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I was looking through the various offerings and was very pleased to see there was a linen available, in the summer this seemed a very good idea. The colour seemed just about dark enough - they had a near white, a blue and a beige. I went for the beige.
Mistake. This was where I learned my first big lesson about swatches. The material always looks lighter en masse. The suit was perfectly fitted and exactly what I'd ordered - and it wasn't flattering. For the second one I ordered I opted for what I thought was a dark grey. It turned out to be mid grey for the same reason. It looks good on me but it was luck rather than judgment.
So what do you look for in a swatch? First, get a sample at home if you can. My usual tailors at A Suit That Fits (sponsored link, I get loyalty points for click-throughs and that's the only payment I get for this blog) will send up to three, no problem at all. Others, like King and Allen who I met recently (not a sponsored link) will prefer to sit you down and talk you through the fabrics. Remember they'll look lighter; compare them to your shirts, think about the lining and what's going to work and what isn't.
Feel it. If you think it's too rough, it's too rough - only buy something you like. Then screw it up. Go ahead - you're looking to see whether it creases. Then pour flour on it, or toothpaste - see how easily it brushes clean. Don't expect miracles, it's a suit after all, not a raincoat, but it should be relatively cleanable. After that you're ready to order - unless you can actually get to visit the tailor. If you can do that, ask them if they've got any suits made up in the fabric you're thinking of. You're spending the money, they'll fall over themselves to show you.
If you don't get the suit right after that, you're not trying...
P. S. A warm welcome to any new readers who saw the piece on the BBC's webwise site. I hope you'll find something of interest in here.