Reader question: Taking pictures to the tailors
Amrit: Simon, I am new to your blog but have read your experiences with your Hong Kong tailor with great interest. I really like the double-breated suit by E Tautz in a recent post as well and was wondering to what extent it is advisable to show such pictures of suits you like to tailors
The short answer, Amrit, is that it is very helpful but should be no substitute for personal research.
A picture is useful because it answers questions that the tailor may forget to ask you or you may forget to tell him. It may also help steer him away from a house style. But if you’re not careful, he may take too many cues from that photo – you have to tell him what you don’t want as well!
Let’s start with an example. The E Tautz suit you like (link) is quite shaped, nipped in at the waist with a jacket slightly on the short side. The trousers are also very short and the sleeves are pretty narrow.
If you go to a tailor and give him a long list of requirements – 4×4 fastening, three-inch drop to the lapel from the shoulder seam, 2.5-inch wide lapel, patch pockets (side and chest), working cuffs, half-lined, one rear (buttoned) pocket on the trousers, slanted side pockets on the trousers, roped shoulder, flat-front trousers, uncuffed – you may feel you’ve covered everything he could possibly want to know. It’s such a long list.
But you’ve forgotten to mention the jacket length. He doesn’t know, forgot to ask (perhaps because he has a standard he normally works to) and now can’t ask you. But he has the photo. So he can check that, get an idea of your aesthetic and go for something close.
Having a photo is also useful to avoid that house style or standard that he might work to. Asian suits, for example, tend to be boxy, big in the waist and wide of trouser. If you don’t specify a width to the trousers, he might cut them pretty wide. And even if you’ve specified a width, he might tend towards the more conventional (his conventions) to be on the safe side. Having an image reinforces your point of view and helps convince him that you know what you want.
Give him this photo and you will not get a suit in a typical Asian cut.
However, check carefully for things in the picture you may not want. I commissioned a Norfolk blazer (an invention, really) a while back from my tailor in Hong Kong, and gave him an image to get an idea of the belt I required (link). Unfortunately, he also copied the front corners of the jacket – making them square rather than rounded. That had to be changed at late notice.
Equally with this suit, I doubt you want your trousers quite that short. They’re not even resting on the shoe; they’re a good inch above. Have you thought about whether you want your breast pocket to be patch as well? It’s not a style I like.
So use a picture, yes. But look at it very carefully and make sure you know what you don’t want from that style. There’s no substitute for personal research and knowledge.