There is nothing else like an English bespoke suit. Ready-to-wear and made-to-measure suits from English brands may look similar at first glance but in reality they don’t come close. Bespoke suits from other parts of the world can fit just as well and may even be better constructed with more handwork, but there is a certain style and kind of taste that can only be found in an English bespoke suit. Some tailors and brands may be able to approximate it, but that is not close enough.
English bespoke style is a unique style of tailored clothing exclusive to tailors trained in England or the rest of Britain or by British tailors and has changed little over the past century. Some things like the amount of fullness in the suit has varied over time, with a lot of fullness being popular in the 1950s and early 1960s, and much less fullness being popular now. But the essence of clothes made by an English tailor has stayed consistent for a very long time, and this is something that nobody else can do in quite the same way. English tailors have their own secrets that they either have not shared with anyone else, or perhaps no other tailors care to or have the skills to copy what they do. Much of what makes an English bespoke suit special cannot be replicated in a factory-made suit or by tailors from other schools of tailoring.
Despite the popularity of Bond’s tailored style, tailors not trained in the English style are unable to replicate Bond’s suit styles accurately. Though this article will explain all the details of what makes English bespoke suits unique, because I am not a tailor I cannot explain how exactly to cut and tailor a suit with these details. I can only point them out in pictures and in the suits I can see and handle in my wardrobe.
James Bond has used four different English bespoke tailors throughout the film series: Sean Connery used Anthony Sinclair (Dr. No, From Russia with Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice and Diamonds Are Forever), George Lazenby used Dimi Major (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service), and Roger Moore used Cyril Castle (Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun) and Douglas Hayward (For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy and A View to a Kill). These four tailors all have their own takes on English style but they still make suits that look unquestionably like English bespoke suits.
Schools of English Bespoke Tailoring
To have a basic understanding of English tailoring there are three well-known schools of English tailoring: military, equestrian and drape. Though Bond’s tailors do not fit into these three categories, these schools form the foundation for styles of English tailoring.
The military style is the most quintessentially English tailoring style. Just a few examples of houses known as military tailors are Gieves & Hawkes, Dege & Skinner, Henry Poole, Davies & Son, Meyer & Mortimer, G.D. Golding and Samuel Brothers. The military style is known for being stiff with strong shoulders, but some of these tailors like Henry Poole and Davies & Son don’t tailor as strong shoulders as most other military tailors. The majority of English tailors follow the military style, even if they do not make military garments or have a direct military history. The Roman school of tailoring is inspired by the English military style.
Equestrian tailors, like H. Huntsman, Richard Anderson and Bernard Weatherhill, are known to cut a longer jacket but are otherwise very similar to the military tailors. Equestrian tailors are better-known for their single-breasted cuts than their double-breasted. They are also known for working with sportier cloths like tweeds, but all English tailors make country garments as well as city suits.
Drape tailors cut a suit that is much different from the military and equestrian cuts in that they aren’t as clean and trim. They have extended shoulders with extra fabric at the sides of the chest, which is known as “drape“. Drape tailors are known for cutting a softer suit than other English tailors, though they’re generally not as soft as Italian, French or American suits. Drape tailoring was created in England by Frederick Scholte, a Dutch tailor. Per Anderson, a Swede who founded Savile Row’s Anderson & Sheppard, learned from Scholte. Anderson & Sheppard is the best-known English drape tailoring house, while its disciples Steven Hitchcock and Steed are said to do a more authentic drape cut than Anderson & Sheppard does today. Roger Moore’s tailor Cyril Castle at times cut a lot of drape in his suits. Though this style was a departure from traditional English tailoring when it started and was first practised by tailors who were not even English, not before long it became one of the most popular styles of English tailoring. Many Americans have taken to this style of English tailoring more than the stiffer kinds as they prefer a softer suit. Tailors in Naples, Italy, like Rubinacci, are inspired by the English drape cut but have a very unique, softer and lighter take on the style.
The three schools of tailoring have all become more similar over time. Because stiff and heavy tailoring is not particularly popular at the moment, the military tailors make lighter garments than they used to. And whilst the drape cut appeals to tailoring enthusiasts, most people today prefer a trimmer garment. The English schools of tailoring are all more similar to each other than different school of Italian tailoring are to each other. English cutters and tailors often move from one house to another, or they start off at a prominent house and break away to start their own.
