I am a writer of history books, a student of vintage clothing (specialising in the history of British trousers), a civil servant and a would-be retired man of leisure. I was born in Bedford but I have been based in South London for many years. My current venture is to have contributed a chapter to a forthcoming biography of the British novelist Alexander Baron.
Sean in his wedding suit in 2013.
How did you get interested in vintage fashion/classic styles/menswear?
Economics is the simple answer – we didn’t have a lot of money. Back in the 1970s my family bought a lot of second-hand clothing out of necessity, mainly from jumble sales, then later I would scour army surplus stores and charity shops. As a child I remember wearing an old Aertex RAF tropical jacket, a British Army denim battledress jacket, a weird double-breasted zip up leather coat that was probably pre-war. I even played football in ancient 1950s leather football boots – they were ridiculously heavy – and heavy old cotton sports shorts. And in those days it was standard to wear cellular cotton shirts to school in summer in a pattern that had gone unchanged probably since the 1930s.
By the time I reached my teens I really started to appreciate the quality of old clothing. It was the era of punk and new wave, so I was listening to musicians who seemed to wear lots of old clothing. If you saw Elvis Costello wearing a sixties suit with a polka dot shirt and paisley cravat, you knew he looked better than the Bee Gees in their silky white suits. So I was hooked. Man-made fabrics couldn’t compare to a crisp white 1950s Van Heusen shirt.
Sean At school in 1982 wearing a sixties suit that he had found in a friend’s garden shed.
I once rescued a sixties suit from a mate’s garden shed, washed out the mould, and it became my favourite suit for years. I also remember going to school in a three-piece pinstripe sixties suit, complete with a straight hem waistcoat and uncomfortably narrow trousers. My school uniform quite often included vintage clothing in place of what I should have been wearing. I wore old dress shirts, it might be a pleated front fifties one or an embroidered front sixties one. I had my grandmother knit me a button-up vest/waistcoat in the school colours, rather than wear the horrible polyester ones that we were supposed to wear.
Some of the highlights of my teenage years included: a gorgeous Burberry raincoat, fifties/sixties corduroy jacket, police shirts, an ambulance driver’s peacoat, a three-piece green tweed suit, 1950s khaki drill shorts, sixties navy blue silk trousers, a short sleeved orange paisley shirt, my grandfather’s 1950s Milium-lined Alexandre overcoat and even a shiny brown silk 1950s American dinner suit. And these outfits were always worn with a pair of Doc Martens shoes.
Sean's "go to" look for Summer.
What are you looking to add to your collection at the moment? Is your collection always growing?
I don’t buy too much vintage clothing these days (but would buy the right items if I found them at the right price). I certainly have no need for more ties, scarves or cravats in my house! But I am always looking for the perfect linen suit.
How would you describe your personal style? Why?
It’s a blend of eras but if I had to give the nearest obvious look it would ‘British Late 1940s'. It was the era of clothes rationing so people wore a mix of old and new.
Photographs of my father and his mates from around 1950 give a good idea of my day-to-day look. I’m pretty sure they were a major inspiration on how my tastes developed. I am also inspired by mid-20th Century British cinema, particularly for casual looks.
If I was asked to name my style icons I might offer two quite contrasting characters: Stewart Granger and Field Marshal Montgomery. Stewart Granger's style was a very distinctive dresser. His suits were beautifully tailored and often were at the cutting edge of fashion. His suit from the 1943 film ‘The Lamp Still Burns’ had a flap on the breast pocket, rear vents, and is cut in a style that started to become popular in the late 1940s. I once arrived at work wearing a safari shirt, cravat and khaki drill trousers. My colleague said ‘You’re dressed as Stewart Granger’ (referring to his role in King Solomon’s Mines). I thought it was a fantastic compliment.
Sean at York vintage festival in 2018 wearing an SJC neckerchief and cream poplin trouser, Cheaney shoes and a 1970s Savile Row blazer made for a Royal Navy officer.
Field Marshal Montgomery adopted an inspirational look during World War 2: Battered light brown corduroy trousers, roll neck jumpers and an array of military jackets – all worn in a very relaxed manner – then topped off with a beret. It was the look that was also made famous by the ‘Two Types’ cartoons, about two British Army officers serving in North Africa. My more casual outfits certainly borrow from that look.
However, I have also recently moved towards a more casual look. At times you might say it’s a European workwear look: cotton worksuits, boots, berets, neckerchiefs. It’s very much a mid-20th century factory foreman look.
Do you have a ‘go to’ look? If so, what is it?
I tend to gravitate to that typical mid-20th Century British look of flannels and sports jacket. So my ideal outfit is flannel bags with tan brogues (I favour longwing ‘American’ style brogues), a blue shirt, yellow tie and a wool sports jacket. Just add a scarf (Tootal rayon scarf would be my first choice), a pair of tan leather gloves and a tweed flat cap when the weather gets bad. In summer, the wool jacket gets replaced by a cream linen jacket and the tie is replaced by a cravat or neckerchief.
Sean's "go to" look for Autumn.
However, I ride a bike regularly, meaning that I often wear scruffy trousers, a submariner jumper, boots and a leather jerkin.
What is the favourite vintage garment in your wardrobe? Why is that?
You might not say that it's strictly a vintage garment, but it is almost 30 years old, so I think it counts. It has to be my wedding suit, which has obvious sentimental value. It was tailored by Rosamond Black of the vintage shop Blax in 1992. She was a tailor’s daughter and really knew vintage fashion, having operated a vintage store for a number of years. She used to travel around the country buying up vintage clothing left in the store rooms of clothes manufacturers. My suit was styled on a British double-breasted suit circa 1950. I still wear it on special occasions.
She also made me a rather nice cream suit, using original 1930s cloth and a green cavalry twill suit with a contrasting yellow doeskin waistcoat.
What’s your favourite SJC garment?
That’s an easy question. It has to be the polka dot shirt. The cotton sateen fabric is great, it is really smooth yet strong. It’s an elegant pattern for a shirt that can take some real hard wear. I even wore it for sea-kayaking!
Then look that inspired Sean: "My dad and his mates circa 1950."
What would you like to see SJC do in the future?
I would like to see more polka dot shirts. Back in the 1980s I used to make my own ones since I couldn’t buy what I wanted. I had a pink shirt with black polka dots that was rather nice - if Simon made one in that style I would be happy. I would certainly support the introduction of a selection of knitted waistcoats and also linen suits (but with plain backs … I am perhaps among a minority of vintage fans who prefer plain backs to belted backs).
How did you discover SJC?
I knew Simon before the brand was launched. We were both regular posters on the Fedora Lounge forum and were both based in London. Various London-based members of the Fedora Lounge would meet for beers in town and that’s how I got to know Simon.
Sean drinking in a polka dot shirt in 2016.
When he was thinking about launching the brand I was one of a small group who helped him with our thoughts on how it could work. In the years that followed I have remained close to the brand, continuing to offer advice and to research the menswear history that continues to inspire the brand’s products. Now that Simon is based in South London I help out by giving him an excuse to smoke his way through his impressive collection of cigars.
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