Brown in Town? Never!

I could hardly let it pass without offering some missive, given our name’s sake. At the very least offering my five pence worth. I have lost count of how many times I have been sent this inflammatory article, but regardless, I shall do my level best to set the record straight.

Now, I should probably point out at this juncture the origins of our house’s name. In addition, perhaps it would be pertinent to reiterate the origins of this erstwhile turn of phrase.

“Never Brown in Town”, it is generally understood, refers to the colour of one’s cloth. That is, the colour of your tweeds, which, were you a member of the British aristocracy, you would have worn whilst on your country estate but never into the City. Vis a vis, this was also the view taken on one’s footwear when venturing into the city i.e. no brown shoes with one’s black or grey suit. Navy suits were not a consideration back then and ergo, it should come as no surprise that brown shoes were not worn; if ever there were two colours where a common ground were difficult to find it would be black and brown. Not impossible mind.

Now, if you did not own an estate, nor live in the countryside, it is unlikely that you would have owned tweeds – you were likely to have own led but one suit for the working week and Sunday Best. The problem, I would imagine, occurred when the nouveau riche got their hands on the accoutrement of the aristocracy and start playing the game without having being educated in etiquette and the foibles which accompany them. For example, the unfastening of a jacket or waistcoat’s bottom button. Mere foibles passed down from monarchy to court, which we still adhere to today.

Where I myself fell foul of the code of the school yard, was offering sartorial advice to a visitor to our shores, who had taken a job in the City and was proposing to wear a blue suit and brown shoes. I was asked to set this chap straight by his friend, a contemporary and admirer of my work at a former house. But when I suggested that it all hinged on the particular shade of a pair of brown shoes and the shade of blue of his suit, I fell from grace rather rapidly..!

Such was the furore surrounding my sartorial advice, that I remarked to Saffron Darby mid-way through what was to become a rather protracted debate, that should we ever decide to set-up shop ourselves, that we might consider consider calling it ‘Brown in Town’.. My own personal motto in life is, Never Say Never.

Whilst I completely agree with dressing for the job which you want and not the one which you have, if the job you desire is bound by an unspoken, or otherwise, code of the school yard, then play by the rules. However, if you are prone to revealing your own personal style, then maybe the job which you want is not for you. However, if you are convicted of both, then you will find a way of dressing to impress without breaking any codes and remaining true to yourself.

Of course, I am responding to the cry of Brown in Town’s patrons who work in the City and know how to play the game, but who have the last laugh by having their clothes tailored. Ergo, they choose their cloth and their shoes, which are black I hasten to add.

When we give advice to our customers whether or not brown shoes might be suitable footwear for their new suit, they are more often than not grooms. In some cases, they might be men who are either required to wear a suit for work, or those who take great pleasure in wearing a suit for work, whether they are required or not. Either way, they are typically not contending with the thorny issue of discrimination.

For let us not forget what this article is actually about; discrimination. Which, for all of our advances, still looms large. It did then, it does now. And if you think you are going to stop it by wearing brown shoes, you are wrong. If you are the aristocracy, the old rear guard, or could care less about what you wear or, rather, would prefer not to draw too much attention to yourself; wear only black shoes in the City.

For everyone else, there is Brown in Town.

Tailoring That Tells A Story

Everybody has a sartorial jumping off point. My own was being shipped-off to South East Asia by Target Corporation and introduced, as all self-respecting ex-pats are, to my maid, my housekeeper and my tailor?!

Of course, I knew what the first two brought to the party, but what of this tailor chap; I didn’t wear suits.. My employer had other ideas.

It may not have been the most orthodox of introductions to tailoring, but that journey led to Brown in Town and we soon enter our 4th year. And having scratched our heads all the while, I think we have finally answered the age old question of what it is that we do; Tailoring That Tells A Story.

Now, this may not appear to be much of a revelation, nor come as a surprise to any of our Customers, particularly those whom we have dressed for their weddings. But, sometimes, the most obvious answers to the most testing questions, can be right under our noses – which, given my rather distinguished conk, can seem rather far away at times.

But 2016 also saw some firsts for Brown in Town, among them our first real foray into women’s tailoring, with no fewer than three ‘Trouser Suits’, as they have become known affectionately, for civil weddings. I dare say that in 2017 we may actually launch our female tailoring officially. Watch this space..

