Ben Sherman Mod shirts
Ben Sherman was a significant label in the Mod and Skinhead movements in the 60s. It was also key in the 1979 Mod revival and in Mod fashion today.
Arthur Benjamin Sugarman founded Ben Sherman in Brighton in the 60s and he also supplied shirts to Carnaby Street's top fashion name, John Stephen, during that era. His brand was adopted by the Mod movement and later the Skinheads. However, his original customers were wealthy clients demanding a custom-made product.
Arthur Sugarman was born in Brighton, but left for America just after the War. It was there that he polished his skills as a salesman and businessman. He met his third wife, Ruth, in California and joined her father's business empire, which included the shirt making business Lancia. His experience there taught Arthur Sugarman the shirt making trade.
Arthur changed his name to Ben Sherman as he was already known as Ben by his family, and he chose Sherman as a solid, American-sounding name.
Ben Sherman returned to Brighton and founded his own shirt making business. Initially he produced clothes for the top end of the market. However, he was quick to catch onto a burgeoning youth market eager for something new. He recreated the classic American Ivy League look, with a button down shirt in Oxford cotton. However, Ben Sherman also added his unique trademark button at the back of the collar, a breast pocket with the Ben Sherman label, a placket front and a loop for hanging the shirt sewn into the back. He imported authentic Oxford cloth from the US in pastel stripes and bright colours. Ben Sherman shirts were sold individually packed as befitted a high quality product. The classic Ben Sherman Mod shirt was born.
As well as the classic Oxford cotton Ben Sherman shirt, the gingham check also became popular in the sixties. Ben Sherman experimented with some outlandish designs including a lemon yellow shirt and a see-through shirt made from net curtain material that he showed that the International Men's and Boys' Wear Exhibition at Earls Court in London in 1969.
As well as supplying the fashion trade up and down the country, Ben Sherman opened his own shop Millions of Shirts Inc Ltd in Brighton in the sixties. He also had shops in London.
The Ben Sherman shirt was a staple Mod product. It was also adopted by the Skinheads who evolved from the hard Mods in the late sixties. The Skinheads wore a uniform rather than taking the Mod taste for ever changing fashions. The Skinheads wanted a standard product and in the late sixties demand for Ben Sherman shirts out stripped supply.
However, fads and fashions are short lived and by early 1973 Ben Sherman was in serious financial difficultly. Expansion in the good times saw the opening of a new factory in Northern Ireland. It was this move that kept the brand alive. The Government were not prepared to see the collapse of one of Northern Ireland's major employers at the height of the Troubles. The Northern Ireland Financial Corporation took an 80% stake in the Ben Sherman brand and preserved its future.
Ben Sherman himself stayed on as a consultant for a while, but soon left for pastures new in Australia.
Ben Sherman shirts were eagerly adopted by the 1979 Mod revival and continued to sell into the 80s. Sadly Ben Sherman himself died from a heart attack in 1987. He was just 62.
The Ben Sherman story did not end when Ben died in 1987. Ben Sherman shirts were an essential part of Brit Pop in the 90s and continued to sell well. With the Mod look continuing to be fashionable, Ben Sherman shirts and other ranges of Ben Sherman clothing still look cool today.
Reference and further reading
- My Favourite Shirt - A history of Ben Sherman Style by Paolo Hewitt and Terry Rawlings (published 2004 by Ben Sherman Group Ltd)
Your guide to vintage and retro