In this post you’ll find a unique view into true tailoring tradition; fitting. I’ll guide you step to step through the various stages of making a bespoke garment.
So today I conducted a first fitting with a client. The customer is a kitesurfer and a student. He has an extremely developed chest, developed blades, and a chest-waist drop of over 20 cm. He also broke his collarbone (or clavicle) at some point in his life, which resulted in a slightly different shoulder on the right as opposed to the left.
His right shoulder is 2cm lower than his left shoulder, for which I’ve accounted in the fitting. The way I do this is to adjust the shoulder slope by 2cm, and then deepening the scye by another 2 cm as to compensate for the reduced girth of the armscye.
Working with a fitting garment gives you lots of control and freedom of where you want the garment to go; you can leave a lot over to eventual evaluation during the fitting; this allows you to try more extreme approaches to certain fitting problems, which if you’d finish the garment right away would only result in a badly fitting garment.
Experienced made to measure customers know that it takes up to three shirts to get the fit perfect. It’s one of the main reasons why bespoke is better; the first shirt is perfect right from the word go. I invite customers over for either one or two fittings, depending on the results of the first fitting and the difficulty level of the body.
Let’s start off with a little explanation of how patterns are drafted. First of all, all pattern systems are proportional systems, and therefore rely on complex calculations to find different measures. The “proportianal” factor in this system is that if you have a regular person, with a 100cm chest measurement, in the majority of the cases his “back” is 2/10th of the total chest measurement minus 1 cm and then + a number between 1,5 to 4 cm. This last added value is called “ease”. Ease is added to enable you to move and breathe. If we would not add extra cloth around your body you’d have to be rigid and not move in order for it to fit. We leave it to the customer’s discretion of how he wants his shirt to fit, and then adjust the added value accordingly (less ease is tighter). So in the example of a 100cm chest measurement, his back would be 2/10th of 100 cm = 20 – 1 + 2 = 21 cm. His Scye Diameter would be 1/10 of 100 cm = 10 + 2 cm + 4.5 = 16.5. And finally his chest 2/10th of 100 cm = 20 – 1 + 1 = 20.
Remembering this, when we draft a pattern we can then define exactly where we want the back to end, scye to start, and chest to start (we draft from back to front).
A problem arises when we have people that have unproportional bodies. The customer in this case has, as said before, an extremely developed chest (kitesurfer). This causes his chest to be proportionally larger then other parts of his body when looked from the side.
So let’s start with the chest. The chestline in a pattern (defined with blue pen on the shirt), starts at the line where a proportional body’s armscye would end (ie how deep the scye is/how big the armhole is). As seen from the photo, the actual chest is much lower in this case. The cloth beneath the chestline (shirt) therefore wants to move over the biggest part of the chest, i.e. it wants to crawl up. This results in diagonal draglines originating from the chest and displayed by the chestline(shirt) angling up.
Solution; and this is where most people in the made-to-measure industry go wrong, we add 1,5 cm at CENTER-FRONT, not at the side-seam. Why? because the side-seam is perfect. The diagonal draglines and tightness are caused by an overdeveloped chest, rather than a wrong total chest-measurement in the shirt. Adding 1,5 cm at CF will enable the cloth to have enough room to get over his chest, therefore relaxing the rest of the front. If we however would’ve added this 1.5 cm to the total circumference, the problem would have persisted because the root of the problem was not fixed.
In tailoring you should always check and see where the problem originates from.
Next up. The shoulders! In the fitting shirt I have successfully adjusted the shoulder slope on both shoulders (the garment itself is crooked just as the body is). The shoulder slope is 2 cm higher on the left side of the cloth than the right side. To compensate for the 4 cm lost in this process in total scye girth, the scye is dropped accordingly by 2 cm which adds 4 cm of total scye girth in the process.
As said, this customer has a right shoulder that is over 2 cm lower than his left shoulder. If you look at this photo you can easily see how crooked the customer is. However, on the higher shoulder (left) some drag lines still occur from the shoulder slope being not entirely correct. We will adjust this by having the left shoulder be 0.5 cm lower in the final pattern. In the fitting I will lift the shoulder seam until the drag lines disappear and then measure how much lower the shoulder slope should be.
Next up is the waist. The waist is just about perfect and you can see how much shape there is to the side-seam. Because we will add 1.5 cm on both sides of the CF, the waist will get a little wider as well but the shape in the seam is still there. Because the customer also has a very, very hollow back we will also add some darts which will compensate for the added width around the waist as well as giving more shape to the back panel.
Then next up is the sleeves. Unproportional as the customer is, both of his arms are different. Evidence of that can be found in how the sleeve fits. First thing we see when fitting is the diagonal draglines at the front of the armscye. These result from a sleeve of which its cap is too low. To understand this, I will explain sleeves. Sleeves on a shirt are one-piece sleeves, as opposed to 2 piece sleeves in coats. This gives us a little less room to adjust the sleeve to someones body but also adds to the “leisure” character that shirts have; they don’t necessarily need to fit that well. At least not as good as a coat’s sleeves should.