Plenty of tailors don’t fit into any of these main categories. Some have a middle-of-the-road cut, like Kent Haste or James Bond tailors Anthony Sinclair, Dimi Major and Douglas Hayward. They don’t fit into any of the categories above but take inspiration from all of them. Bond tailor Cyril Castle has a unique and dramatic style all his own, though he took from different schools of English tailoring at different times and for different types of garments. There is an entire school of tailors who came to the forefront when they worked with fashion designer Tommy Nutter. These houses like Edward Sexton and Chittleborough & Morgan are known for a very exaggerated English style of tailoring, and one that inspired Tom Ford. In the middle of the 20th Century there were Mod tailors and Edwardian-inspired tailors in London who did their own things with English style. Some houses, like Maurice Sedwell, Mark Powell or Roger Moore’s tailor Cyril Castle, tailor unique designs or use unique details that set them apart, but most English tailors do not have a trademark that makes them immediately identifiable from their style. Yet they all have a house style and a method of cutting that they prefer.
The English Bespoke Cut
Despite there being different schools of tailoring and different silhouettes, English-tailored suits in general have a lot in common.
There are basic single-breasted and double-breasted styles that English tailors generally prefer to make. Single-breasted jackets have one, two or three buttons on the front. While button one jackets, in general, are uncommon for suits and sports coats and are mostly saved for more formal clothes, English bespoke tailors love to make them. Without other buttons for visual balance, the button one style is difficult to get right, though the best English tailors do not shy away from making them. Button two jackets are the most common today, though the button three style is a very traditional style amongst English tailors. Military and equestrian-style button three jackets have a lapel that rolls at the top button, while drape tailors may roll the lapel below the top button. Today it more common than before to see English tailors make the “three-roll-two” style because of popular demand, though it is not traditionally an English style. Lapel roll is usually pronounced with any type of button fastening due to a stiff canvas that can support a lot of roll.
Double-breasted jackets almost always have two buttons to fasten, usually with three to show (6×2). Sometimes English tailors forego the top row of show buttons (4×2). The Duke of Kent’s famous style with one button to fasten and two to show (4×1) was made by an English tailor but never caught on in popularity with the majority of English tailors beyond dinner jackets. Douglas Hayward is one of the few English tailors who made this his signature double-breasted style.
Button stance varies, but most do a medium button stance today. This is where the waist button—the middle of three buttons or the top of two buttons—is visually centred on the jacket and hits the upper part of the body’s natural waist. Military tailors often do a higher button stance than other tailors. A medium button stance will look higher than it is if the jacket has a longer cut, which is typical of equestrian tailors. Some English tailors like a lower button stance, which was the case for Bond’s tailors Anthony Sinclair, Cyril Castle and, particularly, Douglas Hayward.
English tailors cut a fuller chest than any other tailors. The drape tailors add fullness in the form of “drape”, which is folds of fabric on the sides. The tailors who make a stiffer suit often tailor a swelled chest with a lot of fullness without folds of fabric. Both draped and swelled chests are exclusive to bespoke tailors and cannot effectively be reproduced in a factory. Tom Ford, however, have a lot of chest shape in a factory-made suit, though nobody else does this. The shaped chest is a special part of English tailoring, though some tailors do not put as much fullness in the chest as they used to to create a more modern suit. Douglas Hayward often cut a leaner chest than other English tailors, which made his suits look a bit more continental.
Waist suppression is another key part of the English cut. Military and equestrian tailors are known for cutting a closely fitted waist, often creating a flared skirt in the process. Along with a full chest, the suppressed waist and flared skirt gives the English bespoke suit a dramatic look. Drape tailors don’t usually use as much waist suppression. Anthony Sinclair did not fit Sean Connery’s jackets closely to the waist in an effort to keep his silhouette more elegant rather than emphasise his muscular build.
The flared skirt is a quintessential part of the English suit, and it can be seen in George Lazenby’s Dimi Major suits and Roger Moore’s Cyril Castle suits. While most English tailors cut their skirts with some flare, Anthony Sinclair avoided the skirt flare in Sean Connery’s jackets, which the extended front darted helped accomplish. English tailors cut a skirt that fully covers the seat. As mentioned before, equestrian tailors often cut a longer jacket, which looks elegant when riding a horse and on taller men.
Jackets are most commonly cut with front darts ending at the pocket and cut with a side body. Sinclair, Major and Castle cut their jackets with the front dart extending to the hem and without a side body, which helped Sinclair achieve a shaped waist with less skirt flare. Some tailors may cut both the front dart and side dart ending at the pocket and no side body. On occasion tailors omit the front dart entirely for a large pattern, which is a style rarely done outside of American Ivy League style.
