What’s bespoke? Till recently, I would have said, with some degree of confidence, that it’s something made-to-measure, or on order. Even the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines bespoke as “producing clothes to fit a particular person”. Designer Ashish Soni disagrees. Made-to-measure, being offered by major brands in Mumbai and Delhi, is something designed from an existing block later adjusted to your frame. Nothing wrong with that, of course, only it isn’t bespoke, which is designed to flatter your personality, because it is fully created to meet a specific need. In his words, “There is nothing quite like the feeling of putting on a suit created specially for you, one that has been worked on for hours to perfect every detail so as to achieve an impeccable garment.”
Soni showed off his bespoke credentials with a curated evening at the French ambassador’s residence in the capital recently, where mannequins wore suits in various stages of preparation, taking one through the work that goes into the making of such a suit. But whether bespoke or made-to-measure, there are some things common to every good suit that Soni suggests you look out for.
The cut: “Opt for a simple, well-cut jacket close to the body, slim but not tight.” Wide shoulders, a full chest and an “unabashedly” narrow waist, he points out, has stood the test of time.
The cloth: Never pick anything without “character”. Soni suggests something with silk in the weave, or a discreet self-pattern, even something with a bit of a shine — the Italians love this — and a wardrobe should have at least three basic colours.
Comfort: Slim-fitting or not, a suit is something you wear for an extended length of time, so comfort is critical. He suggests it should feel like “a second skin, not a suit of armour”.
Dress for the weather: Breezy cotton and linen suits are perfect for Indian weather — yes, even winter, but depending on the fabric’s density or “super number” (with a higher number denoting a finer fabric), even wool suits can be worn year-round. Wool doesn’t crease but, personally, I like the crushed elegance of linen.
Check the lapel: Hold it between your fingers and rub the fabric. If you can feel the layers of the fabric rustle, you’re looking at something remarkable. If it’s fused, it’s part of the mass-manufactured industry.
Wear your vent: For a brief while, vents went out of fashion, so suits resembled sacks. Back vents are essential. Whether you choose the American-style central vent, or the European double vent is up to you — or your designer.
Check the sleeve lining: If it is hand-stitched in the inner seam where the arm meets the body, the shoulder will fit more closely.
Sag-free inner pocket: The internal left breast pocket must be set off by strips of external fabric for reinforcing, to take the load of your wallet, glasses, whatever.
Soni points out that nobody is a perfect, off-the-rack size, which is where made-to-measure or bespoke make a difference. At his atelier, there is a stylist and a bespoke manager, personal considerations are taken into account and the head designer offers tips.
Some things, though, are universal. The coat lapel should be cut such that you can wear a shirt collar with or without a tie in a manner where the shirt collar does not jut out awkwardly; too much of a shirt must not be visible. The shirtsleeves must peep out of the jacket sleeve. And a gentleman always wears cufflinks. A double cuff is merely a personal preference. If buying off-the-rack, if the shoulder feels tight instead of snug, opt for the next size. When you button a jacket, it should let you breathe and never buy a jacket with a slim fit if your paunch peeps through.
Oh, and a gentleman always hitches his trousers at the knees when sitting down, to relieve the pressure and ensure that the trousers do not develop a snag. And unbutton your jacket button(s) when sitting down and button them up again when standing up.