Oscar Wilde has one of his more earnest characters remark that “a well tied tie is the first serious step in life.” That may well be, but the first serious step in bespoke tailoring is a well cut shirt.
How often do I see men with no cuff showing or sheets of it in view casting accusatory glances at their innocent tailors when the cut of the shirt is at fault and neither the coat nor its maker? And what is to be said about men who wear off the rack shirts that do not fit and wonder why their fine bespoke jacket is wrinkled and untidy? Or into what infernal bolgia will be cast the man who wants a tailor to cut a coat to fit all of his shirts when all of his shirts are all over the globe in terms of measures, fit and sleeve length?
Coats are crafted to fit shirts whose measures must be constant.
So, the first step in bespoke is to get a serious shirt, one that fits, made by the best craftsmen you can’t afford before you step foot inside a tailor’s shop. When you have acquired short term funding from the IMF and had a proper shirt made, have it duplicated in Bangladesh and never (ever) vary from its measures. Then and only then can you venture to the tailors and ask him to make a coat whose sleeves will be calibrated to the shirt’s measures (now a mathematical constant) so the right amount of shirt cuff is revealed.
This mad science sounds pretty simple, right? Falsch meine kleine kartofellpuffe! The proliferation of bespoke (sic) MTM shirts has muddied the waters of pure Cartesian shirt logic for a few reasons, ones that can drive tailors batty.
MTM shirt makers generally do not pay attention to nor make accommodations for the difference in the length of your arms caused by such things as physical deformation, tilted shoulders, uneven shoulders, awkward stance, poor posture and juvenile knuckle dragging syndrome. So the resulting bespoke (sic) shirt that does not fit will have to be compensated for by your coat and that coat will only fit that offending shirt and no others including ones that might be properly cut.
To make matters worse most MTMers do not even notice the shiny Audemar Piggy that weighs in at half a ton on your wrist. The wrist measures must be taken with the Piggy on the wrist and enough fabric provided on the shirt cuff to allow it to be buttoned firmly at the proper and never changing position your tailor will love you for.
And speaking of buttoning cuffs, most MTM shirts do not button at all. They are so loose at the wrist that the cuff travels between Memphis and Cairo on your forearm and wrist on its own mercurial volition and whimsy leaving you and your tailor to grasp dueling pistols at dawn. The cuff of the shirt needs to be firmly fastened, not blood clottingly tight, but tight enough for the cuff to stay in place where we want it to rest not where it decides to after a few kilometers of anatomical tourism.
Do imagine the pleasure your tailor must feel, after painstakingly crafting a beautiful coat with a wonderfully precise small oval armhole, when you try to cram a shirt with an armhole big enough for a medium sized circus elephant into it? One of the first lessons in bespoke is to recall that a tailor possesses marvelous cutting talent, scissors that are as large as they are razor sharp and your back is turned to him for most of your visit! I hope the wisdom contained in this merry bit of philosophy sinks in.
If you are serious about bespoke and are smart enough to sidestep besmoke, equip yourself with a well cut shirt, no matter the cost. You will make your shirtmaker, your tailor and your life insurance company very happy.
Once you have your shirt made, and a good coat to match you will need to focus your attention on the second most serious step in bespoke: how to knot the well knotted tie. And that will be the subject of some upcoming bombast.