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A world tailoring capital offers a fitting experience The Hong Kong Suit

May 11, 1995|By Thomas Graves | Thomas Graves,Special to The Sun

The suit fits like a glove that fits well. I have now worn it in cramped airline seats and traffic court benches, and it has held up beautifully.

In Hong Kong, a suit is made by a tailor team. One person does the pants, while the more accomplished tailors do the jackets. Novices might only do collars.

To understand the process better, I took a tour of one of the shops where Princeton Tailors' suits are made. There, a handful of workers were busy cutting, sewing and ironing. Another group played a spirited game of mah-jongg. Every afternoon at 5, workers get a break to play the game, which is as prevalent as tea trays.

Aside from the mah-jongg game, the actual work goes at a fast pace. Using only a list of measurements on a clipboard, a worker cuts the material without using any patterns. Fabric is marked up with chalk and ruler, sometimes a curved one.

"It takes several years to learn to do this," said Mr. Simson C.W. Sin, the vice president of Princeton Tailors. Generally a tailor will start to learn the trade around age 13, staying in it his whole life. Buttons are sewn on by hand, and the buttonholes are hand-sewn as well.

Young would-be masters start by cleaning up around the shop before graduating to pants, which call for the most straightforward cutting. After some years, they graduate to men's jackets.

Besides my suit, I decided to have a shirt made because, well, you just have to. It took five minutes to measure me, and the next day my shirt was ready. My suit had taken about four days, and in fact it was ready before I was able to pick it up.

On my last visit I asked whether it would be possible to get an extra pair of pants made at a later date and learned there is no guarantee that the same material will be available. Some tailors in Hong Kong will include an extra pair of pants with a suit, and perhaps even a cheap watch or two. Princeton does not. A second pair, I learned, would cost me $110. I don't wear a suit enough to wear out the pants quickly.

When I do wear it, however, I feel a certain kinship with Agent 007 -- not the Roger Moore off-the-rack variety, but the Sean Connery original.

HONG KONG TAILORS

Twice a year, Princeton sends tailors to the United States for a whirlwind tour, hitting 40 cities in 85 days. One of their stops is in Washington, at the Capitol Hilton at 16th and K streets, today and tomorrow. Call (202) 393-1000, ask for Mr. Dennis Sin and Mr. Tony Wong. They visit Philadelphia May 13-15, at the Doubletree Hotel, (215) 893-1600, and will be at the Hilton & Towers Hotel in New York City May 21-26, phone (212) 586-7000. If you see a suit you like, Princeton can copy it using just a photograph or magazine clipping.

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