Dressing well is about more than finding the right clothes; it’s also about finding the right tailor. Things such as a suits, sport coats, shirts, and trousers rarely fit perfectly off-the-rack, but if you bring them to a good alterations tailor, you can make them look twice as nice and three times as expensive. A bad tailor, on the other hand, can irreparably damage your clothes with a hack job, forever ruining what you spent a lot of time and money to acquire.
Unfortunately, it can be difficult to find a great tailor if you don’t know where to look. Yelp isn’t much good, as reviewers are often women looking for a seamstress or people whose sole criterion is to find someone to hem a pair of pants for as cheap as possible. You need to find people who actually care about good tailoring.
One place to start is on the internet boards of Ask Andy About Clothes and StyleForum, where you can do a search for the words “tailor” and whatever city you’re in. With luck, you’ll find a thread where someone has asked for a tailor recommendation in your area, and be able to see how others respond. If nothing comes up, you can post a new thread to ask for people’s opinions.
Failing that, try calling the very best upscale stores and hotels in your area. For stores, these can be upscale boutiques such as Saks Fifth Avenue or Neiman Marcus; independent fine menswear shops that sell brands you respect; and internationally known companies with single-brand shops such as Tom Ford, Ralph Lauren, or Zegna. For hotels, try any Four Seasons, St. Regis, or Ritz Carlton. You can check your local Zagat Survey for other five-star operations.
Ask the managers of these places what tailors they recommend. Hotels will have concierges that commonly recommend certain businesses to their guests, while menswear shops will often have tailors they rely on for in-house jobs. Try to identify the consensus amongst these recommendations, and you’ll likely land on two or three good candidates.
Try these candidates out first with garments that you don’t necessarily care about. After you get a sense of their skill level, you can hand over your favorite pieces with a bit more confidence. Just be sure to give yourself a few weeks to review their work before coming to a conclusion. It takes time to notice whether or not something was done as nicely and neatly as you would have liked.
Of course, this all might sound like a lot of hassle. But imagine the hassle you’ll go through if you had to replace some of your favorite clothes. There used to be saying among the Neapolitan gentry in Southern Italy (in Neapolitan dialect, of course): “E’ mane ‘n cuollo m’e ponno mettere sulamente mugliereme e o’sarto.” It translates to “I allow only my wife and my tailor to touch me.” Making sure you have a good tailor is no small thing.
For those of you residing in New York City, please be sure to check out our series on custom tailors here in the city.