Making a bespoke Neapolitan jacket takes dozens of hours, and a lifetime to learn. If you’re expecting to finish this article with the ability to make your own jacket from start to finish, let me warn you now that you will be disappointed. But if you’re hoping to wear your own jacket with a better idea of how it was created, that hope I will try to fulfill.
When you order your jacket, your tailor will take your measurements and order the cloth, unless he already has it. The order we’ll be following in this article was for a jacket from a custom run of Fox jacketing designed for No Man Walks Alone. The length of fabric that will be used for the jacket is cut from the bolt: typically 2.5 meters for a jacket and 1.5 meter for trousers.
The measurements, along with the tailor’s judgements and whims, by some strange alchemy generate the pattern the tailor uses for your jacket - the shapes of each piece that will be cut from the fabric and stitched together to form the jacket. Here you can see the main three substructures of the jacket’s body:
The back panel (itself two panels sewn together) and the two front panels. (Sometimes these four pieces are called “quarters.”) Already, extensive work has gone into constructing these front panels. In this picture, you can see the canvas in between the two layers of the outer shell fabric:
The canvas is like the skeleton of the jacket - without the canvas, the jacket would be all skin and flesh, with no structure. Neapolitan jackets are known for having a relatively light structure, which gives them more comfort and flexibility. You can see also by looking at the shoulder area that there’s not much padding across the shoulder line - just the canvas and a little bit of extra fabric around the armhole.
You’ll notice that much of the sewing is done with white thread. This is called basting - the stitches are loose and long, only meant to hold the jacket together for a fitting, and then easily disassembled for readjustments that will inevitably be required.
At this point, the jacket pieces are ready to be basted together and meet with the challenge of the client’s body. The fitting is the least time consuming part of the process, but the most virtuosic, calling upon all the tailor’s experience and imagination.
The tailor will notice anywhere the jacket seems to be pulling or bunching or otherwise misshapen, and wrangle the pieces into their proper position. Here you can see Sartoria Formosa tailor Dionisio Alise yanking off the jacket’s collar to determine how it should be placed.
This first fitting is sometimes called “the tailor’s fitting,” since it is mostly for the tailor to fix the mistakes that he sees - the ways that the alchemy of pattern-making miscarried with this particular fabric on this particular client.
These adjustments made and the jacket reassembled, tailor and client reconvene for a second fitting, sometimes called “the client’s fitting” - the jacket has been finished with buttonholes, the basting thread gone.
This picture shows the spalla camicia - “shirt-like” - style of sleevehead for which Neapolitan tailoring is well-known:
It is now for the client to suggest any changes to the fit or styling that suit his tastes. The jacket is in a more advanced state of completion, but most issues are still operable.
Once the client is happy with the jacket, then it is time for the final stage of the process: choosing a new one.
A special thank you to Michael who let us document the process of making his sport coat