Recently my wife and I celebrated seven years since we got married. I’m told that the theme of a seven year wedding anniversary is ‘wool’ ( or copper!) so it’s an appropriate time to tell the tale of my wool wedding suit(s).
In preparation for the big day I dreamed of treating myself to having a suit made to my exact specifications. I’m usually a decent fit off the rack, even better with a few tweaks for nipping the waist or getting the sleeves and strides lengths correct, but this was a special indulgence that I was looking forward to for a special occasion.
As a ‘warm-up’ to the big event, I had a suit made-to-measure by Jason at Thick As Thieves (www.thickasthievesla.com). This was my first time using Thick As Thieves. I chose a powder blue-grey wool mohair sharkskin cloth.
My thinking was that if it came out perfect I would wear it at my wedding. If I wasn’t quite happy with it, I had time to choose whether I would get Jason to do another for the wedding with any necessary tweaks made, or else go elsewhere.
I’ve showcased this suit on the blog a couple of times before. At a very reasonable price and in around six weeks, after sending in my measurements the suit came back and I was very happy with the fit. It was somewhat heavier than I was expecting and would have been hard to wear in the heat and humidity of a daytime beach wedding in Florida in July. Plus I had this nagging compulsion that I really wanted to treat myself to the full bespoke experience. I suppose I was probably looking forward to having a series of photographs taken as the suit took shape, and doubtless had some romantic notions about being measured every which way in front of a three-panel mirror in an oak-panelled room and being asked “On which side does Sir dress?”
I was living in Houston at the time and knew of a small old-fashioned bespoke tailor’s shop not far from where I lived. I tried this fellow out with a couple of basic alterations first and told him of my plans to one day get a suit made. I then had him fix some annoying ripples in my dinner jacket, and then had a Sea Island cotton shirt made bespoke. The only minor issues in all of this was the inclusion of gauntlet buttons on the shirt sleeve placket against my wishes, so this was remedied.
In retrospect if I did this again I would have requested more tie space on the collar but other than that I was happy enough with the result. The price – around $200 – was similar to the famed Hamilton bespoke shirtmaker located close by, but I believe you have to make a minimum first order of five shirts with them.
So with this tailor having passed the preliminary tests, on to the suit. I picked out my cloth, a silver-grey 7.5 ounce summer weight worsted (80%) and kid mohair (20%) sharkskin from Holland and Sherry, and my tailor got to work.
I had described to him in great detail how I wanted this suit to look, and showed him several pictures for reference. I asked if he had a bespoke ‘house style‘ and he said not really, his job was in part to be a mind-reader and give the clients exactly what they wanted. I asked him how many fittings I would get and he said as many as it takes to be satisfied.
Some Mods love adding the extra flourishes in a bespoke suit. V-shaped cuts in the side-seams of trousers (with or without buttons added), stepped hems, linked sleeve buttons, gauntlet cuffs, etc. My choices weren’t as flambuoyant as that but I loved being able to add personal touches such as an inner pocket sized exactly for my iPhone, and the extra loop in the waistband to anchor a belt buckle tang.
Anyone who has looked at this blog will know my preference (obsession?) for three-button jackets. In almost every case this style of jacket fits me best when the top button lands just around my sternum. At the first fitting of the suit jacket the buttoning position seemed to be quite a bit lower than this and when I mentioned this my tailor said not to worry it would be fixed. But at the next fitting the button placing was unchanged and the button holes had already been cut. Too late to change. For the final product the trousers fit perfectly but I was never happy with the jacket. It was too long and all the proportions seemed too low.
As the wedding date approached, wanting things to be perfect this was bugging me more and more so I took it back to have it adjusted, and all the tailor did was reluctantly chop an inch or more off the length. This had the effect of screwing up all the proportions and making the hip pocket flaps look as though they were almost falling off the bottom hems of the jacket. Having since learned more about the bespoke process, if I had my time over I’d have insisted that he re-cut the entire front panels of the jacket to my request. The lesson here is to make sure you have enough time, and enough cloth, to complete these renovations in time if the suit is being commissioned with a special occasion in mind. Better yet, avoid this issue entirely by making it absolutely clear that you don’t want button holes or pockets cut until the forward fittings, and failure to comply will require a remake at the tailor’s cost.
Note poorly proportioned lower quarters – and the sleeve heads are far from perfect too!
