London Life: WestEnd Style (Part One).
Every big city is different and yet every big city is oddly the same…
They have a Kaleidoscope-like quality of seeming to contain everything within a series of ever changing patterns…
No, really –
Walk from block to block in NYC or saunter from arrondissment to arrondissment in Paris and like some sort of urban Columbus you’ll discover new world after new world. Not only that but you’ll notice that each new world you discover is populated by people who are all dressed in a subtlety different way from the crowd around the corner you have just left behind.
You can’t help but see these things.
If you’ve got your eyes open, that is.
If you’re the kind of person who notices these things.
And London is a city just like that too –
Broadly split up into ‘The EastEnd’, ‘The City’, and ‘The WestEnd’, London has the usual splintered personality of any big city of a certain age. A bit dysfunctional and yet somehow it works.
The EastEnd is low-key residential and ex-Industrial now. A little run-down, but constantly being redeveloped by estate agents. Its time may very well come again.
The City is the financial and business centre of London – The place where they broke stocks and all that kind of thing. It’s actually the smallest part of town, ‘The Square Mile’.
The WestEnd is the place which has always held my attention: Shops, theatres, restaurants, bars, clubs, smart little flats & very smart not-so-little town houses. The pleasure gardens of central London.
Just like EastEnders and City Boys, WestEnders are different. They have their own style.
For fun they’re worth looking at just to show how different the inhabitants of any city can be as you move from area to area.
The first thing to say about WestEnders is that although they may work and even live in the middle of London they are not and have never been ‘City Gents’. They don’t wear bowler hats and stripey trousers (Then again ‘City Gents’ don’t dress like that anymore either…).
In a way the uniform of a WestEnder is the lack of a uniform. The look is more ‘Man About Town’ than ‘Businessman’. More Chalkstripes than Pinstripes. Even for those who are as career focused as any of their brothers in The City. In fact to be honest with you one of the nicest perks of being a WestEnder is that of being able to be a little more relaxed and “ Gentlemanly” about they way in which you conduct business. Well… That’s the impression they like to give anyway, with their softly tailored grey flannel suits and brown shoes in town. Business is still business, but life in the WestEnd is much less fraught than the atmosphere of anxious male competitiveness which you find in the City. In the WestEnd you don’t tend to ‘sink or swim’. Instead, if you’re lucky, you can just float along quite nicely and enjoy life a little more.
It’s worth mentioning what a caricature of a WestEnder of a certain type might wear and how he would present himself to the world just to give you more of a feeling for what these sort of people are like.
Starting from the top he’d be something a little like this:
Hair, although still conventionally cut and well groomed, is worn slightly longer in the WestEnd than in The City. Probably this is due to the relaxed nature of the WestEnder and the fact that he goes longer between haircuts. He doesn’t feel the need to constantly be ‘Parade Ground’ smart like his more anxious City brother.
Geo. F. Trumper (Est. 1875) remains the premier traditional London barber, although Trueffit & Hill (Est. 1805) is the older of the two big names in London. In fact Truefitt and Hill are the oldest barbers in the world, but somehow they lack the charm of Trumpers.
Our WestEnder would have his hair cut at Trumpers on Curzon Street or Jermyn Street (Sadly the branch in Simpsons’ basement closed along with the rest of Simpsons). Or, if not a Trumpers man, he would visit the wonderful original Art Deco barbers in the basement of Austin Reed on Regent Street.
Our WestEnder may well even shop in Austin Reed, selecting from their more traditional items, but if he did and he didn’t use their bespoke service then he would always take his suits to a good alterations tailor like Mr. Khan who works out of the basement next to Huntsman’s on Savile Row just around the corner.
The temptation in writing about suits in the WestEnd of London is to pretend that all WestEnders are clients of Savile Row tailors when in fact very few are. A large amount of disposable income and the desire to dispose of it on a suit are the only hallmarks of a Savile Row client. A typical WestEnder would either wear good quality Ready to Wear suits with good quality tailored alterations or a good London-Cut Made to Measure or even Bespoke suit, but probably not one from Savile Row. He might instead go to some nice little place like Redwood and Feller.
Much better value for money!
A WestEnd suit would be quite a sober affair on the whole, not as flashy as the big money City boys would wear, the WestEnd not being an ‘If you’ve got it flaunt it’ sort of place. Subtle Chalkstripes are nice (but never the glaring white on black type) along with different solid shades of Grey or Blue. Pinstripes are a bit too ‘businesslike’ for a WestEnder. Nailhead fabrics are sometimes seen but they have a little too much of a hard finish to them for WestEnd tastes, and Grey Nailhead can often look a little bit too much like a suit of armour…
Something softer like Flannel is preferred or just a plain worsted.
Two button or three button single breasted suits are most common, but double breasted suits are often seen too without any great importance being attached to the difference in style. Jacket linings are a secret fetish!
Trousers are worn with a plain belt, single forward pleats and turn-ups or not depending on taste. No fancy belt buckles are ever seen, but then again handkerchiefs worn in the breast pocket are rare in London too. Less is more.
