As someone who lives and breathes fashion but hasn’t an ounce of practical skill, designing my own clothes has always been an unattainable dream. My D in A-level textiles was proof that while I could wax lyrical about style, I wouldn’t be hitting the pattern room anytime soon. So when I was asked if I wanted to make my own suit, I was thrilled.
Tailoring’s been big over the past several seasons, particularly among millennials – unexpectedly, perhaps, considering the relentless popularity of ultra relaxed athleisure. Thanks to everyone from Gucci's Alessandro Michele to Victoria Beckham, two-piece suits are now as commonplace at Sunday brunch as they are in the office, tuxedos work as well for the pub as for a black tie event, and the skirt suit is no longer a cute throwback reference to Clueless but something we don on the daily.
Whether it’s Hillary Clinton’s election bid, which saw countless pantsuits on the podium, the '80s trend – complete with signature power suit – that swept the catwalks, or the mainstream celebration of feminism encouraging women everywhere to 'lean in', the suit has gone from stuffy nine-to-five uniform to a standout wardrobe staple.
Sales of tailoring this year have been strong for ASOS, with suiting in particular up by 460% from 2017. The brand sold over 22,500 pairs of tailored check trousers last season, but it’s not just traditional tweeds and tartans capturing our sartorial imagination. This season, ASOS customers have been buying mini skirt suits, kick flare trousers, and velvet and cord fabrications, too.
Steven Andrews, head of design at ASOS, explains the suit's renewed appeal. "It is all about the power dressing take-back," he tells me at the brand’s HQ. "We have seen this trend grow over the last few seasons and it is really coming into its own for AW18 and SS19. Power suiting, sharp shoulders, boyfriend and dad silhouettes, statement blazers worn over dresses and head-to-toe tailoring is being embraced as women take back the suit and dress for themselves."
I’m invited into the brand’s showroom, where I browse through rails of their most popular styles to get a feel of the kind of fit, fabric and finish I’d like for my own bespoke suit. "Oversize and dad silhouettes are key for ASOS this season, which we see worn as both separates and as a full suit with extended shoulders and wide-leg trousers," Steven tells me.
"We are enjoying playing with proportions, too: cinched waists on blazers are a must, whether that is a self-tie jacket or adding a belt as an accessory, naturally accentuating the shoulders." Colour-wise, I find checks in earthy tones, plaids in pop colours, and textured chunky cords or highlights, while party season-ready metallics, sequins and jacquards come in sharp, single-breasted silhouettes with kick flare trousers.
I have a loose idea of the kind of piece I want to create and have brought a few reference images as a starting point for my design. David Bowie’s ice blue suit, designed by Freddie Burretti and worn in the 1973 "Life On Mars" video, is my number one inspiration – I've had a postcard of it on my bedroom wall for years. Bianca Jagger, too, provides some stellar references thanks to her penchant for a wide-legged white two-piece. Ultimately, Steven tells me, what brings my favourites together are a few key features: an exaggerated '70s lapel, loose trousers and a nipped-in waist.
Next, I’m taken upstairs to meet Amanda Hilton, the brand’s established pattern cutter. Amanda looks at my references and the design that Steven and his team have sketched out, and talks me through details like pockets, belt loops, trouser darts and buttons. We decide that the pockets should be oversized and sit at the front of the jacket, that the suit should be single-breasted and fastened with a single button, that the trousers should have a high waist, invisible metal fastening and back and side pockets, and that the jacket should be fitted but boxy – all structured shoulders and cinched waist.
It’s time to choose my fabric. The team bring out a swatch board with every colour of the rainbow, from muted natural tones through to paintbox brights, which thrills my inner maximalist. Nearly all my references are electric blue but we try several shades against my skin and decide that a warmer tone would suit my pale complexion better. I go for a lightweight fabric in burned orange, which I’ve been so obsessed with that I’ve dyed my hair a similar shade several times this year.
"For the next stage we’ll make a rough toile (mock up) in calico (a basic cotton fabric) which we pin to a mannequin to give an initial impression of the designer’s sketch," Amanda explains, "allowing us to visualise the overall fit, silhouette and proportion of the garment."
I return to ASOS HQ a few weeks later to try on the calico toile and make adjustments. We take up pockets and hems by a few centimetres but I can already tell I’ll love it – I'm like a wide-eyed kid in a candy shop. Now that the final adjustments have been made, Amanda tells me that they’ll be constructing the inner and outer details, like the lining (I went for a psychedelic floral pattern that could easily have been worn by a twirling Stevie Nicks in 1977), shoulder pads (structured but not too '80s), and buttons (retro tortoiseshell to complement the orange).
Just two weeks after the final alterations have been made, I receive my suit. Oh boy, I'm in love. I'm John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever, Diana Ross working the room at Studio 54, a contestant throwing shapes on Soul Train. I feel fan-bloody-tastic. Hand me a cocktail because I’m headed for the dance floor.
If this is the power of a suit, I’m never wearing a dress again.