The high street is not what it used to be. Unable to cope with online stores undercutting them, many shops have been forced to close, leaving boarded-up, empty shells in their wake. This has been the case for over a decade now. But when it comes to luxury suits, to truly bespoke style, there will always be a market.
Savile Row is the perfect example of this. This street of skilled tailors is where countless generations of Londoners have gone to get fitted for a suit. Over the years, it became the place to find quality, hand-made suits in Europe. And even today, with tailored suits just an eBay purchase away, Savile Row’s exceptional standards and unmatched quality have ensured that it is as strong as it ever was.
Savile Row has been forced to change, though. The quality is still there, there’s no denying that, but the exclusivity has gone, and the prices have been scaled down. In simple terms, one of the world’s most famous and exclusive streets has opened its doors to the wider public. And while that’s bad news for traditionalists, it’s great news for everyone else.
In the Old Liquor’s Guide to Savile Row, we’ll tell you what those changes mean and help you to find your bespoke Savile Row suit.
Bespoke suits: The Changing Face of Savile Row
In 2013 there was a collective gasp of horror on Savile Row as controversial fashion label Abercrombie and Fitch (A&F) moved onto the street. This clothing retailer didn’t quite embody the Savile Row spirit, and the tailors who had resided there for generations had a lot to say about it. But while A&F doesn’t quite offer the type of service that most people associate with this prestigious Mayfair street, it is the perfect embodiment of the change that has taken place there.
Savile Row was once a street dominated by family owned businesses, with sons taking over from fathers and acquiring a business, a skill, and a customer base that had been passed down through generations. But then new businesses moved in, and they brought new ideas with them. Instead of focusing on an entirely bespoke service, offering hard-to-find materials and taking weeks to prepare a suit, they hired extra staff, sourced bulk materials, and took their businesses online. They increased the turnover and profit, creating savings that they were able to pass onto the customer.
As a result, there are different aspects to Savile Row. You can opt for one of the more famous tailors, getting a service that would have been offered to customers over one hundred years ago and perhaps provided by your tailor’s grandfather or great grandfather, or you can opt for a simpler, cheaper service. The experience is very different, but so is the price, and if you’re on a budget it might be the only way you can acquire a Savile Row suit.
The Best Tailors
So, who are the best tailors in Savile Row? Where should you look first and where should you go if money is no object? There’s a reason Savile Row has a reputation for quality, and all tailors on this road are worthy of their trade. However, there are a few that stand out above the others, and these are some of our favorites:
Gieves and Hawkes (1 Savile Row): The first and last stop for many shoppers, Gieves and Hawkes is one of the oldest and most experienced tailors on the street. They have a combined experienced of more than four hundred years and are known for exquisite designs.
Huntsman (11 Savile Row): It has been said that Sir Laurence Olivier was a big fan of this tailor, and they have also created bespoke suits for many other iconic British stars of the past and present.
Hardy Amies (14 Savile Row): The staff at Hardy Amies takes as many as 20 measurements and offers an exceptional and unbeatable fit as a result.
All Savile Row tailors sell off-the-rack, ready-to-wear suits. These are still Savile Row suits, and they are a lot cheaper. But the whole point of Savile Row is to get a bespoke suit; trust us, it’s worth it. Not only can you choose the fabric and the cut (with advice from your tailor), but you’ll also get a set that is made to measure, a suit that perfectly complements your physique.
Don’t worry about putting on or losing weight either, as these suits can be altered. A bespoke Savile Row suit is made to last a lifetime, and many customers will get it adjusted to match their shape throughout their lifetime.
You’ll need to wait between two and twenty weeks on average for your bespoke suit to be ready (the waiting time depends on the order and the tailor), but it’s worth it.
Understand Your Budget
If you are on a budget, then shop around. You can typically purchase a bespoke suit from just £3,000 onwards at one of the bigger and more prestigious tailors. This is enough for a basic woolen, two-piece suit. But “basic” by Savile Row standards is exceptional by many others.
If this is still too much, then try one of the newer tailors, and you may be able to reduce this price by as much as 50 percent. If you’re not willing to pay the premium for a bespoke suit, you can get a ready-to-wear suit for as little as £700 from most of the street’s tailors.
You may also be able to get an extra discount, or some optional extras, by haggling. Most customers won’t haggle, as Britain is not really a haggling nation. But these tailors deal with clients from all over the world, and it’s something they will have encountered before.
Choosing Your Fabric
The fabric is perhaps the most important decision you will make once you have chosen your tailor. Your tailor will help you to choose the best fabric depending on what style of suit you want, but here are a few pointers to help:
Wool: This material is often thought of as an uncomfortable, eternally shrinking material that is heavy and hot. But there are many varieties of wool. This fabric is versatile and works regardless of the season or the occasion.
Cashmere: A type of wool, cashmere is considered to be incredibly luxurious. But it can also make a suit appear shiny, which isn’t always the desired look. A blend may be more suitable if you want that luxury without the shine.
Cotton: Soft, comfortable, and versatile, cotton has many uses and is second only to wool as the most common suit fabric.
Silk: Expensive, soft, and luxurious, silk feels great against the skin and can’t be beaten for comfort. It is also breathable, and when used properly it can even help the body to retain heat. However, it has a noticeably different aesthetic that may not be suited for the office or black-tie events.
Linen: An incredibly lightweight material, linen is cool, comfortable, and also relatively cheap. However, it wrinkles easily, more so than any other material, and it’s difficult to maintain. If you’re prepared to get it regularly dry-cleaned and ironed, and you look after it while wearing it, then it could be a good, low-cost option.
Velvet: A combination of silk, cotton, and nylon, velvet is often used for smoking jackets and dinner party jackets. It is not as breathable as silk, nor is it as luxurious, but it still has a certain quality feel and look.
Tweed: The classic Savile Row material, tweed is an acquired taste, but it’s ideal if you want the English gentleman aesthetic. However, it’s also one of the more expensive fabrics.
PHOTO CREDIT: Andy Barnham