April in Poverty


Two kinds of men visit in April: tax collectors and tailors. It’s unfortunate because the first takes more than I was anticipating, and the second is who I’d like to give all of my money to. If tailors only came one or two months later, adding an extra sport coat or pair of trousers to an order wouldn’t seem so imprudent. In fact, it’s just for this one month that I’m sympathetic to conservative arguments against Big Government, if only because I can see how wasteful government spending is affecting my wasteful personal spending.

It wasn’t always this hard. It used to be that men had one of two ways to settle accounts with tailors. The first, which was most common, particularly in the West End of London, was to settle your balance on the start of your next commission. So if a man ordered his summer clothes in January and winter clothes in June, he’d settle his January bill in June. This came about because of the acute social distinction between the moneyed customers and humble tradesman. Tailors, fearing that they’d offend their customers (and thus drive them away) by bringing up the sensitive subject of payments at a bad time, often took the opportunity to be more diplomatic about it at the start of the next commission. This didn’t mean that accounts were always settled, of course, only that the topic could be politely broached. Which is why many dandies such as Beau Brummell were able to rack up such astonishing debts.

I also imagine this is partly why tailors preferred taking customers through a current client’s reference. Traditionally, this is said to be a result of the exclusive and discrete world that tailors operated in, but one can’t wonder if it’s more because tailors needed an implicit reference for someone’s credit worthiness.

In any case, the second practice was for the client to pay upfront, or “cash on the nail,” as they say. This wasn’t terribly common though since neither party had much incentive for it. Clients obviously didn’t want to pay for goods before they’ve been produced, and tailors often wanted to give clients a line of credit so they’d keep coming back. There’s very little profit to be had on the first or second order, given how labor intensive it is to hone in on a pattern, so it was in the long-term that a tailor made his living. This is still the case, incidentally, which is why when it’s possible, such as in shirtmaking, tailors will require four or five pieces on the first order.

The practice today, of course, is to pay half the order up front and the remaining balance upon delivery of goods. Which is great since tailors are screwed over less often and clients can still put off part of the payment until later (sometimes up to a year if it’s a traveling operation). Still, when the taxman comes, I can’t say I don’t envy the old system.

Anyway, if you’re in San Francisco, note that Napoli Su Misura will be here on April 5th and 6th; Steed Bespoke Tailors April 14th and 15th; and Thomas Mahon April 23rd to the 25th. If you’re not in San Francisco, check with each house to see if they visit your city. All three will be touring throughout the US for the next two months, and will kindly take credit card if the tax collector has left you too poor in April. 

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