Did Covid-19 kill the costume? How sewing changed during the pandemic
For his Spring / Summer 2022 men’s show in June, Giorgio Armani sent soft jackets paired with pleated pants and shorts, in a presentation so simple and relaxed that it wasn’t until after the show was over that the public s realized that there had only been a handful of costumes.
Dolce & Gabbana, a brand famous for its pointy men’s suits, offered something looser and more roomy, embellished with crystals and shiny gewgaws that were more suited for parties than office wear; At CÃ©line, designer Hedi Slimane – whose skinny suits for Dior in the early 2000s sparked the global obsession with slim figures – adopted baggy jeans and layered T-shirts.
None of this was groundbreaking in and of itself, but in the wake of a global pandemic that sent much of the global workforce home, it was telling. By downplaying the importance of the costumes, the label trio deduced that in a world still reeling from the pandemic, the costume had lost its status.
âCovid brought the world to a standstill and people could wear whatever they wanted,â says Gary Sweeney, director of brand and style at Ascots & Chapels. “For a traditional British tailor-made costume maker, this was not good news.”
Founded in 1871, Ascots & Chapels makes bespoke suits for generations of British gentlemen. âI’ll be honest when Covid first hit we were all worried,â Sweeney said.
This sentiment is shared by Amer Ejjeh, master tailor and designer for Ejjeh 1926, a Lebanese company that has been dressing well-heeled men in Beirut for nearly a century. The pair were forced to sit down and watch the pandemic sweep away their clients’ need for suits, while Ejjeh faced the added pressure of Lebanon’s financial collapse, which he said was worse. than war. At the time, he explains, at least there was still access to food, electricity and fuel. “Now there is nothing.”
Also, when the banks gave in, Ejjeh lost all of his money. “Everything I’ve saved my whole life. Puff, it was gone.” With 65 people working for him, Ejjeh felt responsible for protecting their future, as well as his own. âI had to think of a way to make this business survive. “
So even when the wearers of traditional costumes, such as businessmen, bankers and lawyers were sent to work from home, the two men found a way to navigate this new reality. For Sweeney, it started with clients asking for advice. Within days, he explains, he was contacted by clients saying, âI spent two weeks at home and I need to get back to some sort of normalcy. I have Zoom meetings and I want to watch the role. What to do. You recommend? “
For men accustomed to an office environment, working from home has created sartorial dilemmas. What was the dress code for a kitchen table meeting? Sweeney’s clients have turned to him to guide them through this new fashion minefield.
The relationship between a man and his tailor is unique and intimate. To get the most out of their tailor, a client needs to be comfortable enough to discuss their body, insecurities, and weaknesses. Want to hide a belly or straighten the shoulders? A tailor can do this and more, but should know this early in the process. To foster such a straightforward relationship, Sweeney says absolute honesty is key.
âI’ll tell you exactly if something isn’t right for you and I can explain why. It’s not in my best interests to sell hard. What do I get out of it? A sale and you never come back? I’ll say, ‘Don’t take this, it’s not for you’. And if that means you’re not buying anything now, that’s fine. I think customers appreciate this honest approach.
A solid sewing know-how coupled with an understanding of current trends means that Sweeney is well positioned to offer expert advice. âEvery season you see these really beautiful costumes, but what looks good on one person doesn’t necessarily look good on another. If you’re a shorter guy, you might need something to elongate, like pinstripes, rather than checkered glass. Or depending on your skin tone, some colors will not suit you. When you visit your tailor, he has years of experience that you just don’t get on Main Street. It’s an integral part of the tailor-made journey – the experience – which is a huge part of the finished garment.
Ejjeh echoes this point of view. âPeople think a suit is uncomfortable, but that’s because they’re shopping the wrong way,â he says. âIn a tailored suit, you’ll feel as comfortable as in your pajamas – if the suit is made right, in the right fabric, in the right weight for the weather, and taking your body shape into account. If I build the perfect costume for you, you will be right at home anywhere.
While Sweeney could count on his existing clients, Ejjah had to find a whole new slice of clients due to the crisis in Lebanon. While there were restrictions on movement in the country, he began to research and quickly found a whole new sector of entrepreneurs making fortunes in the fields of technology and online services. âThese new jobs have generated six or seven figure incomes. New clients who had never worn a suit before and now wanted, not to attend meetings, but for their lifestyle.
These customers wanted only the best, to telegraph their success. The traditional customer can spend between $ 3,000 and $ 4,000 per costume, but as Ejjeh explains, âthose who are newly wealthy spend even more. They want the best fabric, the latest colors and the most extravagant design. They’re not looking for something they can wear to the office, they’re looking for costumes that they can show off with. They want to be pampered.
Ejjeh also found new markets across Africa, including Ethiopia, Rwanda and Egypt, where men were eager to invest in bespoke suits. In one year in Egypt, he says he sold more costumes “than in 10 years in the United Arab Emirates”.
The secret to making a good costume, says Ejjeh, is understanding not only what the customer wants, but also what they will use it for and where. âI’m really trying to understand the purpose of this costume. The first question I ask is where are you going to wear it? In Liban? To Dubai? In Moscow?”
Part of the beauty of tailoring isn’t just the personalized fit, but the process of creation itself, says Sweeney. To make a costume, the customer must attend an initial consultation and several fittings to make adjustments. For those more used to the instant thrill of fast fashion, this extended time frame may take some getting used to. But being completely made to order, bespoke is the logical option for those who care about their carbon footprint. âIt’s literally one of the few, instead of going down Main Street and picking one out of 4,000,â Sweeney says. Sewing is by definition durable. âA garment is cut, sewn and finished by hand, instead of being mass produced and flown from one city to another.
Made from the highest quality materials and exceptionally well made, the bespoke is designed to be durable, meaning that a classic costume can be passed down from father to son, and beyond. âThey last a very, very long time,â Sweeney says.
With recycling company RoadRunner estimating that up to 84% of clothes now end up in landfills, the slow tailor-made approach is starting to be more appealing. Ejjeh also saw firsthand how tailor-made can be a family experience. âMany times the client will bring me his brother, his cousin and even his children.
Yet even before the disruption caused by the pandemic, formal dress codes for men were unraveling, pushed by younger, more streetwear-inspired designers such as Kim Jones at Dior Men and Virgil Abloh at Louis Vuitton. âTen years ago you couldn’t be in the financial industry without a tie,â says Sweeney. âNow, if you walk down Wall Street, people wear shorts and that’s perfectly acceptable. Long before the pandemic hit, men were comfortable pairing a work suit with a t-shirt. .
Yet, as workers resist returning to the office full-time, with Business intern reduce the number of New Yorkers in the office to 41%, and Bloomberg putting the London number slightly higher at 50 percent, Sweeney says there is still a demand for what Ascots & Chapels can offer.
âThe customer who came to me for the charcoal gray suit 18 months ago now asks me for a well-cut sports jacket, chinos and buttoned oxford shirts,â he explains. âAlthough the demands have changed, the demand is still there. “
Ejjeh, too, is convinced that there will always be a place for well-made clothes. Like most bespoke workshops, he assigns a tailor to complete a costume from start to finish. âI believe a bespoke, hand-sewn suit has a lot of emotion,â he says. “And the emotions show up when people are in their happy place, which is usually the place where they are comfortable, in their own home.”
Update: October 24, 2021, 8:48 a.m.