Any self respecting chap, on a trip to Blighty (what we Brits call Britain) will want to avail himself of the necessary accoutrements to show his chums back home how to style themselves properly. The purpose of the blog post is to point out a few tips on how this can be done and where to source said necessaries in London. Of course, your Blue Badge Tourist Guide will be able to help further.
First port of call will be the districts of Mayfair and St James’s, home to some of the finest tailors, hatters, shoe makers, shirt makers, wine merchants, cigar emporiums, barbers and such like.
A little background is perhaps helpful. In 1662 Henry Jermyn, Earl of St Albans took a lease on the land behind St James’s Palace from the crown. Soon Jermyn had laid out St James’s Square, the surrounding area and the street that bears his name. Houses and suchlike were built to accommodate courtiers, aristocrats and others of quality. Very little of these original buildings remain but St James’s still retains it’s air of seclusion, restraint and propriety.
After the catastrophic conflagration that engulfed the City of London over five days in September 1666, this newly burgeoning West End became the most desirable location and the wealthy flocked there. So in the wake of their residences came the shops and the services that these gentlemen required. Many still trade to this day.
George Lock founded a hatters in 1764 at 6 St James’s Street, the site they still occupy to this day. It is the perfect place to pick up a summer Fedora or winter Trilby. Lock & Co. made the Bicorn hat which Nelson was wearing when he was shot at Trafalgar in 1805. This is on display in a small museum inside the shop as are the ledgers and orders of notable customers. You can also see the wooden last of The Queen’s head which was crafted in 1952 to allow the jewellers at Garrard’s to adjust the Imperial State Crown for her.
Berry Bros. & Rudd at 3 St James’s St is a especially well regarded wine merchant. Originally a grocers when it opened 1698, it soon became a renowned coffee supplier. Take a look in the window and you will see a large pair of scales. During Georgian times one could be weighed on these scales and the record books show the weights of Lord Byron, exiled Emperor Napoleon III, and King William IV (189 lbs in his boots) amongst others. The 4th Baron Rivers recorded his weight nearly 500 times. On July 27, 1864 his entry reads: 12 stone 4 lbs at 1.30pm, 12 stone 5 lbs at 2pm after 2 chops and a pint of sherry’. The shopfront is one of the oldest in town, dating from around 1810. The retail store is nowadays just round the corner at 63 Pall Mall.
Tucked down an alleyway alongside is Pickering Place, a charming, vivid reminder of 1730s St James’s, Once home to clandestine bareknuckle fighting and, reputedly, the site of London’s last ever duel. Texans will be delighted to see a plaque to the Texan Legate (embassy) which was situated here until the time of the Alamo
Be sure to visit John Lobb, bespoke shoemakers at 9 St James’s Street. Relative newcomers, Lobb only opened in 1866. They only make to order but the shop is a veritable treasure trove of shoe ideas. Truefitt & Hill at 71 St James’s Street claim to be the oldest barbers in the world, opening on the day of Napoleon’s naval humiliation in 1805. A royal warrant displayed on the shopfront proclaims that they cut the hair of HRH Princes Phillip and Charles, having looked after the tonsorial requirements of almost every male royal since George III. They sell all manner of shaving necessaries.
James J. Fox & Sons at 19 St James’s Street have been supplying cigars and other smoking materials for over 225 years. Famously this is where Winston Churchill purchased his cigars and if you ask nicely, you can sit in the seat where he used to sample the merchandise.
Jermyn Street itself is the home of many fine shirt makers including Turnbull & Asser at No 71. Since 1885 they have been supplying kings and presidents (including Ronald Regan) and spies (James Bond, of course). They offer both made to measure and ready to wear shirts.
Bates Hatters is at 73 Jermyn Street Inside, nestled amongst the merchandise is Binks, a stray cat who wandered into the shop in 1921. After death he underwent a taxidermic procedure and is now on display in a glass case, resplendent with cigar and silk topper.
Fortnum & Mason is Her Majesties grocer of choice. The store has been trading since 1788 and is best known for it’s food halls but has a great selection of wallets, luggage and so forth upstairs.
Elsewhere on Jermyn Street stands Hawes & Curtis at No 33 who supplied the Duke of Windsor with his especially thickened ties for many years. They specialise nowadays in inexpensive, well made business shirts. Harvie and Hudson at No 96 is still family owned with a notable shopfront, adorned with lovely Augustus Pugin designed tile work.
Competing smells are produced at Nos 89 and 93. Floris, whose interior is an extravaganza of Victorian mahogany cabinets, have been perfumers here since 1730. They have been renowned for their combs since the Regency when George IV awarded them a warrant. Rather more pungent are the spectacular cheeses sold at Paxton and Whitfield from the shop beneath their magnificent Victorian signage. An underground fromagerie is used to mature the produce on site.
The charming neo-regency Piccadilly Arcade consists of 26 bow fronted shops. It is especially good for ties, shoes, cufflinks, belts, cummerbunds, nightshirts, dressing gowns, scarves and whatnot.
Outside the arcade stands a striking 2002 statue of a man described as the father of modern menswear, George ‘Beau’ Brummell.
Across Piccadilly stands Saville Row, home to the suit. The grandest store is undoubtedly No 1, home to Gieves & Hawkes. The large ground floor shop offers ready to wear formal and informal wear. Your Blue Badge Tourist Guide may be able to get you access upstairs to the Heritage Room where you can see suits and ledgers of past customers and the ceremonial uniforms of which the company is justifiably proud.
The company which still bears the name of perhaps the finest cutter of cloth of the modern age, Alexander McQueen has a fashionable outlet on the Row. Nearby are Norton & Co, which is bringing high end tailoring into the modern world and the redoubtable Henry Pool & Co., the quintessential Saville Row tailors. Ozwald Boateng and Richard James are tailors who bring a bit of Bond Street pizzaz to the more sedate confines of the area.
Finally, over at 53 New Oxford St, London WC1A 1BL stands James Smith & Sons, the finest umbrella shop in existence. Since 1830, in this remarkable Victorian shop, they have been keeping the rain off.