Questions for a Bespoke Expert

James T. Murray

Vital questions for the sartorially inclined.

The Two- vs. Three-Button Debate

Ah, the great jacket debate! Let me run down the most commonly argued topics. First, two or three buttons: The style right now is two-button, but I think a three-button version is more in proportion. The balance of the garment is just more handsome. You don’t button the top one, and it hits the waist beautifully. A two-button garment certainly can do so as well, but I think proportionally a jacket is more elegant with a three-button front.

Now we come to double- versus single-breasted: I like both. I might recommend double-breasted, only because it settles the whole argument about two buttons or three buttons on a single-breasted jacket.

Jacket pockets: slanted or straight? Both are stylistically viable. I like a slanted pocket because it creates a bit more tension. It also brings up a little more of an issue for the bespoke tailor because he has to match the pattern, and that’s a hallmark of a truly beautiful handmade garment. But too much tension isn’t good. For example, a flat-bottom vest shouldn’t have a slanted pocket on it because that creates uncomfortable tension with the horizon, which is the bottom of the vest. The real mark of a casual jacket is a patch pocket outside the garment.

Can I send my custom shirts to the dry cleaner?

Shirts should be laundered, not dry-cleaned. The Upper East Side’s Hallak (1232 Second Ave.; 212-832-0750) is one of the best cleaners I’ve come across. For what it’s worth, Grand Hotel in Milan also does a great shirt. But the truth is, at home I use Tide! I gentle cycle in the machine, washing whites in warm water and colors in cold water—I never put them in the dryer. As for suits, most good bespoke tailors will clean the suit for as long as you own it (dry-cleaning breaks down the fabric). Instead, you should spot-clean it: Sponge it, then brush it with boar’s-bristle brushes by Kent (from $15; kentbrushes.com) every time you wear it. The real monster is pressing. A bespoke garment is three-dimensional. To press a suit flat is criminal. Tailors may charge you for it, but it actually takes two hours to properly press a suit, and it’s worth it.

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Once you go bespoke, should everything be bespoke?

I don’t think so. If you have to decide between a custom suit or custom shirts, go for the suit. It’s much easier to get a well-fitting off-the-rack shirt. I like an Italian line called Truzzi (from $285; truzzimilano.it).

As for ties, only a man four or seven feet tall needs a custom tie; for every other man, an off-the-shelf one works just fine. But you’ll want it to be beautifully made, with exquisite silk, like the ones at Massimo Bizzocchi (from $150; massbizz.com).

Shoes, however, are a completely different story: Once you have worn bespoke footwear, it’s hard to go back because, God, there’s nothing like a pair of shoes that are built to really fit your own feet. J. M. Weston, a French maker, does an extraordinary shoe (from $675; 114 Av. des Champs-Elysées, Paris; jmweston.com). In New York I think Berluti (from $5,700; 971 Madison Ave.; 212-439-6400; berluti.com) is one of your best gets. There is also a young duo called Gaziano & Girling, who show up in New York several times a year to make custom shoes (from $3,700). To schedule an appointment, call 44-15/3651-1022 or go to gazianogirling.com.

Is it me, or do Italian men just look better in pants?

Of course that depends on the man. If the assumption is that Italian men are slimmer, I think that’s a misconception. I think anyone in a well-tailored garment looks good in it. It’s about the proportion.

Italians like a lower-rise trouser. And the argument I would make is that a lower rise—a lower waistband—is not more flattering. And I think that’s universally true and doesn’t depend on body type. I like a higher-waisted trouser, especially on suits. I don’t like to show a little bit of shirt between the closure of my jacket and the top of my pants. Picture Clark Gable or Cary Grant, the arbiters of style. The style of the moment emphasizes a trouser that is well below the natural waist. A trouser at the natural waist—a much higher rise—makes your legs look longer; it suggests height. And fuller pants always look more handsome and more appropriate than a very narrow pair. The fabric, if it’s beautiful, should have a little movement to it.

Note to Reader: In the interest of true service journalism, we thought it imperative to offer another opinion on this hotly debated topic. After visiting Italy, one man we know immediately took all his pants to a New York tailor known as Mr. Ros (987 Lexington Ave.; 212-472-0533) to be tapered and fit in the Italianate style. And, um, we like it.

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