By Eric Musgrave
The year is 1956 and this natty dresser is strolling down South Audley Street, in the heart of London’s Mayfair. Behind him is Grosvenor Chapel, completed in 1731, whose shape influenced many New England churches. During World War II, the chapel was popular with US servicemen and women, including General Eisenhower. Dwight D’s wartime HQ was located at the top of the street in Grosvenor Square, where, in 1957, work would begin on Finnish architect Eero Saarinen’s US embassy building.
Alas, the architect of our Mayfair Man’s exquisite slim-fitting three-piece has not been recorded. As this image comes from the archive of the old International Wool Secretariat at the London College of Fashion, it is tempting to think that this was an entry – perhaps a winner – in a tailoring competition. The IWS, funded mainly by Australian sheep farmers, promoted the use of fine wool in clothing and regularly encouraged tailoring firms to joust with each other, displaying their skills in forms that were not regularly seen on their commercial clients.
What a triumph of post-war English optimism we have here. There is an unmistakeable military influence in the broad shoulders, high scyes (or armholes) and gently full chest on the classic three-button jacket. The waist is noticeably suppressed, implying that the tailor meant this style only for a young man. The besom pockets add to the stream-lined fit of the jacket which ends in the unusual sharp-cornered front.
In 1956, only seven years after clothing rationing in the UK had ended, our unknown tailor has made full use of unrestricted use of fabric by giving our subject a double-breasted waistcoat and – oh what joy! – covered buttons. English commentator Hardy Amies wrote in 1964 that “a young man can wear cloth-covered buttons quite happily…but old men over 20 will just look spivvish”. What a spoilsport Hardy was! Covered buttons are stylish rather than spivvish.
As our image is in black and white, one can only speculate about the colour of the neat glen check fabric, but I imagine it as a light brown colour with perhaps a golden overcheck, which, in my mind’s eye, matches the champagne-coloured silk tie and cream shirt. Mayfair Man’s hat would be a dark brown and the string-backed driving gloves in his right hand suggest he has just motored up from the country. I see him in a Bristol 405, a car handbuilt for an individual. Just as his marvellous suit has been.
Eric Musgrave's book, SHARP SUITS, is published by Pavilion, an imprint of Anova Books, London. The photo is one of almost 150 images in the book, ranging from 1864 to 2009.
Sunday, December 6, 2009
By Eric Musgrave