BESPOKE COUNTRY SUITS
A trip to St Abans in Hertfordshire sounded appealing. I already knew its Abbey, of course – no ecclesiologist worth his salt can reach my advanced age without having wandered around that extraordinary mish-mash of architectural styles. Indeed, I have tut-tutted with the best of them over its brutal restoration in the nineteenth century. But something else was now drawing me to this handsome cathedral city. A chance conversation with a military chap of impeccable sartorial taste had alerted me to the existence of ‘a very, very fine tailor’ in St Albans. Thus did I brave a visit to St Pancras station and a thirty minute clattering along the iron way out of London. Then it was a five minute taxi ride and I was at my destination: 220 Hatfield Road, the premises of G.D.Golding (Tailors) Limited.
I was transported back immediately to the days of my youth. Then, every town of reasonable size had several first class tailors. (Now, sadly, they are virtually all gone.) My own home town in the Midlands had four, and I tried them all. They were to be found situated modestly in rows of shops. And here, in front of me, was a row of shops, with my destination right in the middle. This one, however, had something extra. Above the name board were the Royal Arms (pictured). Now, dear reader, you will know as well as I that the practice of the Sovereign awarding warrants goes right back to the middle of the 12th century, when the most skilled tradespeople in the country would compete to supply their wares to the royal household. Today there are about 800 warrant holders, and here was one of them, “by appointment to Her Majesty The Queen”. Inside the shop I was greeted by the gentleman who had been honoured thus.
Geoffrey Golding began his business in St Alban’s in 1963. His father was a tailor, but the young Geoffrey suffered from dyslexia and left school at 15 with little more than a qualification in woodworking. Yet a few moments in his company were enough for me to realize why he has been so successful. His levels of energy and enthusiasm are remarkable. He learnt his technical skills by working for other tailors, including some in Savile Row, but this is a man who was always destined to be in charge – which, for Mr Golding, does not mean any shying away from hard work. When the wearing of suits declined in popularity, he went off to Sandhurst to find new customers. Now he estimates that 60% of officers in the British Army have clothes which have been made here. (The property is much larger than it appears from outside, and 18 people are employed in the workrooms, so that – from length to finished garment – the cloth never leaves the premises.)
Being in the country, I thought it appropriate to have a country suit. I expressed my admiration for the ‘Glorious Twelth’ cloths by Porter & Harding. They have a true rural appearance, but are of modest weight (11 ounces), so that they do not provoke discomfort in today’s over-heated drawing rooms. The book of samples was immediately produced, and I selected a material of light brown, with a large check in lines of blue and yellow. It sounds slightly startling, but – as you can see from the photographs – the effect is quite sober. The jacket would be single-breasted, with three front buttons, peaked lapels, four working cuff buttons, a centre rear vent and a bright blue lining. The waistcoat would be plain, single-breasted with a vertical buttonhole for my watch chain. The trousers would be for braces (with the buttons outside at the front and inside at the back – so that the leather of the Royce would not be impressed, should I decide to drive without jacket or waistcoat), with turn-ups, straight side pockets, no rear pockets (which I have found useless, except as magnets for pickpockets) and a button fly.
The price for this three-piece suit would be £1,870. This is much less than one would expect to pay in Savile Row, where such a suit would be well in excess of £3,000. Mr Golding was keen to impress upon me that – apart from the use of one or two more modern processes in the making – the suit would be made just as it would be made in ‘the Row’, with buttons of real horn and all those other little details which are so important to any gentleman who wishes to dress well. I discussed with him the matter of aligning the stripes. Across the front of the jacket and of the waistcoat, he assured me that this would be done, but his view was that at the jacket shoulders – because the check was large – any attempt to align the stripes would distort the fit of the garment. I deferred to the expert, of course.
Two weeks later I was back for the first fitting. It was now clear that I had made the right choice of material. It was also clear that I was dealing with a master tailor. (Mr Golding measures every client himself.) With many pins and much chalk, he went here, there and everywhere over the ‘rough cut’. He also used something I had not encountered before: a thick leather belt to find a good waist line. After a discussion of the length and the height of the trousers – I like them high at the waist, but not too long at the ankle – I was soon back on the train to town, reading The Spectator. I made several of these little trips – out of my front door at ten o’clock on a Monday morning and back in time for lunch at one – for I discovered that Mr Golding is something of a perfectionist, and there were several adjustments to be made over the next few weeks. On each visit my attention was caught by yet another certificate or letter of appreciation from a senior officer of the British Army. These encomiums cover the oak-panelled walls of the shop.
The most impressive tribute is, of course, the award of the Royal Warrant. Mr Golding proved discreet about his association with the Palace, and such discretion is entirely proper. He was willing to say only, “We make directly for the Royal Family.”
Eventually, the suit was complete. As you can see from the photographs, it is a fine piece of work – well-cut and shaped so as to restore to me the semblance of a waist. The stripes run smoothly across the front of the jacket, giving a sense of balance. I can report that the suit feels comfortable in the wearing, and has already provoked complimentary remarks from those of my acquaintance. In one picture you will observe the cuff buttons. All occupy working buttonholes. I have undone three to illustrate the point, but I hardly need emphasize to readers of Bown’s Bespoke that a gentleman should never, ever wear his jacket with his cuff buttons undone. What matters is that they work, not that they can be seen doing so.
I am glad that I made those trips from St Pancras station. I have secured a country suit which will serve me well for many years to come. I believe that Mr Golding has every right to be proud of the standards of tailoring he maintains in the cathedral city of St Albans. The highest in the land, both military and Royal, like his work. And so do I.
G.D. GOLDING (TAILORS) LTD
Two-piece suits from £985