I went to visit Burtons Menswear.
Burtons originally opened in 1904. By 1945/6 it is estimated one in four men in the United Kingdom owned a suit from Burtons. They went on to dominate the high street in the 1970s as a stylish place to go and, as a 16 year old, I purchased my first suit from Burtons in 1977, and then remained loyal to them for a few years. I seem to remember that my suits were branded in those days as 'Pure New Wool' - wool suits being the epitome of style.
I noticed an advert in one of the Sunday newspaper supplements effectively announcing that 'Burtons was back'. The full page advert contained the following lines:
"Burtons offers serious covetable pieces for those who have outgrown spray on jeans and a slogan T-shirt."
"The collection of classic suits is still here."
"We pay attention to the details buying in only the best."
So into the store I went. It was still in the same location as 1977 but now shared the premises with a women's clothing outfit (Dorothy Perkins). First impressions were that it was nothing like the store in 1977 where suits then dominated the window display! I weaved my way past tables of T-shirts and polo shirts, racks of faded jeans, cargo shorts etc, the most haphazard dysfunctional layout imaginable - I could not walk more than two paces in a straight line.
At the back of the store I found the suits. Oh dear! Now I am not yet a real clothing snob, but I could smell the polyester in the air! I checked every one of their suits, looking at the label (when I could find it hidden inside the pocket) and every single one was made of a minimum of 80% polyester. I did not find one single wool suit. The tiny one inch wide lapels on the suit jackets were so thin - all of my ties were wider than those lapels! But, in fairness to you the reader, I felt I should at least try a jacket on.
The jacket for my size was so short in length that the waist felt it was almost around my chest. The length of the jacket only covered half my seat and the arm holes were cut so small I could barely move my arms without the whole polyester body of the jacket moving with me - hardly a 'classic' look. I also tried the 'scrunch' test - I gripped the jacket sleeve in my hand for a few seconds and then let it go - rumpled creases marked the spot of the squeeze. Imagine what it would look like after a days wear!
I left the store of choice of my youth, that once offered only pure new wool suits, somewhat sad to see they now offered nothing more than polyester - yet still thought they could brand them as "classic suits" and "only the best". There was absolutely no way these were "serious covetable pieces". I did check the Burtons' website when I returned home and managed to find just one wool suit. Again the style was the very short cut in the jacket and very slim fitting trousers. This extreme fashion is not going to last more than a few years and is not worth investing in.
|Image from Burtons|
These suits were selling at a price of £138 ($220), and on sale at £71 ($113). So yes they are affordable, but what do you really get? Hardly a piece of clothing you can wear for years to come. Who, in their middle, discerning, age wants to dress in cheap polyester material and part with £138 in the process?
As a comparison a quick check around other websites found Charles Tyrwhitt. Here I could get a 100% wool suit, working cuff buttons, half canvas construction jacket, on sale for only £229 ($336) - and they, like TM Lewin, always seem to have a sale! (Note: I will be reviewing these suits for you in a future post).
|Image from Charles Tyrwhitt|
Comparing the two options of Burtons and CT reminds me of the notes I made in my journal when I began this quality search process. I said to myself in buying quality I am investing, I'm trying to create a wardrobe that will last and serve me in the long term, yet still give me a classic and stylish look.
Sorry but a cheap polyester suit for £138 branded as an "ageless classic" and "seriously covetable" will not could work for me. I may be middle-aged, but I know a classic piece of slick advertising when I see it. So, two lessons moving forward: Beware false advertising and always check the label!