No tailor in the DC area is as highly regarded on StyleForum as William Field of Field English Custom Tailors. I was fortunate enough to have him join me for this conversation. How did you get started in the tailoring business? I was a student at the University of Maryland, trying to determine what I wanted to do for a major. I was forced to think about my future. So I thought about it, and thought, I've been around my father's business all my life, maybe I could talk to him and see if he'd be willing to teach me as well as run the business, which is two jobs in one. But he seemed to be quite happy about my decision, so I ended up being directed towards fashion merchandising as a major. They didn't have a major for apparel design or anything like that. Here and there a course or two, but there was no major focused on that. At that point, though, I knew I was going to come work for my father full-time anyway. So getting a fashion merchandising degree didn't mean that all that much to me anyway. I learned far more from my father than from my studies. But they wanted me to have a college degree. And I didn't even know it would be a bachelor of science! What's the English part of Field English Custom Tailors? Well, my father being from North London, for one. He trained at Savile Row, and I did a stint at Gieves and Hawkes in the workshop, which was nice. And the cut, which is definitely an English cut. What makes the cut English? Getting a set shoulder, more of a defined look through the shoulder line, with very little padding. As opposed to a Neapolitan style, with a soft finish and full sleeveheads. Our cut would be more clean and structured, through the chest as well. We hand-pad through the chest to get that natural curve, with a bit of drape right in the armhole, because we want to keep the armhole high, which requires some drape, or you won't be able to move. Which is the difficulty a lot of people are finding with off-the-peg suits from for instance, Rag and Bone, or even J.Crew, which are tight, narrow fitting coats, harking back to the days of the late 50's and early 60's, but they leave no drape whatsoever, so it's very difficult to move in them. So high armhole, but with drape. A handsome overcoat. But not so much drape, such as one might find on an Anderson & Sheppard coat? Yes, that's also because of the shoulder line that they do, similar to Alan Flusser in New York. They have a very extended shoulder line. It's a soft, natural sort of fit but they also tend to do a very high armhole. So with the extension and dropping off, plus the high armhole, you've gotta have drape or the fulcrum wouldn't work. We're not that soft, we have more structure, but not as severe as say, an old-fashioned Huntsman, although they have softened up some over the years. Not too built up, but a nice, set sleeve. Inside the House of Field What's your favorite fabric to work with? Obviously, wool – 100% wool. For a mill, Lesser. The weave, I'd say birdseye. Birdseye performs so well over the years. Occasionally you get little pulls or something, but it's a very long-lasting fabric. It hangs well, doesn't wrinkle too much, and has natural give to it. DC is one of the most conservatively dressed cities in the world. How can do you inject a bit of English style and flair into a conservative environment? Well, I don't actively – but if someone comes here, for the most part, they're looking for that English touch. So depending on their age, I may direct them to a nice grey, not a charcoal gray, but a little bit lighter toned. If you're thinking DC, you're pretty much thinking Capitol Hill. And there, it's all dark blue suits. Some dark grey or charcoal, but mostly dark blue. Very dark blue, almost to the point of black, with the obligatory red tie, or light blue tie, and a white shirt, or perhaps an oxford button-down. That's pretty much the uniform. So I'd soften it a bit, because you don't have to be so dark. So maybe a slightly lighter shade of blue. It's still conservative, but it's got some light and richness and texture. You can still do a conservative cut, certainly. But you can have a little splash of color, it's not going to be offensive to anybody. It depends on who's running the country, too. For instance, when President Reagan came into office, he was a good dresser. He had a very good eye for dressing, and had been working with a particular tailor out in Hollywood for many years. And a lot of his things made for him when he was in the movies. And being from the West Coast, he used more earth tones, not just dark blues and grays. He was willing to wear browns. It still looks very elegant. If you've got the head guy that's having things made and looking very well put together, it filters down. Towards the end of Clinton's presidency, he was wearing suits that were better fitted, and in different colors. When he first came in, he dressed very poorly in ill-fitting suits, but he turned out to be quite a good dresser. The Bushes were very conservative, very J.Press. Obama wears very dark blue suits constantly, which seems very limiting to me. What's the difference between bespoke and made-to-measure? Why is it so hard for the online sites doing made-to-measure to replicate the fit of true bespoke? They're not really seeing the person's form. Measuring someone is not just a snapshot. As you're measuring someone, you're asking them about styling, measuring them again, seeing how they move. And at some point in that measuring process, they'll relax a little bit, and then you'll really get to see their form. They're not ramrod straight anymore or sucking in their gut so much, they're relaxed a bit more, and you'll really see the pitch. Maybe they seem down right a half an inch, which is typical, but then they relax and you'll see, it's really three-quarters of an inch. So those computers, like the ones that will do a scan of you, measure you in a static pose, and when you're not very relaxed. Then when you relax, the suit's not going to fit anymore. Then when it gets to the maker, say in China, they'll sort of look at the numbers, and say oh, let's use, say this pattern, a block pattern. Then they finish it up, send it off, and that's it, without any fittings. And they'll probably never see that suit again, because who's going to send it back to China for alterations and deal with all the back and forth? What are the right things to look for or ask about if you're walking down Savile Row trying to find the right tailor? On the whole, there are not major differences between one firm to another on the Row. The major differences are if you think of the extremes, like A&S and Huntsman. Everything in between is similar, and within one house, it depends on the cutter. So what it comes down to is the comfort level between the client and the cutter. What are the things a client should think about before their first commission with a brand new tailor? I can maybe explain it this way, if I have a new customer, maybe they know what they want, maybe they don't. I'll ask questions and try to figure out what they want, and direct them to what sort of fabric they should to use. Once we've got that figured out, then I'll start by looking at their figure, measuring them, and asking questions about problems they have with off-the-peg garments. I might say, I'll bet this guy has problems with rolls across the collar, or maybe the lapels tend to pop open, or the pockets on the trousers flare open. I'll ask them those questions, and they'll confirm it, and that will help me know that in cutting their suit, I'll have to cut this more square or that more pitched. Usually the customer will know the issues they have with off-the-peg clothes, or will at least be reminded of them when I ask. It helps them feel comfortable, because they know I'm asking all the right questions, which other tailors may not ask. It helps the customer know that I'll go to the utmost length to make sure the suit fits correctly, even if major work has to be done to get there. Bespoke is a big step, and you need confidence in your tailor to do it. A coat in a beautiful Prince of Wales glen plaid, commissioned by a friend of mine as a part of a 3-piece suit, ready for the first fitting. A closeup of the fabric. With the exception of the first photograph of my friend's coat, all photographs taken from Field's facebook page.