YOU never forget your first suit. In my case, I’ll never be able to forget my first suit. It was horrific. Its memory is a grease-stain on my synapses. It wasn’t even a proper suit. It was a suit-and-brown-slacks Confirmation combo.
It was 1978 and corduroy Safari jackets were the height of fashion. Mine had lapels as wide as tractor tyres. It was made of cord as thick as a ship’s hawser and was virtually indestructible. There were eight pleated pockets, which were great for stashing my Confirmation money. I ‘made’ £11 in 50p coins and jingled like a bus conductor. In my head, I was the Bionic Man in that jacket. In reality, I looked like a small, badly-covered sofa.
I have never been a suit man. I find them uncomfortable. That said, there is something transformational that happens when you slip on a well-made jacket. Your shoulders straighten. People react differently.
“Imagine there is only one seat left on a plane. Who do you think gets it?” asks Louis Copeland. “The man in the jeans or the man in the suit?”
I am in Louis’ world-famous Capel Street shop in search of the perfect suit. He has agreed to dress and advise me while talking about his new brainchild, the National Tailoring Academy.
The academy will run a series of five-day courses starting in July, and a one-year Diploma in Fashion Tailoring in September. Enrolment started last month and there’s also a scholarship on offer for the Diploma (closing date Jul 22). “We want to make the academy a centre of excellence in tailoring skills. Our students will be taught by international masters,” Louis tells me as he slips a tape around my waist.
Aileen Dempsey, project manager at the Academy, nods. “In the UK, fashion graduates can go on to Saville Row. There’s nowhere like that here for NCAD and LSAD graduates. They have to go abroad. Now, with the academy, they can learn the requisite skills in Ireland.”
The Copelands have been in men’s fashion since 1900 and, according to Louis, people are still interested in quality. “If you buy cheap, you buy twice. The price doesn’t have to be prohibitive though. We sell suits from €299 up to €1,500,” he says, as he gently throttles me with his tape.
I’ve asked Louis to choose a suit for me. I also pick one myself. It’s a loud, check Hugo Boss. Very ‘Jonathan Ross’. It’s €500.
“The trousers should sit 1.5 inches above the shoe,” Louis advises me, checking the length. What about belts? “Braces are best if you’re carrying a bit of weight.” Thanks.
I remember Wall Street and Gordon Gekko’s ‘suspenders’. Do movies and TV influence men’s fashion?
“Mad Men has been great for business. Everybody wants that Cary Grant style.” Louis has chosen something Mad Men-ish for me. It’s petrol blue.
“Blue is ‘in’ this season’. Dark blues and navy are good for pale Irish people, lighter shades make them look washed out.”
The trousers are flat-fronted and the pockets tight: perfect for someone with no money like me. I’m in love with this suit. I twiddle my cufflinks like a cut-price James Bond (I look more like James Reilly). I consider roaring “My God! Look over there!!” and running out of the shop in the suit. I don’t, though. It’s €1,100-worth of clobber.
How much more expensive is it to get a suit tailored?
“About 50%. The tailoring side of the business is relatively small. It dropped to about 5% at the start of the crash. But it’s back up now, at 15%.”
Speaking of the crash, do Seanie Fitz and the boys still come in? Louis won’t ‘spill’, but says that people who may have bought a €1,000 suit in the past “now buy a €400 one.”
Who wears a suit well? “Mark Cagney does. So does Tubridy and Bryan Dobson. Dan Aykroyd too. Lovely man. I still make his suits. Pierce Brosnan looks great,” he says. What about ‘suit etiquette’? Are there rules?
“You should never close the bottom button on a two-button suit. Your tie should reach the top of your belt, and your belt should match your shoes,” says Louis.
Here are some others: Shoulders: should hug you firmly.
Lapels: Too wide, you’re in a showband. Try slim, not skinny.
Buttons: two, not three.
Sleeves: Keep them slim and allow a little cuff to show.
In all his years in business, what’s the maddest request he’s had? “To make a suit for a baby,” he says, “but I didn’t do it.’’
He’s asked to do a lot of Communion suits.
“This year we made 30-40 [at between €700-€1,000 each]. Personally, I think it’s wrong. I try to talk parents out of getting a suit made — it’s not a good investment.”
Louis puts my Perfect Suit back on the hanger. I am bereft.
“The thing about a good suit,” he concludes, “is that the price is long forgotten, but the quality is long remembered.”
It’s all academic to this penniless hack.
I’ll never have enough money to get one made. I think of my cord Safari jacket. If only I’d held on to my Confirmation money…