The higher a sleeve cap is, the higher or steeper the natural angle is of a sleeve when relaxed. You can see this when you iron your shirt; on one shirt the sleeve might angle down a little more then others. The ones that angle down more are the shirts with a higher sleeve cap. If the sleeve cap is too low, it has more cloth that sits in between the body and the upper arm. A higher sleeve cap thus results in less cloth in between the biceps and body. This does make the sleeve a lot tighter; so caution has to be exercised when defining the height of a sleevecap. Overdoing it might result in a sleeve where the wearer might not fit into.
We will make the sleevecap 2 cm higher, which will almost entirely remove the draglines at armscye. As said, we can however never get the perfection we see in coats because of the single-piece sleeve so some “drape” will occur at the scye.
Next up… The sleeve width. The sleeve is a little too wide so we have pinned the excess cloth. Going on to the length, you might see that the left sleeve has no cuff attached and is way too long. This is done on purpose to be able to accurately define how much extra sleeve length needs to be reserved for moving.
When moving your arm, and especially when moving AND bending, about 4-5 cm extra length is needed in the sleeve in order to not crawl up your arm. This is also the reason why the pleats exist, which is done to make sure the excess cloth drapes better.
On the left we have an attached cuff (fit is poor because it is pinned rather then having a button attached, resulting in the dimple in the cuff). We have pinned the excess cloth while measuring how much was needed for a sleeve that is neither too short nor too long.
Then over to the, or I should say back to the sleeve scye area. The top of a sleeve cap is curved, in order to have less drape on the front than on the back. The back needs a little extra room so we need a convex curve there. On the front we need a convex (to get over the acrominon) and then a concave shape (to get under the arm). This was a little too excessive, as is evident from the sleeve pushing the scye seam inwards and causing drape. We will fix this by lowering the shaping by 0.5 cm on the front of the sleeve.
Then the hip. The hip was intentionally left at the same measurement as the chest, resulting in the “skirt” effect. We have pinned away the excess cloth WHILE SITTING DOWN. This is done because we dont want the shirt to be too tight around that area to prevent ripping of any seams or discomfort.
Then the last point, which is more of a cosmetic change, is the length of the shirt. The customer sometimes likes to wear his shirt on the beach, or somewhere else in a casual way. He will then wear his shirt outside of his trousers, and we decided to add a little extra length on the front to make that possible as well as look better.
The back is always a little longer then the front and this is done to create some cosmetic shape as well as functional shape; you can then tuck your shirt better into your trousers.
I've added lines and text which explain how I mentally analyze the results of the fitting. View Full Size (opens in new window)
You probably thought we were finished. Well, almost!
The side view reveals some additional problems. The first one that is especially evident is the stooped neck, ie a forward angled neck. I will make the neckline on the yoke slightly higher, and slightly lower on the front, to sort of “shift” the neckline forward.
Then the sleeve, which is angled backwards. At time of measurement, I will decide wether or not I want the sleeve to be angled to compensate for any natural armstances. Moving the middle of the sleeve back, shifts the natural stance of the sleeve forward, which this customer obviously needs.
Being a kitesurfer and pretty athletic overall, he has what we call “athletic arms”. Athletic arms are both bent more then normal arms, but also stand forward when looking from the side. Would we attach the sleeve in the default manner, draglines would have appeared that indicate a wrong sleeve setting.
The back of the sleeve is a little bulged. While this is normal to some extent – we still need to be able to move – this is a little excessive and I will adjust the line the scye takes on the back accordingly. There has also been some extra adjustment in the back where the yoke joins the back of the shirt.
On the front of the shirt, the drape exerted from the sleeve pushing the scye seam inwards is evident and has not been pinned enough. I will adjust some more to make sure this doesn’t happen.
The diagonal draglines from the overdeveloped chest are also evident. As discussed, adding 1.5 cm of extra ease in the CF will negate this problem by allowing the cloth to sufficiently drape over the chest.
And that concludes it!
As you can see there are lots of things happening during a first fitting and each of these problems are the most commonly found problems in both RTW and MTM shirts. Being finished on arrival, most of these problems cannot be fixed anymore and there is also less room to account for it in the first place. Three made to measure shirts is the average to “get it right” that’s 150×3=450 to get the perfect fit as opposed to 349 for a bespoke shirt that fits perfectly from the very first time onwards.
After the fitting I will adjust the pattern to the found problems and draft a new one, this time with seam allowances. When the cloth arrives I can then just lay the pattern on the cloth and start cutting, and then constructing the shirt.
The final shirt will have all the faults found in the first fitting removed, and will fit a lot better. One thing of note with shirts is that they are in effect “drapey” garments, and should be treated as such. It is first of all a leisure garment and not a body glove. It also has less seams than a coat, and shirting cloth cannot be worked with the iron at all. Some drape thus will occur, and it is my job to make that drape be functional rather than result from fitting issues.