BUYING A BESPOKE OVERCOAT
Nowadays many gentlemen are content to buy ready-to-wear overcoats. Indeed, some years ago I was shocked when my tailor at the time – in the very act of taking my measurements – told me that it would really be more sensible to acquire an off-the-peg garment. This sort of defeatism really will not do. Sartorial standards should be maintained even when – perhaps especially when – one is in the open air on a cool day. I therefore offer the following guide, modest and inadequate though it might be, in an attempt to encourage those who are contemplating the purchase of a bespoke overcoat.
SELECTING THE TAILOR
I can personally recommend all those tailors who appear under the ‘Suits’ and ‘Overcoats’ sections of Bown’s Bespoke. If price is an important factor for you, do not hesitate to telephone several establishments to check on current prices, with or without V.A.T. The type of cloth and the style selected will, of course, affect these prices, so comparison should be made on the basis of a particular coat – for example, a double-breasted overcoat in all woollen cloth.
VISITING THE TAILOR
For Savile Row tailors, make an appointment by telephone with a senior cutter. If you already have an overcoat which fits well, wear it for your visit. Also, wear a shirt and jacket with sleeves of the length you prefer. As with all such visits, you should dress smartly – as a courtesy to your tailor and as an indication that you require the very best of him.
It helps if you already have an idea of the sort of cloth and of the stylistic details you require. Taking a written list of these can save time and can avoid those lapses of memory which occasionally afflict us all.
Ideally, a gentleman’s wardrobe should have a minimum of three overcoats – one made from lightweight cloth, one made from medium weight cloth and one made from heavyweight cloth – so that he can dress appropriately for all weather conditions. If you are confining yourself to a single overcoat, the sensible course would be to have one made from a cloth of medium weight. Your tailor will advise you about the weights of the cloths he has available. Most British cloth is woven in Huddersfield from wool. Occasionally, I find something more exotic. The cloth of my red overcoat is a delicious mixture of cashmere and vikuna.
Melton cloth (which has a close-cut nap) of black or dark blue is often used for overcoats. It is warm and serviceable, but its very ubiquity I find off-putting. Of the four overcoats illustrated with this article, only one is of melton cloth – and that is distinguished by its form and unusual colour (dark red). The other coats are made from cloths woven in the herringbone pattern. This is the sort of cloth I would normally choose for a bespoke overcoat.
The colour of the cloth requires careful consideration. You will not wish to wear a brown overcoat with black shoes, nor a black overcoat with brown shoes. If you need your overcoat to be suitable for both black and brown shoes, I would suggest a cloth of medium to light beige (the sort of colour usually used for covert coats) or a cloth of burgundy. My own overcoat of this latter colour (pictured) has proved itself highly versatile in this regard.
SINGLE-BREASTED OR DOUBLE-BREASTED?
Since the purpose of my overcoat is to keep me warm, I incline towards the double-breasted form – sometimes with the classic deeper lapel and one button showing, sometimes with a smaller neck opening and all the buttons working (termed the military style) (see pictures).
However, the single-breasted design can work very well, when it is combined with peaked lapels (as in my red coat).
Double-breasted coats look best when they end well below the knee. The result is a certain grandeur and a hint – even to those not normally interested in sartorial matters – that the coat and the wearer are of some significance. Single-breasted coats cannot easily sustain so great a length, and should end around, or just above, the knee.
The sleeve length is particularly important, as neither the jacket sleeve nor the shirt sleeve should be seen when the overcoat is being worn. This is why it you should wear a shirt and jacket when you go for the initial measuring and for all subsequent fittings.
All the visible buttons should be made of real horn. I like all the front buttons to be visible. You will need to decide whether you want the three or four button arrangement on the front of the coat.
At each cuff there should be four buttons. All these buttonholes should be working. You will need to ask for this, as some tailors prefer to make two working and two sham, and others do not normally put any working cuff buttons on their overcoats.
It is usual to have a single rear vent. Your tailor will discuss its length with you.
You should ask your tailor to ‘waist’ the coat, so that it does not look like the drab, formless garments so beloved of today’s ‘designers’. (He will probably do this automatically, but your request will do no harm.)
It lifts my spirits to see a lining of bright red in my overcoats, but the colour of the lining is a matter of personal preference.
The outside pockets will, of course, have flaps. The inside pockets can be many and various, according to taste. I have breast pockets either side, for gloves and papers. I also have a ‘gamekeeper’s pocket’ in the lower left front of the coat. This is wide and very deep and perfectly accommodates my cashmere scarf.
The left lapel should have a buttonhole, with a securing loop on the underside, to facilitate the wearing of a flower. With peaked lapels, both lapels can have buttonholes, if desired.