Okay, hands up: we’re biased. But it’s no exaggeration to say that British menswear has been a standard-bearer in men’s fashion for centuries. Its influence is everywhere, from the way clothes are made to how they look and what they’re worn with.
For serious suiting, the well-heeled make the pilgrimage to London’s Savile Row. In footwear, many of men’s staple styles were first designed by the famous Northamptonshire shoe industry. Chinos, cardigans, desert boots and trench coats all started life as British military threads. And seminal trends like punk took over the world after emerging on this small, well-dressed island.
Leading the way are the following 50 brands. From historic trendsetters to recent disruptors, these labels are responsible for the best of British menswear, across every style, budget and dress code.
Gieves & Hawkes
No.1 Savile Row isn’t too shabby an address; Hawkes & Co’s move there in 1913 paved the way for the street to become a suiting thoroughfare. Hawkes was founded in 1771, Gieves in 1784; they merged in 1974: Gieves & Hawkes is thus one of the world’s oldest tailoring houses with an extensive military history that includes the Duke of Wellington, Winston Churchill and Michael Jackson. Because of that, it’s also rubbed epaulettes with royalty, holding warrants from the Queen, Duke of Edinburgh and Prince of Wales.
Confusingly, Cheaney is owned by two cousins from the Church family, that other Northamptonshire shoemaking dynasty. Church & Co bought Cheaney in 1966, then was itself bought by Prada in 1999; Jonathan and William Church bought Cheaney back in 2009. Unlike other manufacturers who trade on Britishness but outsource some or all of the process to the cheaper Far East, Cheaney shoes are still “closed and cut” in Desborough, Northamptonshire – in the same factory where they’ve been made since 1896.
Marks & Spencer
A British institution as beloved as Bake Off, M&S dates back to a Penny Bazaar opened in 1884 by Michael Marks, a Polish Jew, on Leeds’ Kirkgate Market. Any connotations of fustiness are dispersed by its fresh Autograph range, fronted by Oliver Cheshire, and suiting, repped by David Gandy; not just a pretty face, Gandyman has also designed some pretty sweet underwear, loungewear and tailored swimwear. Fun fact: the £5bn business is one of the biggest fabric buyers, so you get more quality for your money.
Innovation has been part of Burberry’s brand DNA ever since Thomas Burberry’s 1879 invention of gabardine: a weatherproof cotton fabric worn by Roald Amundsen when he reached the South Pole in 1911; Burberry’s Tielocken belted coat, patented in 1912, became the now-iconic “trench” during World War I. Over 160 years old, Burberry continues to precipitate progress: streaming catwalk shows live, cutting from four showcases a year to two, and making the clothes available to buy immediately. It’s the reigning – or raining – British label.
Although the brand’s communications refer to him as if he was a real person, Ted Baker was founded in 1987 by spotlight-averse Ray Kelvin, who has been awarded a CBE for services to the fashion industry. From a single store in Glasgow selling shirts for which it provided a laundry service, earning its “no ordinary designer label” tag, Ted has grown without a big-money ad campaign, relying on the with-a-twist eccentricity of its products and marketing; it’s since moved into washing of a different kind with the launch of Grooming Rooms.
Every fresher and his dog can start an at-home fashion brand on the kitchen table. But few are as successful – or as experienced – as Universal Works. David Keyte first brought the label to life as a DIY venture following stints at Paul Smith and Maharishi, steadily growing Universal Works into a cult label that celebrates the working class dress-wellers of the seventies. Fast forward to today, and the brand still retains its fierce independence, with a growing customer base committed to its homegrown, rough-and-ready gear.
Shortened from William Green & Sons in 1913, Grenson has always been a bit nimbler than some of its fellow Northamptonshire shoemakers when it comes to branding and design. While its G:TWO range is made in India to keep the price relatively accessible, G:ONE and G:ZERO are manufactured “skin to box” at its factory in Rushden – only the third that it’s occupied since 1866. The original was one of the first anywhere in the world to use Goodyear welting; Grenson’s craftsmen recently pioneered the Triple Welt.
Pringle Of Scotland
Not to be outdone, Pringle of Scotland has held a royal warrant from Her Majesty for “knitted garments” since 1956. Robert Pringle established the then-underwear company in 1815 in Hawick, Scotland, helping to put the town on the map as the home of British knitwear – and indeed establish knitwear as a clothing category. One of the world’s oldest luxury fashion brands and associated with golf (cue “hole-in-one” joke), Pringle still has its HQ in Hawick and makes some limited editions there, but most of its production is now in Italy.
In 1893, when Alfred Dunhill took over his father’s business selling tarpaulins, blinds and equine goods, he clocked that horsepower was in the ascendancy. With “everything for the car but the motor”, including a windproof pipe, Dunhill Motorities eventually diverted into non-automotive apparel and accessories such as Sean Connery’s cigarette lighter in Dr No. Bourdon House, the Duke of Westminster’s former Mayfair residence and Dunhill’s “spiritual home”, accommodates bespoke tailoring, barbering, bar and a screening room.
Cyrus Clark made sheepskin rugs in Street, Somerset until his younger brother and apprentice James fashioned the offcuts into slippers in 1825. Aside from those foot-measuring machines, Clarks is famous for its desert boots, designed by James’ great grandson Nathan, a Royal Army Service Corp officer. Based on suede ankle boots sold in Cairo bazaars, they rubbed mods, rude boys and rappers up the right way; Drake’s OVO label even collaborated on versions suitable for smart-casual events and cutting rugs alike.
