A Gentleman’s Guide to Buying a Suit — with Simon Cundey of Henry Poole
In the latest instalment in our Adventures of Sophistication series, we sit down with the seventh generation Savile Row tailor to hear his sage advice on all things suits: brought to you by Monkey 47 Schwarzwald Dry Gin.
“I think adding the grapefruit adds a little twist,” says Simon Cundey, Managing Director of Savile Row tailor Henry Poole & Co. No, Cundey isn’t talking about a fruity new fashion in bespoke tailoring. Rather, he’s discussing the many botanical benefits of Monkey 47 Schwarzwald Dry Gin.
The seventh generation tailor believes that buying a suit should be a pleasurable experience — hence ensuring each of his customers is served a “nice, very refreshing G&T” should they want one. And, while we may be here to talk tailoring, it soon becomes clear that we could both wax lyrical about Monkey 47 all day long. But there’s more to this meeting than the Black Forest-based tipple. We want to learn about suits.
And, sitting surrounded by swatches and patterns, there’s no sharper authority on the subject than Cundey. Generously and benevolently bestowing his suiting wisdom to us, here’s what the Savile Row stalwart thinks every man should know when buying a suit…
For the uninitiated, Henry Poole is the gold standard when it comes to bespoke tailoring. James Poole stitched away at military suits during the Napoleonic Wars; and “Edward VII and Henry Poole designed the dinner suit between them,” Cundey tells Gentleman’s Journal, in reference to when the then Prince of Wales asked Henry Poole himself to cut him a short coat for more informal dinners at Sandringham.
And we’ve stitched Cundey’s inimitable suit-oriented wisdom into ten top tips, for any gentlemen looking to purchase a suit in the near (or distant) future.
Do your homework
“Homework is based upon what you are seeking in a suit,” Cundey explains. “Are you expecting it to be pure bespoke? This is personal size patterning: a blank canvas, where you create your own pattern according to your unique size. Or there’s ‘made to measure’, which means taking something from the nearest stock size. Or the third option would be ‘ready to wear’; this is a suit of a certain size, that you can’t necessarily alter.”
Allow your homework to decide your price point
Cundey emphasises the importance of considering what it is, exactly, that you’re prepared to buy into; of bearing in mind what the price point is and — more importantly — why the price point is set that way.
“The approximate price ranges from around £6,000 for pure bespoke, to around £2,000 for ‘made to measure’, to around £600 for ‘ready to wear’, Cundey clarifies. He points out that if somebody is just starting out, they may well only be able to afford ‘ready to wear’; but, equally, that pure bespoke can be a wise investment, if current funds permit.
“Pure bespoke is cut and made at Henry Poole, on the premises, with hand canvassing and four inches of extra inlays.” he explains. “No glues or fusing, as these will tend to break down after a few years. Hand work tends to be stronger. So it is expensive to begin with; but it’ll last you for about ten or twenty years.”
Durability is key; but if you have the means, there's certainly a place for luxury, too
“You don’t necessarily want to go guns blazing into luxury,” warns Cundey. “If it’s a ‘first suit’, you should prioritise longevity, and durability; something that’s going to hold its shape, that can be photographed, that can [endure] in a travel scenario.”
Durability is essential, yes — but as one’s wardrobe builds, there’s a joy to be found in — for example — Super 150s. The number refers to the thread count; the higher the thread count, the higher the luxury. Then there’s cashmere, or pure cashmere worsted: perfect for special occasions, this sort of luxury suit guarantees an exquisitely silky, smooth feel.
“At Poole, we have 4,000 fabrics to choose from; including cashmeres and Super 180s,” Cundey explains. “These are sumptuous, luxurious fabrics — but caution in daily wear is certainly needed.”
What's your top priority, when it comes to your suit?
If you’re planning on finding a suit for work, there are considerations to bear in mind. “Is it going to be [a suit] you’ll be wearing every day in the office: a suit that will need to hold up when you’re sitting at a desk, looking at screens; and then being suddenly called into meetings where you’ll need to look sharp?,” Cundey suggests. If a suit that will impress at work is your top priority, then such a suit will demand a certain level of durability.
"A pure bespoke suit is like a second skin"
Then, of course, there’s comfort. If comfort is your top priority, then pure bespoke may be the way to go. “A pure bespoke suit is almost like a second skin,” says Cundey. “It’s so sad to me that a lot of people don’t like wearing suits because they’re ‘uncomfortable’. They’re uncomfortable because they don’t fit. When you get something that fits, it becomes comfortable” — and ultimately, as Cundey emphasises, the way to ensure total comfort is to have a suit made entirely for you.
