I read in today's Times that the "old school" of Savile Row tailors are cross because newcomers are moving in to that prestigious address and making much cheaper bespoke suits and still using the name Savile Row. Here in the UK the name Savile Row shouts "quality", "money" - my goodness me you are certainly deemed "posh" if you can splurge three thousand pounds on a bespoke - made-to-measure-suit of the finest material. Now these upstarts are flogging their so-called bespoke suits for five hundred pounds! What is the world coming to I hear you ask.
Time was when what we used to call "off the peg" suits for men were only available to those who were absolutely standard size (whatever that was) - no long arms, short legs or other quirks of the human male body were catered for. If you had any of those you had to go to a High Street tailors and get measured. That brings me neatly to my aunts. I have talked about them before but I make no apology for talking about them again - they were a huge chunk of my childhood.
Aunts Nell and Ruth we born on the turn of the twentieth century. They never married, suffering the fate of so many young women of that era, when the First World War took young eligible men away forever. They were both apprenticed to a tailors at the age of fourteen and they worked the whole of their lives in the same small enclave. It was my favourite place to visit in the forties when I was a small child and they ruled the workroom. Let me describe that shop to you.
Hayes the tailors was in Lincoln. It was a double-fronted shop on one of the main streets in the city. It was discreet. Mr Hayes, the proprietor, always immaculate in a bespoke suit (of course) would stand in the shop waiting for clients (never customers). His suit would be a grey pinstripe with matching waitcoat; jacket and waistcoat never removed, even on the hottest day.And round his neck would be his tell-tale trademark - a tape measure.
Gentlemen - and ladies too if they wished to purchase a tailor-made suit - would be ushered discreetly into the holy of holies at the back of the downstairs shop, where with measure and sharpened pencil and monogrammed notebook Mr Hayes would take all the measurements. Bales of expensive cloth would fill the shelves and some time would be taken in choosing the perfect material for the job. Then the client would be ushered out and asked to return in three weeks for the first fitting. It was then that Nell and Ruth came into their own. The measurements and the chosen cloth - usually fine worsted - would be sent "upstairs".
The workroom spanned the full length of the shop and had a view up and down the street through two large uncurtained bay windows. It was always very light in there even on the dullest day. Long tressle tables almost filled the room. A row of tailors' dummies stood along one side with clients names pinned to them and suits in various stages of assembly adorned them.
But the real draw for me, especially in Winter, was the always huge fire burning in the grate. On the hearth stood an assortment of flat irons, all of which had to be heated on the trivets over the fire before being used to press each tiny bit of sewing. There was usually a kettle boiling too and a teapot standing ready in the hearth, for Nell and Ruth - both pin thin - seemed to survive on a diet of strong tea.
That they were the bosses, that they ruled Mr Hayes, I have not a shadow of doubt. And I suppose the satisfaction of dressing so many smart men of that era was their reason for living. Outside of work they seemed to have little private life. They would walk through the park on a Saturday afternoon, wearing their own bespoke suits. On Sundays they would usually come to tea at our house.
They retired in their sixties and Nell died shortly afterwards. Ruth survived a good few years after that. I don't suppose a single suit they made survives now. Although if you happen to be in a charity shop in that area you could have a discreet peep inside the jacket, just under that vital inside pocket, to see if there is a label, marked Hayes. Bespoke Tailors, Lincoln.