A bespoke story: The renaissance of the high street tailor

Ever since Caesar himself took to the stage in his fine white silk robes, delivering “Friends, Romans, Countrymen” to his kingdom or the Knights of the Round Table went out to battle in their bespoke chain-mail suits of armour, the tailor has existed.

Throughout the centuries the art form grew shape and became a trade for the upper echelons of society to relish. Gentlemen visited their tailor whenever an important formal or high society social occasion presented itself. Sailors, captains on long voyages across the oceans would haggle with cloth merchants on the Nile, and from Arabia to the Far East, travelling colonials would sample and barter to obtain the finest fabrics to bring home to England. 

It was there that materials were taken to the first tailors. The Aristocratic hierarchy was easily recognisable by what shawl you wore, the cloth that made up your attire, the cut of your collar or the monogram on your cuff. This was the art of bespoke tailoring. In the mid 18th to early 19th Centuries most of the population were living in poverty and could barely afford clean, new rags let alone a tailor made costume or outfit.

The Golden Age of tailoring was in the times of those such as Oscar Wilde who believed that “the artistic feeling of a nation should find expression in its costume quite as much as in its architecture”. A narrator of the Victorian era, Wilde lived through the birth of the tailor, when Britain’s colonial power was reflected by its craftsmanship in cloth. Those that lived amongst the upper classes had a tailor that would visit them in their home but by the late 19th Century Henry Poole and others like him saw the human shape as a work of art to be explored and exploited for all. In the backstreets of London, it was Jermyn Street and Saville Row that put London on the map for housing the finest tailors in the whole kingdom. Each millimetre of the frame required an individual measurement, nip or tuck to be perfected. The common man could now have a pair of trousers, or a shirt crafted to their own unique style and fit. This you could say, was the birth of high street fashion but it was far from what we see today. A tailors shop welcomed a certain calibre of individual from a groom to the local bank manager or even a politicians, gentlemen all over Britain were visiting their tailors for that extra fitted cut or feather soft fabric. The tailors of the day walked along Oxford street feared by the masses for their eccentric style and accessorising luxury, boasting stovepipe hats, umbrellas and bourgeois business attire.

In the 1970s tailors sprang up right around the UK, Burtons was first known on the high street for making clothes to measure. Bespoke fashion, not to be mistaken with made to measure is aimed at the higher end of the market, hand made with each slice of fabric cut by the trained and expert eye of a master tailor. Made to Measure is a more affordable and highly popular choice deployed with the use of sewing machines and faster production rates, requiring just a single fitting before being manufactured. The matter of which to go for is a matter of continuous debate and therefore for another time.

By 2009 the world of celebrity, catwalks and growth in mass media led to a frenzy in bespoke fashion - from Obama wearing a woollen two button in twill to James Bond’s iconic black wool three piece. In Birmingham it seems, there is a man who is responsible for igniting a renaissance in tailoring, and he happens to be one of the countries youngest and most ambitious fashion designers.

At first you could venture into Selfridges, with its high priced labels straight out of Saville Row that carry the badge of quality but don’t always cater for the common man. Or perhaps you could venture to Yusuf’s, one of the last remaining master tailors outside of the Capital.

Or, you could try Benjamin’s Bespoke Shirt Makers and Tailors owned by Benjamin Vaughan, one of the most enterprising entrepreneurs rising up as I write. Bravely launching a bespoke boutique at the height of the recession, Benjamin has made shirts for both your everyday fashion savvy gentleman and also for local celebrities and key business figures alike. He is no stranger to the world of high fashion. An apprentice to the great Frank Rostron in Manchester, Benjamin learned his craft from the bottom up and has the passion and energy of a rising Ralph Lauren or the male Vivian Westwood. Benjamin is able to ignite flare in his customers, allowing them to design and create a shirt, suit, jacket or hand made tie that reflects their individual style and personality. 

Using mainly UK based manufacturers Benjamin takes his customers on a journey of self discovery and his boundless youth and enthusiasm has created quite a stir having drawn visitors from right across the Midlands and afar. Word is that even members of the House of Lords have registered interest in his products. 

When examining the secret to his success Benjamin is quick to argue that it’s been no mean feat. He said, “We’re only just emerging from a recession and I started at the heart of it. It takes a lot of blood, sweat and tears to launch a successful business but you have to know your customers. I spend time getting to know each of them personally and have never really taken a hard sell approach. When people visit me, we often have a coffee and I allow them the freedom to browse through the fabric swatches and material books.

Vaughan’s tailoring is classic but inspiring and energetic, by this he means that a colourful mix of breathtaking fabrics and a rich palette of solids, bold stripes and unmatched customer service make for the perfect garment. 

So is the time ripe for a new wave of High Street tailors in the UK? “I don’t honestly know,” says Benjamin. “There’s definitely a renewed interest in men taking pride in their appearance, plus an emphasis on personalised, value-added service in many retail sectors; wanting a shirt or suit that fits perfectly is a natural extension of these trends.” 

For now, this genius mind has orders to attend to, with four metres of mohair to cut for one client, two wedding suits to finish for an Indian customer, another to call about his completed shirt and, most importantly, “the kettle to put on for a tea break”. There’s nothing it seems like the great British traditions.

Benjamin Vaughan can be found by appointment only by visiting