Around this time I was travelling to New York frequently for work and with the dis-satisfaction of my bespoke suit wearing heavily on me, as a ‘plan B’ I ended up shelling out for a silver-grey nailhead Jort suit from Suitsupply.
This suit is really cut to roll the lapel to the middle button but I prefer to wear it as a ‘hard three’. Note the Jort’s ‘spalla camicia’ (‘shirt shoulder’) rippling around the sleeve head.
My ever-parsimonious wife-to-be had found two beautiful white dresses at very reasonable prices but couldn’t decide which she liked best, so opted to get both and wear one for the outdoor beach ceremony and the other for the after party. I chose to do likewise with the two suits I’d acquired by default, and ended up wearing the bespoke suit on the beach (pocket flaps tucked in to mitigate the poor proportions) then changed into the off-the-rack Suitsupply suit for later. This worked out OK.
But when the dust had settled it rankled me that I had spent so much on a bespoke suit that was not only far from perfect, it gave me less pleasure to own than a simple off-the-rack Suitsupply suit which was half the price. I have often spoken about the law of diminishing returns when it comes to expenditure on luxury goods – cars, watches, stereo equipment, guitars – and here I was experiencing exactly that myself to my own cost.
I had my seamstress try to improve the look by removing and re-attaching the pocket flaps higher but it was like putting lipstick on a pig, it was never going to be right.
When I moved to Tampa I found a new tailor to take care of my alterations and saw that he had Holland and Sherry swatch books in the shop. On a whim I got him to order me a jacket length in silver-grey sharkskin and sent it off to Jason at Thick as Thieves.
Having dialled in my measurements with my first order (the powder blue-grey suit) he was happy to do a CMT job on the cloth I provided, and sure enough a few weeks later my perfectly-fitting new jacket arrived. Getting two bolts of fabric to match is a tricky thing and the problem was that my Thick As Thieves jacket was just a hair different in shade than the trousers from my bespoke suit. Maybe not enough to be noticeable, especially in dim light, but enough for me to know.
It’s hard to capture the difference with an iPhone camera but you may be able to see that due to a higher mohair content the bespoke strides have a slightly more metallic sheen to them than the MTM Thick As Thieves jacket.
So all these clothes hung in my wardrobe mostly unworn. When an occasion demanded a slightly flashy non-business suit, such as a wedding, after some contemplation I would usually reach for the Suitsupply Jort nailhead!
We Mods are perfectionists and this whole debacle was like a pebble in my shoe, demanding that I do something about it. The only solution was to throw yet more money at the problem. I eventually contacted the wonderful Fariha at Holland and Sherry in New York, and after going back and forth with sample swatches, she was able to provide me via the ever-patient Nicole at GQ Sports Tailoring in Tampa, with samples that were a perfect match to the fabrics in both my original bespoke suit and the Thick As Thieves jacket. I ordered lengths in both fabrics and sent them off to Jason at Thick As Thieves, and he has made me a jacket to replace the botched bespoke one, which perfectly matches the original bespoke trousers, and a pair of trousers which perfectly match the replacement jacket he made earlier for me. So along with my much-admired nailhead Suitsupply Jort suit, I now have two silver grey sharkskin suits very close in shade. In order to provide some distinction between the two, since the first Jacket had been made ‘straight’ without major distinctive features, I chose to have the other made a bit more flashy in the details (cloth covered buttons, five inch side vents, etc). The original bespoke jacket will get discarded as I have no desire to be reminded of my profligacy, but the moral of this long story to any interested readers is – CAVEAT EMPTOR!
This is Jason’s Thick As Thieves MTM Jacket matched up with the original bespoke trousers. Photos were taken with the jacket fresh out of the box so it still needs the wrinkles to shake out. Notice the sweet lapel roll. I had this made with a loud, bright orange paisley lining, cloth covered buttons and five inch side vents.
This jacket was made by Jason at Thick As Thieves to replace the botched bespoke jacket but the fabric wasn’t quite a perfect match to the trousers so I found the right cloth and had Jason make trousers to match. This fabric has slightly less sheen so could pass for a formal business suit as I did not add any flashy details. It’s hard to capture the very neat detail of the pick stitching with an iPhone camera. Jason picked out a great aqua blue lining.
Sunglasses – Ray Ban B&L Gatsby Metal Squares
Shirt – bespoke
Tie – The Tie Bar
Pocket Square – Bachrach
Socks – Uniqlo
Shoes – Allen-Edmonds captoes