Sartorial secrets from King & Allen Tailors on how to approach bespoke tailoring.
Wearing a rare, vintage timepiece shares that same appeal as wearing an entirely bespoke suit – that exclusive, extravagant attraction to owning something no one else does. And, much like a classic timepiece, a bespoke suit is an investment.
Historically reserved for the likes of aristocrats, film stars and prime ministers, in recent times the bespoke suit has enjoyed a – more affordable – modern rebirth. Unlike ‘made to measure’, which simply requires a template pattern cut out and then adjusted to an individual’s measurements, bespoke suits require more than 20 points of measurement and figurations before they are cut from scratch from a fabric of your choosing. And, rightly so, as Richard Walker points out in his book The Savile Row Story, the average man “is not symmetrical but lopsided and as individual in detail as a sack of potatoes.”
Established in 2003, King & Allen have spent the past decade championing bespoke, modern tailoring, using cloth from British mills. They certainly know their stuff – in that time they have made close to 30,000 bespoke suits. They even made a dinner suit for Iron Maiden’s drummer that featured in an underwater photoshoot in 2016.
Luxury watches deserve to be treated to a fine suit. So, here, King & Allen co-founder Jake Allen talks to David Duggan about how to choose a suit that makes you feel sharp, looks immaculate and won’t let your timepiece down.
Do you have any tips for someone visiting a tailor for the first time?
Visiting a bespoke tailor for the first time can be intimidating, but you have nothing to worry about. We meet people who are unfamiliar with the tailoring process every single day. Our consultants are expertly trained to guide you through the whole process and will explain anything that you don’t understand.
I recommend that you do some research before your initial consultation to figure out what it is that you are looking for exactly. Have a look online to see what style of suits you are drawn to: are they very fitted or do you prefer suits with a little more room in them? Do you prefer grey over blue, or maybe you want something more unusual, like a burgundy? And, are you more drawn to solid, plain cloth, or do you prefer something with some texture or pattern. I recommend saving images of suits that you really like and bringing them to your appointment. That way, it’s easier for your tailoring consultant to understand your requirements and style more easily.
I suggest wearing a shirt, suit trousers and a proper pair of shoes to your initial consultation. Your shoes should be similar to those you intend to wear with the finished suit. We ask this because it is more accurate to measure someone wearing suit trousers than jeans - the denim is quite thick, so it can skew our measurements.
How can you tell if a suit fits well? Or badly? What are the obvious indicators?
A good fit is crucial. Even the most expensive suit will look cheap if it doesn’t fit properly. And, the rules change depending on things like your height and age. There are some very simple tell-tale signs that a suit fits badly; the shoulders should sit flat without wrinkling at the top, the jacket waist should have a couple of inches spare room left, even for a fitted jacket and trousers with long legs and more than one crease can look messy. We wrote a style guide to discuss how a suit should fit, but it also comes down to personal preference.
How important is the quality of cloth? Do expensive fabrics always make better suits?
Cloth selection is one of the most important decisions when having a bespoke suit made for you. Good quality cloth is very important; a cheap, synthetic cloth will not only last half as long as one made with a natural fibre, such as wool, but synthetics also have a tendency to go shiny over time. They’re not breathable either, so you are more likely to work up a sweat in a synthetic cloth.
Good quality cloth need not break the bank, though. Whilst we offer some extremely luxurious cloths – including one that contains crushed sapphires embedded within the cloth – we also have a lot of very affordable worsted wool cloths that are durable, comfortable to wear and come in a huge number of colours and styles.
We invest a lot in our close relationships with our cloth merchants, and, as a result, we are able to secure the best prices from the top mills in England and Italy, including Holland & Sherry, Loro Piana, Dugdale Brothers, Bateman Ogden and Huddersfield Fine Worsteds.
How do you choose the right colour of suit?
Classic colours that we would recommend are navy and shades of grey. These are colours that tend to flatter almost everyone. Both are easy to style, as they are relatively neutral, meaning that they will work with a variety of shirt, tie and shoe colours. Take navy and charcoal grey, for example, both colours make great business suits whilst a paler grey can feel a little less formal, making it ideal for weddings and social events. A pale grey suit is an excellent staple for summer.