Though English style is thought to have straight shoulders, the type of shoulder line varies considerably amongst tailors. Some military and equestrian tailors use a fair amount of shoulder padding and give their suits a straight and squared shoulder line. Others do a straight shoulder that follows the natural shoulder line. And others follow the curve of the shoulder. The amount of shoulder structure can vary from a thick pad to a tiny bit of strategically placed wadding. All of James Bond’s tailors have had soft shoulders, but as the Bond actors are all well-built, the shoulders always look strong. The same shoulder construction on a slighter man would not look at all the same.
Shoulder width can vary amongst English tailors and even within the same tailor. Cyril Castle tailored Roger Moore’s jackets with extended shoulders—to balance the drape—in the 1960s, but for The Man with the Golden Gun in 1974 he made the shoulders as narrow as he could. Currently a narrow shoulder is more popular.
The roped sleeve head is a quintessentially English look, but it is not a required part of the English look. Some English tailors use them, like Anthony Sinclair and Douglas Hayward, while some do not, like Dimi Major. Its presence or inclusion is less important than one might think to a suit looking English, but it is an important part of a suit’s silhouette and can change it considerably.
There are traditional types of coats and jackets that few tailors outside of England can do, or no longer do. Morning coats are still worn in England but are no longer worn in many other places, and it’s difficult to get a good one from anyone but an English tailor. English tailors know how to cut a waist seam and tails. Like the morning coat, they can also do an evening tailcoat, though because the tailcoat is still worn for functions in Central Europe there are tailors there who also make beautiful tailcoats.
The Classic English Bespoke Details
Whilst the overall cut is important to the look of an English suit, there are many details that almost all English tailors use.
English bespoke tailors always fully canvas their jackets and use multiple layers of interfacings to give their jackets a defined shape. They always fully line their jackets, since partial linings for breathability are not usually a concern in the British Isles. They use Bemberg rayon linings or rayon blends.
Lapels are traditionally notched on single-breasted jackets and peaked on double-breasted jackets. Peaked lapels on single-breasted jackets are traditionally saved for dinner jackets and black lounge jackets, but due to fashion trends over the last decade as well as in other eras English tailors will sometimes use peaked lapels on single-breasted suits. English tailors usually cut their lapels with at least little belly, which separates their styles from others’. The gorge, or the seam between the collar and lapel, is cut fairly straight. The gorge is usually at a medium height, but the steepness of the gorge varies from tailor to tailor. There is almost always a bit of a roll at the bottom of the lapel.
English tailors are famous for cutting the jacket’s skirt with double vents, though this standard has only been in place since the late 1960s for suits, sports coats and dinner jackets. Before it was commonplace for them to make single-breasted jackets with single vents and any kind of suit jacket without vents. Today single vents are still occasionally used for sports coats, and dinner jacket are still often made without any vents. But the double vent style dominates English tailoring and has long been known as an English style. Though this is the case, double vents are not essential to the look of a bespoke English jacket.
Well-cut vents are a mark of the English bespoke jacket. A good tailor can cut any type of skirt can fit any type of body and doesn’t shy away from certain styles on certain body types. A jacket without vents will not pull in the back. A single vent will always stay closed and straight when standing. Double vents are often cut angled outwards so they hang straight down when you see them from the sides. Only bespoke tailors cut double vents that drape so elegantly.
Four cuff buttons are the standard today for all jackets, though Bond’s tailors Major and Hayward sometimes use only three buttons on each cuff. Anthony Sinclair sometimes used only two buttons on the cuff of sports coats.
Hip pockets are almost always double jetted and usually have flaps, except on dinner jackets. The slanted or hacking pocket is a quintessentially English look, and it’s one that many English tailors favour, but a jacket does not need to have slanted pockets to be English. At one time they were saved for sportier suits and sports coats, but most won’t shy away from them on city suits today. Ticket pockets are another quintessentially English look and are common for sports suits and jackets, but it’s a trendier look for city suits. Ticket pockets have a smaller flap are aligned to the front edge of the pocket below it, not centred about it. Open patch pockets and patch pockets with flaps and bellows are sometimes used on sports coats and sports suits. English tailors do not use patch pockets to the extent that Italian tailors do.
Breast pockets are usually the typical welt style and straight. Sometimes an open patch pocket is used when patch pockets are on the hips. On rare occasion, sporty suits and jackets may have a flapped breast pocket.