But we have also produced some of our best, if not challenging, work to date. Our first first,  was creating customised linings, whereby the customer designs their own jacket lining. We created no fewer than five personalised linings all told, for some discerning patrons for whom our huge selection of house linings and fancies and those from Lear Brown & Dunsford are plainly (pun intended) not enough. These would include; Iron Maiden’s Eddy (for a barrister, no less), Dandelions (designed by our good friends at Mondo Magna), Wallace & Gromit (for whom I am sworn to secrecy) and Batman – which is actually still in the workshop and is required for Bruce’s wedding next week (when I said I needed the artwork in a hurry Bruce, I did not mean two weeks later..!).

And fancy linings are not the only thing which take a little extra time to create, for it may have taken us a year, but we are finally getting Strawberry (the Brown in Town van, christened by our daughter!), liveried. When I say liveried, do not expect to see our name emblazoned on the side, but do expect to see our wardrobe on wheels painted a colour inspired by our Brown in Town  carrier bags..!

It took a lifetime to find my chosen vocation and whilst it may not take us that long to make one of our suits, it was my story that lead me here in the first place and it is the story of those who commission us to make their suits that is sewn into everything which we make..

As they say, all good things come to those who wait..

The Summer Suit

In a classic case of getting a taste of one’s own medicine, the Brown in Town Summer Suit has been incorporated into our Custom Collection because it proved so popular with our patrons and has continued to do so since it’s maiden voyage.

You see, the original concept of the Custom Collection was to create a capsule wardrobe for our professional patrons who are required less and less to wear a suit to do battle. Moreover, they are required to accommodate the dreaded ‘smart-casual’ – which leaves us all, myself included, floundering at the threshold of our wardrobes; but help is at hand.

Following a trip to Florence for the bi-annual rag trade faire, Pitti Uomo, earlier this year – before wedding season was in full flow and I was able to spend a day or two with one’s friends and peers – I was enamoured with the style and panache of the old Italian rear guard. Their laissez faire attitude and natty two-piece suit ensembles, accessorised with braces, scarves and full heads of salt and pepper hair, really made an impression on this sartorial traditionalist.

Given my recent love affair with the two-piece suit – see A Change is as Good as a Rest – and with the onset of summer, I thought it a good opportunity to trial a two-piece suit made from cotton twill to create a suit which was less formal than suits made of pure wool and more relaxed looking owing to the drape and natural crease of cotton – not quite as crumpled as linen, but exuding summer in it’s patina and appearance.

Having worn it but a handful of times and each time a patron showing such interest in the suit itself, as opposed the concept of wearing just something that was tailored, it was clear that we had found a go to suit for the suit dodging fraternity, moreover, an ally of the Custom Collection.

But which colour cloth to choose, there are so many! Moreover, there are colours which you will find in cotton that you will not find in pure wool suits. Linen suiting and jacketing cloth comes close, with it’s variety of brighter and also muted shades like khaki, brown, olive green through the colour spectrum to pink and red, as well as black and a plethora of blue hues.

The particular shade of blue I chose, I found at Holland & Sherry and was inspired by one of my favourite sweaters. The contrasting tobacco buttons and stitching were inspired by my favourite summer shoes – a pair of mahogany William monk straps from my shoesmaker of choice Joseph Cheaney & Sons. I also added braces buttons so that I could sport my new bright yellow box cloth braces from Benson & Clegg – which are also selling like hot cakes at the Brown in Town atelier!

So impressed have I been by this rank outsider in one’s armoury, I am having a tobacco one cut as I type. Both colours are available from the Custom Collection and also two different weights. So if you are looking for an easy suit to wear, that can be dressed-up, or down and which is as non-suit as a suit can be, look no further than our cotton twill Summer Suit.


Deep Pockets, Not Deep Pockets

Given the managary of accoutrements we carry these days, one can never have too many pockets; from phones, to wallets, keys to spectacles, sunglasses to lipbalms, they all need a pocket to carry them in. Which is why we have incorporated as many pockets as possible into our suits, moreover, we encourage our customers to use them!

Cigar Pocket

The man who taught me a great many things about design, was also the man who introduced me to the fine art of cigar smoking, a great many years ago. Sir Terence Conran, who once referred to me as a cigar aficionado, always carried with him his favourite cigar; the Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No. 2. I designed our jackets and coats with this in mind, incorporating a cigar-pocket that would hold a robusto sized cigar, whether tubed or not.

Coin Pocket or Cigar Cutter and Lighter Pockets

And what use is a cigar, without a means to prepare it. So in the right hip pocket of our coats and jackets is an internal pocket for such paraphernalia; one for your cigar lighter or matches, the other for one’s cutter, whether scissors or guillotine. This leaves the rest of the pocket clear to carry such things as one’s sunglasses if indeed you have used the external breast pocket for your spectacles!

