It isn’t everyday that a middle manager, approaching middle age with early onset middle-aged spread finds himself in the middle of a tailors being measured for a bespoke suit. But that’s where I found myself yesterday, being measured in a most gentlemanly fashion by Mark Jenkins, manager and proprietor of Hugo Morris in Brighton’s Lanes (www.hugo-morris.com and www.hugomorrisonline.com) while his daughter took notes and family friends popped in and out, exposing the shop to the marvellous music, though less than marvellous singing, under way outside Donatello’s Italian restaurant through the swinging door.
Getting to that point had been the subject of much google – if not soul – searching. I was like a teenager preparing for a first date. What does one wear to a tailors? As ever when searching such fundamental questions online, opinion varied and there was little by way of quality control. Some swore that suited and booted was the only way to go. If I had been toddling off to Saville Row on a workday, that is undoubtedly the way I’d have gone, but for Brighton on a Saturday afternoon, that seemed overkill. The minimum requirement, it seemed was to wear “the shoes”. In the end I opt for my best fitting M&S suit jacket, work shirt, jeans and brown dress shoes – and try not to worry that I might look a little like Jeremy Clarkson.
When you go from “off the peg” to bespoke for the first time, the number of questions is overwhelming: one button, two, three? Four is surely a faux pas, n’est-ce pas? How about the cuff buttons? How many of those? Do you want your lapels peaked? Well? Do ya? And that’s just the jacket. There is a similar range of decisions to be made around the trousers: pockets? Of course. How many and what shape? Wha-?
Fortunately Mark takes much of the mystery out of it. Within about 30 seconds, he has sized me up and given me some initial views on what people “like us” – for he too is a man with a good degree of middle about him – can and cannot get away with (two being the magic number where buttons are concerned). And then we move on to look at the options for cloth.
Here, at least, I have already come to a decision. I want herringbone, and my superior part has said that the herringbone should be somewhere between navy and dark blue. Surely here, at least the decision should be straightforward. After ten minutes or so, there are ten or twelve swatches laid across the counter. Mark has dismissed several others of insufficient weight “for me”. My eye keeps being drawn to the neat white sticker on each sample book which gives the prices for two piece, three piece and lone trousers. But this is a one off, or at least a once-a-decade off and I determine not to take any notice. Well, at least where the number has three figures and not four. That is not to say Hugo Morris is expensive. It isn’t – especially compared to London prices. But a bespoke suit is a serious investment.
I make my decision, a fairly broad, 5mm herringbone in navy. It’s from Huddersfield and I am reassured that it will be cut by a bluff Yorkshireman. Given that I have only five or six weeks before the suit will make its first appearance, I hope he is less Geoffrey Boycott, more John Hampshire. But Mark assures me that the suit will be ready and that the cloth will make a beautiful suit for me. With my daughter in mind, I boldly decide on a hot pink lining. In the event of a crisis of confidence, the jacket can always stay on.
Then comes the measuring. My M&S is removed and I stand facing a mirror, my back to busy Brighton while Mark stands before me and sizes me up. My years of amateur drama come to my aid as I stand easy, feet shoulders’ width apart, arms relaxed and slightly to the front. “Did you play tighthead?” The question catches me a little off balance. “Centre, or fly-half,” I say, reminded that much of the middle came after I stopped playing at school. “Ah well, your tackling shoulder then”.
It turns out my right shoulder sits somewhat lower than my left – a fact of which I was previously unaware but which will pop into my head every time I look in a mirror. That inequality, in turn, leads the right cuff of my jacket to fall some inch or so lower than my left, the cloth scrapping my knuckles and swallowing my whole hand from time to time. “I can fix that, for you,” the reassurance comes again.
Thereafter, more measurements, each relayed to Mark’s young daughter who has come by with the float and who stays to provide still more friendly and efficient service. I am glad that the numbers seem to be just that: numbers, as distinct from “sizes”. A few more decisions are required: will the waistcoat have lapels? Yes. Would you like the shoulders to more naturally follow the shape of your actual – uneven – shoulders rather than sitting square? What’s the difference? Then yes, please. Payment, a brief few minutes chatting about the business and finally, a graceful exit with more assurances that the suit will be both splendid and timeous ringing in my ears.
If a first visit to a tailors is indeed like a first date, then I think it was a successful one, even if my wallet is somewhat lighter. The second date is already arranged for 4 July. It may be considered forward, but I hope then to discover a soulmate, ready to live alongside me until my blood pressure peaks, my knees give way and, in the spirit of diabetics everywhere, my feet fall off.
The suit – an update
As promised, I collected my suit a few days before the wedding and Hugo Morris, thanks to a huge personal effort by Mark Jenkins, delivered. And yes, it is everything that might be hoped for and more. The suit has weight and structure, hangs in a way that flatters even me, is made of the finest cloth and has a lining that draws admiring comments from many. On relfection, I might need to revise my “once a decade” to “once every couple of years”. This really is the way to go.