What do you want your suit to say about you?
Assuming you’ve established your price point, and exactly what it is that you want to get out of your suit — whether a suave, debonair suit for that much-anticipated return to the office, or a blissfully comfortable ensemble for that upcoming wedding — it’s time to consider exactly what sort of image you want to project to the world.
“Your suit can define you,” says Cundey, frankly. “If you choose big, bold stripes: that has an impact. It’s a very powerful suit; but a lot of people might not want to present that sort of character. Many financiers today tend not to wear those sorts of bold stripes; however, if you’re a barrister, and you want to make a point, you [may] want to have a punch. Or, if you’re going to an interview, you might want to be very humble, reserved, warm or welcoming.”
Then there’s the flamboyant look. “If you want to be a little bit more flamboyant — perhaps for someone more arty — that’s where the fun comes in,” says Cundey, citing sports jackets or various types of check — perhaps with a pocket square handkerchief — as some of the more exuberant options.
The cut of the suit is of vital importance
It can be helpful to bear your particular body type in mind, and to think about what element you may wish to accentuate.
“Take a well-statured, six foot four gentleman,” Cundey suggests. “Such a gentleman would be able to handle a ‘button three’: three buttons on the front of a jacket. If you are five foot ten, a ‘button two’ would suit you much better. But the button position can move, half an inch or so.”
This is just one example of how various cuts can illuminate, exaggerate or accentuate certain aspects of the body; such is the irredeemable power of suits. And Cundey emphasises that — while fashion moves in various directions — Poole will always move in the direction of the customer’s body, in terms of balancing out the proportions. Fashion can set a certain style; but Poole has always looked to the customer first, when it comes to the cut of the suit. So if you’re seeking a cut that the current fashion can’t provide, pure bespoke may be the answer.
The devil (or, in this case, suit-residing angel) is in the detail
After deciding on the fabric, and the cut, it’s important to consider whether there’s any particular personal stamp you’d like to put on your suit.
“You might want to angle your pockets, versus having them straight; it’s very popular to have a sporting pocket, because it gives it a more tailored look,” Cundey explains. “Then there’s the peak lapel…these days, a lot of people want a single-breasted suit with a peak lapel. This goes back to the 1930s; it’s a very natty, fashionable look. A peak lapel is very uplifting.” The opportunities for personal detail are endless; but they’re also vital if what you seek is a suit that speaks to you.
You may need an extra set of trousers
“If you’re going for [a summer suit], extra trousers are a good idea: as you may get through the trousers quicker than the jacket,” Cundey elucidates. This is because there’s a high likelihood the trousers will wear away with use, due to the yarn being much finer and lighter.
“You’ll always get shine on the trousers, because you’ll be putting your hands on your knees, you’ll be sitting on chairs, which gives shine under the seat; and eventually, you’re going to wear through certain parts of the seat on the trousers.” Best to go for broke now, and reap the rewards later.
Consider the climate
Speaking of summer suits, those warm, hazy months are well and truly on their way — making the climate a crucial factor to bear in mind when perusing suit options this month. “You’ve got a classic tropical worsted,” says Cundey, “which are typically about eight ounces. They’re typically plain weave, and let the suit breathe: so the air blows through it.” This particular suit also consists of a springy fabric, with a high recovery; ideal for all that summer travel we very much hope you’ll be doing.
"Linen suits look great for ten minutes..."
“And then, there are blends,” Cundey points out. “Traditionally, pure linen would have wrinkle problems. Linen suits would look great for ten minutes, but then you might look like you’d slept in [the suit] for a week!” Cundey explains that linen is popular in hot climates because it doesn’t carry the odour of sweat; but also that “these days, we look towards blends. So blends like linen and wool, or linen, silk and wool have become absolutely perfect for summer: they give you that breathability, but also that recovery.”
Linen, Silk and Wool
Linen, Silk and Wool
Sound good? You’ll want to take note of tip number 10…
"The perfect drink and suit for summer"
Henry Poole are currently offering 15% off their Linen, Silk & Wool Summer Jacketing, to any lucky gentlemen who may have read this article and wishes to step into Henry Poole to equip himself with the perfect summer jacket; and this offer includes not only a discounted suit, but a glass of Monkey 47 G&T to boot (while stocks last, of course; we’d recommend snapping this offer up while you can).
“15% off the jacket, in our Linen, Silk and Wool Summer Jacketing — to be enjoyed with the perfect Monkey 47 gin and tonic, with a slice of grapefruit,” Cundey announces.
And who could say fairer than that?
Seeking more style advice from the experts? Here’s a gentleman’s guide to grooming — with David Gandy and Larry King…
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