I went against rule number one when considering tailoring modifications–altering your jacket shoulders. For a (recovering) vintage collector like me, the risk was completely worthwhile in order to try to salvage some of my most prized pieces.
In both bespoke men’s tailoring as well as prêt-à-porter, jacket shoulder and sleeve style have now become details of greater importance thanks to a worldwide increase in both knowledge and interest in menswear. A connoisseur of sartorial matters always focuses the eye (primarily) on the jacket shoulder, and will notice if it “sits” (and takes the right forms) optimally.
These days, there are various models of jacket shoulder and sleeve styles for men’s jackets, and each one of them inhabits a particular niche. When you are shopping for a suit, be sure to note the shoulder and sleeve style, and don’t be shy to ask the tailor or sales associate to describe to you the construction process – as well as why the jacket in questions sports a particular style. This is not a comprehensive review of all styles and the construction methods that create those styles, but it should serve as a quick primer and conversation starter for any man interested in shoulder style and in Neapolitan tailoring
Keep in mind that most tailoring traditions favor a particular jacket shoulder and sleeve construction, which is accompanied by details that further define that stylistic tradition. For example, the below are all Italian, and in particular Neapolitan jackets, regardless of the jacket shoulder style, and are not necessarily representative of geographic tradition. In the future, we’ll cover tailoring traditions in depth, but here are three common Neapolitan shoulder styles to get you started on your journey to Neapolitan style.
Natural shoulder (without padding) & sleeve con rollino:
The sleeve is raised above the jacket shoulder, and possesses a sense of fullness and roundness. The effect is created by pressing the allowances in the sleevehead towards the seam, and there is sometimes wadding placed into the sleevehead to create further fullness. In my opinion, this style is ideal for a wool blazer.
For more information about the tailoring construction, and what exactly “con rollino” means, I will refer you to custom tailor and Styleforum member @Jefferyd’s incredibly informative blog, Tutto Fatto a Mano.
Neapolitan shoulder (without padding) & manica a camicia (tribute to Neapolitan tailoring):
Otherwise known as spalla camicia, or shirt-sleeve construction, in this case the sleeve is gathered in a fashion that generates a harmonious effect, and gives an interesting detail to the jacket. Neapolitan tailoring emphasizes movement and ease, and this construction imitates that of a shirt sleeve head. The result is a jacket shoulder that is comfortable and allows for a good deal of movement. The effect is created by pressing the allowances in the sleevehead towards the body of the jacket and gathering the fabric beneath the shoulder seam.
Padded shoulder & sleeve con rollino:
This is a tribute to English tailoring. You’ll notice that it results in the most built-up shoulders and rigid shape, and is designed to be reminiscent of antique military uniforms. In my opinion it is ideal for the most formal or elegant suits, such as this pinstripe one. In most cases, especially when buying in England, the English style will be accompanied by a built-up chest and nipped waist that creates a sharp V-shaped silhouette on the wearer for a slimming, rigid, and often slightly severe effect.
The brown blazer is one of the most simultaneously well-known and unknown wardrobe foundations. Well-known amongst those who know, and unknown amongst those who don’t. As you start putting together a tailored wardrobe, you’ll read thousands of articles and have hordes of people telling you that the one thing you must buy, the one thing without which no man’s life is complete, is a navy blazer. I disagree. Unless you are intent on cultivating an Ivy wardrobe, a navy blazer is no more a “necessity” than a pair of penny loafers. Allow me to suggest a brown blazer instead. Here’s why:
Although the above gallery illustrates my points for me, I will write them out here for the sake of completion. Fundamentally, while a navy blazer is undeniably a wardrobe staple, the brown blazer shines in all the same ways a navy blazer does, but has the edge in a few areas:
- A brown blazer can be worn with navy trousers. Seriously, this is so important. Navy is a fantastic color for trousers, and if you’re stuck with a closet full of navy blazers you might be straight SOL. But navy trousers open up a world of fantastic possibility, and in my opinion a navy trouser with a brown jacket on top looks far superior to a brown trouser with a navy jacket on top.
- A brown blazer often looks better with jeans than a navy blazer. While not always true, this is worth considering. Especially since, if you are really building a wardrobe, you probably want a jacket that you can wear with denim. After all, you already have a suit for interviews – right?
- A brown blazer looks better with grey trousers than a navy blazer. Well, that’s certainly subjective, and you’re free to disagree. However, I do think that a blue blazer and grey trousers can make the wearer look a bit like a security guard, and a brown blazer certainly doesn’t have this connotation. In any case, it will look just as good as a navy blazer.
