Every man needs a suit. They
generally fit really badly, are
rarely replaced, and cause
panic each time they need to be
worn. Will it fit? Is it clean enough
after those hilarious japes at the
However, most of us generally
know how to wear them. But in a
country that’s developing at such
breakneck speed, some people
are from a background with no or
little history of suit-wearing.
where do you start?
Principle M is a great first step.
Not only do they patiently hold
your hand through the entire
tailoring process, but buy a suit
from them, and you can phone
in a panic at any time to ask
what to wear with it.
My job was
to use a range of techniques
and technologies to help an
existing client, Donovan, pick
his next suit, and his bewildered
friend his very first.
They agree to me being there
in the same way one agrees to
letting the student doctor observe
during a physical, so I try to be as
professional-looking as possible,
while myself learning on the job.
Thankfully, stylist Elsa Zheng
and tailor Daniel Gu had given me a
The whole concept of getting
a suit made seems so intangible
to the tailoring virgin that we start
off by briefly looking at some
ready-made suits before sitting
down with lots of fabric samples
for colour ideas. Donovan, the
existing client, chooses first as
At Principle M, one of the, well,
principles is to start a client off
with a plain, preferably grey suit.
Not black. They’re trying singlehandedly
to steer China’s middle
and upper management away
from boxy black numbers. Donovan
had already taken that leap and
was ready to take his next handstitched
step into the unknown.
The new direction, we decide as
a group, was blue. With checks.
As a lawyer, Donovan needed to
look the part. But not those fabrics
because they’re too thick for the
office and not those because they
don’t match your skin tone.
We go through plenty of
examples of Italian and English
materials and refer to the Pinterest
boards Elsa had prepared.
are a treasure trove of looks, styles and reassurance.
However, why just look at
pictures of other men?
At Principle M, you can
provide photos of the
shirts, ties, shoes and
fedoras you may already
have and these can then
be curated by Elsa to show
you how to combine the
right elements to get that
killer look, or in cases like this,
pick a fabric that will match your
So we have a fabric. Now for
the measurements. Off come
Donovan’s long johns. It gets
very personal and very frank very
quickly. Not only can they tell you
where you’ve gained weight (to
the millimetre) since your last
visit, but in general your body is
totally exposed. You have to face
dozens of fabric swatches and
style ideas as well as discover that
one leg is longer than the other,
one shoulder higher and you do
indeed have a long neck.
Still, there are no judgements
here and I manage to get some
of the dozens of measurements
taken without causing any offence.
Two-piece or three? How much stuff do you put in your pockets?
Do you put your wallet in your back
pocket? ‘Of course not,’ replies
Donovan, ‘my wallet’s far too fat.’
There’s an almost endless list
of choices to advise on. Just as
well tailor Daniel can whip out a
sketchpad and pencil to illustrate
any problem areas.
Donovan was now well on
his way to suit number two, and
attention turned to his friend who
had recently relented to mounting
pressure to get suited and booted.
He’d put it off long enough and had
been rumbled when on work trips
abroad, but things had recently
come to a head. He’d got engaged so would definitely
have to wear a suit.
And his fiancée was present.
This is where the newness of
the suit as a concept in China is
more apparent. Even words such
as ‘lapel’ are new territory. This
calls for patience and tact. So
when we’re a couple of hours in
and reach the fiancee’s Pinterest-fuelled
impasse of ‘I don’t even
know what grey any more,’
I helpfully wade in and
suggest to the groom,
‘How about navy, seeing
as that blue jumper
suits you so well?’.
brings the session to
an end as a lot more
thinking needs to be
done on all sides.
Donovan pays for his
suit (no haggling) and
will be back in a couple
of weeks for the fitting of
the dummy suit.
It isn’t a problem that the
groom hasn’t made his choice
yet. A long-term relationship
has begun. The traditional
relationships that used to exist
in the West between tailor and
client, until being lost through
the move to off-the-peg, have
been transplanted to China. Why
now? Perhaps because the suit’s
contribution to getting ahead at
work, standing out and giving an
air of worldliness is becoming
increasingly necessary in ultra