Made to Measure

By Frank Coles
Originally appeared in Concierge Magazine

Whether it’s something cool and classy for balmy nights on a rooftop terrace, or Savile Row styling at a fraction of the cost, Dubai maintains the long tradition of providing tailor-made garments crafted for the more discerning traveller, combining Middle Eastern value with European quality and styling.

There are a wealth of tailors and textile shops in the back alleys and Souks of Bur Dubai where you can select materials from any of the thousands on offer and take them to one of many local tailors who will construct suits, shirts, skirts or shorts in next to no time. If it is an outright bargain that you are after then this is the place to go, however if you want something of high-quality that you are going to wear more than a couple of times at prices that still feel like you are stealing, then you would be wise to look into some of Dubai’s more refined outfitters.

Recommended Retailers
As with any personalised service, if possible, it is always worth asking for recommendations from others. I was advised to try one of three Dubai tailors: Royal Fashions, Lobo or Kachin [further recommendations can be found in the Retail Therapy article in the shopping section]. All three have branches in or around Bur Dubai and Karama, however Royal Fashions also have two shops conveniently situated in Madinat Jumeirah and Jumeirah Beach Hotel and as their tailored shirts come recommended by The Economist no less, I decided to pay them a visit.

Royal Fashions is run by the Sawlani family, who have been in Dubai since 1952, from a time when there wasn’t even a retail trade to speak of. What started out as a few small shops soon grew into a successful textile business and when in the late Eighties there was a big push to develop the economy and particularly tourism, Royal Fashions decided that this was a good time to create a tourist friendly tailoring business. They now provide a service where a tailor made shirt can be delivered in less than 48 hours and a two piece suit in just two to three days. If you are here on business and are pushed for time they can even arrange to bring their service direct to your hotel room.

This formula has proven very successful with three branches now open in the Dubai area. Due to their location the two Jumeirah branches primarily cater for the tourism market while the third although being open to all, mainly provides services for high-profile locals, including the deputy ruler of Dubai, his Highness Sheikh Hamdan, as well as bankers and diplomats. Their success and hopefully this also means their quality, can also be measured by the growing number of clients who are visiting Dubai in order to have their suits made by them.

What to Expect
If you are familiar with tailoring, then you will already have experienced the leisurely and gratifying process of picking a material, specifying your style and being measured for the cut. If not then I am happy to report that the experience is distinctly more satisfying than the usual ‘shop ‘til you drop’ experience of trekking from one Mall to the next looking for the elusive item that fits and looks just how you want it to.

On entering the boutique-like ambience of Royal Fashions you are first ushered into a seat and brought a drink before being guided through the first step of deciding what you would eventually like to wear from the vast array of materials on offer. The walls bulge from floor to ceiling with fabric and many of the materials are sourced from the same suppliers that would be used in a Hugo Boss, Armani or Brioni suit. This was the only time-consuming part of the process as there were so many fabrics on offer that I was quite overwhelmed with choice by the number of renowned European names lining the wall; Dormeuil, Charles Clayton, Zegna, Clissold, Stotz, John Foster and Hammerle to name just a few. Rather than the one suit I had come for I think I would quite happily have walked out with four or five.

After much deliberation, I finally settled on a luxurious charcoal, crease-proof and subtly pinstriped ‘Super 100’s’ woollen yarn from Giovanni Tonella. In Dubai’s heat I was uncertain about picking something so dark in colour but was confidently assured that being based in the sunny Middle East one of the house specialities is, unsurprisingly, tailoring for a hot climate. The suit would therefore weigh around 30 percent less than something you would wear at other times of the year and so there was no pressing need for me to look like the man from Del Monte just yet!

The Cut
Regardless of the material, ultimately the final suit will only ever be as good as the tailor who makes it. The Tailor, sometimes known as the Master Cutter, is preferably the man who should take your measurements. As each master’s tailoring and measuring style will vary it is a sensible precaution to let one craftsman take control from start to finish. On my visit to Royal fashions two masters with different specialities came to take my measurements, one for the suit and one for the shirt.

This is one of the many small nuances that make a tailored item of clothing so very different from something bought in a shop. Over the years I can confidently say that I have only ever found one off-the-peg suit that fitted my shoulders properly without making the rest of the suit hang like the skirts of a whirling Dervish in full spin. Even in designer outlets I have found that from one shop to the next my shirt size has varied between large, medium and small for no particularly obvious reason. I can only assume that each designer habitually adds a little more here and takes a little more there depending on their own undeclared preference.

It is the tailor then who becomes the designer of your new outfit and it his expert cutting that defines whether a larger person will look thinner or a slim person more full-bodied and it is this attention to individual needs that can make a visit to the tailor so rewarding.

A Perfect Fit
A short time later it was back to the shop for a second and in my case final fitting where the partially made suit was tested for size and any last minute alterations made to match my taste and shape. The material, as promised, was light and wearable in the Dubai sunshine and I was informed that if the end result had been less than expected I could have had the suit remade at their cost.

This almost never happens and while waiting to pick up the final product I browsed their guest book that contains page after page of reports from satisfied customers from as far a field as Japan and Belgium. In the entire book I could only find two not entirely happy customers and even one of those intended to come back.

