The Difference Between English and American Tailoring

In our latest video, Chris and Austin unpack their expectations and experiences of English and American tailoring. If you want to delve deeper into the meaning behind a skinny lapel, watch the video or enjoy their conversation in written form.



Chris: So, I'd like to ask you about your initial impressions of London's style – the English style – when you arrived three years ago compared to what you anticipated it to be.

Austin: Well, I moved here three years ago, just before the lockdown, so I didn't really get to see much of anybody for about a year. So, I can't comment too much on the style then.

However, since coming out of lockdown, my expectation was that people would be quite well-dressed, pretty tailored. Coming from the States, I know that English tailoring is one of the main schools of classic men's wear tailoring. So, I expected people to be pretty well dressed and I would say that that expectation's been met.

I think people here generally, at least within the city, dress more tailored and dressed-up than in the States.

Chris: Is the style of tailoring much different between the style of suits we wear here to what you're seeing back there?

Austin: I think, this is sort of also a matter of expectations. So in reality, no, it's not that much different.

When I came here, my expectations were sort of rooted to some of the bespoke tailors on Savile Row, who are these figureheads that have defined, let's say, certain aesthetics. So that sort of defined how I expected to see most people dress, which would be really strong shoulder lines and things like that.

But in reality, British tailoring is much more similar to, I think, American tailoring and probably the way that global tailoring is going - just softer, I don't want to say casual, but not as rigid or military-inspired as I expected it to be.

Chris: I think that military look, was always very much a Savile Row look rather than a mainstream British tailoring look, although some elements did carry across. And I think you're right, what we've seen in the last decade or so has been a more homogenisation of tailoring. Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing, I don't know, because I like cultural differences and the fact that you could spot an American suit, an Italian suit, and an English suit.

I think the English tailoring in the last few years has been pigeonholed, it has been tied to the military, but that's only one aspect of it. We've been making unstructured, very soft jackets, for as long as we've been making structured tailoring.

Austin: And that's one of the beautiful things I love about living here now is you can find it all. If you want a really strong shoulder, you know that's military inspired, you can find tailors, plural, in London that will do that for you. Even though of course the softer, more natural line is more common these days, but you have more options, I think, than you do in the States, generally.

Chris: I mean, that was always my knowledge of American tailoring. For my first job, I worked in London, Selfridges which wasn't far from the American Embassy and you would recognise the Americans when they came in immediately, but I loved the look. It was a very groomed look, it was a very smart look, and I like that combination of quite a casual cut, that very soft shoulder, very easy fit. It wasn't very waisted like then English-tailored suits, American suits were much straighter. The trousers were always cut a little bit shorter and always cuffed. But always very well put together, so, I love that combination of having slightly more casual elements, the softer shirt collars, the easier jumpers, mixing knitwear with tailoring, but always very well groomed and he's always noticed.

Austin: I hadn't really thought about that, but there's sort of a fuel rouge I think between what you said and you know, let's say the casual trend that we're experiencing these days. It's not like casualness was just sprung upon us and Americans want to dress more casually just now. It's actually in our tailoring DNA; maybe we're wearing more casual clothing, but we always have always felt this desire to be in search of something more comfortable, let's say.

I'm curious what your impression of American tailoring is these days.

Chris: Well, I've been to the States now since, well before lockdown. I noticed a very strong Italian influence, but I think there's an Italian influence everywhere I've been in the world.

The classic Italian, I say classic Italian, the modern Italian look and Italian brands have dominated because of the Italian textiles industry. But I still do enjoy elements of American tailoring, which still have British roots. I think a lot of people like Brooks Brothers and Paul Stewart, there's still elements of the old British things and obviously, Ralph Lauren, you can still see elements of Savile Row in that look.

Austin: And you mentioned the prominence now of Italian tailoring and I think it goes back to something that we touched on before, which was the softness and the casualness of the way that people dress. I think particularly Americans these days, I'm always reminded of just actually how casual people dress there. Being around Savile Row all the time, you assume most people dress that way and Savile Row is even very specific within London. And the Italians have really done an excellent job stripping out a lot of the components of the suit, making them as light and soft as possible. And that's not to say the British Americans aren't doing it either, but I think the Italians have done a great job marketing it.

Chris: But if you look at fashion books from the early Edwardian era, American tailoring was unlined. You had unstructuring, you had less darts in it, so it was always easier. And if you look at British tailoring, say, a school blazer from the first part of the 20th century, or if you look at a Henley Regatta blazer, they were unstructured, natural-shouldered, easy garments.

I think what the Italians did is they took those classic looks, and they refined them and made them slightly more elegant, but still so comfortable. So I think that's possibly how they've got into America, is coming from the American school of being comfortable, being soft, it's easier then to slide into this very romantic, Italian refined look.

Austin: I think there is a perception that English tailoring is very rigid and stiff. Is that because that is the house style that certain prominent tailors developed in recent memory, or is there actually a historical route to that?

Chris: Well the classic one is that if you look at most Savile Row houses, a lot of them had links to making military uniforms. So if you're making military uniforms, that kind of informs your other tailoring. But not all Savile Row tailors have military links and you will see tailors making softer shoulders, more drape, fuller cuts. And I remember Italian tailoring, at one stage, was very tight; you had that whole skinny Italian thing. 

So while we were doing these like drapey jackets, Italians were doing these very tight, fitted short, skinny lapel jackets.

Austin: And I guess it's also important to remember that "Italian style" is also dependent on the region; northern jackets can be more structured than southern jackets. Which is like what you're saying; England's done both.

Chris: I don't think we refined it. I don't think the British tailoring refined the unstructured. Because it's in most department stores, you could go to Hackett in the eighties and buy an unstructured jacket, it was no big thing, people never were excited about it. 

Austin: So what do you think is the direction that English tailoring will go in?

Chris: I would love to see lots of different schools, I think we're seeing too much homogenisation, so, I'd like to see proper structured tailoring, I'd like to see people doing softer or trying new things. Being innovative. I think England is very innovative, with a huge influence from street fashion, not just top end, I think punks, mods etc. we've had a really huge important influence on culture. I would like to see more of that innovation coming back.