Today I’m in a salon in San Francisco with my wife. The stylist asks how she wants her hair, and as she responds, she’s also using her hands almost like paintbrushes, drawing invisible lines here and there to indicate bob and bang length. Then she points to a picture of a model on a wall.
Getting a bespoke suit follows a similar path. We have an image in our mind and say to ourselves, “I want to look like that.” Getting to look like that can be tricky. Where to begin? The following steps should help you on your way.
Decide what style you want. This cannot be overemphasized. When you look at a picture of a suit you like, what exactly about it attracts you? Is it the roping on the sleevehead, clean chest, and precise lines? Or maybe you’re drawn to the roundness of the shoulders, gentle drape and curves, and soft tailoring. Perhaps you like them all, but what do you see yourself in? Nail that down, and proceed to step two.
Find a tailor that makes what you like as the house style. This can be tough. Generally speaking, there are three types of tailoring: British, American, and Italian. The tailoring houses in the respective countries roughly adhere to the local style, but even within there are differences. There are several threads on Styleforum that focus on various tailoring houses and geographical particularities; peruse them to pinpoint the one that most appeals to you. These will get you started:
Decide if you are willing to travel. If so, you can go to any tailor you want, with only time and your budget to hold you back. If not, you need to limit your choices to traveling tailors. Here are a couple threads on StyleForum with tailors that travel to the US:
Plan the logistics of your travel. Earlier this year I went to Sicily and wanted to try the tailors there. When planning for the trip, I started to look for hotels and rental car agencies. Many of these are available online in English, and email communication is also in English. ProTip for car rental: InterRent is reliable and crazy cheap, often $20 a day or less for a car. Their offices are sometimes located away from the airport but they do provide shuttle service. Hotels usually speak English, and depending on your pocketbook, Sicily can provide unforgettable accommodations.
Set up an appointment. Many Italian tailoring shops don’t speak English, so along with other useful questions such as “Qual’è il miglior vino della casa?” you need to learn simple phrases to set up your appointment. In this regard, utilize the many online translation sites, or language apps to use on your smartphone. Or try this: “Buongiorno, mi chiamo Peter. Voglio venire alla sua sartoria il diciannove ottobre alle 3 di pomeriggio. Va bene per lei?”
Since I speak conversational Italian, I called to let both tailors know the dates and general time of day I would be coming, which I did again about a week before my departure date. Most tailors will not discuss prices over the phone, so while it’s good to have a ballpark figure, be prepared for a somewhat fluid policy. Allow at least a week for the first visit, first fitting, a possible second fitting, and the finished product. If staying for less time, most tailors are willing to ship to you at cost.
But what do you do once you get there? What can you expect? What do you ask? I asked venerable StyleForum members to share their experiences, and next week’s Journal will reveal their responses.