Unpicking the curious rise of casual tailoring
As workplaces relax the rules on suiting, tailors are turning their shears on ever more casual garments. But how informal can bespoke and made-to-measure clothes really be?
Once upon a time, if you had a suit tailored on Savile Row, you’d be set for life. Day-in, day-out, you would button up your neat, bespoke jacket and trousers and head off to work. And, every day, you’d look your best.
Today, the workplace has changed. Gone are the days of corporate-mandated neckties and starching your shirt collars. The tailored suit has been pushed to the back of our wardrobes; still pulled out for weddings and special occasions — but never just for a day at the office. Instead, the new rules of workwear dictate that we be versatile, comfortable — and move with the times.
But, with these shifts in style, there comes a problem. Modern men still want to look sharp; to have their clothes fit with all the well-cut, slim-fit grace of a tailored suit. Just because we’re wearing jeans, polo shirts and casual jackets to work, that doesn’t mean we don’t want them to be fitted. Thankfully, this loose-fitting, unstructured gap in the clothing market is soon to disappear, as brands and tailors have been steadily wising up to our newfound demand for bespoke casualwear. But, as the men creating these new threads will tell you, there are still a few creases to iron out…
Do we really need to tailor clothes other than suits?
Earlier this year, we spoke to cutting-edge tailor Jack Davison Bespoke about the rising demand for tailored overcoats. The St. Paul’s based brand had noticed an uptick in requests for fitted coats, so we set to work trying to uncover why people were increasingly spending their money on made-to-measure outerwear over suits. And the answer was simple: they wore their overcoats more often. Mere months on, this thinking seems to be moving past formalwear entirely, and into the casual corners of our wardrobes.
"The cost of producing made-to-measure garments has come down significantly..."
More and more brands appear to be embracing made-to-measure casual clothing — with Casual Fitters, based in London’s Spitalfields, even dedicating itself wholly to less-formal bespoke offerings. We asked its founder, Julian Lloyd Jones, when he first noticed the need for an exclusively informal tailoring service.
“Made-to-measure manufacturing has gained pace in recent years,” Lloyd Jones tells us. “And, as that has happened, the cost of producing made-to-measure garments has come down significantly. This has allowed tailors to become competitive on price with staple brands such as Mr P or Polo Ralph Lauren.”
The success of this new sector, then, appears to be a direct result of cost. Whereas traditional tailored suits were a luxury to dig deep for and shell out on, made-to-measure clothes just aren’t that expensive anymore; you can now pick up bespoke quality items for a reasonable price. Even established tailors have been forced to cotton on to casual tailoring — as Scott Souster, of Souster and Hicks, tells us.
“When you see the likes of Goldman Sachs suddenly bring in a smart-casual dress code — when their workforce have always been suited and booted — you have to take notice,” says Souster, whose Buckinghamshire brand has recently expanded to offer more casual clothing options. “So many offices now have some form of dress-down day that you have to move with the times. Business — and in particular, fashion, never stands still.”
So what clothes can now be tailored?
It’s a big question — and one that could strike fear into the heart of even the most seasoned cutter. Thankfully, the brands who have decided to dip their toes and snip their shears into the casual made-to-measure market are still drawing their chalk lines somewhere. Casual their wares may be, but you still won’t catch anyone tailoring tracksuits or hoodies.
“The choice in casual attire is vast,” continues Scott Souster. “On the fully hand-tailored side, with us drafting the patterns and cutting the garments, we’re able to produce casual jackets, chinos and shorts. Using a manufacturer, we can produce unconstructed jackets, raincoats and we will be launching made-to-measure knitwear shortly. We even make jeans.”
"We produce jackets, raincoats and we will be launching made-to-measure knitwear shortly..."
Souster and Hicks are not alone in tackling tailored denim jeans. Even out in the heartland of America, AJ Davidson’s Blue Delta Jean Company is making custom jeans for clients by taking 16 individual measurements in Mississippi. The brand employs stylists to put a spin on the American workwear classic, and offers a multitude of thread options, custom rivers and pocket styles — not to mention monogramming.
Jeans seem to be as casual as casual tailoring currently gets. But would you spend the same amount of money on a pair of jeans as you would on a Savile Row suit? Julian Lloyd Jones of Casual Fitters may not think so, but he believes that men pay for the tailored fit rather than the garments themselves. A suit may be smarter, but he’s found that we value the tailored touch all along our clothes rails.
“We’ve found fit to be an integral part of any man’s wardrobe,” says Lloyd Jones. “When clothes fit properly, they are exceedingly more comfortable, last longer and enhance the best parts of a man’s figure. They also give men the opportunity to imprint their individuality on the garments they wear every day.”
So what issues still need to be ironed out?
Suit tailors don’t have it easy. Far from it. Some of the outlandish requests they get from clients keep them busy and scratching their heads for weeks. But, after decades honing their craft, most of the creases in the bespoke suit industry have been ironed out — and the materials and fabrics used today are fairly stock across the board. Casual tailoring, however, has opened up whole new avenues of possibility. But, with them, also a new cutting board full of problems.
“Materials are a major issue,” admits Scott Souster. “We get sent new bunches every season and some of the more ‘technical’ fabrics you could never give to our coatmaker or trousermaker — as we have absolutely no idea how they react to heat and pressing. And there’s also no notes from the suppliers as to how they should be used. It’s different with manufacturers, who will have tested these fabrics and will be able to set the tensions right. A hand-crafted tailor couldn’t do that.”
Fabrics aside, the main issue faced by this burgeoning industry is one of simple visibility. You’d still never think of heading to your tailor for a new polo shirt, or pair of jeans. But the day is coming when bespoke clothing will be affordable enough for even your most casual get-ups.
“It’s frustrating,” agrees Souster, “because most people still just associate a tailor with suits — but that doesn’t really scratch the surface of what we can now offer.”
Are you steering clear of made-to-measure altogether? These are the best off-the-peg suits to buy this year…
Become a Gentleman’s Journal Member?
Like the Gentleman’s Journal? Why not join the Clubhouse, a special kind of private club where members receive offers and experiences from hand-picked, premium brands. You will also receive invites to exclusive events, the quarterly print magazine delivered directly to your door and your own membership card.