The List






Suits You!


In times of economic hardship, investors often seek refuge in supposedly counter-cyclical industries. Such industries may benefit from a downturn or recession, and can aid investors in the difficult task of making reasonable returns in a bear market.

What industries these are is open to debate, but I would suggest that investors could do worse than taking a look at those 'designer' clothing manufacturers who produce suits in sizeable quantities.

What is my rationale behind this assertion? Quite simply, it is the observation that in times of economic difficulty, office staff tend to 'dress up' in the apparent hope that any impending redundancies will be decided purely on the basis of some sort of assessment of their relative sartorial smartness.

If you don't believe me, cast your mind back to the late 1990s, and the internet boom, when the cash was flowing and  the sight of a dotcom employee in a suit was about as rare as an attractive woman at a Star Trek convention. I can even recall, when working for a dotcom myself, rejecting on sight an interviewee who had turned up in a suit, for the rather pompous reason that he had 'fundamentally misjudged the ethos of the company'.

Those were testing times for tailors and tie manufacturers in particular, and the notion that the suit was, if not dead, at least critically ill, had become popular with many cultural commentators

Fast forward a few years, though, and it was clear that the suit had battled through a minor illness and was fighting fit again; the NASDAQ crashed, office workers deserted 'casual' and even 'smart casual' in droves and the status quo was soon re-established.

Today, many men, particularly those in the hard hit financial services sector, are adopting a similar policy, and, following the advice of publications like GQ and Esquire, are beating a path to Armani, Dior or Dolce and Gabbana (or suchlike) for a ready to wear suit.

Why they do so, and, more to the point, why upmarket men's magazines advise them to do so, is, to me, almost inexplicable, when a bespoke suit from a British tailor will look better, fit better and last longer, for a similar amount of money.

Now, I'm not talking about the most expensive Saville Row tailors here (you know - the ones who once produced mink capes for Ethelred the Unready and have more royal warrants than staff). What I am referring to are the good, traditional, unpretentious tailors of bespoke suits that can be found in many British cities. Find a decent one of these and they will produce a garment that not only fits perfectly, but also disguises your flaws and highlights your best features.

A case in point here - it was only after a suit fitting that I discovered that my shoulders were slightly uneven (a legacy of seven years of lugging an incomprehensibly heavy school bag around, I suspect). My suits now are tailored in a way that makes this defect unnoticeable; something that would be impossible with a ready to wear garment.

Of course the path to a bespoke suit will not be easy: you will be informed of all of your physical imperfections, be made to return to the tailors for multiple fittings and will have to relinquish any notion of instant gratification. But, your patience and time will be rewarded with a classic garment that will not need to pander to the vagaries of fashion to be stylish.

Whether this will help you remain employed is beyond the scope of this column, but at least you won't be unemployed and the owner of an overpriced mass produced Italian suit.