Ordering a bespoke suit is something every man should do at least once in his life.
But, when moving from off-the-peg to tailor-made, one needn’t start at Savile Row. There are smaller, independent tailors with a lineage just as storied as the big hitters off Old Burlington Street. Max Olesker reports.
For my first bespoke suit experience, I went to Apsley, a tailors on London’s Pall Mall, which has dressed discerning gents since 1889. I was greeted with a warm handshake by my tailor, Mr Sunil Chopra, a kindly gentleman of late middle age dressed in an immaculate grey three-piece number, and we swiftly got down to the serious business of designing my suit.
As we pored over a book of fabric swatches, Chopra outlined the dizzying range of options — as well as fabric colour, weight and texture, there’s also the cut, lining, shape and width of lapels, placement of buttons and angle of pockets to consider. Knowing only that I wanted to avoid pinstripes (and the inevitable “junior stockbroker/senior Carphone Warehouse sales executive” look) I otherwise gave myself up to Chopra’s wisdom. We settled on a slim-fitting double-breasted suit in a deep navy, with a light blue lining and a four-by-two button arrangement. Smart, not overly fusty, and something I’d actually have cause to wear.
As my measurements were taken, I discovered that no one keeps any secrets from their tailor. I have round shoulders, apparently, and a waist at least two inches larger than I’d admit to in a court of law. I know this only because I stole a glance at the measuring sheet — my physical deformities were otherwise handled with the utmost discretion. After less than an hour, I was fully measured up and released onto London’s streets.
A week later, I was back in Pall Mall, already trying on the rudiments of the garment. I was able to make slight alterations, tweaking the length of the trouser and width of the arm, but the suit was thrillingly close to the one we’d discussed seven days previously. And then, four weeks on from the first meeting with my tailor, after only one measurement and one fitting, it arrived. A fully formed, completely personalised suit with my name on the inner lining. “Nailed it,” said Chopra as I put it on for the first time. “Nine out of ten times, we only need one fitting.”
As for that hoary claim that a bespoke suit is an “investment” that will save you money in the long run? It’s actually true. Currently, the longest-serving item in my wardrobe is a T-shirt I won in a steak-eating contest in 2005. But my suit — my lovely double-breasted suit — is destined to last me many more years. If the stitching comes loose, there’s a tear in the lining, or someone breaks into my house and steals all the buttons, Apsley will be on hand to sort me out. And it will grow with me over the course of my lifetime — if I become morbidly obese, wildly emaciated or lose an arm in a knife fight, Chopra’s team will adjust it to fit. When you break it down, the cost really is worth it.
To say it fits like a glove would be a cliché, and anyway, it doesn’t. It fits exactly like a bespoke suit, and it’s my favourite thing in the entire world.
Photographs by Philip Haynes