Man of the Cloth

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Made-to-measure tailoring has a new convert in Veep writer Ian Martin

 

 

Over the years I’ve retrofitted my sartorial indifference into a sort of lazy defiance. If not exactly effortlessly chic, then at the very least effortlessly shit. Which is halfway there, surely.

 

Yet at the back of my mind has been a yearning to own a really good suit. It’s a yearning I suppressed as a young man with moral sensibilities marinading in hippie bongsmoke. A“suit”wasn’t just the suit, man. A “suit” was the person wearing it, yeah? A conformist. Part of the Straight Conspiracy. No. I’m an individual and so are my mates and we’re all rebelling against conformity in jeans and tie-dyed granddad shirts.

 

I nursed this absurd idea that a tailored suit was some wanky bourgeois signifier, despite the evidence of endless Essex family weddings where the groom always looked better than he’d ever looked before or ever would again. Enough, I thought. I’m old, I’m earning, we’ve paid off the mortgage. I’m getting a proper suit.

 

photoI don’t think I’d ever have gone inside Rake’s Duke Street premises without my friend Sali Hughes covering me. I’ve always found high-end clothes shops pretty intimidating. “You don’t belong here!” they seem to scream. “Leave now or face the sneering humiliation you deserve, you fat deluded man-worm!”. I assumed that if I ever stepped inside one I’d be cut to pieces by the acerbic wit of thin young men in expensive suits and those 1950s footballers’ haircuts they all have these days.

 

Rake is indeed populated by fit young men in amazing suits with footballers’ haircuts but they’re NICE. Not at all snooty. My tailor is Will, an endlessly accommodating perfectionist. We start by discussing what I want a suit “for”. Well, I say, in the vaguest possible terms, I’ve fancied getting a really good suit for a while, a proper jacket takes half a stone off, and of course you need something for special occasions, like leaving the house. Will wanted to know if I’d wear it a lot. Well, it depends on how often I leave the house. “Something you can wear any time”, Sali suggests. “You know, you want to be the smart bloke on the train”.

 

I consider this, and the alternatives. The untidy bloke on the train. The angry bloke. The pissed bloke, the weird bloke, the haunted bloke. Of all the train blokes, Mr Smart sounds the best bet.

 

If I’m wearing it a lot it has to be a durable cloth. And what colour did you have in mind, Will asks. I pretend that I’m just pulling a colour out of the air. Black? Now I’m guessing that if you did a Venn diagram of Men In Their Sixties and People Who’d Like A Black Suit you’d simply have one circle. To his absolute credit, Will did not roll his eyes or give an exasperated sigh. He did not laugh and ask me if I thought I was Johnny Cash or one of the Reservoir Dogs. He said that a black suit was quite a specific choice and he’d really only recommend it for formal occasions.

 

With black off the menu, it had to be dark something. Grey or blue.  To be honest, I hadn’t actually thought beyond “black suit”. Sali helpfully ruled grey out of the equation. I can’t remember why. Because I’d look like a dodgy politician or an Operation Yewtree defendant, probably.

 

Blue then. Very dark blue sounded perfect. Will started walking me through the basic structure of the suit. First of all, how many pieces? I did consider three for a moment but Sali ruled that out too. Probably because I neither play snooker for a living nor appear in an Edwardian crime drama.

 

I went conservative at every fork in the road: two buttons, straightforward lapellage and pocketing, two side vents. Trousers standard, no turnups, belt loops. I always imagined it would be impossible to choose a material from those little sample books they have. Turns out it’s really easy. This very fine mohair cloth in midnight blue presented itself with great authority. Heavy, superdark, perfect.

 

And MEN: here’s the good news. Getting measured for a good suit is not the humiliation you might imagine. I thought it was going to be brutal. You have to tuck your shirt in, for a start. And STAND NORMALLY. Again, speak for yourself but standing normally is positively the worst way for me to stand. From the back: a laptop-hunched ruin. From the front: a grotesque, corrugated paradox of mass and form. But when Will measures me – arse, tits, airbags, the lot – with dispassionate precision, it’s oddly comforting. There’s not a thing anyone can do right now about the shape I’M in, is there? All moral judgement is moot. I am now simply the landscape for a lovely suit. It’s weirdly empowering. I am Man, hear me roar. Watch me wobble.

 

photo-3A month passes while my body coordinates are despatched to Italy for an initial suit assembly. I see the paper templates of my legs. Dull, hefty. We go along for the first fitting, the prototype suit, covered in big stitches ready for adjustments. The consensus is that the legs are a little long for the trouser cuffs to “break” nicely. The jacket sleeves need another quarter of an inch to sit really well. Take up a little across the back, the shoulders still not quite narrow enough. But already it feels like the most comfortable thing I’ve ever worn.

 

Another month and we’re back for final fitting. Oh my God it looks so beautiful. The cut, the hang, the teal satin lining. I put it on. It feels like I’ve owned it forever. With the top button done up and the front of the jacket sweeping away and the sides elegantly curving, I look thinner and definitely more interesting. It’s the opposite of flashy. Dark, quiet. I am now bespoken, in hushed tones. I think I might physically burst with happiness – an ugly thought I quickly dispel.  This suit looks like the Platonic Ideal of a suit and I am wearing it. It is my suit. I must therefore look as though I deserve it. Ha ha ha! What a LAUGH.

 

I’m not taking it off. My rubbish clothes go into a posh carrier bag and I wear this new Outer Me out of the Rake shop, into the sunshine with Sali. I’m wearing the suit over one of Rake’s beautiful white shirts. We tried a pale blue but I looked like a retired policeman. Oh man, a fitted suit isn’t cheap but when it’s on it’s impossible to over-value it. I cannot recommend the experience – or indeed Rake – highly enough. Friendly, helpful, forensic, accommodating, clever people. I feel invincible.

 

So far we – The Suit and I – have been to several boozy lunches and acquitted ourselves reasonably well. I still feel I have very much the supporting role in our relationship but slowly I think I’m earning its trust. I’ve been the smart bloke on the train several times too. I like it. We’ve also just been to a funeral, where I was definitely the sharpest neighbour in the church. It’s comforting to know that I’ll be buried in this suit. The last outing. And I will go out properly, the smart bloke in the coffin.

 

For now though we’re both available for weddings, birthday parties and special occasions. I love going to the casino occasionally. Next time I’m going suited up, and betting on black. Not black. Midnight blue, in mohair. Sod it, I’m putting it on now. Going to Spar to get some milk.

 

 

Rake (www.rakestyle.com) is at 77, Duke Street, London W1K 5PB

Their made to measure starting price is £1895,  bespoke is £3360

 

Veep seasons one and two are available here

Veep season 3 is well on its way. Ian’s book, The Coalition Chronicles, is available here

 

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