In fact that ‘less is more’ attitude extends to a lot of WestEnder accessories: Belts, watches, briefcases and notecases are purposefully plain, not status symbols. Old, creased, well-worn and much-loved dark brown leather items are the most common, usually gifts from WestEnder wives or girlfriends bought from a good shop. It’s odd how the plainer some things are the more expensive they can be…
Socks too are equally sober: The point is not to make a point of them. Different shades of grey dominate. Even Burgundy or dark Green would be considered quite creative for these oh-so tasteful Londoners!
Another good gift for a WestEnder would be one of those small, domed, frosted glass bottles of Aftershave or Cologne from Trumpers. The kind with the crown screw top which comes in a discreet dark blue, green or burgundy drum. The lighter fragrances in their range would be preferred such as Astor or ‘Curzon’, nothing to heavy or over-powering, but still with the same complexity of make-up and warm masculine notes of their stronger items.
Green ‘Fern’ fragrances are popular too – Penhaligon’s makes the best, Trumper’s not quite having the same subtle complexity. Every WestEnder’s linen cupboard has English Fern soap kept in-between the towels and sheets to keep them fresh!
Grooming is relaxed but still relatively fastidious for a WestEnder. Clean shaven and tidy, but not freakishly so like some crop haired City Boys. Cavalry Officer’s haircuts are very WestEnd: A slightly longer than normal short-back-and-sides, side parted and brushed back off the forehead but with the hair brushed into ‘wings’ at the sides. This always looks very good as a man matures and his hair greys at the temples.
Shoes are probably the area where a WestEnder mainly differs from his City brother.
The WestEnder wears what he likes, Brown leather and Suede included, in Monkstrap or Loafer styles as well as all the usual suspects (Oxfords, Brogues, etc) in well polished black leather – Although wearing black shoes in a commonplace style in the WestEnd will leave you open to people making jokes about you wearing ‘Policemen’s Shoes’. The feeling is that if you want to wear ‘uniform’ shiny black shoes you should join the Army or go and work in the City. People can say the cruelest things. It’s most unfair.
Shirts and ties are a matter of personal taste, but again the stripes, checks and solids are much more subdued than the brasher more vigorous colour combinations you see in The City. The typical shirt would be Ready to Wear from any of the big Jermyn Street names and bought in the Sales along with a couple of quiet ties more often than not. A Hermes tie would be a much appreciated Christmas present. The small repeating pattern tie is the WestEnder tie of choice.
A slightly spread collar item is the usual shirt. French cuffs if you want them, but if not, not.
Plain white shirts are rarely seen. Again it’s that ‘uniform’ thing I suspect. People would just rather wear something a little more interesting I think, seeing that there is nobody there to stop them.
Cuff-links, if worn, would be small and discreet. Never any larger than your thumb-nail. Enamelled items are favourites and again they would usually be a present from some shop like James Hardy’s on Brompton Road. One of those little shops that you have to know about otherwise you end up spending far too much money in Longmire on Bury Street, St. James.
A nice WestEnder wedding present from your wife would be a pair of very ordinary silver oval cuff-links engraved with both your sets of initials front and back. With four initials each at £5 per letter this is always a very good way of making an ordinarily very inexpensive item cost much, much more than it ought to.
Fortnum and Mason’s antique department often has a small selection of old antique buttons made up into cuff-links at very reasonable prices. Unique one-off items with a lot of charm. Very WestEnd.
The most WestEnd overcoat would be a Buff Covert Coat without a velvet collar, I think. Raincoats are plain, fawn, fly-fronted and ubiquitous. Navy overcoats are equally common but not really very WestEnd, they belong more with black shoes in the City. Tweed coats are a rarer sight but wonderful when you spot them. And, as always in London, a good sensible proper black umbrella is indispensable. Go to James Smith on the fringe of Bloomsbury. Mention my name (or not).
Lock & Co. – Wear a hat if you want to, but make it Brown in Town purely because you’re a WestEnder and a rule breaker!
A big reason I think for the ‘rule breaking’ or more relaxed dress code and working atmosphere that goes with it in the WestEnd compared to The City is the presence of women at all levels in most businesses in that part of London. Women are increasingly making headway in The City but the place still remains a temple to testosterone on the whole. Women who succeed in The City often seem do so by joining the very ‘Male’ culture there. They have to do what they do to get ahead, but they can become a little bit… ‘ Blokey’ in the process. In the WestEnd there is a feminine, softening influence on business culture somehow and it is this I think that makes it a more creative and interesting place to work. Money is still made and deadlines met, but never in a sweat-soaked, locker-room way. This is why many WestEnd and City people just simply do not ‘get’ each other. The City sees the WestEnd as effete and the WestEnd sees the City as some sort of Rugby scrum for money. And the truth of course lies somewhere in between those two sets of prejudices.
… Well, anyway that’s the end of Part One and our WestEnder is dressed and ready to be seen around town.
In Part Two we’ll follow him around for a bit and see where he goes and what he gets up to.
Because the whole point of being a WestEnder is that you are in the WestEnd and everything is on your doorstep…