Women’s custom suits as a priority, not a sidebar
There are plenty of companies, in NYC at least, making custom suits for women. But the thing I’ve noticed - and it’s the main reason I started Watson Ellis, actually - is that many of these companies treat women’s custom suiting as a sidebar to their male-centric businesses. It often seems like a female arm has been created just to make sure they’re covering all the bases by providing an option to those few outlying women who want custom suits.
And maybe that makes sense. After all, custom suiting has traditionally been a male-only sport. The market is primarily geared towards men because that’s where most of the sales are and have always been.
And maybe it doesn’t matter, because there are still companies out there that are catering to our custom suiting needs. Sure, we might be a sidebar in the scheme of their business models, but we’re catered to nonetheless.
The #powersuit is on the rise
I have problems with both of these points. First off, custom suiting might have been a male-only sport once upon a time, but it’s not anymore. Sure, most of the business might still be done among the men, but I’m seeing more and more women who are hungry for custom suits, blazers, overcoats and shirts / blouses. Because we need custom clothing too! Because clothes never fit us correctly straight off the rack either. Because #powersuits, and the like, look just as good on us as they do on the guys.
I’d guess that it’s still a male-dominated industry primarily because a lot of women still don’t know that the option to get a custom suit really exists for them. But we’re catching on in a big way.
Secondly, and maybe more importantly, I have a problem with the idea that it’s OK for women’s custom to be a sidebar of male-centric businesses because there are fundamental differences between the two types of tailoring. And given our status as sidebars, I doubt these differences are being taken into account. Put another way, because we are de-prioritized it makes sense that not much thought is being put into the subtleties of women’s tailoring specifically.
Real differences between Men’s and Women’s tailoring
And women’s tailoring really is a specific game! It requires specific methods, and attention to different details than on the male side of the coin. In the suit below, for example, the jacket canvasing has been molded for breasts. We take measurements to determine your accurate bust-cup size. If you’re being sandwiched into a men’s suit template, then this type of thing likely won’t be accounted for. And while that may be fine for flatter chested women, what about those of us with curves?
In the above image you might also notice the vest has a lower cut V than a classic men’s waistcoat. In addition, it has princess seams in the front rather than vertical darts in order to account for the shape of the bust.
The other thing to keep in mind is that the needle moves at different rates in men’s as compared to women’s fashion. For example, men’s suiting trends (fit and design) have tended to change subtly and slowly over time — think about the gradual move from wide to tapered leg pants, for example (1980s-2000s). Women’s fashion cycles, by contrast, move and transition much more quickly.
As a woman, if you are going to a male-oriented tailoring company chances are they are not necessarily taking into account these ever-changing female fashion trends. Having a background in fashion design, specifically for women, that’s something I have a keen eye for. I’m always looking at new directions in fashion and how they can be incorporated into women’s custom garments.
It’s not impossible to do both men’s and women’s suits. Hell, we do it, and we think we do a pretty good job. But if you’re going to do both then we think it’s important to prioritize them equally, which is what we aim to do at Watson Ellis. If not, then it’s likely that women are going to keep being squished into male-based templates instead of having something designed and made for them specifically.