It all started a little over a year ago: my first pair of bespoke trousers.
Most people think of suits, or at least a jacket, when it comes to bespoke clothing. Trousers are just there, like the fries that accompany your Niman Ranch burger at Causwell’s. Good, but nothing you’d order on their own.
Such thinking couldn’t be farther from the truth. Granted, the jacket is probably the first thing noticed, but if the accompanying trousers are garbage, the whole outfit suffers. You’ve seen it before: hem too long or too short, gaping pockets at the hips, slim legs that grab the calves, excess folds at the crotch, a droopy seat. We’ve all experienced it, but are not necessarily condemned to it.
This is where bespoke trousers come in. The thing is, to nail the fit, multiple fittings are required until everything is just right. Either you spend a week or two near a tailoring house, use a traveling tailor who comes twice a year, or – if you’re fortunate – use a local guy. I’ve had the opportunity to have fantastic trousers made for me in Sicily, but I’m not always there. Ideally you’d have a local tailor who can make a proper pair, but finding one can be next to impossible. However, if you’re in San Francisco, you do have a local option I wholeheartedly recommend: Tailors’ Keep.
Located across the street from the world-famous Transamerica Pyramid, on the border of North Beach and the Financial District, Ryan Devens, the co-founder of Tailors’ Keep, runs the show. Inside is an uncluttered haven of gentlemanly items: a distressed leather couch, paintings from local artists, various libations, and many books of fabrics. Won’t you won’t see are the workers – they are in a separate shop upstairs. “It’s great to have the shop onsite,” Ryan says. “It’s a magical escape, a hidden gem, with music always playing, smiles always on faces, and hands always moving. There we can make bespoke clothing, or fix up ready-to-wear and vintage pieces. There is always a special project at some stage in its process – recutting a pair of old trousers for a new and updated fit, or building a new pair of pants from scratch.”
I wish I could say Tailors’ Keep has a house style, but they don’t. This is not to say they aren’t capable; on the contrary, Ryan appreciates all styles, and when I told him I wanted a classic, flat front, slightly slim trouser with a higher rise, he simply nodded, “Yes, we can absolutely do that.” A few months and fittings later, and the trousers were finished: 14oz Fox Bros oatmeal flannel from No Man Walks Alone, cut into a classically slim pair of trousers, with off-seam hand-tacked besom pockets, button cuffs, and a perfect fit.
The last particular is a particular that cannot be overemphasized. Sure, you can have a pair of trousers fatto a mano from a tailor whose family has been doing it for generations, complete with hand stitched and attached curtain waistband, pick stitching down the legs, and extended waist tab, but all that means nothing if they don’t fit.
Ryan’ crew can do all the hand stitched details you want, but will make sure the trousers fit. “Fit is everything, we pride ourselves on that,” he says. “I’d rather lose money than have an unhappy customer who isn’t satisfied what what we give them.” Such stock in one’s reputation is a rare commodity these days, but Ryan has always carried through on his word. My first pair took no less than four fittings to get the back and front rise just right. For me, this meant having an unbroken line from my seat all the way down to my shoe heel. This is easy with looser fitting trousers, but if you want a slimmer fit, it’s near impossible – the back of the trousers will invariably grab your calves or bunch underneath your seat. This is no easy task, as Ryan explains:
“The process of making a pattern normally starts with seeing the client in a pair of trousers that he/she already owns and is decently happy with. In some cases, I’ll take those trousers and make a few adjustments first, then have a second fitting with that specific pant and assess if that pattern is sufficient for starting a bespoke pattern or not. The most significant measurement to a proper fitting trouser is indeed the rise – but also the relationship between the front and back rise. These measurements are based on posture, preference, and the specific style in which the garment is being made – low-rise, mid-rise, high-rise, etcetera.
“For example, if someone has a hips-forward posture, a different measurement will be applied for the front/back rise balance as opposed to someone who may have a high seat or hips-back posture. This is necessary in order to alleviate the dreaded pocket-pulling effect, which is quite often seen on MTM pants too. One rise for one client may not fit another client who is the exact same height and weight. Being able to see these proportions and body-type relationships can greatly assist in creating a very accurate “first pass” on a bespoke pant.
“Since our master tailor/cutter is in-house, I can focus on strictly fitting, consultation, and the measurement process, while he focuses on pattern-making. I ideally would create a shell trouser that has no pocketing or working fly so that any front/back rise and hip adjustments can be made easily without too much re-work. This is essential in preventing extensive rework and repatterining, especially in a majority-handsewn piece where time actually does equal money to the tailors involved.”
Such a process can take time, but as anyone who has had bespoke trousers will tell you, it is well worth the wait. After Ryan and his crew dialed in the fit, I’ve had three subsequent trousers made straight to finish according to my specs. If something’s not quite right, I don’t have to wait until the next time the tailor comes to town; Ryan pins the adjustments needed, and the final result is ready in a few weeks. Personally, I haven’t experienced anything but a remarkable end product. If you want to have pants that sit well, lay flat, and hang straight, consider going bespoke. You’ll be happy you did.
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Peter works in construction, but has an extensive collection of custom suits which he gets so that he can wear suits on the weekend. Even though he lives in San Francisco, he has never used the word "impact" as a verb. He writes about classic menswear and is one fedora away from being a complete dork.