit” more than a lovely and natural shoulder line. Compare the first  photo with a clean shoulder line to the following photo with a poor shoulder line.

A clean shoulder line. Chittleborough & Morgan, Savile Row.

A sloppy shoulder line.

4. Correct Tension at the Coat Button

The tension that is created on the fabric at the suit coat button, should show a small area of fabric tugging (first photo). Beware of the “dreaded X” on the coat front when the coat is buttoned, which indicates an issue with the fit around the waist area (second photo).

Tom Ford Suit (© The Rake) shows a nice slight tug at the coat button.

X dreaded

An example of the dreaded “X” that can occur near the coat button area of an otherwise good suit.

5. Clean Back

Even some well-known tailors have neglected to cut the back of their suits to conform well to the body. Compare the work of these two jackets:

The back of this jacket is clean : ie correctly cut and tailored (@Journal of Style).

Although this jacket is made by a well known Savile Row tailor, the back of the coat doesn’t make the cut.

6. Lengths

Coat / Shirt Sleeve Length — The jacket should finish at the wrist bone, with around 1/2 inch (12.7mm) of shirt sleeve extending past the jacket sleeve. A good tailor will measure all the way to the thumb tips on each arm, since individual arm lengths can vary.

Shirt sleeve extends about 1/2” from the coat sleeve, jacket just covers the seat of the pants.

Total Jacket Length — The length of the suit coat should just cover the seat of the pants. As a signature practice, some tailors are known to sew the length of the coat slightly shorter or slightly longer (Huntsman and Sons), and sometimes coat length may vary based on customer preference.

Trouser Leg Length — The length of the trousers may be just long enough to form a slight “break” at the shoe, or can be cut fractionally shorter to avoid the break at the shoe, and thus create a slight lengthening effect on the legs. Avoid pant legs that are so long that they bunch or are so short that they expose the socks.

7. Details (buttons, pockets, lapels, notch position)

A few items to consider that affect the overall visual form of the suit:

* buttons: number, quality and positioning.

* pockets: type and height.

* lapels: positioning of the lapel notch, amount of chest that shows, angle of lapel line.

In this photo, Lorenzo Cifonelli himself models a bespoke jacket for “The Rake” with practically no chest area exposed on the jacket, as a result of wide lapels that fold over and cover most of the chest  The lapel notch is placed high with a long vertical lapel line, which stretches the overall silhouette. A very sharp garment.

The saying “First learn the rules and then break them” is a continuous theme at PG. And we notice the zealots who hold fast to every rule, providing self-portraits along the way to show their good marks (and may be indignant towards those who do not pay heed to the rules either out of ignorance or out of rebellion and a wink).

These gentleman feel good about being a clothes snob, and I have to admit that being a clothes snob is a lot of fun and brings a lot of self-pleasure. Yet, if we get lost too far into the strict academia of how to dress, we build a type of fortress around ourselves (albeit beautiful) that has the potential to blind us from the view outside the confines of our own walls. But, breaking through these walls and dressing not only for ourselves, but also for others shows us an entirely new sartorial dimension.

And, there is magic in the moment when we become aware that these gestures that we make through the objects that we wear, indeed, send meaningful messages from ourselves to others.

Sonya Glyn Nicholson. Senior Editor.