In the 50s and 60s the average man bought a new suit every couple of years, and in 1965 the menswear industry sold thirteen million suits. Most of these were bought at one of a number menswear chains which were common on Britain's high streets in the 50s, 60s and 70s.
The most well known and most prolific was Montague Burton, which still exists today as Burton. However, changes in tastes mean that formal suits make up only a small proportion of the what the chain sells today.
On a 1960s high street you might find one of these shops below, listed in order of the number of stores they had:
- John Collier (originally Fifty Shilling Tailors) [rebranded as 'Collier' in the 1980s and closed in 1985]
- Hepworth [converted to Next Stores in 1984]
- Foster Bros
- John Temple
- Neville Reed
- Dunn & Co [closed 1995]
- Willerby & Co [more of an upmarket tailor]
- Smart Weston
- Weaver to Wearer
- George Doland
- Jackson [owned by Burton]
- Harry Fenton [a favourite Mod label]
- Brooks Bros
- Peter Pell
- Hector Powe
Very few of these shops still survive today.
Burton was by far the largest chain. In 1965 there were 511 Burton Tailoring shops in Britain. Sir Montague Burton founded the empire in 1900 with one shop in Chesterfield and the ambition to bring made to measure tailoring to the man in the street. He succeeded and the business prospered.
The second largest chain was John Collier. There were 331 John Collier stores in 1965. John Collier had a similar history to Montague Burton. It was founded by Sir Henry Price in 1907 also trading from just one store at Silsden in Yorkshire. He traded under the name of Fifty Shilling Tailors. In 1953 the giant United Draper Stores Limited acquired Fifty Shilling Tailors and changed the name to John Collier. Collier was sold to Hanson in 1983 and finally to the Burton Group in 1985, which then closed its rival.
Buying a suit from one of these shops was not quite what you might imagine. There was no tailor actually working in the shop.
You came in to the shop to be measured by an assistant. The process took about half an hour, after which the sales assistant sent the measurements to the factory which manufactured the suit. You then went back to the shop for a fitting a week or two later. You tried on the suit and agreed alterations with the sales assistant. There could be two or three fittings and the whole process could take six weeks.
The factory was an important part of the model and the economies of scale allowed Burton, Collier and Hepworth to offer good quality suits at very reasonable prices. In 1967 Burton employed 20000 people in its tailoring factories and shops.
A suit from Burton's cost £17 10s (or £17.50) in 1966, about £225 in today's money. You would struggle to find a made to measure suit for that price today. If you went to a more upmarket shop in the 1960s, such as Austin Reed or Simpson, you would receive a traditional service, with several fittings. You would pay considerably more for this, around £50, or £640 in today's money. The end product, according to Which? magazine, was only slightly better.
Suits from Savile Row tailors were cut more generously and offered a slightly better fit than those made by the high street tailors. But Burton was only slightly behind in terms of the quality of material and wear.
1. Which? report on Men's Suits (9 September 1966)
2. The Monopolies Commission - United Drapery Stores Ltd and Montague Burton Ltd - report on the proposed merger (September 1967).
By Steven Braggs, April 2013
Add your comments
M G Doland" Michael George Doland 17/03/2014
best regards" Steven 20/03/2014
Interestingly I have just inherited a three quarter length John Collier overcoat - it belonged to my wife's late grandfather and as far as we know it has never been worn. Fairly thick, heavy wool material and dark charcoal in colour. Will be well used during future winters.
Once again, congratulations on an excellent article.
Regards William Gibbings" William Gibbings 26/03/2014
Kind regards, P x" Porcelina 21/04/2014
I entered the Menswear trade in 1967 working for Hope Brothers.The main store was Ludgate Hill London and branches in most major cities. Hope Bros started in 1880s even made some of the 1st England shirts. They were taken over by GUS in the 50/60s and added there empire which included many of the chains you mention. In 1970s many of the Hope Brothers group stores were converted into Just Pants Plus one of the 1st Modern Fashion groups on the high street." Peter Pearson 09/11/2014
I have a complete 3 piece linen mix suit by Design Circle / John Collier, cheeky question but any idea if it's worth anything?
Many thanks in advance, Jo." Jo Panks 25/03/2015
Would you have any history on"Meakers" of Piccadilly, my grandfather worked there in hosiery and died in the blitz outside Meakers as a watchman in April 1941, very little is known about Meakers other then he worked 15 years there.
