What Makes a Savile Row Suit?

In the world of fashion, Savile Row is shorthand for top-of-the-line bespoke suits. However, even some of the world’s best-dressed gentlemen couldn’t tell you exactly what sets these suits apart from the pack. We sent a contributor to get answers from Rory Duffy, a New York-based master tailor based who spent four years working at celebrated Savile Row retailer Henry Poole & Co.

While traditional British suits have several distinguishing traits—close cut, narrow shoulders, high armholes—Duffy says there isn’t a specific Savile Row style. Row suits, he says, are marked mostly by their extremely high quality. It’s not unusual for 60 hours and 6000 hand stitches to go into a single three-piece garment. However, there are several characteristics that make Savile Row’s work distinct.

Heavy Weight

Savile Row suits are typically heavier than Italian or American suits. “They used to say about Savile Row that the suits are like suits of armor, that you can stand them up in the corner,” notes Duffy. “The wool we use is very much lighter now, though it’s still very sturdy. But if the coat is cut correctly, it doesn’t matter how heavy it is, as the weight will hang off the neck and be balanced evenly between the front and the back, so you don’t notice it.”

Custom Cutting

A professional Savile Row tailor cuts to suit the client’s body. “It’s the client’s suit, so you don’t want to superimpose your own style,” says Duffy. “You want to select the look that will best complement him. I’m 6’2, but I have a really broad back. I’m a tailor: I hunch over a lot. So, I cut my own coats to look bigger in the chest and smaller in the back. This makes my body look more proportional.”

Suits That Last

A good Savile Row suit comes with a timeless cut, but it’s also durable enough to withstand the passage of time. “Tailoring is not fashion design,” says Duffy. “We’re not reinventing the wheel every season. Traditionally, a Savile Row suit would be passed down from father to son. When the son came of age, the father would take him to the tailor with his suit and have it altered for him. In fact, I have a tail coat that was made for my grandfather in 1936 that I still wear.”

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