2018 has been an interesting year for women’s fashion, but one of my favourite trends to rise this year has been the increasing number of women wearing tailoring. I think the likes of Blake Lively and other Hollywood stars wearing suits on the red carpet has really made the female suit more prominent than ever before. So, I spoke with Jihae An, who works as a tailor on Saville Row, to gain her insight into the industry and her advice for buying a suit without having to break the bank.
Firstly, tell me a bit about yourself and where you work?
My name is Jihae An, and I always had an interest in design and clothing from a young age and frequently said I wanted to be a wedding dress designer. However, during my degree in fashion atelier (which focuses on the purpose of design and handmade creations instead of high street or fast fashion) I came across a module where I was taught by a Savile Row tailor. I was instantly gripped and went out to find an internship on Savile Row.
I came across a company called Thom Sweeney which was the youngest company, but with an innovative approach to its marketing and strategy. I interned here for the duration of my university course and when I finished I started at a proper coat-making apprenticeship. My official role was a bespoke tailor and I specialised in coatmaking. Since finishing my apprenticeship I set up as a freelancer and currently I work for the oldest tailors on the row called Ede and Ravenscroft robe makers and tailors with all three royal warrants.
“I am seeing many women head up the front of houses or setting up their own tailoring houses”
What is like to work in the tailoring industry?
The tailoring industry is surprisingly unchanged, it is so unusual when I compare my job to my friends as I do not use a computer, write emails or even have meetings. Processes are simple and old school, for example, when I first started out in order to get my customers (Savile Row tailoring houses) I simply visited each shop with a sample of a coat I had made and asked for work.
I still write my invoices in pen and paper and I pick up the work by foot and hand-deliver my garments when they are done. You have a close relationship with the people you are commissioned work by, so it is great for communicating problems or double checking on a coat detail during the making process. It is a satisfying job though, as you can see the result of your make after a couple of days work.
Has being a woman in the industry affected your job?
Being a woman and a person of colour did make it a little tough. I originally wanted the position of a cutter, but I was not taken seriously by a few of the houses despite holding a degree in the field. They often judged me to be a “finisher” who are often Asian women with limited English who sew the buttonholes by hand once the jacket is complete. Equality in the next generation of Savile Row looks very promising though, I am seeing many women head up the front of houses or setting up their own tailoring houses.
Have you seen an increased interest in women wanting to wear suits?
Yes massively, with womenswear dipping in to the co-ord trend on the high street and in the luxury market with women’s bespoke brands being set up with female cutters, this has attracted more female customers.
Can you get a nice women’s suit without having to spend big money, is it accessible to students? Or are suits something that, unfortunately, you have to spend the money on?
Yes completely, it is without a doubt that women struggle more to get a suit that fits than men do, as we are shapelier and so much more diverse in our body shapes. But I often shop at Next or Zara for suits, and pairing it with a smart white shirt will instantly give you that formal feel of a smart attire, although finding shirts for women is another challenge altogether. Even as a student I think it is always worth investing in one suit for an occasion and always buying something slightly big to get small alteration at the dry cleaners.
“In a well-fitted suit I feel smart and glamorous”
What would be your advice for a woman shopping for her first suit?
Do not think you will look slimmer by buying something skin tight. Having a slightly looser fit actually will compliment your shape so much more, everyone can see the uncomfortable pulling of pockets and buttons when you’ve squeezed in to a size. Remember you are the only person who can see a label size! But go for trusty brands like M&S and Next who have a range of sizes and ease you into feeling comfortable in a suit. Go for a navy or grey as I always feel black is a suit colour for court/funerals or black tie.
What statement do you think a woman makes when she wears a suit?
I could only speak for myself, but I think I make a statement about my status and sexuality. I want to be respected, and although I firmly believe I should have an equal amount of respect from society without a shred of clothing on. I have found dressing smartly for an occasion can only give you more confidence to hold yourself up to the best of your abilities. Suits have always carried the connotations of power and it is time women took full advantages of that. In a well-fitted suit I feel smart and glamorous whilst not feeling judged for the amount of skin I am showing.
Featured image courtesy of @be_spokenbyjihae on Instagram.