There’s nothing quite like a lady in a suit

Imagine a woman decked head to toe in a suit and oftentimes what we picture in our minds are corporates in office wear. It’s a power look, and it carries with it many stereotypes of the person donning the outfit. And if you’re not a corporate, what business do you have wearing a suit, right?

Tossing aside those kinds of perceptions and challenging the norms of tailoring and womenswear culture in Singapore is new local brand 3eighth. It’s a custom tailor which gets its name from the usual allowance tailors give for garment pattern drafting, but rather than target discerning gentlemen, founder and director Sheryl Yeo, aged 27, caters to women.

“What I’m trying to do can still be a new concept to women in Singapore, because the idea of, you know, wearing tailored clothes, or something more [supposedly] manly is not the ideal look in the office yet… they don’t see it as an everyday look,” said Yeo.

Most formerly from The Prestigious, where she took on an apprenticeship and gained her tailoring chops, Yeo first entered the industry out of interest in fashion. The self-proclaimed tomboy is often found shopping in the men’s department and wears daily what most will deem as non-feminine.

“Dressing is a very mood-based thing for me. Generally, I do change up some of my styles. I’ll wear dresses or t-shirts on some days, but I think the percentage of me being in pants versus me in a dress, you’re talking maybe 90:10, that sort of breakdown.”

With the start of 3eighth in November 2018, she’s now doing more than changing perceptions with her taste in clothing. In essence, she is offering her own brand of gender-neutral wear that fits females, males, or anyone in-between. So to say her clientele are only women is to oversimplify things. Perhaps more accurately, most anyone on the gender spectrum can look to Yeo for a tailoring job.

We visited the boundary-defying tailor at her shophouse space on Circular Road and found out what it takes to not just produce great custom wear, but what it means to challenge conventions of gender-based dressing.

Sheryl Yeo

So it’s explained on your website why it’s called 3eighth. But is that the full idea behind it?

Compared to other brands, where you see the name and you get it, I realise many people were like “What does it mean?” And then you know, people will make fun like, “Eh, it’s San-Ba!” (literally ‘three eight’ in Mandarin, but also slang for a nosy person). Which is quite funny. I think it has a ring to it. The deeper meaning behind why I chose to use that to represent my brand is also because it’s like giving yourself an allowance to be yourself. As I was growing up, I played basketball, and I’ve met all sorts of people, especially more tomboy-ish girls. I find that a lot of the fashion brands, they don’t give these women a space to sort of explore what it means to dress more differently.

Who do you see as people embodying this change? Besides yourself, are there others you think are icons of such a movement?

If I’m talking about the international Hollywood scene, I would say people like Cate Blanchett. I think she’s a very good example when she was in Ocean’s 8, decked out in suits. And I think her personality in the movie as well, it was more fluid, which I really like. She also looks beautiful but doesn’t conform to society’s standards of what a woman should be.

Any local ones?

There used to be an editor here named Janie Cai. I really loved that she was very authentic about being into menswear. She really talked about the different aspects of menswear when she was heading Esquire, which I really do respect her for.

Did you learn a lot during your time at The Prestigious?

Of course. I think they gave me very valuable insight as to how clothes should look like on people. The audience we were serving at The Prestigious was an extremely niche crowd. There’s a difference when you come to a bespoke store, what to expect, the process, coming to get measured, picking up fabrics; there’s a lot of trying to get to know you, what you do. Along the way, I realise that my job as a tailor is not to give customers what they want, but to advise them to make sure that they have the best proportions. We try to bring out the best in everyone’s features and bring down the not-so-strong qualities. So we balance that out. I think that’s what tailors should aspire to do.

Will you ever tailor a dress?

Yeah, that’s something that we’re actively taking on commissions for. So like for example shirt dresses; I’m still focusing more on relaxed form of clothes for women, so of course there are trousers and stuff, but then for shirt dresses it’s easier for movement. Whether you’re pregnant or not, you can still wear the same dress. There’s a lot of relaxed forms of dressing that I really like that I want women to have.

When will you wear a dress?

I will on a normal day if I feel like it. It depends on maybe if I have family events, or if I need to be more proper, or if people are not used to the idea of seeing me in this [suit].

Do you think you’re also bending a lot of traditional tailoring rules, not just in terms of gender, but in other ways as well?

I would say yes. Because the silhouettes I really like are a bit different from the traditional ones. People may frown upon it, might find that this is not the gentlemen’s code of dressing. But that’s fine by me. I’m not here to fit into their box. I try to give people freeway, just like how I would give myself free reign over my dressing and my wardrobe too.

What’s the biggest difference when you tailor a suit for a female, or anyone else on the gender spectrum, other than a guy?

Okay, so I think the thing that people don’t know much about tailoring for a female is that it’s super challenging; a lot more so than tailoring for a man. That’s something that I only learnt about when I stepped into my apprenticeship. Just think about it this way: it’s like you have to put a piece of paper on a ball and it’s never gonna wrap correctly. There’re always kinks, there’re always things you need to sort of take away. So with the female form there’re a lot more curves you need to take care of. You don’t wanna make them look too big in the chest or other areas; you need to balance it out. For men it’s quite straightforward because everything, I would say, is quite uniformly spread out. You can always sort of go with formulas and tweak things along the way. But for women it’s always never really following formulas and there’re a lot more things to take care of during fittings.

Technically, you can make suits for men also.

Yes. I’m not gonna say no to customers who wanna come in. It can be very intimidating to step into a tailor store, because I always think that there’s this sort of expectation that you need to know the codes of gentlemen’s dressing. So when you go in and then you don’t know a lot of things, you feel a bit like, this doesn’t feel right.

You feel like you will be judged?

Yeah the word is judged. Everybody that walks through the door, I treat them the same. Whether you’re female or not, I’ll still tell them the same things. It is more challenging to tailor for a female body, but that doesn’t mean that the treatment I give is different.

What kind of price range are we looking at for your services?

For shirts from $120, and for trousers from $180. Fabrics-wise we do offer more premium stuff, so only 100% cotton for us. Then with the exception of certain trousers and shirts, we combine it with a [certain] material, so it’s a bit more elegant for females.

Complete this sentence: Being inclusive with your customer base, sometimes mean having to…

Being inclusive with my customer base sometimes mean having to be very exclusive in certain things. You have to learn to really trim out a lot of rules, about what it means to truly be a tailor. I guess I wanna be seen as an authority in more unisex, gender-neutral dressing, because that is something that I’ve always stood for. The funny thing about inclusivity is that instead of having several parameters to think about, there’s basically just one track – clothes for everybody. I think that’s the interesting part about trying to be inclusive.

Sheryl and her husband in bespoke suits at their wedding

You were telling me you got married in a suit?

Yes! The suit was done with the help of some former colleagues. My mentor was actually the one who drafted my suit. I sewed my own trousers and got a bit of help. So it’s really a few of us cramming towards the due date of my wedding. I was really proud and touched by the end product that came out. I think it was a vision that I always dreamed of, and when it came about I was very happy and proud to wear it. And I think that really was a statement of who I was.

3eighth is located at #02-01, 66 Circular Road. More info here.