Thanks Stephan" Stephan Taylor 20/04/2015
My Dad worked for Meakers until it closed down in 1978. I also worked there as a Saturday boy for the last 2 years and was made redundant shortly before my 18th birthday before leaving school! They had something likely 50 branches in the home counties. Dad managed a few branches, finishing in Harrow. I worked in Watford. I'm afraid that your grandfather's era was before my Dad who was only born a few years before your grandfather's death." Peter Loose 25/05/2015
Would it be possible to me in touch with Geoff Gooding to compare our histories of working for Hope Brothers. I worked in both of Nottingham branches (new and old), my finale branch was Eastbourne which I closed and it was turned into a Hector Powe
Regards Peter Pearson" Peter Pearson 04/07/2015
Is there anybody out there who remembers him?C" Jan godfinch 15/07/2015
Is there anybody out there who remembers him?" Jan godfinch 15/07/2015
I worked at willerby in the 70's. The name john Barron seems familiar.
Graham Cooper" Graham Cooper 26/07/2015
Very interesting. I do remember Dave Carty, so that must have been around 1960. I recall he was an early'Mod'and had an interest in Politics. Lavey's display manager was Terry Ryan and the team were very good by the contemporary standards of display at that time." Roger Dulson 28/07/2015
Clothing retail & display is naturally a very different beast these days. Very few fashion private menswear shops; and those that do still exist fall into two categories- Classic top end, or Designer labels fashion. The old groups such Burton,Hepworth morphed into mid market casual clothing stores. Unlike the shops of 60s and before windows and shop fronts are without the arcades that used to 'lead' the customer into the clutches of commission hungry sales staff: All now is self select and laid back by comparison, store windows are all flush to High Streets that all look much the same. I am pointing out what will be much the same kind of picture as in OZ- I'm quite sure. Happy days! Cheers, Roger" Roger Dulson 03/08/2015
It is interesting to run through & try and time line the step changes that changed the wardrobes of the British male since the listing of Multiples & Groups that 'kicked off' your Blog. I have my own observations; any thoughts out there? Only those old 'Rag Trade' fogies, with a nostalgic- curious nature, will want to contribute, I'm sure!!" Roger Dulson 04/08/2015
I can't contribute to your "time line" question as I migrated to OZ in 1969 (everything was going well with display when I left)!As you guessed, the "display" situation is virtually non-existant here although we do have a "proper" menswear shop about half an hour away. Unfortunately it's just basic windows (sadly dressed by the owner) but he does "proper"gear! Dinner's ready, got to go, cheers, Peter." Peter Perryman 05/10/2015
After that I crossed over to Burton and went on to be a Manager in Barnet, London Victoria, Oxford St ( Which is now part of the Top Man store) Aylesbury, Bedford and Finally High Wycombe." Paul Nolan 23/10/2015
When I lived in Newcastle upon Tyne, I bought all my suits / jackets and trousers at Dunns exclusively and they gave me superb service, even remembering my style, colour preferences and inside leg measurements.
I moved from Newcastle to Cumbria and was delighted to find the English St. store in Carlisle and on entering, even more delighted when a voice rang out " Hello Mr. Morton !" It was my favourite assistant who had been promoted to the Carlisle store as manager. He still remembered my preferences and would 'lay by' anything he thought I would like -- and he was never wrong. How I miss that wonderful tailoring.
I never had a misfitting garment from Dunns.
Sadly I have never had a good fitting pair of trousers since they closed, apart from a very expensive McGee suit bought from the also now non existent " Campbell Brown's "
shop next door.
Thank you Dunns for many years of great outfits. ( I still have a Dunn's West of England jacket and trousers in superb condition. )
Now --- Where can I buy a decent pair of
cavalry twill trousers ?" Arthur S. Morton 07/01/2016
I worked for Harry Fentons from May 1967 to May 1968 in Putney High Street, Gloucester Road and Chiswick High Road Stores. I earned the princely sum of Â£8.00 Per 5 1/2 day Week! As a young Teenager I benefited from the wide range of mod cloths especially the wonderful mohair trousers, Peter England Shirts etc. and the wide range of accessories in keeping with the 1960's pop culture. (Pink & Mauve Seersucker Shirt anyone!) I was never better dressed for the money than during that time as I had first choice of the new stock deliveries and also the generous staff discounts. I believe that year has given me good dress sense in what ever social setting and I have retained that passion for style and quality all throughout my life." John Cooper 11/01/2016
I obtained it new in around 1953 as a 14 year old, cost me 10/- shillings.
