Book (Sleevehead's Guide to Sicilian Tailors)

About the guide

For the latest information, please visit Sicilian Reserve.

This guide attempts to bridge the gap in knowledge about Sicilian tailoring by providing an introductory survey to contemporary tailors working in Sicily. It is the product of several visits in the summer of 2011, when I met about a dozen tailors in three different cities – Palermo, Catania and Messina. During the course of my visits, I ordered jackets, suits and trousers from five different tailors and at least one tailor in each of the cities covered in this guide.

It is difficult to overlook the pricing of this guide, which may appear confounding and contrarian at first blush. It certainly doesn't conform to the current industry standard strategy of pricing e-books somewhere between $2.99 and $9.99, which is Amazon's preferred range. Current industry strategy is aimed at driving volume and mass adoption of e-books.

The truth is that I'm not interested in selling as many copies as I can (cue to a room of publishers and literary agents rolling their eyes). Actually it's a bit of the opposite. Contrarian as it may be, my aim is to introduce the superb work of Sicilian tailors to the customer best equipped to take advantage of this special opportunity. The tailors I met are not suitable for everyone and it is critical to recognize this upfront. Otherwise, time and money will be wasted. If you happen to be an adaptable, frequent traveler and an experienced bespoke buyer, this guide may be for you. More on this below.

First, why these tailors? Because Sicilian tailors offer a tremendously compelling value proposition. In fact, the value for money they provide almost seems too good to be true. For less than EUR600 (and in one case considerably less than that), you can get a bespoke jacket with southern Italian heritage and styling strongly influenced by the Neapolitan school of tailoring. You may have to do a quick conversion into another currency but sartorially savvy men know that such a thing is virtually unheard of at this price point. It's a fraction of the standard price of Savile Row, Continental European tailors and more well-known tailors in Italy.

But let's go back to who should buy this guide.

I firmly believe that the ideal customer of this guidebook is not motivated by price alone. Instead, he's a sartorial explorer who is open to experimentation and does not wish to be spoon fed a highly curated bespoke experience. He's a frequent traveler, adept at picking up languages and fitting in foreign cultures. He's more independent and adventurous than the typical luxury customer drawn to established brands and certainly less fussy. He also has a stock of customer-supplied cloth ready to be made into jackets, suits or trousers. This guide is aimed directly at the experienced bespoke buyer who does not need to prove out his sartorial choices on the online discussion forums.

In other words, the ideal reader of this book has reached a point in his sartorial journey where he is able to take on more risk, explore a new milieu of tailors and navigate comfortably within a riskier environment. Sartorially speaking, this is not what most men seek. Instead, most of us seek comfort in the familiar and vetted.

I suppose this characterization adds up to a fairly limited group of men. But exclusivity is not a bad thing, at least in its self-selected form. I would submit that such an arrangement works out ideally for the tailors and the customers involved. So take a moment to reflect and see if you think you fit this profile. If so, let me be the first to welcome you. I think you'll find yourself in good company.

  • Introduction
  • Planning Your Trip
  • A Note on Sicilian Tailors
  • Palermo [profiles of 3 tailors]
  • Catania [profiles of 4 tailors]
  • Messina [profiles of 3 tailors]
  • 54 pages
  • 75+ photos
  • 3 videos (web access)
In each of the individual city chapters, I profile several tailors, provide addresses and contact information, pricing and photos. I also provide my judgment and commentary on the fit and finish of bespoke garments where applicable, the fitting process and the personality of each tailor. In addition, I provide details around transportation, hotels, restaurants and traveling tips for each city.


Given its price, how can I justify the purchase of this book?
Think of this cost as a one-time premium for a bit of sartorial peace of mind. You can also think of this as a modest capital outlay depreciated over time. If you know you like southern Italian tailoring, this is an investment that will pay for itself many times over in the coming decades, beginning with your first visit to Sicily.

Can I view a sample passage or section of the book?
I encourage you to take a look at my Sleevehead blog, and you'll have a good sense of what I write about and how I write. These entries might be a good start: Paris visits (Cifonelli/Smalto and Cifonelli)  Florence visit, Naples visit, Hong Kong visit

I started the blog more than five years ago and built it organically through quality content. Over the years I have built a solid readership with thousands of visitors every month by writing and reporting on high-end men's clothing. Needless to say, I'm not interested in jeopardizing the goodwill of my readers by offering a less than satisfactory product.

What are my qualifications for writing on high-end bespoke tailoring?
I am not a tailor, just a bespoke customer who has visited and/or tried dozens of tailors around the world in Asia, Europe and North America. My perspective is independent and largely shaped not only by what I like personally but also by what I think would work for others. I happen to appreciate (and wear) the full range of bespoke options from structured suits to softer tailoring.

I should also mention that my editorial perspective of the tailors covered in the guide is completely independent. I paid for the clothing that is described in the guide and did not receive compensation for the inclusion of any tailor. 

Who shouldn't buy this book? 
The 4 barriers to buying this book are: inability to travel, lack of experience with bespoke tailoring, lack of appreciation for Sicilian tailoring, and inability or unwillingness to learn Italian. Also, bargain hunters need not apply.

