Savile Row
Monday, 30 November -0001


From battlefield to ballroom, Savile Row tailoring is the mark of a British gentleman (and woman), says Harold Koda

Written by Harold Koda
Fashion sibyl Diana Vreeland, who only occasionally cast her eyes in the direction of menswear, noted that ‘Uniforms are the sportswear of the 19th century.’

SavilleRow-Feb06-02-590A tailor’s tools

The quotable editrix summed up a menswear paradox: on the one hand it demanded the impeccable tailoring of military dress, required an immediate visual identification of affiliation and hierarchy with immaculate finish, while on the other the incorporation of hidden defensive protective details and the accommodation of potentially violent movement.

SavilleRow-Feb06-03-590Detail of mess jacket commissioned by The Royal Hampshires from Gieves & Hawkes in 1988 for the Princess of Wales, Honorary Colonel

The military uniform epitomised extreme function transfigured into exquisite tailored form.

SavilleRow-Feb06-05-590Bespoke three-piece wool suit

Gieves & Hawkes, with its history as the outfitters of the British Army and the Royal Navy, has in its DNA the technical finesse for apparel that moved between battlefield and ballroom. While the elegant structural refinements of uniform styles are still available, the tailor’s virtuosity is now more commonly sublimated into the easy elegance of suits and jackets seen in boardrooms.


A bespoke suit from the Row, for all the apparent conventions of its aesthetic vocabulary and the delimiting constraints of menswear traditions sustained since the mid-19th century, is essentially a highly individualised effort in its technical details.

SavilleRow-Feb06-06-590Left: early 20th-century bearskins. Right: Bespoke double-breasted suit and greatcoat from 1 Savile Row

The great Savile Row tailor adjusts not simply to fit, but for an amelioration of every client’s physical idiosyncrasies to a more desirable line.

SavilleRow-Feb06-07-590Tailcoat with military-inspired details made for Michael Jackson by Gieves & Hawkes and worn during his Bad tour of 1987-89

The Platonic ideal of sartorial ‘naturalness’ achieved by adjusting for every eccentricity of posture and physique results in a garment that balances a cleaving to tradition and authority with a pronounced contemporary relevance and a supremely personal focus.

SavilleRow-Feb06-08-590Late 19th-century hussars tunic.

At 1 Savile Row, the tailor’s thread spools back to the days of the Duke of Wellington and Admiral Lord Nelson. It is a heritage in which the image of valour and heroism is enhanced through the subtle manipulations of cloth and cut, and whose principles and standards today suborn centuries of tailoring knowledge and technical virtuosity into forms of perfectly integrated function.

One Savile Row: Gieves & Hawkes – The Invention Of The English Gentleman, with foreword by Harold Koda, Curator in Charge of The Costume Institute at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, is published by Flammarion, priced £60.

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