- Finally, a brown blazer will make you look like you know what you’re doing. Any high schooler can put on a navy blazer for “special occasions,” but graduating to a brown variant suggests that you’ve put thought into your wardrobe choices – and putting thought into your wardrobe is the foundation of personal style, regardless of the direction you take. You’ll stand out, in a good way.
See where I’m going with this? A brown blazer fulfills all the necessary duties of its navy sibling, but does even more for the wearer. If I haven’t been able to convince you, take a look at this thread, or this one, both full of some of Styleforum’s best-dressed members, and count the number of brown blazers you see.
This is by no means to suggest that a navy blazer is a bad choice or poor investment – quite the contrary. However, if you are just starting out on your clothing journey, a brown blazer may well give you more versatility than a navy blazer. And if you’re a seasoned Classic Menswear veteran who’s looking to branch out – well, at the very least a brown blazer will keep you from winding up with a closet filled entirely with navy jackets.
So you’ve decided to “go bespoke.” Great! From now on, everything you commission should be perfect, right?
I decided to ask some of StyleForum’s members to elaborate on their bespoke experiences to give the “n00b” an idea of what to expect during the first (and hopefully continuing) foray into bespoke. Their combined familiarity helps create a balanced prospective of what one should be looking for during the process.
Granted, it may take some time before finding a tailor that suits your needs. Forum member @Slewfoot, AKA David Beckwith of Grand Cru Wine Consulting, had tried several tailors before he found his current favorite: Steed. “A big reason I settled on them was seeing all the amazing photographs of their work online. Additionally, many people on StyleForum and London Lounge that I trust use them regularly.”
Once at the tailor’s shop (or at a traveling tailor’s temporary shop space), what do you ask? Indeed, where do you even start? David continues:
“I think it’s a very good idea to take the long term approach to the relationship with your tailor. At the beginning you are really getting to know one another. You’re getting a feel for making sure you all are on the same page aesthetically and philosophically. The first handful of items you get from a tailor you all carefully discuss the specifics of the fit and details, but after a while much of that becomes second nature and you then just do tweaks here and there depending on the specific garment at hand.”
Andy Poupart, known as @Andy57, on StyleForum concurs:
“My first suits came out fine, but that first commission was also a learning experience for me. What I didn’t know to ask about were the many stylistic and detailed choices that one can make when commissioning a garment. Since then, I have come to know such things as I almost always want a ticket pocket, I want at least two narrow inside breast pockets for my reading glasses, I don’t want belt loops on my trousers, nor do I want rear pockets or a coin pocket in the waistband.”
During the process, the learning curve for both client and tailor can leave certain details to chance. What happens then? @Manton recalls one such incident:
“I once ordered a dinner jacket, as a double breasted shawl collar, and I thought the lapel buttonhole should be angled up, as is typical on a double breasted jacket. In this instance the tailor angled it down, as on a single breasted jacket. I was sort of miffed at first, but I solved the problem by always wearing a flower in the lapel.”
Small tweaks are to be expected, even after the initial commission. However, the process does get easier with time. David explains:
“I used to overthink things too much when I was first getting into it. At first, it’s like re-doing a room in your house – you’re presented with dozens of options for paint and drapes, and start running around in circles. These days I just let my gut take over and make much faster decisions. One thing I’ve noticed that’s a big help is physically seeing the fabric in person first. Holding it in your hands, you often suddenly get hit with how the finished garment will come out. You inherently know that patch pockets will be great for this fabric or that this suit should be a 3-piece vs a double breasted kind of thing.”
After multiple commissions, @Manton agrees: “As I’ve gained experience with bespoke, I’ve streamlined the process. I just say, “Just say “Single or double-breasted, two piece or three,” and let them do their thing.”
Take your time to get to know your tailor. Trust them to do what they do best, and trust yourself to make the choices that are best for you. Oh, and try not to overthink it!
We all get to know cloth in different ways, and fabric weight is but one characteristic to consider. Some men caress lovingly, as if the fibers might start purring. Other men are grabbers. There’s the more visual types that care not so much for the tactile qualities, but instead the richness of color or derring-do of pattern. But this is all in the sensual beginning of a relationship with a fabric. Before settling down permanently with a new addition to their closet, the connoisseur will consider the cloth’s weight.
