I sent a couple lengths of vintage cloth from J & J Minnis off to my tailor in Naples the other day, and for some reason found myself thinking about the startling distance a bespoke garment can travel between the back of the sheep and the back of the wearer today.
This particular journey began somewhere in the mountains of New Zealand, which is home to esentially all the merino sheep that contribute their wool to the cause. Their shearings travelled about 11,500 miles from Wellington to Yorkshire in the North of England where they were processed and woven. My cloth was made originally for a man in Hong Kong, and so the second stage of the journey involved a distance of about 6,000 miles from England, and it then wended its way a further 7,000 miles to me. I in turn sent the stuff 6,300 miles to Naples to be made up, which will involve another trip to San Francisco for fitting, another visit to Naples for adjustments and a return trip for the finished garment. By my count, the total distance to be travelled is roughly 50,000 miles (more than 80,000 kilometers) or two equatorial circumnavigations of the planet. And we sometimes wonder why suits are as expensive as they are.
None of this would be very practical of course without the jet airplane and plenty of kerosene. A century ago, most suits were tailored using wool from local sheep like the Cheviot that is native to the Scottish borders. If international air travel is ever curtailed due to its affect on the atmosphere that time may come again. Of course said curtailment might also mean that the trip to a man's tailor could involve several weeks for a transcontinental train trip, a liner across the Atlantic and an equally long return. That would definitely put a damper on the whole business.