by David Allan-Petale
The phrase ‘why not?’ was uttered a lot as I attempted to justify my purchase of a bespoke suit for my wedding earlier this year. It became a sort of mantra, repeated over and over as I defended this very expensive purchase to my bride-to-be and most importantly to myself. Why not? I’ll tell you.
As far as I’m concerned, most suits look the same. A jacket and trousers in various shades of block colour teamed with a tie and a shirt. Choosing one for my wedding was a tough ask. I didn’t want to look like a businessman or a boozed up city boy going for a day at the races. I wanted something really special for the big day. Something quintessentially British.
Two words sprang to mind. Savile Row. It is the legendary address of bespoke tailors in central London who have dressed kings, movie stars and the titans of business for over a century.
Savile Row is a quiet street just near Green Park where every window displays mannequin torsos wearing immaculately tailored jackets and shirts. I enquired at several establishments but settled on H. Huntsman and Sons. It specialises in a hunting style of clothing, and is famed for its single breasted suit jackets that have a distinctive one button shape. In the store there is a ledger that has a list of all the sizes of every well-known person who has had something made there. Even Queen Victoria made the cut. Outwardly the row is very posh but the people who run the shops are quite down to earth. They are artisans, highly trained and experienced specialists plying a very rare trade. I did not hesitate to book my first fitting.
A few weeks later I came back with my bride-to-be and met the man who would be the suit’s cutter, David Ward. David was the one to take all my measurements and hand-cut the sections of the suit from the cloth. He helped us choose a colour, a beautiful dark grey contrasted with a deep purple lining on the inside of the jacket, which matched the bridesmaids’ dresses. Once that was settled, the measuring tape came out and I was led into a small room at the side of the main shop floor. They measured everything! I learned my left arm is longer than my right and was asked an unusual question…’what side do you dress on?’ This means which way your privates hang. Even that affects how the suit fits, apparently. (Thankfully I was warned about this question by my father-in-law beforehand!)
In short, I ordered a single breasted, one button English cut jacket with two finger notched lapels, double vents and jetted pockets with a pair of pleated trousers held up with buckles (no belt loops, that sort of thing is frowned upon!).
A fortnight later I came back for a second fitting and tried on a roughly stitched together jacket. It fit as well as an off the peg version but David Ward frowned and marked several adjustments with a piece of chalk. A few weeks after that, I returned to try on the now completed jacket and trousers. They fit so well I could barely feel them. Looking in the mirror I felt transformed, but even then the suit still needed a few slight adjustments. A couple of nervous weeks later I returned and tried it on again. A perfect fit. I settled my bill and walked off into the London night, holding onto my new suit in its distinctive red bag with all my life.
The day of the wedding dawned hot and bright in Australia a month later and I slipped on my suit with glee. One of the tailors had told me a good suit can act like armour, making you stand taller. It certainly did. Carmen walked down the aisle, looked at me and beamed. In the words of the Dad from the great Australian movie The Castle, ‘it just paid for itself.’ Even if that price was four times’ the bride’s dress…