Thirty years ago, in 1987, I entered the World’s oldest Air Force Academy – Royal Air Force College Cranwell – as an officer cadet.
Those first few days were spent in a whirlwind of excitement and continuous movement as we cadets raced around the College being introduced to Officers’ Mess etiquette, medical examinations, the gym, the swimming pool, and most importantly being ‘kitted out’ in uniforms. In those days (and sadly no longer so) our Number 1 and Number 5 dress uniforms were made for us by external tailors. The College at Cranwell was home to three such tailors and one of our tasks in those hectic first few days was to visit each of the three tailors’ shops and decide who to award our uniform contract to.
After visiting all three I selected Moss Bros – at the time they offered a full shop at Cranwell, with not only uniforms but a range of civilian clothes and accessories. They had a long history of making uniforms for the military, especially the Royal Air Force.
Having been carefully measured for my two uniforms by a tailor (not a salesman) I also decided to have made my first ever Made to Measure (MTM) suit. One should remember as well in those heady days we cadets (and serving officers) were still required to ‘dress for dinner’ every night by wearing a suit, or at a minimum a jacket and tie. I selected a dark blue wool cloth for my suit and, 2 months later, became the proud owner of an extremely stylish suit – and my first experience of the exquisite pleasure of owning clothes which had been made to fit me, and me only. That suit lasted me over 15 years.
I was therefore delighted to recently step back inside a Moss Bros store for the first time in 30 years to find they have re-introduced a MTM service, called ‘Tailor Me’.
The process supporting Tailor Me is very similar to my Moss Bros experience from 30 years ago – the only real difference is one is now measured by a sales person rather than a professional tailor.
Tailor Me works best if you make an appointment in advance, simply because the whole process can take (and did in my case) up to one hour. I made my appointment for 11 am in the morning, knowing the store in my home town of Ipswich would unlikely be busy at that time of day, and the staff would be less distracted.
I have set out below the process in steps we followed:
- A discussion with the sales person concerning any special requirements, such as what the suit is for (work, wedding, special occasion etc), time of year the suit will be worn, type of fabric etc.
- A review of the fabric book. Unfortunately there are only 140 fabrics to choose from, even less if you discard the ghastly wool/polyester mix. I needed a dark blue suit, mainly for the spring/summer months, capable of travelling well (on trains and aeroplanes), lightweight, but with a subtle pattern to make it a little different from my other plain blue suits. This, of all the steps, took the longest – not because of the size of choice (which after the eliminations on non-blue and wool-mix fabrics was significantly reduced), but in trying to assess how the small fabric swatch would look on a larger suit frame. I narrowed the choice eventually to three fabrics and then took the fabric book out of the store and into real daylight to obtain a better sense of the pattern and how it reacted to light. I selected a dark blue fabric, with a subtle glen check in light blue. It was a Super 110, Reda, made in Italy.
- Style. There are three styles of Moss Bros suit cut to choose from – skinny, tailored and regular. I choose the regular.
- Sizing. Next one tries on a number of jackets in the chosen style (any fabric jacket will suffice) to find the ‘off the rack’ size closest to you. Mine was a 42. Important here is the fit of the shoulders and the chest. Some work was identified as necessary to ensure the jacket could be fastened without the lapels losing their flat drape. The same process is followed with trousers and in my case a waistcoat as I had opted for a three piece suit.
- Measuring. Now the careful part. Using a combination of the ‘off the rack’ suit and a tape measure measurements are recorded for the shoulder, arms (both arms are measured, especially as in my case where I have one arm slightly longer than the other), chest, waist, leg, inside leg, the drop from the shoulder to the waist for the waistcoat. I much admired the young lady taking my measurements, as she insisted on taking every measurement twice, and then cross-checking with a colleague.
- Individual style elements. Finally, comes the personalisation. I opted for a peak lapel (I did not own a single breasted suit with a peak lapel so felt I should personalise this one as such), slanted pockets, a ticket pocket, a half canvas construction (fused was an option through why anyone would make such a selection!), side fasteners on the trousers, no belt loops, a fish tail waistband at the back, no turn ups, working cuffs on the jacket. I also selected the colour and style of buttons and a rather bold lining to the jacket (and matching back panel to the waistcoat), the font and colour and stitching for my name which would be the only label on the inside of the jacket. I declined the option of having the lapel buttonhole and last working cuff button hole stitched in a contrasting colour to make them stand out (why would you do that?).
- Deposit. I double checked everything, signed the order, paid a deposit and left in just over one hour. It was an enjoyable experience, though I’m glad I have been studying style and classic mens’ clothing for the past years and understood enough to navigate myself through the process – it would be very easy to get carried away with the individualism!
- Collection/fitting. Exactly one month to the day the suit was ready. No appointment is needed for the collection, but fortunately the store manager was available when I arrived to oversee my trying on the suit – at this stage I am advised any additional tailoring needed is at no cost. My suit however was a perfect fit.
Moss Bros charge £150 in addition to the cost of a suit in the fabric you select to cover the costs of the Tailor Me process. Frankly, this is extraordinary value for money – most suits in Moss Bros, assuming you select a quality fabric, cost about £250- £300 so the £150 to both personalise and guarantee a perfect fit is money well invested.
I loved my first experience of a perfect fitting suit in 1987 and, looking back, it was, combined with my tailored beautiful military uniforms, the beginning of my love affair with classic gentleman’s style. To be able to walk back into Moss Bros 30 years later and find I can still replicate a perfect fitting suit on the High Street at a affordable price brings much joy.
Moss Bros’ clientele seems to be younger than me, but there is an upside to this – judging by the number of suits now being produced through ‘Tailor Me’ in my local Moss Bros we may be seeing the beginning of an appreciation by younger men of perfect fitting clothes, which we more senior men already know is addictive!