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TIMES ONLINE

Dress sense: Booted and suited
by Eve Peasnall
Putting on the glitz
31/5/03

AN EVENTFUL summer lies ahead with weddings, races, dinners and dances. For women this is a time for individual flair with elaborate dresses, hats and shoes. For men the social calendar brings the pressure of knowing not how to stand out but how to conform. Having negotiated the minefield of obscure conventions and baffling etiquette there is then the additional question of whether to buy or hire. Below is a list of the high-street shops that hire out or sell reasonably-priced formal outfits and some independent companies that offer unusual services, including those that can supply suits at the last minute. Nineteen-year-old Josh Barry went to discover how easy it is to be fitted for a morning and dinner suit, whether buying or hiring, and to see if you can rely on an internet company to send the right-sized suit, going on measurements you have given over the phone.

Buying or Hiring

MARKS & SPENCER (020-7268 2850; www.marksandspencer.com) recently won the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in Innovation for its machine-washable dinner suit.
A single-breasted, two-button dinner jacket or a double-breasted jacket costs £90, and trousers, £59, available to buy online or instore. Its machine-washable cummerbund and bow tie costs £15, (£25 for 100 per cent silk) and M&S also sells a white tuxedo, £120.
Verdict: Once I finally caught the attention of one of the staff, he turned out to be very helpful and quite intuitive about the size and style of DJ that would suit me. Yet after an auspicious start, I was abandoned in the fitting room and no one returned to see how I was getting on. The range of DJs, however, had a quality and style that belied their low price tags.

JOHN LEWIS (08456 049049) has single and double-breasted jackets to buy for £169, trousers, £60, and a waistcoat, £99. Ready-tied bow ties start from £10.50, self ties from £11.50.
Verdict: John Lewis has a great range of DJs for sale, but an every-man-for-himself feeling about it — customers greatly outnumbered staff. Plaintive glances and several noisy throat clearances produced no reaction so I gave up looking for help and entered the fitting rooms with several DJs in hand.

On passing an inspection at the door I was left to my own devices in a large cubicle where I became transfixed, like Narcissus, by my reflection. A combination of good lighting, fine suits and not a little vanity meant I had great trouble leaving. How dare there be no assistant there to tell me how dashing I looked! When I emerged a while after, a man did come to my assistance, but it was too late.

DEBENHAMS (020-7408 4444; www.debenhams.com) doesn’t sell black tie or morning suits but offers a Formal Wear hire service. Orders take up to ten days and at its branches in Cardiff and Chester you can pick up the hire suits immediately. In the next fortnight this fast-track service will be available at its Oxford Street branch in London and its branches in Oxford, Milton Keynes and Leicester. A 50 per cent deposit is required. Three-piece tails with any waistcoat costs £45, a two-piece single-breasted dinner suit, £28, cufflinks, £2, and black patent dress shoes, £7.
Verdict: I arrived at the hire department to be told that the man in charge of formal hire was with a bride-to-be, and that as I hadn’t made an appointment there would be a brief wait. The range of DJs was good but there were no facilities for trying them on, which was a major drawback. Overall Debenhams was quite disappointing, there were ostensibly more staff than customers, yet I was paid little attention.

MOSS BROS (020-7447 7200) has a good selection of formal outfits to buy and hire. This spring it launched its Royal Ascot Formalwear range in partnership with Ascot Racecourse. You can buy a three-piece suit for £499 or hire it for £99. Alternatively, you can opt for the Classic: black herringbone morning coat, trousers and waistcoat to hire for £49, or the Classic Package: three-piece suit, shirt, tie and top hat for £77. A dinner jacket and trousers costs £33 to hire or for £49 you can hire the suit with cummerbund, shirt and bow tie. Suits can be returned to any Moss Bross branch. Long-term hires are available and students receive a discount.
Verdict I was on my third perusal of the Moss Bros catalogue by the time the lone assistant in the hire department came to my aid. I was supplied with a nice DJ, but no shirt or bow tie were offered. It felt more as if I were hiring ski clothes; the service was efficient but perfunctory. Nearby was the purchase section, where I suddenly became “Sir”. Of the wide range of black-tie suits on offer, the Ted Baker Endurance caught my eye. It has various innovations including crease-free technology, and costs £299 to buy or £65 to hire.

