Carol Alayne

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Archive for June, 2009

Variations on a Seam

Friday, June 19th, 2009

I attended a concert at London’s Wigmore Hall the other night.  It’s considered to be one of the world’s foremost venues for high quality performances of chamber music and this night was no different.  The Academy of Ancient Music’s director, Richard Eggar, was giving a harpsichord recital; “the ultimate instrument that goes ‘ping'” we were told.  This year heralds the anniversaries of Purcell, Handel and Haydn, and the programme was devoted to these three composers.  One of the pieces that Richard performed got me thinking.  It was the Chaconne and 62 variations by Handel (for those in the know, HWV 228!).  How many different variations are there on a jacket? … So I started counting.

Barrister * Blazer * Boating * Bolero * Brigandine * Cagoule * Carmagnole * Cassock * Chef’s * Chesterfield * Clerical * Cloak * Coatee * Collarless * Crombie * Dinner * Donkey * Doublet * Dress * Duffle * Duster * Eisenhower * Eton * Flak * Fly front * Frock * Greatcoat * Guards * Hacking * Highland * House * Hunt * Inverness * Jerkin * Justacorp * Lab * Lounge * Macintosh * Mess * Monkey * Morning * Nehru * Newmarket * Norfolk * Opera * Overcoat * Pea coat * Pilot * Polo * Prince Albert * Pyjama * Raglan * Redingote * Reefer * Riding * Safari * Shooting * Smoking * Spencer * Sport * Straitjacket * Suffolk * Top * Trench * Tunic * Ulster * Zouave

I stopped counting after 62.

There are a number of reasons for having so many different styles, and not all to do with fashion.  The Norfolk jacket for example, was designed with a high collar to keep the weather out, and with deep accessible pockets in which to keep shooting cartridges.  Shorter jackets such as the hacking jacket were intended for horse riding, and traditionally had pockets cut at an angle with thick external flaps to prevent anything from dropping out.

Can any of you add to the list?

Uniform dilemmas

Thursday, June 11th, 2009

UniformsIf you look for a definition of ‘uniform’ you will find that it stresses similarity and consistency.  Indeed one of the purposes of a ‘uniform’ is to lend a feeling of cohesion to groups that want or need to be identified as a unit; the police, football teams and their supporters, symphony orchestras are all examples of this.  One of the major challenges with uniforms however, is that the people who wear them are not uniform.  I recently worked with a designer on a project that brought these differences into stark relief and the impact this can have if a project is not sensitively managed.

There seem to be three matters involved that have to be in alignment; the requirements and expectations of the wearers and their employers, the need to create economies in scale, and the design that will determine the final result.  Of these, it is the handling of the level of the wearer’s expectation that seems to play a vital role.

The needs of an employer are normally driven by their brand’s positioning and how this should be perceived.  This implies something that carries the branded colours and possibly other elements of the brand’s identity such as the logo.  For the wearer it is more to do with fit and personal comfort.  This is where things start to get complicated, because to completely satisfy individual needs the bespoke element has to come into play.  Usually with the mass production of a line of garments the tolerances have to be much greater to allow for the differences in body shape, the result is a corresponding economy in scale for their production.  As soon as the bespoke element starts to creep in the situation becomes much more complex with the cost model quite different from that originally proposed.  It is the age old formula of ‘cost v time v quality’ at play.

Add to this design elements which may not have fully considered the needs of the work force and  difficulties can emerge.  For example taking into account whether or not one’s staff spend most of their days sitting or standing can have considerable impact on the way in which the design should be worked through; close fitting flat-fronted trousers can look extremely chic for people whose work entails a lot of standing, but for those who spent most of their work life seated they can be a nightmare.

So I would suggest that designers, in support of the clients who commission them, should consider a little more the sensibilities of those who will be wearing the finished article, these people will after all become the biggest advocates of the branding exercise if their needs are accommodated.

Photo: thanks to US Military from


Recognised as a pioneer of bespoke tailoring for women, Carol Alayne has over 25 years experience of creating striking garments for arts, sports and media personalities and business wear for professionals and executives.



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