A cloth’s weight affects in turn three of its most important properties: how hot it is to wear, how it “drapes,” and how it holds up throughout the day and over the course of many years. Weight is not the only thing that affects any of these three, but it does affect all three. Let us consider each in turn.
Hot and Heavy
You probably don’t need me to tell you that heavier fabrics wear warmer. This is the main thing that people think of when choosing a weight. Most worsted navy suits you see at department stores are three-season weight, meaning they’re probably 8 to 10 ounce fabric. In generations past, that would be considered an extremely lightweight suit. But weaving technology has improved the performance of lighter weight fabrics, and, perhaps more importantly, indoor climate control has rendered the need for a warm-wearing suit nearly moot. If you got a closet full of navy business suits in nine ounce wool and just piled on outerwear in the winter, you’d probably get along just fine.
But suppose you wanted something that wears cooler to wear in the summer. First of all, be aware that no fabric will magically turn your suit into an air conditioner. If it’s hot outside, you’ll be hot in your suit. But you could try a fabric even lighter than the eight-to-ten multi-season range, but this choice brings difficulties that I will get to in a bit. Better is to get a fabric with an open weave. Fabrics are made by weaving together two yarns – a warp going one way, and a weft going the other. An “open” weave is one with more space in between the yarns, which allows body heat to escape. Fresco (which means “cool” in Italian) is such a fabric, and its ability to keep the wearer cool without being too lightweight is why it is valued so highly.
Your other option is linen. Linen wears cool because it wicks away moisture, and because the flowiness of the fabric keeps air moving through. But linen is controversial. It wrinkles on sight, which drives some people mad. It’s also less formal than wool, so might not be acceptable in some offices. And the good stuff is not even very lightweight; I have a jacket in linen that I think is 17 ounces – as heavy as many overcoats. It’s not for everyone.
Actually, it’s worth saying that none of this advice applies equally to everyone. Some guys are totally happy wearing a 15 ounce wool suit in the summertime. Other guys start sweating wearing a ten ounce suit in winter. You have to figure out where you’re comfortable.
Every tailor prefers to work with heavier cloth, because it’s easier to tailor and drapes better. Especially for trousers. A heavier fabric will be able to maintain a better line, whereas a lighter fabric will flounce all over the place. Adding cuffs to a lighter fabric will help a little, but not much. For this reason, and because you’re generally cooler in your legs anyway, I prefer odd trousers in heavier fabrics than odd jackets. Of course for suits the weights must be the same.
Heavier fabrics make better jackets as well. The canvas inside can pick up some of the slack for a lighter fabric, but the heavier the fabric, the easier it is to make it sit nice. It’s rare that a fabric that’s lighter than eight ounces makes up into a nice jacket.
Another problem with lighter fabrics is that they won’t last very long. Whereas a heavier fabric has a lot of fiber, and therefore can survive some pilling or wear, a lightweight fabric has no backup line of defense. Again, there are exceptions. Fresco’s high twist weave makes it more durable. Woollen flannel is made of yarns that are more frayed, and therefore has a shorter lifespan despite usually being made in heavier weights.
If you’re getting a suit that you’ll only wear a few times a year or less, then you probably don’t need to worry about this much. You’ll probably manage to ruin it by spilling some spaghetti sauce or gaining a few pounds too many before you wear down the fabric.
But even if you’re not wearing through the fabric, less hardy fabric also requires more pressing. A good tweed suit, or a robust worsted like Lesser 13, can be worn for years without even losing the crease in the trousers. A flimsy suit might look and feel great in the morning but have you looking for an iron by lunchtime.
In the end, of course, you’ll go home with the cloth you want. But think of this as a cheat sheet to carry around in your head, like those cards people use at blackjack tables. It doesn’t stop people from hitting on 17 with the dealer showing a five, but at least you’ll know you’re not supposed to:
Less than eight ounces Proceed with extreme caution; suit is likely not to last long and have a hard time keeping its shape
Eight to ten ounces Typical multi-season weights, with warm weather suits on the bottom end and cold weather suits on the top end.
Eleven to sixteen ounces Unless it’s linen, suits in this range are meant for cold weather
Above sixteen ounces Really heavy-duty stuff, intended for really heavy tweed jackets or overcoats
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.
Sartoria Formosa has perhaps one of the best reputations in Naples. The tailoring house is tucked away in the same courtyard as E&G Cappelli, right on Via Cavallerizza, between Via Mille and Via Cavallerizza. It’s a small, woody courtyard–not a lot of foot traffic. However, the workmanship brings its own clientele, and people throughout Naples say the best double-breasted jackets are made here.
