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Nowhere on earth is more synonymous with male fashion than London’s Savile Row. For two centuries, it’s served as shorthand for the suit, and the measuring books of the tailors that line both sides of this short Mayfair street contain the intimate details of figures ranging from Lord Nelson and Winston Churchill to Mick Jagger, Michael Jackson, and even the King of Bahrain.
For a long time Savile Row’s association with British aristocracy and the political classes made heading into its slightly fusty tailors – with their mock fireplaces and walls covered with taxidermy – an intimidating prospect. But since the 90s, the Row has undergone a transformation, originally with tailors like Richard James and Ozwald Boateng, and more recently the likes of Nick Tentis and Spencer Hart, bringing fashion to traditional suitmaking. Cast an eye over any of the midnight blue suits walking up the red carpet at the Oscars or Golden Globes, and chances are they were made by Spencer Hart.
Savile Row is reaping the benefits of a movement spearheaded by designers like Tom Ford and Alexander McQueen – both of whom launched bespoke tailoring arms in London this year – which has seen the suit shake off its stuffy associations to become hugely fashionable. And while a bespoke suit is undoubtedly expensive – a two-piece Savile Row suit will set you back upwards of £3,000, depending on its complexity and construction – unless you opt for something particularly outré, it will stay in style for years.
Those who don’t bow to the winds of fashion, and who simply want something beautifully made that flatters their shape, are catered for by Savile Row tailors like Gieves and Hawkes and Huntsman, whose traditions and craftsmanship stretch back more than a century. But the real beauty of Savile Row is that you can commission someone to make whatever you like, whether that’s a simple single-breasted business suit or a diamante tuxedo with crocodile skin pockets. If the latter takes your fancy, then head to Stowers, whose tailors pride themselves on meeting any request, no matter how radical.
The Bespoke Process
The first visit to a bespoke tailor is where you’ll discuss exactly what kind of suit you’re looking for, and for what purpose. This is when you’ll be taken through cloth options, linings, different styles and you’ll meet with your cutter – the person who takes your measurements, and cuts your suit to fit.
The cutter creates a paper pattern, which is passed to a master tailor to handmake a draft of the suit – known as the “baste” stage – which gives a loosely stitched version without pockets or finished details.
3. First fitting
The baste version is adjusted on the client’s body to ensure a perfect fit. At this point, you can still choose to change details like lapel width, buttonhole height or even shoulder length.
4. Second fitting
A more complete version of the suit is measured against the client’s body, and any minor adjustments are marked and sent back to the tailor for changes.
5. Final fitting
The suit is finished and, barring any last minute adjustments that need making, is ready to be taken home.
Tom Banham is a freelance journalist who’s written for GQ, Wired, and the Guardian. He divides his time between Hackney’s warehouse clubs and Kentish Town’s ale pubs.