Friday, February 4, 2011
MyTailor was in San Francisco earlier this week and browsing the cloth books to recommend a gabardine and a flannel for a colleague's trousers reminded me that a reader wrote in recently to ask how he might go about learning about cloth. I replied that the best way was to see his tailor often and browse the books, for talking to tailors and feeling cloth with thumb and forefinger are the best ways to learn.
It has always been a little puzzling to me that there does not seem to be a comprehensive non-technical book about cloth for men's clothing. The out of print The Elegant Man: How to Construct the Ideal Wardrobe, by Ricardo Villarosa & Giuliano Angeli (Random House, 1992) devotes as much as a third of its pages to the subject but it is increasingly rare and expensive ($250 for a copy the last I looked). Online, The London Lounge is probably the best English language resource, but it is a forum so the information there is not organized for fast access. Still, there is a lot of material and it definitely rewards browsing.
The purpose of that reading about cloth is to learn about cloth types, weights and their uses. The stack of hundreds of sample books that my first tailor hauled around is overwhelming without context (the books themselves are provided to customers by the mills and are actually quite expensive to produce, which is why retail customers may request individual swatches but are rarely given books of their own). Once a man knows that, for example, 13 ounce/400 gram flannels are the most worn weight for winter currently he can at least begin comparing one mill's stuff with another's and seeing the patterns that are available.
Comparison should begin with the aforementioned thumb and forefinger. Begin with swatches of the same weight and pattern from different mills. They will feel slightly different - flannels from J&J Minnis are stiffer than those from Fox, for example. Ask the tailor which is better and why, and the learning has begun.