Savile Row Style

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manton

Arbiter CBDum
This topic was suggested by others, but it’s a good idea, so I hope no one holds it against me for starting this thread.

What is Savile Row Style? Is there such a thing? Let’s leave aside for the moment any insistence on Cartesian certainty. People can and will go on at great length explaining how diverse the Row is, and how hard it is to characterize in any unified and meaningful way. Yet, in the popular imagination, there certainly is a Savile Row Style. Anderson & Sheppard and Huntsman are, in terms of silhouette, about as far apart as they can be. Yet they are both very much Savile Row, and as such are united by certain qualities. Let's also specify that we don't mean simply the quarter mile length of the Row itself, but the general approach to dressing promulgated by the British upper classes in the 20th century, and the stuff sold in the top West End shops.

Okay, so what are the hallmarks? Well, we can start with certain obvious characteristics that people think of when they think of Savile Row: bold stripes, nipped waists, high rise trousers with suspenders, vests, spread collars, woven ties, black cap-toes, etc. These elements all have in common (among other things) levels of formality and dash that are somewhat higher than American/Trad.

Another thing that characterizes Savile Row style is an emphasis on heavier cloth. This is not surprising, since Britain is not such a warm place. It affects the look significantly. Heavy cloth drapes differently (better, most would say) and lends itself to certain tailoring techniques that are hallmarks of the Savile Row Style. Also, true Savile Row Style tends to eschew "high tech" cloth and luxury gimmick cloths in favor of the good old stand-by 100% wool. Old fashioned worsteds, flannels and tweeds are preferred. Cashmere is tolerated for overcoats. Everything else is discouraged.

This is a little more esoteric, but in terms of cut, another thing that characterizes Savile Row Style is "height". By this I mean, high gorge, high armholes, high waist, high button stance, high pockets -- overall, a "raised" silhouette. This is not universally true, but it is mostly true. And it's one of the characteristics that A&S and Huntsman have in common despite their vast differences.

Also: at least as compared to American silhouettes, Savile Row has more “shapeâ€. By this I mean a nipped waist, but also more flair to the skirt, and a more closely fitted coat overall. Yet the trousers tend to be quite full. Go figure. I will leave out shoulders for now, since just about every tailor does them differently, and I’m not sure there is a quintessentially Savile Row shoulder.

What about color? Of course, blue and gray rule Savile Row. But then they rule pretty much everywhere. However, the Continentals and especially the Italians are much more willing to experiment with lighter shades and bolder colors. Brown for city suits is still sniffed at on Savile Row. I have a lovely worsted brown suit made for me by an off-Row tailor. The whole process was conducted in New York, and the tailor did not discourage me. I think he was just happy to make a sale. Anyway, some years later, I wore this suit while shopping in the West End. I went into a very famous Savile Row house to browse. One of the salesmen approached me and, in the friendliest tone imaginable said, “Very nice country suit, sir. Do you mind if I inquire who made it?†Savile Row Style is quite adventurous with tweeds, however.

Which brings me to pattern. For city suits, solids and loud stripes are preferred. Windowpanes are also popular. Nailheads, herringbones and subtle plaids for those who need to branch out, but often these patterns are barely noticable at a distance. It’s strange that Savile Row likes its stripes to be bright as neon, but its other patterns to be so sublte you need a blacklight to see them. For country suits and tweeds, anything goes. Check out the cloth bolts stacked on the tables at A&S and you will a great and wild variety of bold checks and plaids and barleycorns and everything else. They love to make this stuff, but will turn up their nose at anyone who wears it in town.

Shirts are formal: the spread collar is the collar of choice. Really, the differences are found only in the degree of spread. The good shirtmakers will make any kind of collar, but I get the impression that only foreigners order anything but the spread. Double-cuffs: always. Fancy stripes and checks are a hallmark of the style as well.

Ties: lots of solids, since they go well with patterned shirts and suits. Lots of woven patters. Stripes are more rare, since unlike in America and Italy, in England most stripes still carry the association of a particular school or regiment, and an Englishman will not wear a tie that represents an institution to which he has no personal connection. Prints are also more rare, with the possible exception of certain very basic patters, like polka-dots.

Shoes: black cap-toe lace-ups absolutely dominate. Which makes sense, since they go effortlessly with blue and gray. Brown is seen, but less of it. Dress slip-ons are fine, but loafers with suits are a taboo to the true Savile Row aficionado.

What does this add up to? As I said earlier, I think the hallmarks are: a higher level formality than either the American or Continental styles; a higher degree of dash than the American/Trad look; and a more sober look than the Italian style, which is more exuberant.

Remember that Savile Row in particular, and the West End of London in general, were the birthplaces of the business or lounge suit as we know it. So in that sense, the Savile Row style may be said to be “foundational†in the way that (say) Homer’s poems are the founding texts of western literature. Virgil and Shakespeare are great -- maybe even better in some respects -- but there’s nothing quite like the original.
 
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