The original proprietor, Mario Formosa, passed away somewhat recently, and his son Gennaro now runs the shop. Gennaro is an incredibly warm and gracious gentleman. I came with Gianluca Migliarotti, the director of O’Mast, and he welcomed us both into the workshop by offering us some espresso (a cultural custom for Neapolitan tailors). While we chatted, I noticed three tailors fastidiously sewing away, one of whom was a particularly young man. A good sign for those of us who hope to see Neapolitan tailoring continue well into the future.
Gennaro showed me three garments. The first was one of the double breasted jackets that his father was known for. It was a 6 x 2 jacket (six buttons, two functioning) with peak lapels, extended front darts, and slightly puckered sleeves. The natural, soft shoulders (spalla scesa) and subtly sweeping lapel made it something to behold. The second was a navy single-breasted jacket with a few details that you commonly see in Naples—3/2 roll, soft shoulders, extended front darts, and slightly extended lapels to accentuate the chest. Instead of patch pockets, however, there were jetted ones, and in place of the double stitching, there were single seams that ran right up to the edge. These details gave it a nice, sober look. Finally, Gennaro pulled out a grey herringbone coat that his tailors were working on. It was slightly shaped in the waist, and had a beautiful curved roll towards the buttoning point.
Across from the laboratorio is another workspace, which functions partly as a showroom and partly as a working area for a custom denim line that Gennaro is developing. The jeans had a very continental feel, meaning the fabrics were slightly softer and the fit slightly slimmer. There were also some shirts on display, which made me think Formosa did custom shirts here as well. The collars were exactly the kind you see everywhere in Naples—somewhat high collar bands with soft, long points.
Later that evening, Gianluca and I were walking around Chiaia when we bumped into Gennaro again, who happened to be on his way driving home from work. “Come in,” Gennaro said. “I’ll show you the rest of Naples!” Ever the host, he took us through Bagnoli and Posillipo, two western seaside districts where Roman ruins run up right to the water’s edge. The region sits high above the city, and you can see Mount Vesuvius, the Bay of Pozzuoli, and much of Naples itself. The views were spectacular, and you could see the water and city sparkle below the cliffs. After he dropped me off at my hotel, I smiled on my day well spent.
Showroom and laboratorio
Via Cavallerizza a Chiaia, 37
Tel. +39 081.41.45.92
Via della Moscova, 30
Tel. +39 02.89.45.34.90/91
Guest post by Grant Harris of Image Granted.
Streets of Georgetown
1254 Wisconsin Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20007
When Joseph Abboud sold his namesake label to become chief designer for HMX Group, the largest manufacturer of tailored menswear in the country, he worked with HMX CEO Doug Williams to open Streets concept stores in select cities. The Streets concept capitalizes on major cities’ top-drawer shopping neighborhoods or streets—in DC’s case, Georgetown. The boutique is stocked with some of the elder statesmen of American suiting, including Hickey Freeman and Hart Schaffner Marx, which is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year. Streets offers off-the-rack suiting as well as a truly tailored experience with made-to-measure services offering several hundred fabric choices. Bobby Jones, Coppley, Palm Beach, Austin Reed, and Filson round out suiting, casual, and sportswear offerings.
2216 14th St. NW
Washington, DC 20009
A recent addition to the DC shopping scene, Federal may sound like it caters to the politicians and lobbyists of Washington, but it’s far from what you might think. Located on 14th St. corridor, it’s part of a restructured and converted skate shop. Its street-oriented history is reflected in on-trend offerings from a range of heritage-based Americana and workwear lines like Tellason, Pendleton, Red Wing, Danner, Dickies, Filson, Converse, Clarks, Herschel Supply, and others. D.C. has a rep for being short on this sort of gear and Federal is changing that.
Dr. K’s Vintage
1534 U St. NW
Washington, DC 20009
Dr. K’s is a vintage shop on the U street corridor that stocks the best edited stock of vintage men’s apparel in the city—leather jackets, militaria, cowboy boots, varsity jackets, and original cinchback denim from Levi’s. A native of Thailand, Dr. K has brought some of his personal collection to the shop, and can be seen showing off his latest finds from Brimfield or the Rose Bowl or more clandestine sources. Dr. K is often open late, but keeps strange hours so it’s best to call ahead.
