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In the Studio with Katie Williams

Threadgold London founder Katie Williams explains the rise of tailoring – for men and women – and the trend towards bespoke as a discreet symbol of success.

“I think a well-dressed man is a thing of beauty,” says Katie Williams. And men seem to agree: demand for bespoke suits as a serious investment has increased in the past few years. At just 28, Williams is the founder of men’s tailoring company Threadgold London, making bespoke whistles (double-breasted are very popular right now) for events such as Royal Ascot, the Henley Regatta, and any number of weddings and funerals.

A big fan of 1920s style (her end-of-year show at the University of Leeds was inspired by the period HBO series Boardwalk Empire), Williams graduated with a first in menswear design and moved to London to work alongside Savile Row designers. She set up Threadgold London five years later with a City-based office, a West End showroom and a ready-made global client base. It takes her between six and eight weeks to make, fit and style a suit (“although you do get the odd client who panics and comes in and wants one within two weeks”), with mainly English fabrics sourced from the Savile Row houses.

Although 90% of Threadgold’s clients are men, Williams has recently turned her hand to women’s tailoring. With the rise of women in senior positions in the workplace, it has meant an increased demand for statement suits as well as smart, stylish and practical office wear.

Williams spoke with Jane Tarrant about building her bespoke tailoring business:

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of having a suit specifically made to fit you. It makes you feel amazing, and with that comes a feeling of confidence.

Menswear is more considered, and that appealed to me. You have to be more subtle with your designs, because generally men don’t want to peacock or stand out in the fashion-statement way that some women do. For me, menswear is less about fashion, and much more about fit and style, which are two of my passions. I also love the fabrics used in menswear. Beautiful, high-quality wools and cashmeres from Huddersfield are fantastic to work with, and you know you’re working with quality, which for me is everything.

A man’s bespoke suit should be navy. Always! And wear it with black shoes. Brown shoes are OK for a wedding or event so long as they are not too light or sandy-coloured.

First impressions go a long way. It’s important to wear a suit in jobs where you’re expected to look smart. You’d be perceived very differently if you suddenly rocked up in jeans and a T-shirt.

Men struggle with the term ‘smart casual’, as it’s a bit vague and often falls into the chinos and rugby shirt combo. It’s better to stick to the ‘smart’ side of ‘smart casual’ – to be the best-dressed in the room rather than the worst. I’d recommend some made-to-measure chino-style trousers, or made-to-measure flannel trousers and shirts, and a nice jacket.

Always wear socks with a suit. Unless you’re wearing velvet slippers with a dinner suit, or wearing trainers with a suit. Again, not everyone can get away with wearing trainers with a suit (a look I love), but if you can, then no socks is acceptable. Otherwise, it’s a big no-no.

The majority of women don’t even think of bespoke tailoring as an option. I moved into womenswear because I started designing my own suits and loved how they made me feel. I’d get so many compliments and women asking me where I got them from – it made me realise how few options there were for women in this regard. A big part of the problem with women’s tailoring is that it’s very masculine. Suits I’ve tried on in shops make me look boxy and lumpy. They’re simply not flattering. We all want to wear clothes that make us look good and by default make us feel good. Tailoring on women, done well, can make you look incredibly sexy and incredibly powerful at the same time. That’s what I have in my mind when I work with women.

There’s a gap in the market for great-fitting, off-the-peg suits for women that feel flattering and feminine. I love long jackets or cropped jackets that flatter the body, rather than something that just sits on the hips. It’s important to either elongate the body or elongate the legs. I like cropped trousers – showing a bit of ankle makes your legs look longer.

There’s much more of an expectation for a woman to wear something different in the workplace every day, while a man can get away with wearing the same suit every day. With a bespoke woman’s suit you can change up what you wear under it, such as shoes or trainers. Create a different look each day – it’s all about how you style it. Or split the suit up: wear the jacket with jeans and the trousers with a different top.

Trust plays a huge part in tailoring. Someone is measuring your body and all the insecurities that come with it, then advising you on what to wear and charging you a lot of money for it before you even see it. I think my relationships with my clients makes me stand out. They come to me for fashion advice, too.

Accessories are very important. Don’t be afraid of a tie, even if they’re no longer compulsory. A suit looks unfinished without one, and ties look equally smart with a blazer and chinos. They’re a great way to add colour and texture to your outfit, and shouldn’t be underestimated. If you really don’t like wearing ties, try a pocket square instead. It adds some colour and personality, and draws the eye away from your open neckline. It also gives confidence to the outfit, and by default to the wearer.

Jane Tarrant is a fashion director and stylist, working for magazines such as Cosmopolitan, T3 and Luxury Plus.