Month: October 2014

Pocket Squares on a Budget

I like pocket squares. I think a nicely folded pocket square can add a nice touch to a work suit in a rather dandified fashion. The problem is they’re often difficult to find and some of the squares with nicer patterns, such as those from Henry Carter, Sam Hober or Luxire tend to be priced out of my little league budget.

Of course, there are budget alternatives like just folding a regular white cotton handkerchief in your pocket. There’s also alot of ebay dealers who mass-sell polyester squares for weddings. I personally avoid them because while cheap, the fabric looks rather nasty and they don’t hold creases very well. Nothing like having a wad of polyester lumping out the bottom of your pocket like a misshapen manboob.

I’ve seen a few from thetiebar which have rather interesting designs and at $10-15 USD a pop, they’re certainly affordable and don’t break the budget.

However, I’ve recently found an ebay seller who stocks a wide range of cheap pocket squares and at around $3 per square, they really have no business being this cheap. There’s alot of interesting paisley, stripe and dot designs and I was pretty keen to try them out. Hell, for less than a price of a coffee and free shipping, there was little harm in buying a few and if they didn’t arrive, I’d just go through the arduous process of filing a paypal dispute.

Pocket Squares

I ended up buying three paisley squares in a cotton-blend fabric. I like some small paisleys and they complemented some ties that I had. While the shipping took a while, I was impressed by the quality at the price. These squares aren’t the fancy grenadine or Macclesfield ones you buy from accessory stores but damn, they certainly don’t look like the cheap squares that come with matching ties from wedding sets pushed by alot of ebay vendors and they can hold a fold quite well.

For less than the price of lunch, I managed to score some bargain pocket squares and look awesome doing so. Granted, they took a month to arrive but damn, there’s few complaints there.

They can be found in the ebay store of the user known as “Goodmakers”. He (she?) sure made some good there.

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Shanghai C&G Review

SHANGHAI C&G FASHION

One of the things about working in a law firm is that I ended up with quite a few suits, some of which are better fitting than others. I’ve found as I worn through several of my earlier suits, I started to get a better understanding and appreciation for what makes a good suit. Some tailors offer a suit for an affordable price and a reasonable fabric but with poor construction. Others offer suits with good construction, a tailored fit but poor fabric. It’s very rarely that I find a good tailor that can nail a suit with a good fit, a recognised fabric and amazing hand-stitched construction all for a very reasonable price. Shanghai C&G is one of those tailors.

I was first introduced to Shanghai C&G by a friend from Styleforum. Previously, I had bought a number of suits from a range of online and travelling tailors with a presence in Australia with mixed results. However, what I was looking for at the time was a tailor who could work with a length of suiting fabric that I had ordered from Huddersfield during one of their weekly mill specials and who could deliver a three piece suit for under $400. I was pleasantly surprised by the result of my first commission from them and I have since commissioned two more.

WEBSITE

Shanghai C&G are based in Shanghai and they make suits for a number of Australian and US-based made to measure operations. While English is not their first language, they are quite responsive to my email enquiries and I was able to arrange my order over the internet using measurements from some existing suits that I already had in my wardrobe. I also understand they can do in-person fittings if you visit their workshop at Zhoukang Road, Pudong, Shanghai. The online sales is run by a lady named Amy Yang, who is very knowledgeable about the product.

As I alluded to in my review for another online tailor, having a good set of measurements with notes about your body is the key to getting a well-fitting suit from the internet. Things like a lower shoulder, posture, the roll of your shoulders could drastically affect the fit of your suit even though the measurements are the same. While local tailors like P Johnson’s Suitshop deals with this problem by offering a local alteration service after receiving your suit, the services of a local fitter and alteration comes at a price. I strongly recommend anyone ordering to get professionally measured.

Conveniently, there’s a measuring guide on their site and in that respect, they’re very similar to many other online tailors. Do the measurements a couple of times at least, to make sure they’re correct and go to an experienced tailor to comment on the adjustments that need to be made for your body. I find it’s useful to get the measurements from a well-fitting garment to avoid errors, or even send in an existing suit for them to copy.

