Thursday, September 24, 2009

What Did We Wear?

Herry and Piers with Patrick in the orchard at Stocks c.1955 with Danny the spaniel

For the first ten / twelve years I doubt that I paid much attention to what I was wearing. Early photos show me in shorts, and we certainly wore shorts at St Ronan's (1953-1958), though I think that we may have been allowed into long trousers as we turned twelve. I can remember my delight, though, on getting my first pair of proper football boots - made by Adidas - instead of the heavy round-toed boots that we wore in those days. But 'PT' shoes were still plain white plimsoles and we had to wear a grey felt 'squasher' hat outside in summer.

I became more interested in clothes when at Winchester (1958 - 1964) where the early fashion was for 'drain-pipe' trousers. I had mine taken in to a ridiculous 13". I can also remember getting green and black check jacket and some 'oxblood' shoes at Basticks, the best of the local high-street shops (and coincidentally owned by the family of Richard Froomberg, who would later open Grey Flannel where I bought most of my clothes from the 1980s onwards). Here too we moved from plimsoles to much coveted 'Green Flash' gym shoes.

It was at Winchester that I developed a liking for black, wearing a black sweater and a black silk knitted tie for many years. The tie even came with me to the early days at Millers.

In my late teens / early twenties I became resolutely fashionable, at least at parties, wearing Mr Fish shirts and sometimes an orange silk cravat.... but the best was a superb velvet DJ from Blades, which had straight cut velvet trousers with a silk stripe. I never saw another one like it. There is a good description of the clothes and tailors of the day in David Mlinaric's piece on the V&A website here. I also had some suits made by a tailor in Winchester - Mr Thornton - that were less successful as he didn't know how to cut good crisp shoulders. I had one tight grey suit with a double-breasted waistcoat from him and wore it on a business trip to Yugoslavia with Bill Birch Reynardson, prompting him to comment laconically 'Il faut souffrir pour etre belle'....

I would also sometimes wear a short fur coat with wide shoulders of my mother's; something that was not unusual at the time. Our friend John Rendall for instance was often seen in fur and always wore snake-skin boots.

Arriving at Millers, I affected Turnbull & Asser shirts, often in the bright colours of the day. I can remember Frank Ledwith looking disapprovingly at a brick-red shirt and saying 'You'll never get onto the Baltic (Exchange) in that' - but my suits were less flashy, coming mainly from Moss Bros, though they concealed some incredible linings. I had one black silk suit which had a canary yellow lining and to my shame, I made the mistake of wearing it at the 21 SAS passing out ceremony where, as the 'Best Recruit' I had to march up to collect the cup, turn and march back. I can still remember the looks of amazed horror on the senior officers' faces as I turned sharply after my salute, sending my coat-tails flying......

My colleagues at Millers - particularly Christopher Bird - affected suits by the likes of Douglas Hayward. However, Christopher would grow rapidly tired of his suits and more than once I was deputed to return one to the tailor, who in those days took them back with good grace, even though they had clearly had a couple of week's heavy wear!

In the 70's, at Harvestgate, I would wear polo-necked jerseys and a corduroy coat which Patrick bought for each us from Dingles of Plymouth.

I also frequented Piero di Monzi in the Fulham Road and occasionally bought his rather smart ready-made suits. They usually had hairs on them from Piero's beautiful weimaraners which lounged around the shop all day. I have a grey cashmere overcoat from those days that I still wear occasionally.

Thereafter my clothes became less fashionable but I still had my shirts made, sometimes in Japan, where the tailor at the Palace Hotel turned out some good ones. In those days the yen was nearly 1000 to the £, so they were comparatively inexpensive. Later I would have my office shirts made in India, most of which I have still. For years my suits still came from Grey Flannel, made to measure in Italy, but slowly even that pleasure was replaced by the largely stock items that I wear today.

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