Buttons on English bespoke suits and jackets are typically made of unpolished black or brown horn, but sometimes they are grey or navy horn to match the suit. The buttons either have four holes or two holes, and they usually have a recessed, concave circle in the centre that not only looks elegant but protects the stitching when the buttons are handled. Formal jackets and Mod-inspired suits often have cloth-covered buttons. Some rustic sports coats are detailed with leather buttons. Matching a suit with plastic buttons used to be common with English bespoke suits but are not seen as being high enough quality today. Dinner jackets have their own unique types of buttons and trimmings, including special silk-covered buttons on dark dinner jackets and white mother-of-pearl on white dinner jackets.
The edges of the jacket have very fine hand-pick stitching, which can hardly be seen. Sometimes on sports coats the edges are sewn about 5/16-inch from the edge for a sportier look, though this is less common today. Silk-faced lapels don’t have pick stitching.
There are a few obscure details that only English tailors do or know how to do. Gauntlet cuffs (turnback cuffs), as Anthony Sinclair and Cyril Castle put on Bond’s dinner jackets, are not commonly made outside of English bespoke tailors, with the exception of Tom Ford. Usually the gauntlet cuffs are constructed separate and simply laid on to the end of the sleeve. Some English tailors can also do unusual Edwardian-style collars that nobody else can do so elegantly. English tailors can also source details like special buttons or frogging.
There are English types of sports coats that English tailors specialise in, like the Norfolk jacket or special riding jackets. Details like pleated backs and belts are not commonly done outside of English tailoring. James Bond wears two half Norfolk jackets in Diamonds Are Forever that take elements from the Norfolk jacket but place them on a more ordinarily cut lounge jacket. Some made-to-measure companies can do Norfolk details, but it is mostly something that English tailors do.
Tailors in London’s West End are amongst the world’s best tailors and are experts in creating many different details from the history of English tailoring, even if they may be limited to their own cutting style.
I previously wrote an article about some of the special details that are only found on a James Bond quality suit.
The English Bespoke Trouser
While jackets get most of the attention when it comes to suits, trousers are an equally important part of the suit, and the bespoke English trouser is something unique. English trousers are all done the same way (or ways) across all tailoring schools. The English trouser has trim lines, even when pleated, with fullness in key areas for comfort and movement. English trousers should look trim but always feel comfortable. The leg is either tapered or straight, with turn-ups or a plain hem. The hem is always slanted to cover as much of the shoe with as little break in the front as possible. The hem can be slanted more with a plain hem than with turn-ups.
Many find pleated trousers to be the height of sophistication when it comes to tailoring the lower half of the body. Pleats are either single or double and traditionally forward facing, with the folds opening towards the crotch, though some tailors do reverse pleats. Pleats may be sewn down at the top inch or so to direct fullness further down.
Trousers without pleats often have a dart on either side in front for a better fit. Front darts are either aligned with the centre creases or placed further to the sides to better provide fullness over the hips.
The English tailors design the rear darts to best fit the wearer. The traditional method is to make one long dart on each side, and when there is a rear pocket the dart will extend through the pocket. The dart is not centred through the pocket because it would get in the way of the pocket’s button, so it is placed on either side of the button, usually to the outside. This method of darting the trousers’ rear isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing when there are rear pockets (though the dart is hardly noticeable), but the English intend for their trousers to be worn with a jacket so the awkward relationship between the rear pocket and the dart would not be seen.
The trouser darts are cut in a way to achieve the best shape, and when tailors started cutting their long rear darts it was not common to have rear pockets that would cut through the darts. Some tailors cut the trousers’ rear in a more ordinary fashion, with one or two short darts on each side of the rear ending at the pocket, or ending where the pocket would be. However the trousers are cut, the intention is to create a clean but comfortable fit.
Front or side trouser pockets may either be on the side seam, slightly slanted off the side or frogmouth (cross) pockets, which are an equestrian style that sit across the front of the trousers and are easier to access on horseback. Some tailors use offset jetted pockets. Coin pockets that sit at the base of the waistband on the front of the trousers are occasionally done.
One rear jetted pocket is more common than two, and it is placed the side of the dominant hand. It shows that the trousers were made for someone who could choose to place the rear pocket on the side of their dominant hand. Plenty of people prefer to have two rear pockets, either because they like to use two or prefer the symmetry of it. Traditionally the trousers did not have any rear pockets as there would be plenty of pockets in the jacket and waistcoat that are more easily accessible. Rear pockets are either single-jetted or double-jetted.