However, as you’re dealing with the tailors directly, they don’t offer the same level of after sales service you might expect if you go to somewhere like Indochino, Black Lapel, Dragon Inside or Elite Suits. There’s alot of competitors these days. It’s important to note you’ll probably be paying half the price of what you might be paying from those guys for an equivalent product and this is very much a different type of experience in made to measure tailoring where you avoid the glossy marketing. I’m actually quite hesitant to recommend them if you haven’t bought a suit online before because the potential for mistakes is still there, However, the product that C&G produces is better than most.

Not the greatest webpage in the world but it does give you an idea of what they're capable of doing. All orders are arranged by email or in person.

Not the greatest webpage in the world but it does give you an idea of what they’re capable of doing. All orders are arranged by email or in person.

I found the best way to communicate what I wanted to Amy was by sending in photos of what I wanted and being specific on the choice of linings and buttons. They offer a wide range of bemberg and silk linings, as well as horn and pearl buttons. This gives you a lot of options in making what you want. While some of the images on their website are rather questionable, it goes to show what they’re capable of making.

… Kudos to whoever ordered this, but safe to say, it’s probably not for a regular 9-5 office job. Or maybe it is.

I understand they offer a range of tailoring options, with their machine-stitched half canvas being the cheapest, and their hand stitched full canvas being their most expensive. Their cheapest machine made half canvas suits, made from a generic Chinese-milled wool starts around $150, and their hand-stitched full canvas options start around $300. Generally, shipping to Australia costs another $50 or so and the better fabric are more expensive.

THE SPECS

The first suit I ordered from Shanghai C&G was a grey check three piece, with the fabric ordered from Huddersfield during one of their weekly specials. At 25 GBP a metre, I needed about 4 metres to make my three piece suit. I submitted my measurements through the order forms and paid for the order with paypal, incurring a 0.4% surcharge. At the time, the AUD – USD – GBP exchange rate was moderately favourable and my 3 piece suit (including the cost of the fabric) came to around $600 in total, including shipping. This made it a far cheaper option than going to a ready to wear place like MJ Bale or Suitsupply and the suit was fully hand stitched with a full canvas, instead of a machine made half canvas.

I note the Suitsupply La Spalla, a machine made, off the rack full canvas suit in a similar fabric retails for around $1,000.00 which puts the value of the hand stitched, made to measure suits from C&G into perspective.

CMT1

Went from this…

Trousers in construction

A curtained lining in the trousers with a split waistband and braces buttons.

Jacket lining detail

Jacket lining detail

Jacket after completion

Jacket after completion

I ordered horn buttons a bemberg lining for a softer feel and I requested 3.5 inch lapels with a functioning boutonniere. I also asked for a split waistband, suspender buttons on the trousers and  horn buttons. Prior to receiving the suit, I had requested Amy to send over some pictures of the work in progress so I could confirm the details for myself. Safe to say, they did not disappoint.

A suit made of this material and with this level of construction could have easily costed over a grand at any other tailor. The Huddersfield fabric is a light super 120s 230gs/m that breathes well and doesn’t hold any creases. It was perfect for a Sydney summer and I was pleasantly surprised they managed to get it right the first try.

THE FIT

CMT Detail

Fit

Fit picture

CMT3

The suit far exceeded my expectations and while there was only a minor sleeve pitch issue which I got fixed at M&R Tailoring for around $90, it was nearly perfect and could have been comparable to a bespoke garment. The fit silhouetted my figure nicely but wasn’t too tight anywhere and gave me plenty of room to move around. The stitching was clean and had all the character of a hand stitched suit with details.

The shoulder pads are soft but also structured and you can feel the substance and layering in the construction, unlike some cheaper tailors. The lining for the trousers are made from a durable cotton, and they are curtained so keys and other sharp objects won’t puncture the pockets.

