The same tailors still work on Savile Row today, overseen by fifth-generation director Simon Cundey. Cundey explains that before the invention of the dinner jacket, “you were expected to wear a full set of tails to any sort of dinner reception, or even to dinner at home with your parents,” so Poole’s decision to do away with tails and drop the front of the jacket changed the course of suit history forever. Soon, frock coats were the preserve of the old-fashioned elite and the lounge suit belonged to the modern man. Socialist Keir Hardie cemented this distinction when he became the first MP to wear a lounge suit in Parliament in 1892, signifying his solidarity with the working man.
THE MODERN SUIT
1920s with wide-legged trousers known as ‘Oxford Bags’ and narrowing during the fabric rationing of World War Two. The 1950s saw suits expand once more for the ‘age of swing’ that required more mobility, while the 1960s heralded in a complete contrast with The Beatles’ pioneering ‘mod’ drainpipe trousers and collarless jackets. Disco culture and the film Saturday Night Fever influenced the return of the waistcoat and flared trousers in the 1970s, while the economic boom of the 1980s saw the birth of the ‘power suit’ identifiable by its exaggerated shoulders and sharp cuts. Today, the contemporary suit has seen a return to the tastes of the 1950s and 1960s, inspired by throwback television series such as Mad Men. Slim lapels and trousers that finish short of the ankle are fast becoming popular, with vintage- inspired cuts dominating the autumn/ winter 2014 collections of Duchamp and Emporio Armani.
Located at the heart of all these stylistic fluctuations has been Savile Row – lined with expert tailors boasting centuries of sartorial experience. Everyone from Lord Nelson to Winston Churchill has been a customer, and today the street is home to more than 100 tailors spending an estimated 52 hours hand-stitching each suit to their impeccable standards.
Fifth-generation managing director of Dege & Skinner, William Skinner, has observed that almost every element of the suit has continuously evolved, pointing out that even “weights of sought-after cloth choices have changed considerably over time. Lighter weight fabrics have become more popular, possibly affected by the prevalence of air conditioning in offices”. Skinner grew up alongside many of his customers, allowing him to deliver what he believes is “a personal service that’s just not possible for a multinational brand”. This attention to detail is echoed in the fact that Dege & Skinner remains the only Savile Row tailor to still make bespoke shirts, liaising with customers over the smallest detail, including down to the shape of their watch - something that affects the cut of the sleeve and cuffs.
THE EXPERT TOUCH
Skinner is a proud advocate of the benefits of bespoke fitting, as is his Savile Row neighbour Simon Cundey. Cundey explains that, today, suit wearing is increasingly becoming the preserve of special occasions. “Men feel it’s a chore to get dressed up,” he argues.“People feel uncomfortable during the evening because the proportion of their outfit is wrong, but our bespoke suits fit like a second skin. You don’t feel any tightness and most of our suits will last about 10 years. I believe the days of disposable fashion are gone. People are looking for something long-lasting,” he adds. Keen to maintain the integrity of the craft, the Savile Row Bespoke Association was established in 2004 to protect the Savile Row brand. Su Thomas, co-director of the association, enthusiastically champions the famous street’s bespoke experience, explaining that a custom-made suit will provide “endless choices when it comes to cloth, with the chance to choose something fit for the purpose for which it’s going to be worn. The more regular the usage, the more robust the cloth needs to be.
As William Matthews of Savile Row tailor Gives & Hawkes explains, “The concept of ready-to-wear clothing is itself relatively new. Gentlemen used to order all their clothes from their tailor and shirtmaker.”
As a result, in an era of mass-produced fashion, Matthews believes that a bespoke suit remains the ultimate expression of a gentleman’s personal style. “A bespoke suit can convey a sense of confidence and power, but can also be full of personality,” he says. “Some clients love to create secret pockets or commission fully customised linings. That is the magic of the bespoke suit and why men still come to Savile Row to find the ultimate experience.” For sartorial prowess, it’s clearly time you joined them.