Jonathan Self has spent years wearing Savile Row suits, but for the latest addition to his wardrobe decided to look further afield. He was delighted with what he found.
I’ve made what can only be described as a wardrobe-changing discovery. Having been brought up to believe that, in the words of Tailor & Cutter magazine in about 1866, ‘a man cannot make love with any kind of conviction unless he is wearing a coat cut within half a mile of Piccadilly’, it transpires that there are exceptions to this rule. That is to say, some of the best British bespoke tailors – by which I mean tailors who produce their clients’ clothes themselves, in their own workrooms, using the finest materials and entirely by hand – are to be found outside Savile Row, indeed, outside London.
This is not to denigrate the Row. My father, uncle, grandfather and great-grandfather were all regular patrons. Their clothes were exquisitely made to defy fashion and to last a lifetime. Indeed, when I was in my twenties, I inherited a 50-year-old suit of my grandfather’s that I wore for a further decade.
“I spoke to a wonderful former Row tailor in Manchester who said that, if I was in a hurry, he might manage something for spring 2019”
No, the problem is cost. When the late Alan Clark was told that American Mafia boss John Gotti wore $2,000 suits, he said: ‘I didn’t know it was possible to buy one so cheaply.’ Clearly, Clark was used to Savile Row prices. I recently telephoned my father’s former tailor to ask what I should budget for a simple two-piece lounge suit. The answer, between £5,000 and £6,000, was not unreasonable, but it pushed me to look for an alternative.
How to find your own regional bespoke tailor
Get ready for plenty of research
There are bespoke tailors throughout the British Isles, but they often need hunting out as they tend not to advertise themselves terribly well. I used a combination of online searching and asking around to compile my shortlist.
You won’t necessarily need to travel as far as you think
Many regional tailors will come to you or offer appointments in Savile Row – they borrow rooms from the big manufacturers.
Make sure you go to them at least once
Do insist on visiting their workroom for the initial discussion and measuring, if not for every fitting – it’s important to see where your suit is being made.
Be cautious about who you use
Some tailors try to pass off made-to-measure as bespoke. Make sure you’re being offered the genuine article.
I rejected made-to-measure, which is considerably cheaper, out of hand, because it involves adapting an existing pattern, machine cutting and machine finishing, making it little better than ready-to-wear. I toyed with the idea of taking my business overseas, possibly to Italy, where there are some highly regarded bespoke tailors. However, any savings would have been spent on travel and accommodation.
The best option, I decided, would be to try the regions. I set myself quite a strict brief. I wanted a tailor who only offered bespoke, as tailors who sell other products (made-to-measure, ready-to-wear, shoes and/or accessories) can’t possibly be as obsessed with quality.
I also wanted someone who managed every stage of the process in-house. Some so-called bespoke tailors are actually little more than measurement takers, outsourcing the cutting and sewing to commercial workrooms. I wasn’t, on the other hand, interested in a one-man band as this can mean interminable delays. I spoke to a wonderful former Row tailor in Manchester who said that, if I was in a hurry, he might manage something for spring 2019.
My future tailor’s personal style was, naturally, of paramount importance. I was looking for traditional, structured British tailoring with only the slightest nod to modernity. Tailors who allow their clients to commission the sort of suits professional footballers wear were ruled out as were those who promote humorous and gaudy linings. As my doctor, dentist, solicitor and accountant are all approaching retirement age and will need to be replaced, I decided I wanted a youngish tailor who would see me out.
I settled on Patrick Crichton Barker (although he’s dropped the Crichton) of Crichton Bespoke in Chester. The Crichtons and Barkers have been tailoring in the North-West for generations and Patrick, who I judged to be about 30, inherited the firm from his father. Satisfyingly, it’s located in a superb, Grade I-listed, medieval town house, where one can barely move for bolts of cloth, rails of half-completed garments and leatherbound ledgers.
A two-piece suit from Crichton starts at about £2,000 and I was so pleased with mine that I’m in the process of commissioning a complete new wardrobe: morning dress, evening dress, three more lounge suits, a tweed suit, a blazer and trousers, a dressing gown and two dozen shirts.
Serious negotiations are also in train for a short Nehru coat in black silk and – ending four decades of never wearing anything to bed – several pairs of satin pyjamas (he who sleeps naked is, after all, in for a nude awakening).
“Being perfectly well-dressed gives one a tranquillity that no religion can bestow”
Much pleasure is to be had in the planning and fitting. There is the initial discussion about design and material, at which any extra measurements must also be taken, and then at least two fittings. I’ve been journeying to and from Chester every few weeks for the past six months, meaning to make each visit short and businesslike, but enjoying the process so much that I tend to dawdle.
This might seem excessive, especially for a man who spends most days alone in his study or in messy rural pursuits. However, as Isaac Bashevis Singer said: ‘What a strange power there is in clothing.’ I find it deeply satisfying to be attired in clothes that feel as if they’re part of me, rather than something I’ve just put on. It’s a great confidence booster, too.
It isn’t that I’m a snob – nevertheless, donning a bespoke suit imparts in the wearer a sense of superiority. It must also be remembered that smart dressers are treated with greater respect in both work and social situations. As Ralph Emerson so wisely pointed out: ‘Being perfectly well-dressed gives one a tranquillity that no religion can bestow.’