With subsequent suits from C&G, I was able to refine the fit even further but I was pleasantly surprised and impressed by their first attempt at getting the suit right.

Mohair suit still in basting stage.

Mohair suit still in basting stage.

Mohair

Midnight blue mohair suit from C&G, with a length of fabric from Ebay

A double breasted suit I ordered from Shanghai C&G Fashion

Double breasted suit I ordered from Shanghai C&G with the Huddersfield Wool.

THE VERDICT

If you have a specific commission in mind, know your measurements and are patient enough to deal with tailors whose first language isn’t English, I have yet to find another tailor than Shanghai C&G that can do a better job at the same price. The construction, fabric choices and fit comes out far better than any local options and the pricing is very competitive, even in light of the recent hikes. Their cheaper suit options exceed the quality of anything else around that price range and I would not be surprised if more expensive local tailors actually send their jobs to them.

With any online tailor, fit can be improved with subsequent orders and I’ve found C&G are very accommodating in that regard by offering feedback on how to improve the fit. Their willingness to work with CMT (cut, measure, trim. Essentially, providing your own fabric) is remarkably useful when you can find cheap specials in suiting fabric. However, their own fabric options are quite extensive and they can send you scans if you’re looking for, say, a specific pinstripe or check of a specific colour.

Just don’t order the fluro pink leopard print suit and I think you should be fine.

PROS

*Great value, great fit. Probably the best price:quality ratio online made to measure tailor I’ve found. 

*Great fabric options, a wide range to suit every budget.

*Horn buttons available at no extra.

*They accept CMT orders

*Can customise anything and everything. 

CONS

*English not first language

*Ordering can be a confusing process if you don’t know what you want. 

*You need accurate measurements, or failing that, make a visit to China for a fitting

*You need to know what you want. Not beginner friendly and no remake policy. 

*Only accept USD and payment systems are not elegant. Kinda hurts when the AUD is falling in value…

Shanghai C&G can be found at http://greatclothes.cn/

Suit shopping, (part 1)

After posting a review of a suit I purchased from an online tailor a few days ago, I’ve been asked by a few people about the differences between going to an online tailor and entering your own measurements or buying from a custom suit store and getting measured in person. I thought it would be worthwhile to put down the kind of things I’m looking for when choosing a tailor and it might inform you when choosing a place to buy tailored clothing like suits and shirts for work and social functions.

This is the first of a series of posts I intend to be making. I have no idea how long it will go for but hopefully, you’ll find it somewhat more entertaining than watching a suited asian man ranting about it in a bar over a couple of beers.

FROM OFF THE RACK TO CUSTOM

I think it’s a bit of an upgrade for alot of people when they make the move from ready to wear clothing to something that’s personally tailored. It was very exciting to customise the features of my own suit.  I remember buying my first custom made suit around 2012, when I was in the early stages of a corporate career and wanted something specific that wasn’t available within my limited student budget.

However just because a garment is custom made to measurements doesn’t necessarily mean that it’ll fit better than something that’s ready to wear. The rationale behind ready to wear clothing is that it’s mass-produced to fit a number of pre-determined body sizes and shapes. Different brands target different demographics but generally speaking, alot of the more cheaper brands have a one-size-fits-all approach. It kinda sucks if you’re 1.83 metres tall like me with cyclist thighs and long arms and I imagine it’s worse for people who don’t fit the body shapes that off the rack brands design for.

That said, just because something is ready to wear doesn’t mean it’s strictly inferior to something that’s made to measure.  A well fitting suit from Suitsupply, MJ Bale, Herringbone or Brioni for instance, is probably going to be significantly better than an overnight custom suit you picked up for $50 at a fabric market in Bangkok or Bali. The different suit brands have varying grades of quality that goes into the production and if an MJ Bale or Suitsupply suit fits you well with little tailoring needed, there is little reason to buy a custom suit unless you’re either looking for something specific that’s not available at your budget or you’re looking to upgrade. One of my favourite suits was a vintage three piece Zegna from the 1970s with in flannel ropestripe pattern that I picked up from Ebay for $200 and it needed minimal tailoring to get right.

