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Thursday, October 28, 2021

I have fond memories of buying my first suit at 16 – now it’s an act of rebellion

Left: Soho tailored-fit suit, £805, Paul Smith, Swiss Classic Fit shirt, £200, Emma Willis, Rubinacci silk tie, £210, Mr Porter.  

I was 16 when my parents bought me my first suit. It was from Burton, the high-street menswear chain. Its founder Montague Burton, born Meshe David Osinsky in Lithuania in 1885, had come to England in 1900 and, after opening his first shop in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, expanded to over 400 shops, offering a decent suit at a reasonable price to the working man. 

Roy Hattersley, the former Labour grandee, worked in Burton as a university student, and tells the story of selling a suit to a woman for her husband. It was the time when zips were replacing button flies. The husband, unused to this newfangled invention, caught his member in the zip. Rather than taking him to hospital, the woman took him back to Burton for Mr Hattersley to sort out the problem.

My suit cost £17 10 shillings – a pinstripe number that I fancied made me look sophisticated, grown-up. I dreamed of becoming a journalist and, thinking it would further my prospects, I wore the suit walking up and down Fleet Street, going into every newspaper office asking if there was an opening. There wasn’t. And there was little need for a suit in the quick succession of jobs that weren’t journalism that followed.

For a while, I worked as a trainee buyer at Simpsons of Piccadilly, a posh department store (it would later be the inspiration for the popular TV comedy Are You Being Served? – its writer Jeremy Lloyd had once worked there). A Daks suit, in a mid-grey pinhead worsted, came with the job, made-to-measure rather than bespoke. It felt smart, businesslike. I liked wearing it, along with the shirts, silk ties and cashmere socks – leftover stock available in the staff sale. 

In fact, they were the only thing about the job I did like. Occasionally, when I wasn’t folding and pressing, fetching and carrying, I’d be let loose on the sales floor. One day I approached a portly man in late middle age, browsing through a rail of sports jackets (44 regular at a guess). 

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