Some Tailoring Trivia (Bespoke, New Suits, Sewn Pockets, Shoulder Stitch)

Ever wonder why some new suits will have a piece of zigzag thread on the shoulder? Why are new suit coat pockets sewn shut? A friend asked me recently and inexplicably I knew a few of the answers. Don’t ask me why, I just seem to have a weird fascination with collecting completely useless trivia. If they ever come up with a more low-brow version of Jeopardy that had categories like 80s sitcoms or Hanna Barbera cartoons I’m convinced I’d clean up. So for you who have always been curious, here are a few pieces of tailoring trivia:

Baste (or Tack) Stitching on Suits

What is that zigzag stitch on the shoulder of a new suit? This is called a baste or tack stitch. Some may claim this is done to help the suit keep shape during display or transport. That’s bupkis. There’s no way that little piece of thread can add more strength to a finished suit. During the tailoring process, rough stitches that are usually one continuous thread spanning the seam are placed to hold the pieces of the pattern together for a fitting or until a permanent stitch can be placed. This is called a basting or tacking stitch. This stitch is sometimes left on the shoulder of a suit to signify a well-tailored suit. However, some tailors or shops will place one on their suit to exaggerate the quality of a lesser suit.

Bespoke vs Made-to-Measure

What’s the difference between bespoke and made-to-measure? Bespoke tailoring is 100% custom-tailored for the intended wearer. This means the pattern is created directly from measurements and specifications for that unique wearer. You will also go through a series of fittings with the garment in various stages of progress. Made-to-measure garments come from pre-drawn patterns. A customer’s measurements are taken and a garment, like a suit, is selected from that existing pattern that most closely fits the wearer. Unfortunately, some tailors try to use these terms interchangeably and will pass themselves on as bespoke tailors. If your measurements are taken and a suit is taken off the rack–even if it is later altered to better fit you–then you have purchased a made-to-measure suit. There is nothing wrong with this, a suit can be quite well-made and fit you very well. For most, the difference would be unimportant. But it will never compare to a suit that is made for you and only you. From the way the lapels drape, to the fit across the yoke, to the taper of the sleeve, to the creases along the armpits when viewed from behind, a bespoke suit is unmistakable. If you have the means, every gentleman should experience having a truly bespoke suit for themselves. You don’t need to go completely mad paying for a Kiton K-50 suit. Even if it does take more than 50 hours to produce and an army of tailors to create, $50,000 is bonkers to us mere mortals.

Sewn Pockets

Why are the pockets on a new suit or coat sewn shut? There are at least three reasons I’ve learned. Firstly, it helps ensure the correct shape during the pressing process. This is also the reason vents are typically shipped sewn closed. Secondly, it makes the suit look much better during display (it’d seem slovenly to have pockets flopping open or sagging in the store). Finally, it keeps folks’ dirty, grubby paws out of the pockets and potentially damaging the pockets until they’ve paid for it.

Buttons on Opposite Sides

Why are men and women’s buttons on opposite sides? I’ve heard some wacky explanations on this one, but the reasoning that seems most credible to me is that we tend to be prejudiced to right-handed people. For men–who historically dressed themselves–having the buttons on the right side favored the dominant right-handers. Ladies of means usually had a maid dress them, so buttons would be on the left so that the maid–who would be facing the wearer–would have the buttons to their right.

Got any other pieces of cool tailoring trivia? Share in the comments below.