On discussing the benefits of tailoring with Ashok Sawlani, managing partner of Royal Fashions, he explained to me that “If you’re looking for a label then of course tailoring is not important.” However by using a reputable tailor he says “Exactly what you’re looking for, you will get. This is not possible in a ready-made garment, whether branded or unbranded, cheap or expensive.” This is why Mr Sawlani takes great satisfaction from the happy faces he sees everyday in his shop and why on receiving a modest demand for payment I left with a smile on mine.

Breakout#1: Materials 101

Fabric: From Alpaca to Tweed there is a huge variety of fabrics on offer but the finer wool of the Super 100’s and soft Cashmeres are the classic materials for formal styling, comfort and exclusivity. Aim for higher numbers in the Super 100’s range; in theory the higher the number, the finer the yarn used to weave the fabric and therefore the better the material. Dubai’s huge selection of linen and cotton are perfect for formal and more relaxed occasions however they do crease easily and can look messy.

Weight: If you live in a hot climate then it makes sense to go for one of the modern lightweight materials preferably in the range of 250-270 grams per metre. For more temperate regions a heavier fabric is required, ideally 320 grams or above. Colours: The choice of suit colour really depends on how and where you intend to wear it. Traditionally light colours tend to be for more casual occasions whereas you would usually opt for darker tones for more formal settings such as office wear, weddings or formal dinners.

Pattern: Patterns in men’s fabrics are usually reserved to the classic pinstripes or Prince of Wales checks, and while neither goes out of fashion their popularity does fluctuate from season to season. If you are daring to be different you could opt for one of the more unusual patterned fabrics such as the zigzagged Herringbone or the sharp black and white contrast of Houndstooth. If you are buying patterned suits, always make sure the lines of the pattern match up to each other along the seams.

Breakout#2: Style Guide

Shirts: Classic collars and double cuffs with cuff links are the way to go when making an impression in a formal setting. Casual occasions can be more relaxed with button down collars and cuffs. No pockets are traditional on a double cuff shirt and have been the business fashion for many years, while remaining optional for other styles.

Jackets: The sleeve of your jacket should reveal at most one half inch of shirt sleeve. For classic and formal suits 3¼- 3½ is advised for the collar, but take an inch off if you’re going casual.

Vents: Two vents allow ease of movement as well as disguising bigger bottoms. So, for the fuller figure, add vents. Ideally they should overlap by 3/4 of an inch so that your trousers are hidden from view.

Buttons: Three buttons are standard but for the more generously proportioned two or even one button can provide a more flattering cut. Four decorative buttons may also be worn on the jacket’s sleeve.

Waistcoats/Vest: Regarded as very formal and are primarily for business or wedding suits. Trousers: Hemmed trousers aren’t currently in vogue but if you do want to fly in the face of fashion opt for a one and a half inch turn-up.

Pleats also aren’t in fashion but if comfort is a priority pleats offer you just a little extra manoeuvrability and breathing space by being slightly looser around the thighs and hips.

Breakout#3: Accentuate the positive

Height: To appear thinner and taller – buy a pinstripe. If you are short already never buy checks because this will only make you look even shorter. Avoid lighter colours and opt for darker more slimming tones that have the added effect of making the wearer appear taller. For tall people the opposite holds true pinstripes will only make you taller while checks will make you appear less towering.

Weight: For skinny people if you want to add body go for light colours and checks. For the fuller figure opt for dark colours and pinstripes to hide a multitude of sins.

Breakout#4: Bubble Trouble
When a tailor doesn’t use a proper fusing machine or fabric bubbling can occur as the glue dries and cracks. What can be done?

Bespoke: Opt for the more expensive ‘floating’ panels of the bespoke suit, which allows the two layers of fabric to move independently of each other and is also referred to as hand made or horsehair canvas. The rule of thumb is you need to factor in double the cost for the tailor’s time (not material cost) to create a bespoke suit.

Fusing: Always ask your tailor how they fuse their suits, if they use good quality fusing material and a dedicated fusing machine then bubbling should rarely occur.

Breakout#5: Women’s Tailoring

Informal: If you’re after something extraordinary or more colourful then head to one of the dedicated shops in the Bur Dubai textile souk where there is a wide selection of material on offer. With no commitment to a particular tailor you are then free to take your fabric to the place of your choosing. Take care when selecting your own fabrics as it is time consuming and choosing the wrong material can ruin the outfit.

Formal: For day-to-day office wear the fabrics tend to be more or less the same as men’s, so choose a trustworthy tailor as outlined in this article for your formal blouses, suits, skirts and trousers.

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  1. I just dicovered your blog. Very nice! Keep up the good work.

  2. Good publish, adding this to my personal blog right now, thanks.

    • I don’t normally allow spam comments but online propositions are interesting. First, what are your prices? I’ve often found it’s cheaper to take a hol and get 5-10 shirts ordered in one hit in SE Asia or Middle East than it is to get tailored online/at home. I’m always happy to be proved wrong.

      • Our shirts start at around USD60 for normal high end 2ply cotton shirting and then go up to USD160 for super 140 cotton.

        We also have a taster shirt for $19+P&P made from standard high street quality fabric so you can get the fit right before moving on to a higher quality fabric.


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