By the same token, there are significant variations between different tailors, both online and offline. There are variations in fits, cuts, construction and materials. Most made to measure tailors have a pre-made pattern and cut that they adjust to fit your measurements. Other tailors cut a new pattern based on your measurements and body type. With a good local tailor, they can make further adjustments in the cut and fit before finishing so the suit has a better fit for your body. It’s a combination of each of those factors, as well as the tailor’s margin, that adds up to the price of a suit.

THE CUT

The cut of a suit refers to the outline it forms around your body and is formed by the way the shoulders are constructed, how the jacket hangs over your chest, the buttoning stance, the shape of the lapels and the how the trousers hang from your hips. For instance, I’ve attached pictures of two double breasted suits I’ve commissioned, both from two different tailors.

Although they are both full canvassed six button double breasted suits, there are some differences in the cut. The charcoal grey suit was from Shanghai C&G Tailoring and it had 4 inch peak lapels, heavily roped shoulders and a more suppressed waist. The blue suit was from the hand-made range by Elite Suits and had 5 inch lapels and a slightly lower buttoning stance, as well as larger pocket flaps to emulate a Tom Ford aesthetic. The two suits have a very different aesthetic, even though the specifications are largely the same.

The different cuts complement the various body shapes and although my suit wardrobe has a wide variety of suits all in different cuts, there are some tailoring principles that generally guide what cut is most appropriate for what body shape. For instance, Alan Flusser, in his book ” Dressing the Man: Mastering the Art of Permanent Fashion” recommends, among other things, a lower buttoning stance for shorter men to accentuate the length of the chest. It’s a pretty interesting read and it certainly helps you develop an appreciation of the different elements that goes into a suit.

CONSTRUCTION

With the growth of online tailoring and the more market-savvy consumer, alot of online tailors now advertise that their suits are canvassed or have a “floating chest piece”. Essentially, what they’re referring to is a layer between the outside fabric of the jacket and the smooth lining that is intended to give shape to the chest and allow it to mould to the wearer’s shape over time. Of course, not all jackets have a canvas or need one. Summer linen jackets for instance, are often unlined and unstructured, which lends it a very casual look. However, in tailored work clothing, the presence of a full or half canvas is often indicative of better construction.

A diagram from a tailoring manual that shows the different forms of canvassing.

A diagram from a tailoring manual that shows the different forms of canvassing.

There are three main types of canvas. Full canvas, half canvas and fused.

The full canvas involves having the layer of horsehair running through the jacket. It is often sewn into the body of the suit, without any fusing. This was the way traditional suits are done and it commands a premium over the half canvassed construction. When done properly, the canvas also extend to the lapel, giving it a very nice and characteristic “roll” if left unpressed. The benefit of this technique is that the suit does not “bubble” when sent to the dry cleaner and with proper care, the jacket can last a very long time.

The half canvas method has grown increasingly popular with the increased awareness of menswear by the consumer and many ready to wear stores like MJ Bale, TM Lewin, Herringbone, Rhodes & Beckett and Suitsupply have started to advertise their suits are constructed in this method. With this construction, the canvas only extends to the chest and the lower half of the jacket is either fused or unstructured. There is nothing inherently wrong with this method of construction and it is less time consuming to produce these kinds of suits as they can be done on a machine. Even the made-to-measure suits from P Johnson’s “Suit Shop” are made this way.

Fused suits do not have any canvas in them at all and they are glued together, often in a mass produced factory line belt. That black polyester bag you wore to your year 12 formal? Fused. That wool-blend special you picked up from Van Heusen for $150? The cheap fabric market suit from Thailand? Fused. They’re cheap to make and alot of big fashion labels are guilty of this practice to fatten their margins. Z Zegna and Hugo Boss are both culprits. Even alot of the made to measure places do this. There’s a big stigma about fused suits and justifiably so as the glue could degrade with time and dry cleaning, leading the suit jacket to “bubble”, which ruins the look of the whole outfit. Although the fusing technology has arguably improved in recent times, the affordability of a nice half-canvassed suit makes fused options a false economy and a poor value proposition.