AUSTIN REED (0800 585 479; www.austinreed.com) has a three-piece morning suit, which costs £45.95 to hire and a black dinner suit for £30.95. Buying a dinner jacket will cost about £350. If the occasion is smart but not black tie and you are unsure what to wear, Austin Reed now has a personal shopping service at its Regent Street branch in London. To book call 020-7534 7877.
Verdict: Austin Reed surprisingly only had two DJs for hire, and both had an unattractive blanket-stitch edging to the lapels. The assistant was professional but not overly enthusiastic. Once I took an interest in the suits for sale, however, the assistance improved greatly — an elderly gentleman gave impeccable service. Importantly, there was an area where you could parade in front of the assistant, and have your suit adjusted and appraised. For the first time I was made to feel as though I really could afford, and was classy enough to wear, the suits I was being shown.

DAPPER (01306 640641; www.dapper.co.uk) has two services: you can hire a dinner suit (single-breasted suit, £35) over the internet and have it delivered and collected by courier, or you can hire morning suits and formal wear from its four shops. There are several delivery options for the dinner suits. Provided you order your suit in advance (anything over a week) you can request a basic delivery for £7.50 which ensures that your outfit will arrive a couple of days in advance of the date specified. For £13.95 you can specify the day and time that you want to receive your order including next day if ordered by phone before 10.30am.
Verdict: Athough you can order online, Dapper can also take measurements over the phone. The DJ was smart and a perfect fit. The man to whom I gave my details knew the pitfalls of self-measurement and had adjusted the size accordingly.

HIRE SOCIETY (0870 7802003; www.hire-society.com) has a three-piece morning suit, which costs £49.95 to hire (including delivery), a dinner suit for £35.95 and a suit plus waistcoat and cummerbund costs £39.95. For another £10 you can hire a shirt, tie and cufflinks. So long as your order is placed before 3pm, Hire Society will deliver the following day at no extra cost. It also has a Diamond Service for emergencies: for an extra £10 your suit can be delivered by 11am anywhere in Britain (standard delivery ensures arrival before 5pm). For orders under £30, a £5 delivery charge will be added.
Verdict After answering numerous questions about my measurements over the phone I received a smart, well-cut DJ the following day. It was crisp and clean but a little snug.

Second-hand, Bespoke and Made-to-Measure

BERTIE WOOSTER (020-7352 5662; www.bertie-wooster.co.uk) is renowned for its second-hand and antique menswear. It has a good range of high-quality (mostly Savile Row) tailored clothing, and currently has in stock a range of morning coats, which start at £150. Bertie Wooster also sells its own morning coats made by a London tailor for around £195 and offers part-exchange on old clothing.

REDWOOD & FELLER (020-7828 9519 www.redwoodandfeller.co.uk). If you’ve inherited a suit from a family member, Redwood & Feller will revamp and alter it for you. Shortening of sleeves, for example, costs around £25 and individual quotes will be given for more drastic reworkings. A bespoke dinner suit costs approximately £1,400 and made-to-measure costs from £600.

MASON & PEACOCK (01473 736710; www.mason-peacock.com) offers mail-order waistcoats, cummerbunds and ties. All the items are made-to-order so you can specify your exact size and colour combinations (it has over 120 colours to choose from). It also offers a bespoke service. Its website is easy to navigate, and Mason & Peacock will send you a catalogue and fabric swatches. Prices range from £125 for a made-to-order waistcoat to £170 for an embroidered silk jacquard. A cummerbund and bow tie set costs £48.

MARC WALLACE’s (020-7731 4575; www.marcwallace.co.uk) waistcoats won’t appeal to all, but those in search of something contemporary will be impressed by this collection. Its designs include waistcoats with graphic polka dots on pale blue silk, £145, and pink flowers hand-embroidered on cream cotton linen, £195 — eye-catching without being gaudy. If the occasion doesn’t permit anything so outré then perhaps some floral cotton boxer shorts, £35, hidden beneath a pair of sombre pinstripes will be enough to give the wearer a lift.

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