A stylish conversation with Tom van het Hof – Bespoke tailor of Tom van het Hof, the Netherlands
Dear readers, the word ‘nostalgia’ might seem dated and old, but with the twist of our individual interpretation and sense of style, sometimes it can be surprisingly modern and sophisticated. I can tell you about this especially given my experience working on my own fragrance project, which ‘nostalgia’ has been one of the essential element that brings the bygone elegance to the present time, yet, I also get to know a young Dutch gentleman who has the similar talent, to bring back such elegance through his bespoke tailoring work, and, his personal style to interpret the nostalgic classic menswear and style so impeccably, manifesting old-world elegance is not gone, but very much exist in our time now. Tom van het Hof, who runs his very own humble bespoke tailoring atelier in the Netherlands, his passion over the menswear era from the Victorian period to 1930s is just mesmerizing and liberating, especially if one is obsessed with classic menswear from the past; apart from making bespoke clothing himself, his eyes on detail and impeccable style has literally drawn my attention, simply check out his IG page, and have a look the menswear assemble he stylishly put together, modeled by himself, which is very youthful and present that doesn’t look dated or old, on contrary, it’s rather sophisticated and modern classic. As a passionate dream chaser over classic menswear, tailoring, and classic men’s style, I am pleased to have a little Q&A here with this artisan gentleman, to let him share with us something about classic menswear, style and art of living.
My Modern Darcy: Hi Tom, very thankful to have you with me for this Q&A, so as far as I know, you are a true devotee to classic menswear of the past, can you share with me what makes you so passionate about it?
Tom van het Hof: My passion has its origins in many different aspects of vintage and antique menswear, but it all comes down to the way the clothing was made, styled and worn back then. A common perception is that back in the day everybody dressed very conservatively in dark, uncomfortable clothes that all spoke of a very sober atmosphere. But in terms of what was fashionable a century ago, the complete opposite is true; Just look at fashion plates from the interwar period and look at how they were coloured in, or take a Victorian menswear advertisement and read all the varieties of fabrics and colours men could choose from; the same goes for the shirts, ties, socks and other accessories like gloves and hats, especially after the First World War, men could choose to wear bright colours and combine different patterns and motifs with one another, not to mention that each season different colours were fashionable, and that's without even mentioning the very high standard of quality the fashion industry upheld, this of course includes bespoke tailoring; but relatively speaking, even the ready to wear market was of degree of quality that's hard to imagine nowadays; Clothing was also more expensive, but it also was made to last. And I don't have to look any further than my own wardrobe to prove that point, where both bespoke suits and ready to wear suits still uphold their style, quality and look after almost a century.
The final thing I'm very passionate about and that I think proves how much better fashion was approached back then is the way clothing was styled; nowadays, men's fashion is generally reserved for the lucky few who are able to get their hands on it, and who are skinny enough to look good in it, because, let's not kid ourselves, modern fashion dictates men should be tall, slim and athletic and should wear skinny fitting suits that emphasizes that, compare that to the fashion from the Victorian era to the 1930s, where even the ready to wear fashion was designed to look flattering on men in all shapes and sizes. Even advertisements exist promoting clothing for 'stout men'. And I'm of the opinion that you can only call something 'fashion' if everyone looks good in it.
MMD: In your bespoke tailoring work, can you tell us what are the elements to create a piece of bespoke menswear from the concept of the past but make it modern and timelessly wearable? And which part requires your effort and attention more?
TvHH: Though 90% of the commissions I get require me to faithfully make a historically correct piece, I do occasionally have to make something that doesn't immediately throw the wearer 90-years back. This I consider to be something made to look 'classic': and older style without it looking outdated; I personally don't mind looking outdated (because that's just the way I think it looks best), but not everyone wants that, so what then happens is that I take all the good features from the days of yore, and adjust it to make it look more contemporary: Broad and padded 1930s shoulder become less broad and slightly less padded, wide pleated and cuffed trousers become less wide with a more fashionable cuff depth, overcoats are made less bulky and long, just to name a few examples; all I'm doing is just take the whole vintage look down a notch and translate it to a timeless look. The most effort I have to put in not constantly propagating the true vintage look, something which I have become a whole lot better at in the past year.
MMD: How do you define a piece of good tailored clothing?