Still in very good order but requires some T.L.C. Can you provide some info on this tie and I am prepared to let this tie go to an interested home." Robert Peaker 14/01/2016
Happy days!." Clive Downs 26/02/2016
and went on to work at victoria camden kingston victoria cheapside an finaly at putney
still have the dress sense that was drilled into you
great time miss the 50% dicount on the made to measure happy days" colin davis 16/09/2016
Just stumbled across this forum as I am doing some research on my old school (Owen's in Islington) during my time there in the 1960s. The school's outfitter was "Hope Brothers" in Ludgate Hill and I remember being taken there to be kitted out in 1961. Does anybody who worked for them recall anything connected with providing the school's uniforms?" Jeff Owen 23/10/2016
Sorry but I can't remember the Managers Name at Putney, but he had an assistant who I believe was called Mr Duggon? The managers name at Chiswich was Eddie ?? (think it began with an S?
And I remember a Wimdow Dresser at Chiswick named Sid Collis (or Collins?) Big Fella. Larger than life. I can also see the window dresser in the Ladies Shop over the road. Famous for her very short mini-skirts! Eddie used to bet on the horses and I was forever running over to the bookies for him. Good times!
For the record, I left the trade and went into Engineering and Production Management.
JC" John Cooper 21/11/2016
When I was in my teens, in the summer, I was allowed to work in Willerby's Head Office in Tottenham Court Road... I did this for several years... I was lucky enough to have a connection in the company, my uncle,from my Mum's side, Joe Davidson was the MD of Willerby... My Dad's brother, Lou Noble was a director of 'Weaver to Wearer' and there was always friendly rivalry between the two brother's in law at family gatherings...
I wonder if anyone remembers either of my uncles?
Gosh, how the High Streets have changed over the last 60 years!" Clive Noble 05/12/2016
I worked for them at Bromsgrove ,Redditch,Kidderminster. Brigenorth,
In 1955,we had to get men to. Have17"" bottoms (trousers)
The norm then was22 ""
Not easy,golden talisman was top of the range in bespoke tailoring" Michael wright 30/12/2016
The tailoring business in question was owned by Sir Henry Price: You might find this interesting.
http://www.culpepperconnections.com/archives/uk/places/wakehurst5.htm" Roger Dulson 18/01/2017
Sir Arthur Price was the man who owned FSTs.
This will tell you the full story.
' Southerby's to sell Sir Henry Price Collection'" Roger Dulson 19/01/2017
I remember, being the junior (well, there was only me & the Manager) being sent to Basildon to pick up a suit from the factory, a journey that involved underground, mainline & busses as I didn't drive at the time.
I also remember going on a measuring course in Chelmsford & on my return measuring a customer for two pairs of trousers which, when they arrived were more like three quarter length shorts! He was not best pleased." Tony Wheeler 08/07/2017
regards John" John Richardson 02/08/2017
Great to think you had a good time at Hepworths. A number of my old mates opened their own great shops on the strength of Hepworth experience in the 80s... and it must be said that George Davies cut a bit of a dash also in the Hepworth aftermath!" rogerdulson 04/08/2017
his name was bill/William chessex." PAUL Baxter 23/10/2017
Customers could be quite demanding but overall the reputation of Burtons made selling a pleasurable experience and was a very positive experience in my life." James O Grady 27/10/2017
DON'T FORGET YOUR STINT AT ABERDEEN ... ??
HOW CAN WE ALL MEET UP, WOULD LOVE TO SEE BOTH YOU AND MICK !! Still in the force ?
JOHN WALL.B27 7PT" JOHN WALL 11/11/2017
I also worked at branches in Luton, Hemel Hempstead, Watford, St Albans Regent Street and Oxford Street, would be good to catch up with anyone who remembers me. Chris Cope" Chris Cope 16/12/2017
Serving loads of stores baron Jon Winstons Bobby summers take six west fields Ozzie for men Harold ian stolen from Ivor many more" Shaun ellis 02/03/2018
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