Style

Bespoke Trousers at Tailor’s Keep

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 Zottolo
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.
Peter Zottolo

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Categories: Style, Style Guides

15 replies »

  1. Think most do like bespoke trouser but cost is probably the number one reason, good bespoke trouser is like 1k? Cheap MtM jacket is about the same price, I think that’s the calculation prevents most people from going bespoke trouser

    • Cost is definitely a factor, but Tailors Keep trousers are not $1000 unless you require extensive handwork. They are a viable option especially since they are local (to me, at least).

      • Hello Peter:

        The article is extraordinarily informative and interesting. Thank you.

        I’d like to ask a question. You mentioned about having had made trousers in Sicily. I live in Sicily and would appreciate knowing the name and location of the tailor. I do value your advice.

        Thank you.

        David

      • Oh yea their pricing is very reasonable, any similar recommendation in NYC outside the usual bespoke house? I know a few guys does around $600, but a bit reluctant to try at that price point

  2. Peter, any experience with other Tailor’s Keep wares (shirts, jackets, etc)? The prices listed on their site are very impressive.

    • Hey Eric, I also have a OCBD from them, one of my favorites. They adjusted according to the slope of my shoulders. The result is a clean front that doesn’t bunch due to excess cloth.

  3. Everything benefits from being fit properly, (especially trousers and pants)- and Tailor’s Keep pants certainly look great, and their prices seem very reasonable. Especially when you consider that you are more than likely gonna get a whole lot more wear than from anything OTR . Not to mention you’re gonna love them more to start with! I will never understand the attempts to compare bespoke ANYTHING with RTW – simply two different creatures. & Yes, of course I am biased since I am a bespoke maker who specializes in leather. But when you figure the RTW markup in a high end retail – none of which actually goes in to the garment – bespoke is the far better value, hands down.

  4. Accepting that fit is a matter of personal choice and fashion, the turn-ups (in UK) or cuffs seem to stand clear of the shoe. Here the usual style is well down on the shoe (handmade English brogue!) with just the slightest break of the front crease. Otherwise it is agreed that bespoke trousers make all the difference.

    • Most of my trousers have a very slight break, or none at all. The straight and unbroken line tends to elongate and flatter most people. If the pics appear to make the trousers seem short or long, it’s probably just my stance at the given moment 🙂

  5. I think it is worth mentioning, that many bespoke tailors underestimate the trouser work and think of it as inferior compared to coat making. Especially in Italy I know of many tailors who make only the jackets themselves and outsource the trousers to a specialized trouser maker. And due to the situation, that the trouser maker never sees you in person, the results are not always as good as they could be.
    It is very seldom to encounter a tailor who would take his time to make 4 fittings for a pair of trousers. But it is very satisfying if you find one.
    For that reason I am not ashamed to order the suit jacket at one tailor and the suit trousers at a different one.

  6. Thanks for sharing this information, its extremely helpful for me who always finds small fit issues with RTW that add up to having a realtively significant effect on overall appearance of the trousers. Now I have a better idea of what to look and ask for when I visit the tailor until I’m ready to go bespoke.

    I wish I would’ve known about Tailor’s Keep when I was living in SF last year. The prices listed on their website are more than reasonable especially considering the rent over there!