'Proper Tailoring' is pretty much extinct on the general high-street these days. Garments are manufactured in huge volumes by machine in a matter of seconds or, even worse, by exploiting vulnerable workers in the Far-East. More than 90% of the ready to wear suits made today originate in just a few massive Eastern European factories - with all the different designer names (and prices!) coming off the same production line*. It wasn't always like this; far from it, in fact.
Up until around the mid 1980s, even the 'big-volume' chains took genuine pride in the quality of materials and work that went into their 'mass-market' garments. Made in Britain by skilled machinists, these garments have truly stood the test of time, and are proving to be excellent buys for savvy collectors.
At the top-end of what's available, we've just taken delivery of a late 1970s pure cashmere St Michael (M&S) 'crombie-cut' overcoat in beautiful order. The quality of cloth and construction could only be replicated these days by a bespoke tailor, and at a cost of well into four figures.
Also worth looking out for are pre 1970s vintage pieces from the Montague Burton factory in Leeds. Chaps would go for a 'fitting' at their local Burton's shop then the measurements were sent off to Leeds and the garments cut, sewn and machined by hand. Each garment has a ticket bearing the order number, cloth code, construction details and date of manufacture. Again, quality of cloths and detailing are 1st class.
In contrast to the Far-East sweatshops, Burton treated his workers as valued colleagues and friends, providing them with free dentists, chiropodists, and even sun-ray treatment! In 1931 Montague received a knighthood for 'services to industrial relations'; he also served as a Justice of the Peace for many years.
Probably the best bargains around today are the velvet evening jackets that St Michael produced in the 1970s and early 1980s. The quality of the cotton pile is second-to-none and all the detailing is properly done. I've seen some scurrilous traders removing the classic 'gold on black' label and passing them off as bespoke for more than £120 each! We've usually got a good selection from around half that price.
*Some still do a better job than others, though. Read our article 'How to buy the best suit for your money'.