Preparing your commission - how flexible is our tailor?

For those who are new to Sicilian tailors or bespoke tailoring, you may be wondering how flexible our tailor is and the kinds of features you can specify for your bespoke commission. That's a great question.

The tailor we’re working with can make clothes for a variety of body types and can accommodate a wide range of style choices. His clients run the gamut from children to adults. He has dressed men and women from across a variety of professions from business and academia to opera and the arts. 

In terms of shape and silhouette, he has done quite a bit of stage/theatrical costume work so if you want retro, eccentric and unusual he can do so without batting an eye. Even more so if you want classic and conservative style.

You might have experienced or read that many tailors have a preferred house style that they are reluctant to deviate from. A house style might typically have a fixed jacket length for a specific height, open or closed fronts, a specific amount of waist suppression, a high or low button stance, a high or low gorge height and a specific lapel width.

If you’re unsure, our tailor will certainly make suggestions for your commission. But you are not constrained by them, especially if you have a clear idea of your commission or are experienced with bespoke. When I was looking for the right tailor to work with, flexibility was one of my top criteria and it's a key reason why I chose this tailor. 

I came to this conclusion after spending hours talking to him and his coworkers in his workshop and viewing multiple examples of his finished work and those in progress. Based on what I saw, the tailor is fully capable of executing your choices technically and attitudinally.

For example, I went with a shorter length on the sample jacket than I normally wear even though the tailor suggested a slightly longer one. I also wanted fairly open jacket fronts. For the sample pants, I let him make his default style which tends to be slim and lower rise.

In addition, I had the opportunity to meet and chat with a local client during one of his fittings. This particular client had very specific and unconventional requirements for his evening velvet jacket. Moreover, he was challenging to fit properly because of his forward abdomen and swayback. But based on what I heard from the client, the tailor accommodated both client preferences and fit without any issues technically and attitudinally.

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In sum, you will have flexibility, if you choose to exercise it, in a number of areas. 

For jackets these include (but are not limited to):

  • Shoulder type (manica camicia or classic shoulder)
  • Length of jacket
  • Lapel type
  • Gorge height
  • Button stance
  • Pocket type (patch, flap or welted)
  • Number of internal pockets
  • Number of sleeve buttons
  • Vents

For pants these include (but are not limited to):

  • Normal or higher waist
  • Ease around seat
  • Pocket types and positioning (e.g. slant side pockets, one back pocket on the right)
  • Belted waistband v. side adjusters
  • Zipper v. buttoned fly
  • Pleated or plain front
  • Hidden coin pocket (left or right)
  • Preferred leg opening width

On the uniqueness of Sicilian tailoring

In my view, Sicilian tailoring constitutes a third school of bespoke tailoring distinct from the two other well-known options - Savile Row and Naples. In a nutshell, Savile Row embodies sobriety and discretion in a jacket while Naples embodies exuberance (i.e. less structure). As a matter of attitude, Sicilian tailoring is more reserved than Naples but “smiles” a bit more than London. The result is a subtly different shape and silhouette of the Sicilian jacket and pants compared to their more familiar counterparts.

What accounts for these subtle nuances? Every single Sicilian tailor I have met is rooted in a specific place. Place grounds and integrates the tailor and his workshop. Place becomes inseparable from craft. This convergence of place and craft also helps paints a clear picture of what you’re wearing and why. 

I think this authenticity is appealing to a certain type of person. 

Because they are very localized and less known, Sicilian tailors also create a rarer product than London and Naples in terms of production output. The difference is an order of magnitude or more - hundreds as opposed to tens of thousands of suits per year. 

Sicilian Reserve is trying to do something truly different from the bespoke norm. We are trying to offer affordability, preserve rarity and ensure continuity as long as it remains possible.

Bespoke v. made-to-measure (MTM)

MTM is essentially off-the-rack with additional flexibility to personalize a number of features such as cloth, lining or lapel width.

Thanks to the renaissance in menswear in the last five years, dozens of new brands have emerged offering “custom” shirts, jackets and suits in North America and Europe. From an affordability perspective, this is a good thing. These MTM brands can offer great value by sourcing from very efficient, usually overseas factories to keep prices down. MTM can provide a decent fit assuming your build and figure closely matches one of their fit models (Each fit model is based on an idealized person’s measurement).

But let’s be clear - this is not true bespoke. No one is actually converting your specific measurements and posture into a personalized pattern and transferring that pattern to cloth to create a finished garment from scratch. With bespoke, a tailor takes your measurements and transforms your cloth into a garment shaped for you. With MTM, this 1:1:1 correspondence breaks down. 

With RTW or MTM, the goal is economies of scale. Think factory, not workshop. For instance, one successful menswear brand recently produced 50,000 MTM pieces in just one month. Even a luxury menswear brand like Kiton, which limits annual production of outerwear to 20,000 garments, must resort to industrial production methods. Today’s MTM, whether affordable or luxury, loses the vital, personal correspondence of you + tailor + cloth.

In the not too distant future, we can expect automation to further disrupt MTM and bespoke tailoring. Tailor-bots will be trained on thousands or millions of human measurements to spit out patterns. Sew-bots will automate the sewing and construction of garments. Even with this intelligent automation, I believe tomorrow’s tailor-bots and sew-bots will still lack what only a human tailor’s holistic experience can provide. But that’s another discussion entirely. 

How much cloth do I need?

We recommend the following fabric lengths based on your height within a normal weight range (up to US mens size 42). All cloth lengths assume a standard 62 inch cloth width. Lengths below can accommodate single or double breasted and patterned cloth. 
 