TvHH: Very plainly and simply put, something the wearer feels good and comfortable in, and will be for the decades to come: the ultimate combination of looks, fit and quality, and of course a client's satisfaction.
MMD: I realized that you decided to become a bespoke tailor right after your graduation from the Master Tailoring Institute in Amsterdam, can you share with us what challenges that you have encountered? And what makes you satisfy the most throughout this journey?
TvHH: The most challenging thing I encountered is to constantly sell yourself and your service to the world, you really have to get yourself out there and let people know about your existence. Nowadays, bespoke tailoring is pretty much an anomaly, especially in the Netherlands. People often don't know what it entails, what to expect, and the world of fast fashion has really spoiled people with dirt cheap clothing that is readily available in bulk, so not only do you have to inform people about your existence, you also have to tell them what it means to have something made bespoke, why they could and/or should, and convince them that they can trust me with it despite my young age, But by far the hardest and frankly most demotivating thing is the way a lot of people respond to the price quality comes at. Though most people are reasonable and kind and react in a similar fashion, I had (and still have) people responding in very condescending or even seemingly disgusted ways, sometimes even accusing me of simply ripping them off and asking me to explain why I'm more expensive that such and such made-to-measure service (which, for good order, is not even remotely close to bespoke tailoring.); this was very hard in the beginning and it started made me question everything I did, but I never gave up and slowly but surely my experience started to speak for itself, and four years later I'm glad to say my schedule is often fully booked, but most if this wouldn't have been possible without the constant support of the people around me, and my wide reach on Instagram, through which I get almost all of my clients.
MMD: Your assemble in IG is impressive! And I simply wondered what’s your secret of modernizing the bygone elegance? Do you find it difficult to compete with the contemporary menswear / fashion world? And what’s the worth of such nostalgic menswear and style to be existed in our time now?
TvHH: The fun thing is that I actually don't modernize it at all! I always closely follow the fashions from back in the day and don't involve any modern ideas into it, I think the main thing that makes it look more modern is that, in contrary to what the dark black-and-white photographs make it seem, the fashions from the past century were actually very colorful and cheerful. Also, another thing that is to be considered, is that modern 'classic' menswear takes a lot of its inspiration from the past, eventhough most of the designers will never acknowledge it: pleated trousers, wider lapels, trouser cuffs, bold neckties, just to name a few. I think the only thing that modernizes my vintage look is the fact that I bring it back to life in modern times, and the fact that besides looking the part, I don't act like I live in the past and I only adapt the good things to the modern times. I treat everyone with respect, and try to follow proper etiquette where it is socially acceptable and doesn't look like an act; for example, I always help take my girlfriends coat off and walk on the 'unsafe' part of the sidewalk, but I don't tip or lift my hat for everyone I pass by, or stand up when a lady enters a room. I use a mobile phone, and most of all, I stay far away from the outdated and conservative ideals from back in the day. I also like to stray away from competition with contemporary menswear, instead opting to just coexist without trying to look superior, I feel most comfortable and stylish in vintage fashion, be it an 1890s tweed walking suit or a 1930s lounge suit, and whatever people may think of it, I 'm not going to change the way I feel about it, it’s each to its own. Thus I will never propagate true vintage style above contemporary fashion for the same reason, but I will say this: people can take a lot away from the fashions from the old days and adapt it into a modern style without looking outdated; If I was to pick one thing I would people like to take away from that, it's that you should not be afraid to wear some vivid colours and patterns. Wear a brightly coloured paisley tie with your dark suit, people will love it. Wear those pastel colored trousers instead of khakis with a blazer, this wouldn't have been done differently in 1930s Europe. And most of all, don't be afraid to make things clash a bit when it's appropriate: if Edward VIII could combine madras pants, argyle socks and two-tone shoes and still be considered the best dressed man of his time, you can definitely combine a micro-checkered shirt and paisley tie with your pinstripe suit.
MMD: Can you let me know your 3 favorite items in your wardrobe? And why?
