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The world of suiting might seem like a tangled mess of fabric, thread, and snobbery, but though its origins are decidedly Anglo-Saxon, suits are worn almost everywhere in the world by people of all shapes and sizes, backgrounds, ethnicities, and ages. While a lot of the work has been delegated to machinery and task-specific workflows now, the art of making a bespoke suit is still practised by a select few tailors here in Hong Kong and is available to those who know where to seek it. Here are five things that you may not know about the intricacies of bespoke tailoring and suits.
For most people, these terms are often used interchangeably when discussing items that are not off the rack. While both bespoke and made-to-measure suits require your measurements, made-to-measure suits make use of existing paper patterns as a base for cutting the cloth pieces needed, with slight adjustments according to the measurements taken.
Bespoke suits, on the other hand, will create a completely custom, completely new paper pattern according to your specific measurements. This is to ensure that your suit fits like a second skin! Imagine the difference between creating a jacket on a standard mannequin and adjusting the size afterwards, or making it on a mannequin that is the exact replica of your body. Bespoke suits also allow for multiple fittings and customisation to the finest degree, from the stitching to the pattern of the lining. There is a reason why bespoke suits fit so well—they were designed and made for you, and you only.
In Hong Kong, the preferred colour choice for suits is black. The mass of office workers that flood the streets during morning rush hour and lunchtime can usually be seen in this sombre colour, despite the debate that navy might be a more suitable choice for regular wear. The reason for this is because most people believe that black fabrics are not easily dirtied, hence more convenient to manage, especially for those whose work requires one to be in formalwear daily.
Contrary to popular belief, black suits are actually more prone to scuff marks, which is made all the more obvious by the dark façade. Additionally, black suits are more prone to ‘mirroring’ while ironing, an effect that refers to the material turning glossy when exposed to heat or friction.
While tailor shops that offer custom suits and shirts are quite common in Hong Kong, less than 20 tailors actually make the suits themselves. A lot of the manufacturing process is actually outsourced to factories in China, where costs are kept low. Shops like Thumb Thimble, where orders are cut and sewed directly on-site, are quite uncommon and getting scarcer still. Though a bespoke suit can cost at least $6,000 depending on the fabric of choice, it is usually still cheaper than a set by a designer brand, a phenomenon that can only be found in Hong Kong.
Traditionally, thimbles are worn on the tip of the middle finger of your sewing hand, with an open top for tailors and a closed one for dressmakers. It aids with pushing the needle through the fabric, especially for thicker materials that suit tailors usually have to work with.
The thumb thimble is a rectangular piece of metal, similarly pitted, and fitted with a strap around the thumb, as the name suggests. This tool is used exclusively by tailors from the Guangdong province, an adaptation created by Chinese tailors with smaller fingers than their Western counterparts. The strap allows for greater flexibility in terms of adjusting for different thumb sizes, a feature that traditional cap thimbles do not offer.
A working cuff refers to working buttons on the cuff of a suit jacket, usually three or four in a row, that allows you to roll up the sleeves when unbuttoned. Also known as surgeon’s cuffs, this feature was devised for military doctors in the past who had to work in their suits but did not want to dirty their clothes. Gentlemen back then rarely took off their jackets, a faux pas that distinguished the upper and lower classes.
Now, a working cuff functions more as a mark of distinguished workmanship, a telltale sign that you’re wearing a bespoke suit. Having a working cuff limits the adjustment of the sleeves, so ready to wear options usually forgo this detail.