The Singaporean Gentleman's Guide to Tailoring
21 May 2014
The Smart Local
About Tailoring in Singapore
Tourists and locals alike have always expressed interest in professional tailoring services in Singapore. Clothes make a man, and a smart, well-fitted shirt and suit say volumes. But it's not easy to find the right tailor, especially if it's your first time looking for tailoring services.
This is why we've come up with a guide showcasing the entire suite of tailoring services that our little city-state provides.
1. Introduction to Professional Tailoring
There are some looks that mainstream ready-to-wear fashion labels just can't provide, be it that haute couture look or simply a better fitted suit. Regardless of the motivation, customers seeking professional tailoring services are typically willing to pay more for superior clothing.
As with every profession, there are the mediocre and the best, those who cater to populist tastes while others prefer to demonstrate their personal flair. Here are some tips for selecting your tailor.
1.1 Professional Tailoring – More than just cutting cloth to Measurements
The best way to evaluate a tailor is to see his products. Approach friends who have worked with that particular tailor before. Ask them for the experience. Check out their custom-tailored outfits.
A tailor is more than just sewing cloth together. The tailor has to combine colour theory, stitching methods, and detailed measurements into the masterpiece that is your outfit.
1.2 Read Up Online
Knowledge can only help you, and online forums and reviews will help you better understand the talents of each tailor, or at least expand your knowledge of the various methods and concepts that are employed by your tailor.
2. Professional Tailoring Options
It may be weird to discuss the ready-to-wear range in a guide on professional tailoring. But before heading down to have a suit or shirt professionally tailored, you might consider some ready-to-wear options that provide limited customization options.
Singapore has several quality ready-to-wear labels that can provide you with in-store customization. Some of these labels have even achieved impressive international accolades!
A retail outlet works by letting you select the shirt in your desired size before making minor adjustments to get you that look that you need. So what should the right size be, and what can be altered?
From my discussions with some notable tailors, the following is important when selecting a ready-to-wear shirt:
Collar size is correct - You are able to insert a finger into the collar when fully buttoned.
Shoulder length is correct - The part where the sleeves join the shirt should sit on the edge of our shoulders.
Shirt length is correct.
Cutting of the shirt fits your body shape.
Remember, alterations can only reduce, not increase, the amount of fabric!
Here are a list of retailers that provide in-house alterations for their ready-to-wear collection:
2.2 Professional Tailoring – Entry Level
We see so many stores along Singapore’s premiere shopping street, Orchard Road, many offering overnight deliveries. Well, here is my first piece of advice – exercise caution and moderate expectations when getting a shirt or suit made in 3 days or less.
Beg to differ? Think about it a little more.
Do you honestly believe that each store has its own tailors, with its own huge inventory of fabric, all simply sitting around somewhere at the back of the store, just waiting for you, the valued customer, to waltz in and place that order for that specially designed, diamond-encrusted suit?
My dear readers, unfortunately, the in-store “tailor” is usually no more than a measurement recorder, with some in-house expertise to make some minor adjustments.
So who makes the shirts? Ahh… The truth is finally revealed!
2.2.1 Outsourcing – The best thing that Globalisation has given us
There are no real mills, textile factories, or any industrial development of clothing and fashion in Singapore. However, what Singapore has is very close proximity, and excellent economic ties, with nearby countries - particularly Batam, Indonesia, where a Special Economic Zone is set up.
If you have the good fortune of visiting the industrial parks of Batam, you would realize that the textile industry in Batam is pretty big - enough to handle the requests from the numerous stores along Orchard Road.
Nevertheless, I would not denounce the stores as a bad thing – their existence clearly indicates a need for such services, which ready-to-wear retailers are not able to provide. However, if you wish to engage the services of what I term as “entry level”, you must understand the limitations.
While I would not say that the resulting suit is of bad quality, I think it would be wise to temper your expectations, since it is really just a small custom order from an industrial application.
The fit may not be as exact as you hope for, since the factories engaged usually stick to their manufacturing norms and apply the measurements as provided by the store.
Selection of fabric, while extensive, is generally of average quality. Do not expect to find top grade materials here.
Expect the finishing to be of industrial standard – no frayed ends, but the seams and fabric are all subjected to industrial processes and finishing. If you are hoping for hand-stitched precision, once again, you may wish to temper your expectations.
Once your item arrives in the store for your first fitting, the store is likely able to make minor alterations to obtain the results you require. In my opinion, the results are nothing to shout about. Given their ubiquity along Orchard Road, Pagoda Street and in Peninsula Plaza, I shall leave it to you to select the store of their choice.
2.2.2 Tips when Working with this Tier of Tailors
Here are some tips to consider before walking into your preferred store of this tier.
