Military Tailoring

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7 May 2011 By Hormazd Narielwalla / Introduction by Mariel Reed

Military Tailoring

NOT JUST A LABEL met up with Hormazd Narielwalla, author of ‘Dead Man’s Patterns’, a book celebrating patterns as an art form.

After years of working for Dege & Skinner of Savile Row, where he developed an appreciation for bespoke tailoring, Hormazd started to interpret and study sets of bespoke patterns belonging to deceased customers. Following Hormazd's successful launch of ‘Dead Man’s Patterns’, in October 2009, Paul Smith presented his first solo exhibition at his gallery on Albemarle Street in London’s Mayfair.

He has since become the first recipient of the highly sought after International Scholarship from the University of Arts, London. Meeting Hormazd for a coffee in London’s East End, he told us about the thesis for his PhD at London College of Fashion, which focuses on the uniforms of the British Raj and their constructions. We wanted to share his thoughts and findings with you:

The construction of a garment can be what makes it unique. The tailoring is what makes it interesting. It is important to the outcome of the design. Military tailoring depends solely on the garments construction. Uniforms are purpose built. The iconography of this historic practice hides its functionality in the very details of the garment’s stitching.

Military tailoring is a highly complex skill. The fit of the uniform is crucial, the balance of the garment vital, and maintaining strict precise dress, a regulation. Tailoring techniques must be used to enable complete freedom of movement.

It is to be noted that the uniforms mentioned are ceremonial, however were once worn on the battlefield. Contrary to the use of camouflage, these uniforms were designed and constructed to confront. This was primarily achieved through the sharp, stiff and rigid lines of the uniform. All service uniforms, patrol jackets or ceremonial coats for example, are all cut to fit the body. There is no allowance for slack or ease. The concept is that the uniform should not be skin-tight but should hug the body, in order for the guard or officer to have complete freedom of movement. This creates a stiff, sharp bodyline, but allows the wearer the ability to move fast and freely.

Model wearing military fashion

In a discussion with Michael Skinner, Master Tailor at Dege & Skinner of Savile Row, he explained that the most comfortable garments are those, which fit correctly. The armholes are cut high into the pit. The back is cut with a hollow shape. Even the overalls are cut high in the waist. He pointed out that the duties of an officer would invariably involve simple movements, like stretching a leg or raising an arm. Inevitably, the officer would have to fire a musket, mount a horse, march, or salute, which as Skinner pointed out, explains why the armhole of the uniform is cut right underneath the arm.

The side seams of a uniform are another interesting feature. They run from behind the underarm to the back, not side, of the coat with two more curved seams, known as patrol seams running down the back, to the spine of the coat. All of these features, the shoulder, side and back seams, have been considered construction lines that would create a brace-like shell. This forces the wearer to stand upright by giving him a concave back and a convex chest with very little effort.

Skinner also explained the relationship between military and civilian clothing. He was an officer in the Territorial Army and explained how balance is the key to any form of clothing. Balance, in tailoring terms means the way a garment falls and is achieved by way of cutting. He continued to explain that over generations, military and civilian clothing have lent and borrowed tailoring practices, for instance, the basic Mess Coat pattern has been developed from the Morning Coat pattern. The Morning Coat is one of the most perfected patterns. Many other tailored garments have been drafted from it. Another garment derived from the Morning Coat pattern is the Sporting Hunt Coat.

It is important to highlight also the relationship between the Morning coat, the Hunt Coat or the Mess Coat. They are all dress coats, which are cut close to the body and are intended to fit correctly. This is achieved by ensuring that the back balance is longer than the front. By doing so, the coat fits the hollow of the back, right from the collar, rather than hanging straight down, like a lounge coat.

The cuts of different uniforms vary. Cavalry uniforms have dress coats that are long and skirty because they were horsed regiments. These would be cut at least 1”-2” longer than infantry or gunner service dress uniforms. The skirt of the cavalry uniform would be cut with a flare, contrary to that of the guards or infantry, which would have been more clipped-in. The reason for these slight differences, Skinner put quite simply. They needed to be functional. The tailoring takes into account what they were expected to do. Cavalry regiments were horsed; hence their uniforms made for mounting a horse whereas the infantry regiments would be on foot.

Lastly, it is the skill of embroidery that gives the Grandeur. The spectacular embellishment of the uniform provides the true splendour. It is to be noted that no state event, or parade of state function would be possible without the genius craftsmanship of tailors, cutters, embroiders, furriers, boot-makers, hat-makers, and many others.