1701 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20006
Sette means “seven” in Italian. Given how much attention is given to Neapolitan menswear, it’s a breath of fresh air to have the presence of Sette in D.C. A collaboration between a former Robert Talbott designer and a White House staffer, Sette offers a lineup of made-in-Italy woven or printed silk ties for power players inside the beltway and beyond. Sette seven folds come in a versatile 3-inch width and are constructed with the exacting standards of old world Italian tie makers. Silks are sourced from the hills of Como, then folded, slip stitched and packaged. Each tie is a unique creation and is part of a limited run of no more than 21. Each is individually numbered, and owners can register them online with Sette. Sette ties don’t come cheap, but the customer service, presentation, and product are arguably worth it.
Other worthwhile stops:
1781 Florida Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20009
Sharing an address with Stüssy, Commonwealth is D.C.’s outpost of the Virginia Beach streetwear king. Source for limited edition footwear, high-end hype like Maiden Noir, and wildcards like Gitman Vintage and Creep by Hiroshi Awai.
Hugh and Crye
3212 O St. NW #5 (between Potomac and Wisconsin)
Washington, DC 20007
DC-based brands fits shirts differently–by body type rather than measurements. Trim, darted cuts and strong colors and patterns dominate. Their bright Georgetown space is shop, laboratory, stockroom, and office all in one.
More recommendations to come in part II.
If you know your way around, some of the best food can be had in Naples. Our dinner with Antonio Panico, for example, took place at Pizzeria Mattozzi, a modest restaurant located just a short walk from Rubinacci. I was actually there earlier that day, but foolishly ordered the pasta. The key, I think, is to always order dishes that use mozzarella, which in Naples is made from the rich milk of water buffaloes. Panico ordered six or seven dishes for us to share, most of which had lots of mozzarella (including pizza, of course).
At dinner with us were Mrs. Panico, who was wearing a lovely dress and fur coat, and two of Panico’s Japanese clients, both of whom turned out to be young dandies. One was wearing a pair of grey flannel trousers and a gun club jacket with softly constructed, roped shoulders, three patch pockets, and a rather clean chest. His jacket was slightly more fitted, which is what I assumed he asked for, given his age. His friend had on charcoal trousers and a navy sport coat with two patch pockets, barchetta breast pocket, and sloping, bald shoulders. Signore Panico came dressed in what he wore earlier in the day—a navy suit, light blue shirt, burgundy oxford-weave tie, and pair of black suede chukkas. In addition, he had on a matching burgundy wool scarf and navy Ulster overcoat that he undoubtedly tailored himself. When he wore the Ulster, he would flip the back collar up, as is often done with this style of overcoat, and it flared out in the most handsome way. The overall look was very masculine.
I asked Panico at dinner about the famous safari jacket he made when he was at London House. “I don’t even think about it anymore,” he said. “But if you’d like, I have some other safari jackets in my workshop. Come by tomorrow, I will show you.” I actually had an 8-hour appointment at Isaia’s factory the next day, but Panico assured me that it didn’t matter. He works until very late at night.
The following evening, I stopped by the atelier. Again, as is the custom, Panico welcomed me in and offered me coffee. This time, there were also cigars and chocolates on the coffee table, and on the other side of the room, where there had been wool suiting, there were now two extremely large bouquets of flowers, presumably from happy customers. Panico and I chatted for a bit before a knock came at the door. An older, slightly heavier set Neapolitan gentleman came in. He had thick, wavy silver hair and a grey chalkstripe flannel suit to match. It turned out he has been a client of Panico’s for 30 years, back when the Maestro was at Rubinacci. Now he lives in New York and does business in South Korea and Western Europe. When he can, he stops by Naples to have his clothes made.
“Thank you for the espresso,” he said to Panico’s assistant. He passed on the chocolate, but took one of the cigars. Panico then handed him a lighter.
The gentleman was very worried about the European debt crisis, so we talked for a bit about the European Central Bank, whether Italy should return to the lira, and if the Euro was a doomed idea from the start. After about 20 minutes, the gentleman turned to Panico and, almost as if he just remembered, asked about his jacket. Panico then politely asked for my permission to bring the client to the fitting room, to which I replied, “Certainly, please.”