Canvas alone however, should not be determinative of the overall quality of construction. There are other factors you need to consider such as the cleanliness of the stitching, the quality of materials and trimmings, and the details. I’ve seen full canvas suits with horrible stitching, poorly made pockets and low quality materials that tear after the first couple of wears, and I’ve also had half-canvas suits with decent bemberg linings, clean stitching and quality horn buttons. Hopefully, I can illustrate this example in further posts.

I’ll finish this post with an image I found off google, which I think would be useful. The creator of the graphic, Tanya Wlodarczyk, has a number of other pretty nifty  infographs on her blog.

I’ll continue this article over the next couple of weeks by elaborating the differences between online/offline tailors and going on about the overall fit of suits. 

Matthew Aperry Review

Anyone who’s known me for a while will know that I like nice things but don’t like to pay big money. That’s the reality when starting off a new career without much cash to spare. Fortunately, I have amassed a small collection of suits over the years and I was very interested in trying out a deal that came up one weekend from a site called Matthew Aperry.

ONLINE TAILORS

I ordered a number of suits from the internet tailors over the past three years, mostly from workshops based in South East Asia. Matthew Aperry is just one of the many companies that have emerged over the last three or four years that promise tailored clothing like suits, shirts and trousers over the internet. Back around 2010, places like Indochino were doing a lot of business selling custom Chinese-made suits over the internet. There’s a lot more competition now from places like Black Lapel, Elite Suits, Institchu and Dragon Inside and they operate on a similar premise of sending in measurements, and then receiving a suit a few weeks later in the mail.

Matthew Aperry is one of the newer companies and they are one of the more affordable options in online tailoring. They’re a company with an office based in Shanghai but the suits are made in a factory in Suzhou. I’ve previously ordered some suits before and while there were some issues with the fit and ordering process, their staff were very accommodating when assisting me with my options. The sub $300 – 400 USD price range for many of their suits also makes them a very attractive option, especially in light of price rises from many of their competitors in recent years and the falling AUD.

From my experience though, online tailoring isn’t for everyone. It’s easy to get things disastrously wrong and there’s a whole thread of tailoring disasters on Styleforum. These problems are compounded when the tailors making the suit interpret the measurements differently from whoever’s doing the measuring and there’s no easy way of trying on the garment before it’s shipped across the world.

There’s also a plethora of information that cannot be easily communicated by measurements alone, like sleeve pitch, dropped shoulders and posture that can cause problems with fit. In that regard, Matthew Aperry is no worse than its competitors in offering a small alteration credit and a remake if the tailors deem it unalterable. However, it’s interesting that they don’t remake if the measurements you provide are incorrect, which means anyone ordering should get their measurements checked in triplicate before sending it. This is the common pitfall from purchasing from an online tailor rather than say, a brick and mortar store like MJ Bale or a ready to wear vendor like Charles Tyrwhitt.

THE SPECS

The differences in prices between online tailors often comes down to the fabric, construction, fit and after sales service. Often, construction and fabric are compromised for a lower price. Wanting to test out the capabilities of Matthew Aperry, I requested wider lapels, a split waistband, side tabs instead of belt loops and a full canvassed construction where the canvas extends to the lapels, creating a nice “roll”. I also ordered a double breasted waistcoat in the same fabric, with shawl lapels. I note these options aren’t standard on either their main webpage or their aliexpress and I sent instructions and requests over email to Charlene with pictures and accompanying diagrams. I paid under $300 USD for the entire order and I could’ve easily paid three times that amount if I went somewhere else.

I opted to use their order form instead of mucking around on their website, which I think is not very good in detailing options available.

A standard order form, like many other online tailors.

A standard order form, like many other online tailors.

