Marks and Spencer have been a UK stalwart for more years than I care to imagine. However, according to the media, profit margins in their clothing lines have been challenged for some time now. In an attempt to shore up their position in the High Street fashion stakes they have been re-launching themselves seeking to attract back lost customers and find a new niche. Grey Fox wrote about their problems a while ago and you can read his thoughts here.
In search of two suits for everyday business wear, and having watched several impressive marketing campaigns, I recently decided to visit M&S and explore their range. I went to their flag ship store in Oxford Street London.
On entering the menswear area I immediately sensed where some of M&S issues arise. The sheer volume of clothing available is overwhelming. Moreover, there is little logic to the layout in the store. It is a mix of areas sorted by brand name (but who knows what ‘Autograph’ means for example), some by seasonal item (tweed jackets, summer shirts, chinos), but then you can find chinos in several different areas. As for shirts they are all over the place. I could understand if the store wished to differentiate between major brands (such as Ralph Lauren, Hackett, Gant, Hilfiger etc.) but it does not stock any external brands - only their own. However, despite this initial mass marketing confusion the suits at least are mainly all together and are in one very large area at the rear of the menswear floor.
Suits are again by ‘brand’ and in racks and rows at many different angles, rather like a confusing maze. I walked around the area twice and was still not convinced I had seen all the suits! I also found the labelling confusing – suits called ‘tailored’ does not mean that in the sense they are carefully made - it is code for slim cut. I tried one ‘tailored’ jacket on and, although in my size, I could not fasten the button because the two sides of the jacket failed to meet each other by one inch! I felt I looked like Norman Wisdom from the old 1950s movies!
Other suits called ‘slim fit’ should have read ‘body grip’ as there was no room to move in them!
I furthermore discounted many suits that looked good from a distance but on closer examination contained 50% polyester – hopeless for everyday wear – we need 100% wool to allow the fabric to breath and keep its basic shape.
Almost reaching a point of despair I eventually found a range of suits called ‘Sartorial’. Finally, a suit that fits! The cut is superb, classic in style, the sleeves were the correct length, the chest comfortable, a little tapering at the waist. The trousers are cut straight and sit correctly at the waist. More importantly they came in my waist size (32”) with many options of length. As someone with a 31” inside leg I always have to purchase a 32” and have them tailored. No more!
The attention to detail is noticeable. The hem on the trousers is cut at a slight angle (allowing for the break) and additional fabric is sewn into the rear of the hem, both to add weight and avoid the heel of the shoe wearing down the hem.
I was able to purchase two suits, and wear them immediately. No tailoring was needed - such a rare occurance I cannot remember when that last happened. I choose a pinstripe (and added a waistcoat for the winter months) and a sharkskin.
These photos show some of the detail and pattern.
|Correct sleeve length|
|Secure mobile phone pocket|
At £199 each these are excellent value and if looked after correctly (steam cleaning, sponging, careful pressing) they will last for many years – I will only be wearing them each once a week on average and have expectations therefore of many years of use. The cut is classicly timeless so they are not going look out of style next year (as will happen when the skinny suit look dies a natural death in 2015/2016).
If M&S can produce such quality at an affordable price why do they bother with the rest of the more cheap lines in their ever extending range?
My advice, as a customer, to M&S is to drop the extreme
lines and stick to the fundamentals. Good quality affordable tailoring never
goes out of style. Moreover, I am certainly likely to visit more often if
I do not have to navigate myself around confusing piles and racks of polyester
blends and ill fitting clothes (Burtons, Zara, H&M, River Island have that
market nicely covered already!).
|Variation on just one suit!|