Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Tailoring for the Gentlemen

c1937 Single breasted Flannel Suit from Joseph May and Sons
The 'Club' Model

After a lapse of about 3 years, I thought a post may be in order. The busy and hectic schedule of foreign travel and long discussions in my club have prevented me from posting.

That however, is of little concern. My first post is entitled Tailoring for the Gentlemen. So, what choices would the 1930s man of had.

When looking at clothes in the 1930s it is very important to analyze class and status along with the cloth. The 1920s saw the rise in the ready made suit (off the peg). This allowed those especially from the lower middle classes and the better off working classes to dress as those from a higher social class.

By the late 1930s the distinction of class by clothing was becoming much less noticeable. In Road to Wigan Pier, George Orwell writes

"The two things that have probably made the greatest difference of all are the movies and the mass-production of cheap smart clothes since the war. The youth who leaves school at fourteen and gets a blind-alley job is out of work at twenty, probably for life; but for two pounds ten on the hire-purchase he can buy himself a suit which, for a little while and at a little distance, looks as though it had been tailored
in Savile Row." (George Orwell, Road to Wigan Pier, Published 1937)

With the decline in popularity of the Morning Dress for the lounge suit, men from all different backgrounds were begining to dress the same. To the untrained eye, many men, as Orwell states on the hire purchase scheme were able to afford suits of varying quality, but with the appearance that they had perhaps come from Saville Row.

Spring 1936 - General Catalogue

Images such as the one above illustrate well the way that Off the Peg manufacturers advertised their clothes. The above suit, availiable in 'Fancy Worsted' wools, would actually have been a relatively cheap suit. However, much refinement is placed in the illustration to give the impression of a well tailored garment, and one suitable for a proffesional. The style, single breasted peak lapel being very popular at the time.

It has to be said though, that the quality of these suits in many cases was not that good. Roughly cut seams, the quality of the lining and the wool not actually being that good. However, the Off the Peg Suit, for all it's downfalls was here to stay. Many large tailors such as Alexandria, CWS, Thursdays and the 50 shilling Tailor vying for the lower end of the market.

Mid range, still offering Off the Peg, but also offering Tailoring services were the tailors such as Burtons, Horne Brothers, Austin Reed etc. These tailors tried to capture the middle class market, although Burtons did produce a large range of cheaper suits that would probably be in competition with the tailors in the previous paragraph.

Shops such as Austin Reed, Simpsons of Picadilly etc offered a new buying experience to men. Large open plan 'one stop shops'. Here you could buy everything a 'Gentlemen' needed what ever he wished to do or wear. The shop windows would proudly display the wares, encouraging men to buy the latest fashions, almost choosing for them to ease the agony of making the wrong decision.


1938 Simpson Shirts

These large department stores would offer a bespoke tailoring service, as well as alterations service. Stores such as Austin Reed produced complete guides that men could use to allow them to buy the correct clothing for which ever activity they wish to partake in. Many of the stores produced catologues and magazines keeping men up-todate with the changing fashions.


Joseph May and Sons

I will scan some more of my collection in, and the next post will look at the higher end tailors.

My Next post will explore the upper end of the market. I will also scan my images from my collection.


TimGoddenEsq said...

Fascinating stuff Ben, I look forward to reading more in the future. Pip pip.

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