The most obvious inhibitor is travel. If you are unable to travel to Europe at least twice a year, this is not a viable option for you. The further you must travel, the more difficult it becomes to take full advantage of the tailoring offered in Sicily. Relatively easy access to Sicily gives you the ability to mitigate situations in which you need to perfect the fit and pattern for a jacket or suit, especially the initial order. Although the chances are good that the tailor will fix your pattern on the first jacket, this may not happen. And the only way to address this is showing up in person to see the tailor.  Another reason why travel is critical is the ability to pick up finished garments. I did not ship any of my garments back to the US given the potential loss, damage or import duties levied by the shipper.

Another barrier is lack of bespoke experience. Under no circumstances should a Sicilian trip be the reader’s first (or even second) time ordering a bespoke suit - unless he happens to be Italian or Sicilian or is able to bring along an experienced bespoke buyer.

It also goes without saying that you will need to appreciate the Sicilian approach to tailoring. In turn, this presupposes experience with and understanding of Neapolitan tailoring methods (including shirt-shoulder construction or manica camicia). If you do not understand or care for softly constructed shoulders and Neapolitan-inspired tailoring, then it doesn't make much sense to fly thousands of miles to a place where it is prevalent.

Let's add facility with foreign language. With one exception, none of the tailors I met spoke English (or any other foreign language for that matter).  There are ways to deal with this, which I detail in the guide, but you must at least be able to pick up a few phrases in basic conversational Italian for this to work and be comfortable with the loss of easy communication and mutual dialogue.

Although I used a translator initially, I made subsequent visits without one. Even if you hire a translator, do not expect full fluency in translating highly specific tailoring terms. Ultimately, you will still need to rely own your own judgment, experience and knowledge of jacket construction.

Finally, those who are looking for cut-rate bargains or focused primarily on cost should think twice. If you are fixated on price, you will likely be disappointed by the effort required. There is no such thing as a free lunch in bespoke. In order to go lower on price, as is the case here, you will need to give up on conveniences, which you did not pay for before (such as being able to converse with your tailor in English) but whose importance you will appreciate only in their absence, or when it is too late.

Of course, you may be just interested in learning more about these tailors and happy to pay for the privilege of just reading about them. If this is the case, be my guest!

Who should buy this book? 
You should have the following 4 prerequisites: maturity and experience buying bespoke, means to travel, material (i.e. customer cloth) and an explorer’s DNA.  Please also refer to the introduction above for more detail on the ideal customer for this book. The first 2 requirements on maturity/experience and ability to travel are covered in the previous FAQ.

Regarding the requirement of material (customer supplied cloth), most of the tailors offer cut-make-trim (CMT). I think this offers the best value for overseas customers. Most experienced bespoke buyers have more cloths than they have local CMT tailors who are able to create garments from them. In Sicily you can pick and choose from a pool of reasonably priced tailors.

If you lack your own stock of customer-supplied cloth, then you will be dependent on the tailors' cloth, which will lengthen delivery times (probably necessitating an additional trip) and will likely reduce cloth choices. The tailors tend to source their cloth mostly from the well-known Italian mills rather than English ones.

Finally, by an explorer’s DNA, I mean the following: flexibility, resourcefulness and good tolerance for risk and experimentation.

Can I read this e-book on my iPad?
Yes, the e-book version is formatted as a PDF file and is optimized for the iPad. However, any tablet with Adobe PDF viewing capabilities can read this file. I recommend using Notability ($9.99)  as your PDF viewer.

Where to buy

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MCS said...

I have to say, this is fascinating, and perhaps is testing a new frontier in internet-based spread of specialized knowledge. Realistically, I don't think I can travel to Sicily often enough to avail myself of this opportunity, but maybe the fantasy will turn into reality (well, it happened for me regarding Napoli). Bravo!

Gentleman's Gazette said...

That sounds very interesting indeed. Congratulations on putting this piece together!

sleevehead said...

Thanks MCS and Gentlemen's Gazette for the interest. If you can do Naples, then Sicily is probably within reach I would think. Dreams about Sicily are enjoyable to be sure, but making it into a reality is better!

imparali said...

this is amazing effort to promote tailoring on broad horizon. also sounds motivational.

Kristopher Davidson said...

I've just purchased the Sicilian tailors guide. I was concerned about the price and the length of the guide, but don't worry, it's well worth the cost! It's also a nice length and you will not be bored reading it. It's got good info on your trip, a bit of history, and background to the tailors. The observations about the garments and the tailors craft are absolutely brilliant and there is some nice technical language. Pictures are great and you can see the cloth and the stitching. Very, very enjoyable and one which I will read again and again. I would personally purchase as an e-book. The author has clearly put in a lot of effort to produce this and he knows his stuff!

Laguna Beach Fogey said...

I'm getting it. Cheers.

Gentleman's Gazette said...

This Guide is truly helpful and I really enjoyed reviewing Sleevehead's Guide to Sicilian Tailors.
I hope there will be more guide of that nature in the future! said...

I am from Malaysia and has been contemplating of visiting Sicily for a Sartoria vacation,I have 1 to 40days of time to spent in Sicily,giving me ample time.Your book is 'The Guide',but I would like to buy have it in the 'paper bag'version,if any from you.


sleevehead said...

Thanks for the interest. A paperback version of the guide is available. If you scroll above the comments section on this page, you'll see two links - one link to the e-book version and another link to the paperback version.