The waistband of English bespoke trousers usually has a 2- to 3-inch extension across the front with a square end, and it has a hidden hook and bar fastening. This keeps the waistband straight and gives it a clean look. Because the waistband does not close with a button, there is a French bearer—a button inside the fly—to secure the trousers.
The most traditional method of English trouser support is button-on braces. Traditionally the trousers would be cut with a raised fishtail back to better position the braces. Now trousers sometimes have tab extensions in the rear to similarly raise the back so they have an optional fishtail back for braces. Buttons for braces are usually plastic and sewn inside the waistband, but sometimes on trousers with a fishtail back they are sewn to the outside of the waistband in front. Often a fishtail back has adjustable straps with a slide-buckle to trim the back of the trousers.
In the postwar era it became common for English tailors to put side adjusters on their trousers. The ‘DAKS Tops’ style has three buttons on either side of the waistband which secure to a tab. The tab is connected to elastic bands that are hidden inside the back of the waistband.
Today the more effective style of adjuster with straps and a slide-buckle is more common, but this kind can wear out more quickly and doesn’t work as well with heavier cloths. The straps may be centred to either the waistband or the seam at the base of the waistband. The buckle is placed over the side seam. Few non-English tailors know how to make effective or attractive side adjusters.
Belt loops are not uncommon either and were popular in the 1970s through the 1990s.
Buttons on trousers may match the jacket buttons or be a subtle plastic, but English tailors commonly use unique rimless smoke mother of pearl on the trousers, which they put on the rear pockets and on DAKS Tops-style side-adjusters. Trouser buttons are never seen with the jacket on, but it’s nice to have these special buttons.
Trousers are almost always lined in front to the knee. The inside of the waistband is curtained, which means it has a pleated lining that extends a few inches below the waistband to cover the inner construction of the trousers and the top of the pockets. The pleated “curtains” allow this lining to expand when moving and sitting down.
Equestrian tailors also specialise in styles of riding trousers like Jodhpurs, which are full through the thigh but fit snugly below the knee. For country sports and golf, English tailors also make breeches, which are trousers that end below the knee. They most commonly make them in the form known as “plus fours”, which extend four inches below the knee.
English Bespoke Waistcoats
The standard English bespoke waistcoat has six buttons rather than the more common five. Waistcoats are often cutaway—usually curved but sometimes angled—from above the bottom button, which means the bottom button cannot fasten. Some tailors do single-breasted waistcoats with seven (like Dimi Major) or eight buttons, but this is not common. In the 1960s it was popular amongst English tailors to cut waistcoats with a straight bottom.
Modern English double-breasted waistcoats have six buttons in a keystone arrangement and a straight bottom. The buttons on both single-breasted and double-breasted waistcoats are vertically spaced close together to maximise the size of the top opening while ensuring the waistcoat isn’t too long, which is unflattering and more difficult to fit close to the body. Other tailors often make the mistake of spacing the buttons too far apart.
The standard pocket arrangement is to have four welt pockets on the front. Some country waistcoats have flapped lower pockets instead of welt pockets. Bespoke tailors sometimes put lapels on their waistcoats, especially on double-breasted waistcoats. Few other tailors do this.
The back is made in the jacket’s lining material and has a strap to adjust the fit in the waist.
For evening wear, waistcoats are low cut with three or four buttons for single-breasted waistcoats and four buttons for double-breasted waistcoats. The buttons are vertically spaced very closely together on evening waistcoats, more closely than on daytime waistcoats to maximise shirt exposure. They almost always have lapels.
Where to Find English Bespoke Tailors
Savile Row in London’s Mayfair is the centre for English bespoke tailoring, but tailors are or have been located on many other streets in Mayfair, like Conduit Street, Mount Street, Sackville Street, St George Street, Old Burlington Street and Davies Street. And beyond Mayfair, English bespoke tailoring is practised by many bespoke tailors throughout other parts of London’s West End and the City of London, but there are other tailors in other parts of London—George Lazenby’s Bond tailor Dimi Major was located in Fulham, London—and throughout the United Kingdom.
Where else can you get a suit in an English bespoke style? Outside of England, there are a few English tailoring shops, either run by English expatriates or by English-trained tailors, like Leonard Logdail, Yosel Tiefenbrun and David Reeves in New York.
Tom Ford makes their suits in the manner of English bespoke tailoring, and he has based his signature look on a design originally created by English Savile Row designer Tommy Nutter. Along with Ralph Lauren Purple Label no other ready-to-wear suit comes as close to English bespoke. But they do some of their own things that separate their suits from English bespoke in style.