Button or zip? This is not a trivial question. But it is a delicate one. The style of the fly on a gentleman’s trousers is of real importance. The British favour buttons: Americans will countenance only the zip. Two nations divided by a common tailoring. There are other differences, too – to do with both style and vocabulary. If an Englishman asks an American tailor for “4 buttons on each cuff”, he could be in for a shock. The Englishman will be talking about the ends of the jacket sleeves; his tailor calls ‘cuffs’ the turn-ups at the bottom of the trouser legs. And what the Englishman thinks of as a conservative stripe – say, a distinct chalk stripe on black – his American friend will regard as radically bold.
Which is just how I must have been regarded as I stood in the comfortable premises of Patrick James in the business district of downtown San Francisco. I wanted a Californian suit – something light but supremely elegant, well-made but not outrageously expensive. Patrick James seemed the ideal place. The company was founded nearly 40 years ago by Patrick James Mon Pere (a 3rd generation American of French Basque and Irish stock) specifically to provide traditional classic clothes for California’s gentlemen with taste. Now there are a dozen stores in the main towns of the state, and I had heard good things of them.
Si’down, you’re rockin’ the boat! This song used to sung with great gusto by that star of many a stage musical, Stubby Kay. And there he was in front of me with a tape measure. Except it was not. It was his doppelgänger, Marten Mejstrik – who was just as jolly and who made my time in the shop as pleasant a visit to a tailor as I can ever remember. Marten explained to me that my Californian suit would not, in fact, be made in California. It would be constructed in Philadelphia by the century-old firm of H.Freeman. The system is straightforward. You select your material from the hundreds of samples in the Patrick James showroom, you decide on all the details of style and you are measured. The instructions are sent off to Philadelphia and 6 weeks later your suit appears at the Patrick James shop (to be posted on to you, if necessary, anywhere in the world).
Clearly, this procedure requires much of the individual sales associate (as I have now learnt to call each of these excellent fellows). The tiny adjustments and corrections of Savile Row bespoke are not available. Measurements and details have to be spot-on first time. But Marten inspired confidence. He knew instinctively what I wanted. A smart single-breasted suit with a 3 button, single rear vent jacket with waisted not straight sides. 4 working buttons at each cuff (British usage), buttons for braces (the front ones outside the trousers, the rear inside – so as not to catch the leather of the Royce’s seats), a button hole in the lapel, 18 inch trouser bottoms with turn-ups and straight pocket holes on the trouser seams.
Cloths are displayed on pieces of white card – a system new to me. Somehow this made my selection easier. Looking through the usual books or staring at whole rolls, I find makes me dither. So I soon pounced on a grey Italian super 110 wool with a pinstripe. Unhelpfully, the cards do not give the weight, but Marten and I judged it an 8 ounce – ideal for my desired combination of lightness and formality.
But what of price?
Around $1,400. Quite a snip for a suit made specifically for me from such fine material. The savings come, of course, from the lack of fittings and the necessity to make one’s choices within certain given parameters – I could not, for example, have my usual dovetailing for braces at the back of the trousers. But, of course, the proof of the tailoring is in the wearing. Would I still consider it a bargain when I was striding down Piccadilly or Fifth Avenue or peeling a peach on the Côte d’Azur?
Indeed I would. This is a splendid piece of tailoring, which flatters my tired old frame and even inspires in me a soupçon of that American get-up-and-go I so admire. If you fancy a Californian suit, Patrick James is clearly a good place to go. And I will certainly never forget its origins in the sunshine state. For, yes, that delicate choice was made for me. Every time I visit the nécessaire I am reminded of the American insistence on the zip…
Purveyor to Gentlemen
216 Montgomery Street, San Francisco, California 94104, U.S.A.
Telephone +1 415 986 1043
(The San Francisco store can supply details of the locations of its other shops in California.)