TvHH: First of all, a 1946-dated three-piece grey birdseye weave suit from Henry Poole of Savile Row, a most unexpected find in a rack full of modern suits, it truly is a most treasured suit. It fits me perfectly, it is made out of a heavy and extremely versatile fabric, and is from the most famous tailoring house of all time, so it ticks all the boxes in terms of my love for vintage and my life as a bespoke tailor. Secondly, an early 1930s German bespoke ulster coat in a green diamond weave tweed with a royal blue windowpane; I have never seen a coat of such high quality before, and the fabric is unlike anything I have ever seen. It truly is the most beautiful coat I have, and I can't think of anything that can top it. Lastly, my 1940s Jaeger dressing gown. I found it the same day I found my Henry Poole suit, and it is my go-to garment on a day off; Very warm, very comfortable, and very stylish; I don't allow myself to lay back often enough, but this gown always provides a one-way ticket to the abyss of relaxation.
MMD: Which style icon(s) that inspires you – both your work and style – the most? And how?
TvHH: The first style icon that comes to mind is Edward VIII, the Prince of Wales. Though a very controversial figure, his sense of fashion is legendary and he helped pave the way for a lot of things that became fashionable. Navy blue as an alternative for black in evening wear for example, or it being fashionable to wear brown (suede) shoes with blue suits. A personal favorite thing he helped make fashionable are boldly coloured and patterned fair-isle jumpers for sports and leisure wear, I draw similar inspiration from other style icons from those days like Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart, David Niven, just to name a few. Secondly, to stay in the royal realms, the latest Prince of Wales, Prince Charles. His style is that quintessential British style that is nor modern nor old-fashioned and he never fails to brighten up an otherwise traditional and calm look with a splash of colour in the form of a tie, pocket square or otherwise. And much like his predecessor, he has a great affinity with bespoke tailoring and even initiated the Campaign For Wool, which to me as a bespoke tailor also hits very close to home. If I had to choose a third option of non-royal blood, it would be author Bernhard Roetzel. Known for his world famous sartorial encyclopedia ‘The Gentleman’, he is very much at home in all the different aspects of both classic and contemporary menswear and all the hallmarks of quality. One thing I appreciate most about his approach to style is how he manages to combine modern and classic style faultlessly, and how he manages to capture the best of British and Italian tailoring in his wardrobe, showing that the two very different styles can be joined, and that's coming from someone who really dislikes the Italian style.
MMD: In your opinion, how do you define ‘style’? And how to cultivate it?
TvHH: I consider someone stylish if the way they look shows they put thought and care into their appearance without showing it off. An outfit that is well put together transcends taste in my opinion: even if someone is dressed in a way I personally don't favor, I can still see if someone has a defined style, and that I can truly appreciate. But again, the most important thing to me is to not show it off and/or let your style be the center of attention on purpose; this is one of the main reasons I don't consider the so-called 'Pitti-Peacocks' or anyone else who dresses for attention and showiness to be stylish: style is something you develop for yourself, and not for others: Style is something very personal, and unique; you should wear what you want to wear, evaluate how you feel in it, and think of how you can make yourself feel or look better if you don't feel that way. Listen to what the ones you care about (and vice versa) think about it, and evaluate that. Style isn't cultivated in a day or a week, it's always evolving with you, and is born out of a lot of trial and error or success.
MMD: Apart from the attire, what are the key elements that a modern day gentlemen should have?
TvHH: I think one of the most important things for any man to have is a good mechanical or automatic watch. In a day of mobile phones I think a watch is a very underappreciated piece of jewelry, that's not just about showing the time, but also about showing a bit of character. Be it a Jaeger-LeCoultre or my 1920s Olma watch I found for €10,00 at a local flea market, a watch compliments and adds to one's style. And is still very useful when your phone is out of battery. Another thing that is often overlooked is a classic pair of sunglasses; just as with a watch, it's a good addition to an ensemble and of course very useful, and with so many classic designs to choose from, it compliments any sort of attire, be it the evenly stylish Aviator sunglasses for a casual day at the beach or while driving, a Ray-Ban clubmaster with a suit while you're on your lunch break from the office, or a pince-nez with blue glass to go with my 1910s attire on a sunny terrace with friends. Lastly, good manners; these always come in handy wherever you are, and no Rolex or Versace sunglasses can make up for bad manners.
MMD: if one day someone comes to you and say how to become a bespoke tailor, what will be your advice?
TvHH: It's the same old story with every tale of trial and error: never give up. There are going to be lots of failures and learning moments, but these will be replaced with success. Never stop learning, don't listen to the ones who say you can't do it; if you have a passion for it and are of a very creative and crafty nature, you can make it work. Just remember that you should stay true and honest to yourself.
Image courtesy of Tom van het Hof