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Art of Bespoke Measuring & Fitting

Bespoke tailoring and Savile Row’s bespoke tailoring in particular is the highest level of tailoring available outside of Haute Couture, which historically and still predominantly caters for women and is based in Paris.

True Bespoke

Like the term bespoke itself, which became an over-used, go-to word for everything from bespoke sandwiches to bespoke haircuts(!) a few years ago, Haute Couture is a much-misused phrase that actually has very specific rules for qualification.

Translated literally, Couture is French for dressmaking, while Haute means high.

These are garments created as unique, one-off pieces for a specific client, i.e. the same level of uniqueness and individuality as proper bespoke tailoring practised by the finest tailors of London’s prestigious Savile Row.

Seen here, a print advert highlighting the mis-use of the term bespoke.

Today the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture selects its members. To qualify as an official Haute Couture house, members must design made-to-order clothes for private clients, with more than one fitting, using an atelier (workshop) that employs at least fifteen fulltime staff. They must also have twenty fulltime technical workers in one of their workshops. Finally, Haute Couture houses must present a collection of no less than 50 original designs — both day and evening garments — to the public every season, in January and July.

36 Measures & Counting

Back here at Number 10 Savile Row we take a total of 36 measures for our bespoke tailoring services, in a consistent and set order for each individual customer, so we can tailor for their unique clothing requirements.

Here's an example of the measures sheet our bespoke cutters use when taking measures for a bespoke coat. There are different and equally detailed equivalents when taking measures for trousers and vests/waistcoats.

In our bespoke shirt-cutting department, which was Savile Row’s first and is still the only permanent shirt-cutter based on The Row, we've recently added a bicep measurement to our list of required measures for bespoke shirts.

This has been necessary as the global trend continues for ‘bulking’ up, particularly on the top half of the male body.

Muscular Trends

Head Shirt-Cutter Tom Bradbury is quoted as saying: ‘When I was an apprentice training with Robert Whittaker we didn’t tend to take specific measures for the biceps, but now it’s a key guide in the cutting and making of bespoke shirts.

Slim-fit shirts and more bulky or muscular torsos have been popular, particularly amongst our younger customers for a while now, so we’ve adapted our measuring system to cater for this evolving taste and style.‘

When measuring for either bespoke tailoring or bespoke shirts, our key objective is to obtain, as far as possible, the maximum amount of information of the customer's figure in a simple manner and with the least possible inconvenience to the customer.

It’s recognised that accurate measuring, coupled with careful figure observation and front, side and rear photography during an early fitting, can prevent excess of faults in the garment when it’s prepared for fitting. Books and the experience of others are helpful factors, but they simply cannot give the completeness of knowledge that practical experience can provide.

We hope to see you soon at Number 10 Savile Row!

Glossary of Bespoke Tailoring Terms:

  • Banger– piece of wood with handle, used to draw out steam and smooth cloth during ironing
  • Balance– adjustment of back and front lengths of a jacket to harmonise with the posture of a particular figure
  • Baste– garment roughly assembled for first fitting
  • Basting– tacking with long stitches to hold garment parts together
  • Bespoke– a suit made on or around Savile Row, bespoken to the customer’s specifications. A bespoke suit is cut by an individual and made by highly skilled individual craftsmen. The pattern is made specifically for the customer and the finished suit will take a minimum of 50 hours of handwork and require a series of fittings
  • Board– tailor’s workbench
  • Bundle– components of jacket or trousers bundled together for making-up in the bespoke tailoring workshop
  • Canvas– a cloth usually made from cotton, flax, hemp or jute and used for providing strength or firmness
  • Coat– jacket. (Only potatoes have jackets, it used to be said!)
  • Codger– tailor who does up old suits
  • Cutting system– method of pattern preparation using a particular process of measurement and figure evaluation. Scores have been devised since methods of working out the proportions of the figure were first explored in the late eighteenth century and Dege & Skinner uses its own unique cutting system, as devised by Chairman and Master Tailor, Michael Skinner
  • Doctor– alteration tailor
  • Dolly– roll of wet material used as a sponge to dampen cloth
  • Draft– sketch or measure plan of a garment
  • Drag…in the drag– working behind time
  • Drummer– trouser-maker
  • Fittings– the objective of a fitting is for the customer to get an idea of what the finished garment will look and feel like and for the cutter to see what alterations are required.
    • Skeleton /rough baste: the pocket positions are shown using mark stitches. The jacket is still canvased to give it shape. But all the darts and side seams are ‘basted’ together temporarily. Skeleton basted jackets are created when the jacket is particularly unusual or the positioning of the pockets, hems or front edges are likely to change.
    • Pocket baste: the pockets and darts are sewn into the jacket. This is used when a customer’s body shape has changed through weight loss or gain
    • Forward fitting: the facings are on the jacket, the pockets and darts are all sewn in and the seams are temporarily basted in
  • Goose iron– hand iron heated on a naked flame
  • Gorge– where the collar is attached
  • Interlining– material positioned between lining and outer fabric to provide bulk or warmth
  • Kicking– looking for another job
  • Kicking your heels– no work to do
  • Log…on the log– piecework: the traditional and complex system of paying out-workers
  • Made-to-measure– garment made to a customer’s individual requirements, to some extent, but not necessarily by hand and certainly not unique to each individual
  • Mungo– cloth cuttings, which the tailor used to retain to sell to a rag merchant for a little extra income. Now we’re sending mungo to be recycled and re-woven into cloth under an innovative and unique scheme
  • Pattern– a template model used for cutting garments
  • Pig– an unclaimed bespoke garment
  • Rise – the difference between the leg and the side-seam measures
  • Rock of eye– rule of thumb: using instinct born of experience, rather than a scientific cutting system
  • Skiffle– a job needed in a hurry
  • Soft sew– an easily worked cloth
  • Scye– the armhole
  • Skirt– part of a jacket that hangs below the waist
  • Trotter– fetcher and carrier: messenger
  • Wadding – pads used to create depth in the bespoke clothing

Sources: 140 page guide by Reuben Sytner, The Tailor & Cutter, Gerrard Street, London, W1 and the Savile Row Bespoke Association website

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