I selected a bright blue superfine wool from one of their books with a blue paisley lining and brown resin buttons. There are a lot of fabric options which don’t appear on their webpage. The good thing about these guys is their willingness to send out fabric swatches and samples to their customers. This is something that not many online tailors offer and there are significant advantages in having a chance to feel the fabric before ordering. The fabric is not comparable to those from named UK mills but they are excellent for the price and indeed better than the cheap wool or poly-wool blends from ready to wear stores. In my experience, they make great beater suits and don’t break the bank.

Some of the fabric choices they were happy to email me. They have three books of suiting fabrics to choose from.

Some of the fabric choices they were happy to email me. They have three books of suiting fabrics to choose from.

THE FIT

The suit arrived in a cardboard box, delivered to my office.

The suit arrived in a cardboard box, delivered to my office.

The suit arrived in a cardboard box with a wire hanger, nicely folded. I placed the order on the 20th of September and by the 8th of October, it had already arrived at my office. This is much faster than some of the competitor companies, which may take up to four weeks to fulfil their orders. I ordered a waistcoat with the suit but it appears they decided to send it separately.

Suit fit

Suit fit

The jacket was cut a little too wide in the chest and shoulders. The sleeves are slightly too long by about a centimetre, despite my instructions to the tailors. However, the trousers fit excellently and I am very pleased with the cut, which is better than some trousers I’ve paid two or three times the price for.

I believe the jacket will need a little work on future orders. I would have liked the shoulders to be about 1cm smaller on each side and the chest to be about 2cm smaller. The sleeves could have also been shortened by an extra 1cm.

A split V at the back of the trousers

A split V at the back of the trousers

It’s nice to see some of the details which I requested from the tailors. Again, these options are not available on the standard order form and I had to ask for them specifically. However, I was able to customise my lapels to 3.5 inches, request a lower buttoning point and ask for a split at the back of the trousers. The detailing is done very nicely.

The stitching behind the padded lapel. The padded lapel is not a standard option and needs to be arranged separately via email.

The stitching behind the padded lapel. The padded lapel is not a standard option and needs to be arranged separately via email.

Pick stiching on pocket

Pick stitching on pockets. I requested them to be slightly larger than usual.

Kissing buttons

Kissing buttons on the sleeves. Unfortunately, the cloth was too fine for the buttons to line up properly. The stitching is slightly messy but I cannot complain too much for the price.

image

Piping detail around the pockets

The lining is made of a polyester fabric rather than a more expensive bemberg or silk which may “breathe” better but such features are often only found on suits twice the price. The wool is soft, light and ideal for an Australian summer. For under $300 USD, the fabrics that Aperry offer are an excellent value proposition.

THE VERDICT

Not for everyone, there are language barriers and potential for confusion if order is wrong. The fabric and construction is good value for the price and exceeds anything else for the price. Nobody is going to be upset if I spilled wine or steak sauce on the trousers at lunch.

While the fabric isn’t anything amazing and the fit could do with some refinement, the suit itself is very good for the price as long as you are specific with your requests and are able to communicate it to the tailors. It is always difficult to get everything right on the first try but the people at Matthew Aperry seem to work very hard to deliver a satisfactory product within a low budget and with remarkable turnaround time.

Make no mistake, this is not going to be a bespoke suit and it’s no substitute for getting measured in person by an experienced tailor and having something made specifically for you with multiple fittings. However, it occupies its own position in the hierarchy of online made to measure clothing and it certainly holds its own against competitors who charge double or triple the price for a similar or inferior quality product. Especially in Sydney where there are far and few tailoring options for cash-strapped students, graduates or people who just don’t have all that much money to spend on a suit, places like Matthew Aperry can be a good option assuming you get properly measured and you spend a little on post-delivery tailoring.

For under $300 bucks, I really find it difficult to fault this company.

They can be found at http://www.matthewaperry.com/

PS: I’ll review the waistcoat when I receive it. And no, I did not receive a free suit from this. Not at all.