Your height - up to 5’7” and US suit/jacket size 42

  • Sports jacket = 1.75 yards (1.6 meters)
  • Trousers = 1.3 yards (1.2 meters)
  • 2 piece suit = 3.2 yards (2.9 meters) includes extra cloth budgeted for complex patterns, self-lining or other requests

Your height - up to 5’11” and US suit/jacket size 42

  • Sports jacket = 1.9 yards (1.7 meters)
  • Trousers = 1.4 yards (1.3 meters)
  • 2 piece suit = 3.4 yards (3.1 meters) includes extra cloth budgeted for complex patterns, self-lining or other requests

If you are between 5'7" and 5'11", we recommend rounding up your height to 5'11" to be safe. 

For other garments, height or weight combinations, please consult with us first before purchasing your cloth.

The tailor will provide lining for your commission and will tend to match lining color with the base or dominant color of your cloth but you will have a range of color options for lining and buttons.

If you wish to provide your own lining material and buttons, please include those at the same time you give us your cloth. 

For your guidance, below are normal lengths for lining but please contact us to confirm: 

  • Full lining = 1.55 meters (or 1.7 yards)
  • Half lining = 1.35 meters (or 1.5 yards)

 

Preparing for the forward fitting

The forward fitting will last up to one hour and will take place in Manhattan. For new customers, the meeting will focus on assessing the fit of the basted jacket prepared by the tailor and his workshop. The featured tailor will make any necessary adjustments to your jacket, pants or other garment being fitted. 

The basted jacket will consist of a partially finished jacket body and one attached sleeve. Pants will be nearly finished except for length and buttons. Optionally, we may take additional photos or video of you during the fitting as a reference for the tailor. 

Similar to the measurements meeting, we recommend you wear your best fitting shirt, ideally MTM or bespoke, that represents the type of shirt you’ll wear with the jacket you’ve ordered. 

Finally, we can also receive cloth for any new orders you have placed as well as return a bespoke garment you have designated for re-creation. 

Preparing for our first meeting - measurements

The first meeting will last approximately 30 minutes and will take place in the New York City area. We are available to meet at a location within a 60 minute travel radius of Manhattan. If you wish to meet in Manhattan, we are happy to meet you in your office, home or at a private meeting space in several locations in midtown and the downtown area. 

We have the following agenda for our meeting: 

  1. Take key measurements and photos for the tailor to draft a pattern
  2. Receive and check your cloth for sufficient length and detect and mark any irregularities for the tailor
  3. Confirm key features of your order
  4. Receive a bespoke garment to re-create (if applicable)

To maximize our time together, we suggest the following: 

  1. Wear your best fitting shirt, ideally MTM or bespoke, that represents the type of shirt you’ll wear with the jacket you’ve ordered
  2. Bring or wear your best fitting jacket
  3. Consider bringing a backup cloth in the unlikely scenario that your cloth is defective or insufficient length

We know that quite a few MTM brands allow you to take your own measurements. Unfortunately, we have looked at this option and believe it introduces too much noise and imprecision into a critical part of the bespoke process. 

Sourcing and selecting quality cloth

In my personal blog I have written about the pitfalls of assessing cloth quality as well as an introductory primer and empirical comparison of cloth quality. Textile quality is clearly an important consideration for picking a cloth. The good news is that if you buy cloth produced from a well-known, established mill or merchant there is very low risk of purchasing a defective or subpar cloth. Effectively (for now at least), this means buying cloths of English or Italian manufacture identifiable as such on the selvedge.

While there are always exceptions depending on the fiber and mill involved, I think it is fair to say that English cloths, especially vintage ones, tend to be heavier weight and feature more conservative patterns and a drier finish. In contrast, Italian suiting and jacketing cloth tend to enjoy wider color and pattern variation with softer hand feel and finishes. This distinction was clearer in the past but you can still see differences today between the English and Italian approach to suiting and jacketing cloth. 

The following list is not exhaustive but you should stick to established mills and merchants such as:

Ideally, you should visit a local fabric store who sells directly to consumers. That way you can see and feel in person the cloth before buying it.

If you live near or in a major city, your best bet is to go a local fabric merchant who has access to quality cloth. These include Tip Top (New York City), Britex Fabrics (San Francisco), Mood Fabrics or B. Black & Sons (Los Angeles). 

Alternatively, you can find third-party sellers and mills that sell direct to consumer such as Fox Flannel, Huddersfield Fine Worsteds, British Fabrics or Pepper Lee

With quality issues addressed, you can focus your attention on a more compelling concern when selecting a cloth for your Sicilian Reserve order. 

This means deciding where to play in the aesthetic and functional sandbox - namely, weight, color, pattern, weave, and hand feel. You can start with the functions most important to you such as wrinkle recovery, drape or skin comfort. This will determine the ideal yarn/fiber type, weight, weave and hand of your target cloth.

Otherwise, you can start with color and pattern and determine by a process of elimination the ideal cloth for your suit or jacket. Organize and group your initial set of swatches by color/pattern. Then do a second pass by examining and comparing their weights, hand feel and finishes to determine the winner.

If you're deciding between more than two swatch options per color/pattern, divide your selections into pairs. Then do a pairwise A/B comparison and elimination according to the criteria you have set until you have your winner. 

Remember the selection process is greatly simplified if you hew to the established mills and merchants (large and small), focus on determining your aesthetic and functional requirements of the cloth and then conducting a pairwise comparison and elimination of the different options.

For cloth ideas, take a look at the monster "Unfunded Liabilities aka Cloth Thread" on Styleforum.