William Field II creates English-style suits for a stable of discriminating clients.
William Field Sr. in the original Field Tailors shop.
Field's Upper Georgetown shop caters to private-sector clients and politicos.
A bespoke coat and vest along with a custom-made bow tie by Kevin Coelho.
by kate oczypok | February 5, 2013 | Style & Beauty
Though he’s head tailor and proprietor of Field English Custom Tailors, William Field II acts more like an anatomist and artist, studying the frames and stances of his clients, then envisioning suits that he creates over long hours at a work bench within the hunter-green walls of his shop in Upper Georgetown. His mission: to shape, cut, manipulate, sew, and adorn yards of fine fabric until it meets his high expectations and fits his muse to a T.
“You have to understand mechanics and quirks that make up individual bodies,” Field reveals. “It’s about being able to visualize, stand, and look at a customer and see their right shoulder is a little lower than the left, or their right chest muscle is a little larger than the other.”
The only son of North London–born tailor William Field Sr., who established the Washington shop in 1963, the younger Field admits that he was made to create bespoke clothing: “The love of creating something with my hands—it was sort of in my blood.”
Decades ago, Field’s father was an independent tailor when he saw an advertisement for an overseas tailoring job in DC. He took the job on a bet and arrived three days before President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Thriving in spite of the tumultuous events that followed—“my father was astounded that the leader of the country could be assassinated”—Field eventually opened the custom shop and worked there until he passed away. Along the way he trained his son in business and tailoring. “Carrying on my father’s legacy is important to me,” the younger Field says today. His wife, Carrie Jo Cornwell, is the vice president of the company and handles the administrative end of the business.
The skills he learned from his father, the traditional craft, and the business’s heritage in DC continues as Field tailors and creates English-style suits, overcoats, and trousers for a stable of discriminating clients—everyone from private-sector professionals to congressmen. And continuing his father’s penchant for discretion, he refuses to share living clients’ names, but allows that the late President Ronald Reagan and political analyst Tony Blankley were welcome visitors.
True to his English roots, Field is known for pinched waistlines, flares through the hip, and hourglass shaping for men’s garments. “Suits are cut broad at the top, narrow-waisted in the middle, then back out to broad. Think of it in terms of a coat,” he explains, noting that this technique helps clients look more balanced. And since he focuses on helping clients look their best, details reign supreme. Almost all work done on a Field custom suit is by hand: he sews trouser-seat seams by hand instead of using a machine, also adding hand-stitched coat edgings and surprises like miniature pockets to accommodate glasses or pens. For custom projects, he works with high-quality fabrics mostly sourced from England. Field even sews buttonholes by hand. He relies on Lumb’s Golden Bale and the H Lesser & Sons line of cloth.
He also occasionally uses vicuña, a warm wool that Field calls “the finest natural fiber in the world.” (The heavily regulated fabric is shorn from the vicuña, animals native to the grasslands surrounding the Andes that were once so in demand that they were endangered.) “Vicuña is very difficult to get. Luckily I can get my hands on it from [Italian textile supplier] Loro Piana,” he says. And clients pay handily for the privilege, with coats running from $25,000 to $30,000.
The high-end details don’t stop there: Field bastes horse hair or regular canvas and a thin layer of felt into each jacket lining to enhance the style and fit of the coat. “The three materials form a concave look, imitating the chest line,” he explains. “Not many [tailors] do that anymore.” Even his buttons are luxe. Field uses horn varieties (a staple on London’s renowned Savile Row) instead of plastic.
Each client has an average of three fittings, and the process takes three to four weeks to complete. Once Field notes each person’s unique shape, he can create a flattering pattern and get to work. Without any boasting, he reveals that clients have stayed loyal over the years. (“Once you have a tailor, you stick with [him].”) And many new clients find him via word-of-mouth recommendations. Field can accommodate any taste, but prefers to cater to a client’s needs while keeping true to his aesthetic. “I try to create something not too extreme,” he says. “I still favor a classic cut.”
He’s particularly busy around the holidays and the election season—his shop now averages about 10 suits per month—occasionally, two additional tailors will assist on the custom orders. Though the work is laborious, he sees no reason to walk away from the business. “Tailors never retire. They’re like old soldiers—they just fade away,” he says. “It’s not something people think of as a very glamorous occupation to go into. Funny thing is, I do a lot of work to make people look glamorous,” he muses. To him, hearing that his clients feel good in his clothes makes the long hours worth it. “That’s what keeps me going. The enjoyment of it all,” he says. 2134 Wisconsin Ave. NW, 202-333-2222
photography by greg powers