Be Conscious of the Price
Always be wary when discussing your suit and the price involved. Always check for the price when selecting the material, and check if any further customisation is chargeable. There have been cases of over-charging, and any consumer ought to be careful before handing over the cash.
Avoid Making Full Payment
Avoid making full payment until the final product fits. A deposit is usually required, so please attempt to bargain for at most a 30% deposit – a 20% deposit is usually obtainable. This is to ensure that the merchant will not be able to take advantage of you, such as deliberately delaying the delivery or charging extra for further alterations.
2.3 Professional Tailoring – Mid-to-High End Level
Now, I would highly recommend readers who are looking to make a tailored shirt or suit to consider services found in this range. After all, anyone out looking for a professional tailor is clearly after the craftsmanship, keen eye and expert opinion of the professional.
This tier of professional tailoring is where the buyer will get to experience how a well-tailored shirt is made. I suppose for most of us, this experience will be new, and for some, a little unnerving and possibly overwhelming. The good news is that good professional tailors are able to address the concerns and anxiety of their clients.
For folks who know their stuff, feel free to use all the jargon and ask for the most exotic stitchings and cuttings. Fabric selection ought to be excellent, and you would be dazzled with the variety of collars, sleeves, cuffs, and other forms of mastery they can achieve.
A well-made shirt should take about 1-2 weeks to deliver, and the buyer should preferably have a couple of fittings to ensure that the shirt and/or suit fits one to a T!
Stay tuned for my review of the tailors at Grand City. Meanwhile, I am confident the list below will not disappoint:
CYC The Custom Shop (http://www.cyccustomshop.com/)
Dylan & Sons (http://www.dylanandson.blogspot.sg/)
Grand City (52 Ubi Avenue 3 #04-38)
K by Kevin Seah (http://kbykevinseah.com/)
Kingsmen Shop (http://www.kingsmenshop.com/)
Mohan’s Custom Shop (http://www.mohanstailors.com/)
Oxford Tailor (1 Raffles Place #04-12 UOB Centre)
Pagoda Master Tailors (48 Smith Street, Chinatown)
2.3.1 Tips when Working with this Tier of Tailors
Here are some tips to consider before walking into your preferred store of this tier.
Ask about their Specialities
Tailors of this tier are masters in their own right, and often have signatures or specialities that may interest you. After all, you are paying a premium and may as well figure out what these tailors have up their sleeves.
I know - the pun is way too lame!
Understanding Fashion and Modern Trends
It helps to understand modern trends so you are better able to converse with your tailor. After all, it is YOUR outfit, and you would be wearing it for a good part of your life.
Learn to understand some basic terms and look around to determine what you like. Checks or stripes? Barrel or French cuffs? Are you open to inner lining designs, or perhaps a discreet monogram? Perhaps even the choice of buttons or button holes!
As a basic guide, begin in simple designs, and select safe colours such as whites and blues. The designs need not be plain, but may be finely textured, stripped or checkered. However, the point is to make it discreet so it retains its flexibility.
Once you have gained more confidence and understanding of shirt making, discuss more elaborate designs with your tailor. Seek advice on how to pair your shirt with a tie, or for ladies, pair your dress with a brooch or a belt.
2.4 Bespoke Tailoring – The Best of the Best
Like the best things in life, it is never about the product, but the process. Bespoke tailoring is not about spending big money on the best fabrics and buttons, the finest stitching, the most debonair fit or impeccable craftsmanship - although it certainly encompasses all that! Rather, it's about the entire shirt making process.
It starts with the relationship – it is the trust you develop between you and your tailor. We aren’t buying a simple commodity here. Bespoke tailoring is all about getting the best fit for you – your personality, your mood, your attitude and your dreams.
At this level, your tailor will typically start by getting to know you better first. What your personality is, what you do for a living, what your hobbies are and what you like to see in your shirt.
From his understanding, the tailor will then carefully, but never intrusively, provide his opinion on things, providing you with ample opportunity to participate in the creation of a masterpiece. From the colour and fabric selection to that fine monogram on the sleeve, nothing is impossible.
At this point, you may have decided that I have gone all wonky, since the paragraphs above are not saying much. However, I can only say that just like the best things in life, no one can be told what Bespoke Tailoring is - you have to experience it for yourself.
In my next article, I will be documenting my personal experience with Kevin Seah, one of Singapore’s best talent, and his label, Kevin Seah Bespoke.
Disclosure: The author’s wardrobe currently consists of shirts and suits from the following labels - Grand City, Kevin Seah Bespoke (hopefully in a couple more weeks!), Raoul and TM Lewin.