We tend not to suggest that you choose black for your first suit – contrary to popular belief it is not always the most flattering colour on many complexions. Those with dark skin and hair look exceptionally good in black suits for everyday use, for example, but those with fairer colouring might struggle. They’re not particularly versatile either – you will likely only wear it at funerals, and even then, you could wear charcoal grey and it would be perfectly appropriate.
What are your most popular suit cuts?
We find that nowadays most men are looking for something that fits relatively close to the body. Our clients often want their jackets to be shaped at the waist, fitted along the sleeve and with neat shoulders. Often, they will choose their jacket in a two-button style, with notch lapels and a double vent at the back; a versatile style that works well for both business and casual wear.
We find clients tend to request trousers that are often slim, but not tight. They tend to be flat-fronted, with no pleats, and the trousers usually have only a small break at the hem, to avoid unsightly pooling of the trouser around the shoes. Some men like to wear their trousers with a belt, however we try to recommend that our clients use side adjusters instead, for a neater, more streamlined look.
What are the latest trends you find people are requesting in bespoke suits?
Checks are still extremely popular, whether they are subtle and small, or bold and bright. Our more conservative clients might opt for a navy cloth with a very subtle plaid running through it, whilst someone who is more expressive might opt for a pale grey Prince of Wales check, or a bright windowpane check. The beauty of checks is that they can work for anyone.
Another trend is contrasting waistcoats. Many of our clients, especially those who are ordering wedding suits, choose to have a contrasting waistcoat made to wear with their suit and jacket. It’s a great way to incorporate a bold cloth without looking over the top. An example would be wearing a plain navy suit with a bright blue checked waistcoat. If the whole suit was in the bright blue check, it might look cartoonish, but a small flash of a contrasting waistcoat adds texture and depth, whilst being subtle and tasteful.
How long does it take to make one of your suits?
The process of having a King & Allen suit made usually takes between five and 12 weeks from start to finish, depending on what service you use (priority express, express and regular service.) This includes any fittings that you need. The suit is constructed by our tailors, which can take more than 50 hours of highly-skilled work.
How do you accessorise your favourite suit?
A great suit can be spoiled by accessories if they are not chosen carefully. Less is most definitely more. That said, when done well, accessories can make a simple suit feel fresh and interesting.
A pocket square is a fantastic way to add a flash of colour and texture to your suit. We recommend that it harmonises with your tie, however it shouldn’t match – that feels a little cheesy. Don’t be afraid of bold pattern here. Also, it’s well known that a simple, elegant watch can really enhance a beautiful suit. If you’ve chosen a simple tie, an unusual tie bar or clip can add a little personality to your outfit.
In the winter months, an elegant, tailored overcoat in a neutral colour, worn with a warm, yet lightweight, scarf, will make sure that you stay warm in your suit, without sacrificing style.
Lastly, do you have any advice for someone starting to choose their bespoke suit style?
You need to consider a few different factors and ask yourself these questions:
1. What style do you enjoy wearing? Take a look at suits online that you admire, plus the ones that you wear all the time from your own wardrobe - what style features make these suits particularly appealing?
2. What is the purpose of the suit? Is it for work? In which case, perhaps it should be relatively conservative. Is it for your wedding? Then, you could include a colour from the wedding theme in your suit lining or within the cloth of the suit.
3. What colours suit you? If you’re very fair, greys, browns, navy and brighter blues will bring some warmth to your complexion. Those with medium to dark skin tones will look good in most suit colours, if it’s not too close to their skin tone. The darker your skin, the better you will look in brighter colours, such as those cobalt blues that have enjoyed popularity in recent years.
4. How often do you plan on wearing it? If you’ll be wearing your suit five days a week, then you will need to choose a cloth that is durable, such as a 12oz worsted wool. You will also need to order an extra pair of trousers, as the trousers are always the first thing to wear out. If you have two pairs, you can alternate them between wears, so that they last much longer.
6. What temperature will you be wearing it in? If you intend to wear your suit for a beach wedding in the Bahamas, your cloth choice will be very different to the cloth you’d choose for a wedding in the Scottish Highlands. Warmer weather calls for lighter, cooler cloth, whilst colder weather requires heavier cloth.
If you have an event coming up and need some help choosing the perfect suit, visit one of King & Allen’s bespoke tailors. They have stores in London, Surrey and Cheshire. You can book a fitting or request a swatch of one of their 3,000 fabrics from British and Italian mills.