Internal Breast Pockets with Security Tabs

If the suit is modern man’s coat of armour, then surely the jacket is the male handbag: which is why Brown in Town incorporates as many pockets as is humanly possible into all of our jackets and coats. Our breast pockets come replete with security tabs which button the pocket closed – our ladies jackets have buttoned internal ticket pockets too! The benefit of this design is that the breast pockets will carry both your wallet and or your phone, without spoiling the lines or silhouette of your jacket – the weight is supported by the shoulder when the tab is fastened, thus preventing pulling or tearing at the cloth of the pocket aperture. This also prevents the jacket from swinging open when the pockets are loaded. Moreover, there is no need to overload one’s trouser pockets, which is unsightly, not to mention uncomfortable and puts unnecessary amount of strain on the seams.

Trousers Pockets

And while we may receive two complaints a year with regards the depth of our trousers pockets; that they are too deep, we receive a whole lot more from patrons as pleased as punch that our pockets are deep enough for their needs. This does not mean that you require incredibly deep pockets to avail yourself of a pair of our trousers, nor one of our suits for that matter..


Nothing Is Cool

Listening to our favourite radio DJ Gilles Peterson t’other day, he played a hip hop record by whom I cannot tell you, but the words went along the lines of “you don’t listen to this song because it’s popular and gets radio play”; broadly, the ethos of the antihero i.e. if it’s liked by the many, it cannot be cool.

This ethos was certainly shared the skateboarding fraternity of my youth, as it is many subcultures and undoubtedly still is today. My musical hero Kurt Cobain certainly shared this point of view and became the anti-hero of a generation, with his choice of dress and style of music.

And it was this revelation that helped answer a question I am oft’ asked, “who is Brown in Town’s demographic”, to which I did not have an answer for many years; interestingly, I am never asked this question by our patrons, perhaps they recognise a kindred spirit?

I knew who they were, of course, they were property developers, barristers, graphic designers, skateboarders, drum and bass producers et al, but I could not put a finger on who they were as a demographic. Until now; they are, like me, all suit dodgers: who knew?

You see, before I met my maker, as it were, I was a suit dodging retailer who enjoyed working in London with mid-century modern furniture and dressing in pretty much anything but suits. I think my smartest ensemble was inspired by Michael Caine’s character Agent Palmer in Len Deighton’s Ipcress File i.e. black slacks, a roll-neck, desert boots and a beige macintosh raincoat, but never a suit.

My jumping off point was being informed in no uncertain terms by my American employers at the time, that I would be wearing suits for the duration of my tenure in South East Asia: which was ludicrous as it was the hottest place I’d ever visited, let alone lived! Enter stage left my tailor, Mr Whangsee, who did a roaring trade in suits for the American Embassy chaps. These suits were typically a two piece affair, consisting of three buttoned jacket and trousers with belt loops, double pleats and turn-ups; not my style by a long chalk, even to this suit dodger.

No, if I was to wear suits, I was going to wear suits which mimicked my sartorial heroes; Michael Caine in Get Carter or Steve McQueen in the Thomas Crown Affair, for example. And this ethos, with its petulant “I won’t do what you tell me”  was nothing short of the anti-cool attitude of our youth.

And I believe the same can be said of a great many of our patrons. There is a jumping off point whereby they are able to do something which they would not normally do, but if they are going to do it, they want to do it on their terms and in their way, from suit to nuts, if you’ll pardon the pun.

More often than not their jumping off point is a wedding and if our patrons (whether guys for girls) are going to have to wear a suit (whereas typically they do not wear suits) on their special day, then they are going to wear a suit of their choosing, moreover, design and more often one that has been a guilty pleasure or aspiration.

For many, this suit is a three piece tweed suit, myself included. I love my tweed suits but would not have been seen dead in one back in the day. In a way, it is our rebellion against our rebellion, whether ravers, bankers, barbers, creatives or DJ’s; we are rebelling against not only our (former) selves, but against our subculture and everything which it told us we could not do. We are unleashing our alter-ego, whether we know it or not.

It is an irony that we are now wanting to wear suits, which once represented  the mediocre, the populous, the enemy – the antithesis of the antihero, no?

When I was a lad, a skateboard company called Blockhead, which I’m thrilled to learn still exists, ran an ad campaign in the form a sticker to put on your board, which I think best summed this notion which read..

“Hey, What’s Cool? Oh, Nothing”.

I dedicate this blog to Simon Edwards. One of the best skateboarders of my generation; gone, but never forgotten.