Men traditionally make up the vast majority of customers in bespoke tailoring, ordering a classic business suit or coat for the winter months from their trusted craftsman of choice. In sharp contrast, and despite a growing number of women in powerful, well remunerated positions, only around 10% of the UK bespoke market is accounted for by females. Why is that?
I enjoy tailoring for women, finding it tremendously satisfying to plan and then create a spectacular outfit together, with a mutual understanding of how it will ultimately look and feel. But after close to 30 years in the field, I can see two major hurdles when approaching a female bespoke commission: there is a distinctive technical and a restrictive societal challenge.
The Technical Challenge: Cutting for the Female Shape and Psyche
Women have different sartorial requirements than men due to their more shapely figures but also because they take a less utilitarian approach to their wardrobe. It takes solid technical skill and insight into the female psyche to respond to the challenge of cutting for a female client.
The modern interpretation of a female suit is calling for a precise yet flattering cut close to the body, sometimes incorporating a masculine edge to make it look its sharpest. It needs to work when worn casually but equally when buttoned up, requiring a structure that is both firm, to hold the shape, but also soft and lithe, to go with the flow of the movement.
The other stipulation is less tangible but not less demanding. A woman’s suit must work in more than one circumstance, a proviso that a man’s outfit rarely faces: dressing up or down, to suit formal settings as well as more casual circumstances, women like to play with their wardrobe, they need it to allow them to go with the occasion and mood of the day. Men, for the most part, want to feel comfortable in their skin, their most important demand is a perfect fit. A woman has many other demands, not all of which are immediately clear at the time of order and can lead to complication.
To put it bluntly, not many bespoke tailors are prepared or equipped to take on that challenge and I know of cases where female prospective clients were turned away, or, in the worst possible case, left profoundly disappointed with the result of their commission.
The Societal Challenge: Style vs Fashion
Women tend to replace their wardrobe more frequently than men, being more likely to follow the latest fashion trends, arguably because they still feel under more pressure to conform than men do. But following is not leading and the endless parade of ‘must-haves’ that fashion brands conjure up with relentless regularity means that women often don’t have the confidence to develop their own style.
Few women feel self-assured enough to truly invest in themselves, in goods they love because they underline their very own personality. When it comes to clothing, we adhere to what is generally accepted as the latest dress code but not with an understanding of building a wardrobe which affords us lasting enjoyment and value.
The truth is that nobody ‘must have’ clothing just because it has been declared the latest and most desirable by the marketing hype of the fashion world. On the contrary, I think most of us discover, sooner or later, that the most liberating thing is to be our own person, to stop trying to fit in and please the world around us.
Only when a customer knows pretty well what she is looking for in terms of style should she challenge a tailor who deserves the label ‘bespoke’ with her commission. Tailored exactly to her specification and figure, her bespoke coat or suit will give her that exhilarating certainty of being at home in her own skin. She should use that to her advantage: there is hardly a look more sexy than that of confidence.