Derek, London: Simon, when did you first get interested in clothes and what inspired you to turn towards sartorial clothing?
James, Los Angeles: I notice you always refer to the ‘jacket’ rather than the ‘coat’ of a suit. Is the latter not more correct?
Derek, I remember very clearly the first time I felt truly inspired by sartorial prowess.
He wore a grey flannel suit, pale blue shirt and wine-red tie in a club stripe. His shoes, I now know, were half brogues. Their chocolate brown leather was a perfect complement to the flannel, and the red and blue at his neck worked wonderfully well. But the thing I really noticed was the cut of his jacket.
The sleeves dropped in a clean, straight line from his shoulders: no folds or stretching. They ended in cuffs that exposed just a sliver of white shirt. The body seemed to follow every undulation of his chest, waist and hips. It was nowhere tight. Young men often confuse a good fit with a tight fit. In fact, if anything it was more forgiving across his torso than is my taste. But that didn’t matter, indeed only occurred to me later. It followed his frame perfectly.
His image has stayed with me because he was the first man I had ever seen that was manifestly well-dressed. Bespoke clothes were unknown to me. Suits fitted badly or well, but they never did this to a man – fixing his shoulders to the fulcrum of a waist button, creating a natural yet powerful silhouette. This was success. It was aspiration.
A well-fitting suit is incredibly flattering. But there is a lot of ignorance among men about how to get one. Ready to wear is underused; made to measure is ignored; bespoke is misunderstood. It’s not hard to become educated, and a snob, about tailoring. All you need is a little passion.
James, tailors are wonderfully old-fashioned. It means they create suits that last as well as those of a century ago; and they will fit better than anything else, such is the focus on fit. However, it does make their language a little antiquated. I have even heard one use ‘bespoke’ in its original meaning, as a piece of cloth that was “bespoken” for.
One thing that all Savile Row tailors, and many others besides, insist on is calling the top half of a suit, the ‘coat’. Historically, this is correct. That’s why we have overcoats – they were worn over the coat. Today, however, an overcoat has been shortened to a coat and a coat is universally referred to as a jacket.
Because of this universal recognition, I always refer to this item of clothing as a jacket rather than a coat. Tailors may hate me for it. But I’m writing for you, not them.