A man’s armour. What you wear so you don’t have to decide what to wear. The uniform your boss demands. The suit is all these and none. It is menswear’s default item. The endlessly played on – and often played out – spine of every wardrobe and every new collection. Your first suit is a transition into adulthood. Your last, the final thing you’ll ever wear.
Yet still men mess it up. They sweat in winter wool when it’s 30 degrees out. They opt for peak lapels when their chest is already wide enough. And, worst of all, they buy suits that don’t fit. That sag in the shoulders and pinch in the seat. That puddle on pointy – always pointy – shoes. Why? Because a tailor, once a man’s confidant, is now somewhere he goes just to have a button sewed back on.
No surprise that so many suits are a mess. The ready-to-wear rail won’t mention, subtly, that a looser jacket might sit better over sir’s stomach. When you want something to wear for the rest of your life, you should go to someone who knows their way around a needle and thread.
Henry Poole & Co, 15 Savile Row
Best For: 200 Years Of Tradition
Savile Row is rightly lauded as the suit’s spiritual home. It was here (or hereabouts, at least) that Beau Brummell first commissioned a wardrobe that would change how society dressed forever – first in Britain, then around the world. For the ensuing two centuries, many of the same tailoring houses have continued that legacy, with none more storied than Henry Poole & Co.
Founded in 1806, the brand has some notable firsts, most famously the dinner jacket, which it invented in 1860 for the Prince of Wales (a friend of whom debuted his own at New York’s Tuxedo Club, 26 years later. The name stuck).
Its tailors have dressed European royalty, Far Eastern emperors (the Japanese for ‘suit’ is sabiro, a bastardisation of ‘Savile Row’) and even military heroes – Winston Churchill and Charles de Gaulle are both in its pattern book.
Today, the brand’s MO remains essentially unchanged: bespoke suits, handmade by tailors with decades of experience, from the finest materials on earth.
As you’d expect, the house is steeped in tradition; bespoke might mean the customer is always right, but if you want a figure-hugging jacket that barely covers your rear pockets, you might find you’re encouraged a few doors down the street.
Signature Suit: As classic as English tailoring gets. A strong shoulder and chest, with a suppressed waist and high armhole. Creates all the shape you might not have.
Price: A bespoke suit starts from around £3,500.
Image: Andy Barnham
Savile Row Company, 40 Savile Row
Best For: Savile Row Quality, Without The Price Tag
There have always been two sides to Savile Row: tradition and innovation. Over the years, this metaphorical split became physical: on the road’s eastern flank are its longest-serving houses, those with a century-odd of heritage and a client list full of world leaders; on the west, the upstarts – tailors like Richard James and Ozwald Boateng, and imports from the world of high fashion like Lanvin – who make suits for rock stars and red carpets.
Somewhere between the two – figuratively, at least – is 40 Savile Row. Founded in 1938, it doesn’t lack for tradition. But its showroom is bright and welcoming, all polished wood and glass, with none of the taxidermy that can often be found opposite. It offers traditional tailoring with modern flourishes; in the fabric books that line the walls are textiles from centuries-old mills, but you can also get 3M reflective tweed.
But the most impressive balance is between what you get, and what you pay. Alongside its bespoke suits, the Savile Row Company has launched a made-to-measure line that reveals the paucity of high street equivalents. One of its bespoke tailors will take you through every option, from fabric to buttons to style, then measure you up and send the design off for cutting.
Their experience makes short order of anything from wonky shoulders to odd-length legs, or even a physique only the bench press could love, and you get multiple fittings to make sure the entire suit sits right. So long as your body isn’t too far from their base pattern, you get something just as close to bespoke.
Signature Suit: A slim-fit with a traditional shoulder and strong chest. Expect to discover a waist where one never was before.
Price: A made-to-measure suit starts from £800.
Michelsberg, Leeds And Manchester
Best For: Your Wedding Suit
London has a monopoly on bespoke tailors. No surprise, since Britain’s most talented cutters and sewers gravitate towards the industry’s mecca in Mayfair. But there are benefits to broadening your search. Yes, the folks on Savile Row are the cream of the crop. But as well as their skill, you pay for their postcode. Head outside the M25 and you can still get a lot of suit, for less than half the money.
Michelsberg is a case in point. Founder James launched his eponymous business a decade ago and it straddles the Pennines, offering the men of Leeds and Manchester suits a cut above the department store rail. And nestled as it is among Britain’s leading mills, Michelsberg offers an enviable array of fabric options, from Lancashire wools to Italian cashmere.
It specialises in wedding suits, with accompanying pomp; a Y-chromosomed equivalent to the bride’s dress hunt, with whisky subbed in for champagne. Unlike a wedding dress, you can get more wear out of a suit. But Michelsberg’s prices – which come in under four figures for a fully bespoke, half-canvas suit – mean you can afford to experiment.
As the boss puts it: “Whilst elegance is a given, I do like something with some balls.” Best figure out which side you dress.
Signature Suit: An English silhouette via Italy – a longer hem, fuller lapel and roped shoulder, with a few eye-catching details.
Price: From £800 for a bespoke two-piece suit.
GD Golding’s, St Albans
Best For: The Perfect Uniform
If you’re looking for a good tailor, follow the military. The first lounge suits morphed out of officer dress, which is why many shops still make uniforms for work and war. The fact GD Golding has an outpost in the military academy at Sandhurst, where it outfits young officers, should give some idea of its talents (as is the fact it estimates around 60 per cent of Army officers have a piece made there).
The Royal Warrant on the wall of its St Albans shop is just as reassuring, testament to a client list that reaches from royalty to diplomats and even boxing champions. Which if nothing else is the kind of physique to test a tailor’s tape.
The founder, Geoffrey Golding, has been making suits since 1963, first as apprentice to his father, then through Savile Row, before finally starting out on his own. He remains a presence on the shop floor, where he measures as many clients as possible himself. Which means that you get Savile Row details, like aligned stripes on patterned fabrics, despite being 30 miles from W1.
Signature Suit: As befits a military tailor, these are suits with backbone – prominent shoulders, a long hem and a chest that always stands to attention.
Price: Bespoke two-piece suit from around £1,400.
Harris & Howard, Alderley Edge
Best For: A New Kind Of Footballer’s Suit
Footballers aren’t so much famous for their tailoring, as infamous. But in recent years, post-match interviews haven’t been all tin foil fabrics and tie knots the size a child’s fist.
That’s partly thanks to Carl Emery, who in 2011 set up Harris and Howard in the heart of footballer country, and has since turned the likes of Rio Ferdinand, Wayne Rooney and Robbie Savage into bona fide sartorialists.
The trick, he says, is to listen to what his clients want – these are men not used to hearing ‘no’, after all. But he then filters those requests into suits that fit well and are cut from the world’s best cloths; he leans heavily on Scottish mills, but has also crafted jackets from buttery alpaca hair.
“We don’t prescribe our own attitudes,” he says. “But aim for a trim cut and clean finish, with special details and accents.” Most impressively, Milanese buttonholes, which are a handsewn test of any tailor’s skills and a much better barometer of quality than functioning cuffs.
Signature Suit: A modern cut – slimmer and fitted for an athletic shape. Appropriate, considering its client list.
Price: From £750 for a bespoke suit, half-canvassed and machine-finished.