Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Becoming a tailor/cutter today: How do I become an apprentice?

In the past couple of years, I've received more than a few messages, comments or emails from folks interested in becoming a bench tailor, i.e. someone who can cut and sew garments. More specifically, they're interested in becoming an apprentice to a working tailor. I don't have much original advice except to approach the best tailors in your city about your enthusiasm, experience and perhaps most of all your dedication in putting in the time and effort to become a tailor.

Obviously it will pay to do your homework too. I recently came across this AskAndy thread that does a great job of assembling recommendations and references from working tailors and cutters. The thread also touches on an interesting distinction in patternmaking between industry or factory production v. bench tailors.

Let me also post another useful thread on the soft tailoring exponents of the English tailoring firm of Anderson & Sheppard. Too often it seems we have tailors who work only in the structured shoulder / stiff chest paradigm or the soft, drapey shoulder / soft chest paradigm. I personally think that a bench tailor who can inhabit both worlds and understand when to apply which paradigm will stand apart from most tailors working today and quite possibly take the next big step in bespoke tailoring. Innovations often come from hybrid milieus in which someone who knows a specific tradition or practice extremely well is then able to pivot and take a different slant on received wisdom.

Related posts
- The next generation of tailors: Mutually assured succession

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

2008 thread of the year: Tom Ford, pagoda shoulders, bespoke tragedies and more

After a few years of mostly reading and posting occasionally to the various men's clothing forums, I began to feel my interest flagging a bit. This is natural as the number of times we can meritoriously debate a "RTW v. bespoke" thread is limited. But this Styleforum thread, in the waning days of a sobering year of credit and financial ills, wins my vote for discussion thread of the year on a men's clothing forum. Good for high quality laughs and also offering some food for thought and a useful foil to my writing needs.

Styleforum member AvariceBespoke begins the proceedings with a simple question: Anyone ever use Tom Ford's MTM program? Not too many it appears but that doesn't stop the commentariat from knocking the Ford MTM program for being a re-badged Zegna product, among other things.

"Vanity of vanities, all is vanity." In this post, Doc Holliday provides a flash of phenomenological rigor in this sprawling thread of 23+ pages. This is a rigor that I plan to address in more detail in my book. Is an objective discussion about clothing choices and preferences simply impossible? It seems so. Prescriptions about what others should wear are almost invariably colored by what one wears personally. It is remarkable to note this unconscious expression of vanity, this natural self-prioritizing about other people's choices. But there is a way out I believe.

So what exactly are tailors good for? As Rubinacci devotee iammatt makes clear in this post, he expressly thinks there is really one type of successful bespoke tailoring relationship. "From what I have seen, even in bespoke, monologues are usually more successful than dialogues. The advantage to bespoke, as I see it, is fit and fabric, and not the ability to direct." Not coincidentally, to my point above about personal choices being writ large, a monologue is precisely the type of relationship he has with his tailor.

I believe reality is accommodating enough to offer richer and more varied types of tailoring relationships. As VitaminC describes in his post on "bespoke tragedies", he argues that bespoke tailoring boils down to proportion and technique. Most tailors are really about nailing the latter. I think he maybe onto something here. If true, it means the customer better bring something to the table rather than completely outsourcing his sense of style and judgment.

Tom Ford's style - does it have substance? It certainly does for a man who likes his calories. What I love about this post by Chicago tailor Chris Despos is that he deep sixes the ahistorical, point-in-time dismissal of Monsieur Ford. The near universal rejection of the concave, pagoda shoulder (spalla insellata) in the thread is too easy, too quick. I'm a sartorial pluralist at heart and believe in the goodness of choices. Who knows - a spalla insellata might be the right look for someone. Of course, choice works best for those who are able to exercise discernment and self-restraint.

At the end of the day, it's far better to have the option of a Tom Ford, a Thom Browne or a bench tailor. Why? Because style is more about deftly exercising one's choices today and tomorrow than creating a supposedly timeless look.