The fitting is a private affair, of course, and when the two men returned, we continued to chat about various subjects—modernity, family, and traveling. Soon another knock came at the door and a gentleman with neatly brushed-back brown hair appeared. He didn’t seem like he had time to chat, so Panico asked us to excuse him while he brought the client to the back. The silver-haired gentleman and I continued our conversation, and when the Maestro returned, the topic naturally wended its way to tailoring. “Ah yes, the safari jackets,” Panico said, and then nodded, “Let me show you.”
He brought out three belted jackets. One is made from linen, another from cotton, and the last from cashmere. Without any of the structure of lining or canvas, they wear rather light. Panico motioned me to try on a few. Once they were on, he belted them up, pulled up the collar, and straightened them out. I admired them for a moment in the mirror, appreciating their stylish, unique look. Next, Panico had me try on a few Ulster overcoats, which weren’t too unlike the one he wore the night before. These are made from heavy, thick wools and they have an incredible life to them, particularly in the way the lapel line majestically rolls past the buttoning point.
Panico seems to excel in this kind of construction—shaping heavy, thick fabrics beautifully and making them feel as light as possible. They drape wonderfully from the shoulders, and even with the rougher cloths, there’s the signature spalla camicia sleevehead. The silhouette also harkens back to the Golden Age of Italian style—the 1950s and ‘60s – when suits were a bit fuller and had more bravado. Panico’s tailoring, in this sense, feels grand, aristocratic, elegant, and very masculine.
I thought about this for a moment while looking in the mirror. There’s been enough hand wringing over whether there will be enough skilled tailors in the future. Many Master Tailors don’t have apprentices, and the modern economy no longer allows people to enter into the trade at an early age (Panico began training at age 12). More importantly than that, however, is the problem of taste. There seems to be two generations in Naples. The older generation likes a fuller, elegant cut, while the younger generation likes things more fitted and fashionable. I personally have no doubts that there will be skilled cutters here in 20 or 30 years, but it’s not clear whether there will be people with Panico’s level of taste in the future. For those of us who appreciate that 1950s-60s era of Italian style, such silhouettes may be more and more difficult to obtain in 30 years’ time.
Back in the main room, the original silver-haired gentleman and I decided that we’ve bothered the Maestro enough, and that it’s time we leave him to his work. We bade him farewell, and Panico asked that we visit him again when we’re in town.
As many may recall, Filangieri posted this old article at Ask Andy About Clothes many years ago, before AAAC’s servers crashed. In it, he gives his account of having a suit made in Naples, and waxes romantic on not only the garments, but also the process, experience, and social nature of the transaction. His article is almost undoubtedly about Panico, but I think it represents many other tailors here as well. For example, on the day I met Gianluca, the director of O’Mast, he had just gotten back from his tailor, where he had not only stopped by for a fitting, but also to share lunch.
This kind of kind of gentleman’s approach to business is only really practiced among a certain segment of tailors, however. They tend to be from an older generation, and are often cutters running smaller operations. Perhaps because of age or culture, they don’t seem interested in maximizing profits. Their business is steady and loyal. Their clients bring their sons and close friends, and those people stay for decades before doing the same. In some cases, if the Maestro doesn’t think someone is worthy of being fitted, he may even politely turn down the business. For these men, tailoring is as much more about their sense of personal pride than it is about money, and the people they work with aren’t just customers, but also friends.
To be sure, one shouldn’t get the impression that you can go to Naples and buy this experience as though it were part of a pre-packaged ride. It’s not as though for 2,000 Euros you’ll get a bespoke suit and two espressos, but for 500 more, you’ll get lunch. They’re natural extensions of real relationships. Foreigners who come here, on the other hand, often don’t speak Italian, let alone Neapolitan, and the tailors certainly don’t speak English (at least the older ones). Perhaps both parties can get by with enough gestures and pointing to have a suit made, and maybe a cup of espresso will be offered, but these aren’t the same things. The “Neapolitan ‘sartoria’ experience,” as Filangieri calls it, is still alive, but one gets the impression that it’s only for locals.
Unfortunately, as this older generation ages and eventually departs, so may this social dimension of Naples’ tailoring culture. Many of the other houses are too new, too big, or too busy to engage in such things. Even if they had the time, young people tend to approach business differently. This kind of transition could be likened to the evolution of barbershops in America. While they were once places for socializing and leisure, they’re now places where you simply make an appointment and have your hair cut. Neither the barbers nor the clients have the time or inclination to socialize in the same way anymore. As one young salesman at a sartoria told me, “We live in a much busier time now. I can barely get all my work done; I certainly don’t have time to have coffee with everyone. That kind of way of doing business is from a different time.”