Turnbull & Asser
Supplier of “beautiful shirts” to the greatest Gatsby (Robert Redford) and James Bond (Connery), Turnbull & Asser also received Prince Charles’ first royal warrant in 1980. Founded in 1885 by hosier Reginald Turnbull and salesman Ernest Asser, the “peacock of Jermyn Street” makes ties and suits but is best known for its button-ups. The fabrics are woven in Italy, British mills having dwindled, but the shirts are cut and sewn together in Gloucester, by hand-on machines with miniature Union Jacks sticking out of the top.
With royal warrants from the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and the Prince of Wales for waterproof and protective clothing, Barbour – established in 1894 – is beacon of British manufacturing: although other products come from overseas, its wax jackets are still made by hand in its Simonside factory in South Shields at the mouth of the Tyne. Daniel Craig has shot in a Barbour on screen in Skyfall and Alex Turner waxed lyrical on stage at Glastonbury, while HRH Steve McQueen saddled up in the International motorcycling jacket.
With its predator-sight logo and tie-ins with CrossFit, UFC and Spartan Race, Reebok has come a long way from the Union-Jacked Classic. A subsidiary of Adidas since 2005, its HQ moved to Boston in 2016, but it was founded in Bolton in 1958 as an offshoot of JW Foster & Sons, a running shoe company that led the field with spikes. (The name is Afrikaans for a type of antelope.) The 1986 introduction of the vector logo symbolised a focus on performance, but the Classics and Pumps keep one foot in heritage.
Traditional but disruptive, timeless but modern, British but with more than a whiff of Italian tailoring about it, Thom Sweeney revels in its own contradictions. Founders Thom Whiddett and Luke Sweeney joined forces in 2006. A relative upstart in the world of British tailoring, it took them less than a decade to establish the brand as one of the most influential in high-end menswear. They design clothes “to last years, not seasons”, the aesthetic defined by that British-Italian axis: soft, continental shoulders with a structured slimline waist. The brand offers bespoke, made-to-measure and ready-to-wear collections. It’s all great.
While recovering from a broken foot in 1945, German army medic Dr Klaus Maertens devised an air-cushioned sole more comfortable than his standard-issue boots. In 1960 Bill Griggs, a shoemaker in Wollaston, Northamptonshire, saw an ad for the sole in a trade mag and acquired the licence. The eight-holed 1460 boots (as in 1 April 1960) were merely affordable, functional workwear until they were adopted by skinheads and The Who’s Pete Townshend; they became an icon for his generation and many more since.
Beginning in 1971 with a single menswear-only store on London’s Bishopsgate, David Reiss’ business really boomed in 1980 when he set up shop on the King’s Road, the epicentre of hip and ground zero for punk. Ironic, given that the high-end high-street retailer – which counts the Duchess of Cambridge among its clientele – is anything but brash, offering refined smart-casualwear and eminently respectable suiting (including a personal tailoring service) that’s directional yet straight enough for the establishment.
Private White V.C.
When Jack White’s great-grandson James Eden bought his Manchester factory in 1997, it employed 30 people, down from a height of 450. Today, 75 are engaged in an enterprise almost as heroic as the World War I Victoria Cross recipient, using British fabrics, trims and linings that, where possible, are locally sourced from mills that have traded with the factory since Jack’s day. Designed by Laura Ashley’s son Nick, a veteran of Dunhill, Tod’s and Kenzo, the brand is necessarily luxury in price, but utilitarian in feel.
That the same man is behind trad formalwear brand Favourbrook might come as a surprise. But then the self-taught tailor has always railed against constriction, sacking off art school to work on a second-hand clothes stall on London’s Portobello Market. After a decade constructing Favourbrook, Oliver Spencer wanted something a little more relaxed. High quality and low fuss, his own label – which is 40 per cent made in England – has found favour with men who chafe at suit straitjackets, skinny jeans and generally trying too hard.
Another brand that originated on Portobello Road, where in 1979 co-founders Jeremy Hackett and Ashley Lloyd-Jennings bonded over second-hand British clothing and accessories, selling it from their first store in Parson’s Green. Younger than it looks, Hackett is a sort of UK equivalent of Ralph Lauren (which is itself massively anglophile), variously associated over the years with Aston Martin and Pierce Brosnan, the boat race and, er, polo. The brand is now Lebanese-owned but style arbiter Jeremy remains involved.
The idea for a leather-goods brand germinated in the head of 21-year-old Roger Saul at his kitchen table in Somerset. His sister designed the logo to go with the name that he took from the trees that he passed on his way to school, while his mum lent him £500: enough to start a business in 1971, but not even enough to buy its signature scotchgrain holdall now. Although its men’s bags and small accessories are made overseas, Mulberry’s roots are still in Somerset, where it employs 600 craftspeople across two factories.
Supposedly Steve McQueen, who wore Belstaff in The Great Escape, cancelled a date with Ali McGraw because he was waxing his Trialmaster jacket. Having supplied the military with capes, tents and groundsheets during World War I, Staffordshire businessman Eli Belovitch (“Bel- and “Staff-”) formed an alliance with son-in-law Harry Grosberg in 1924, majoring in waterproof clothing for motorcyclists. Che Guevara also wore a Trialmaster on his eight-month, 8,000km tour of South America; David Beckham designed his own line.
Only the second fashion designer after Sir Hardy Amies to be knighted, Sir Paul Smith wanted to be a professional cyclist. The Nottingham native dropped out of school at 15 with no qualifications and worked in a clothing warehouse as an errand boy. After an accident at 17, he graduated to the warehouse’s menswear buyer, took evening tailoring classes and opened his own shop. Reflecting his eclecticism and down-to-earthiness, Paul Smith’s “classic with a twist” formula isn’t out of place on the Paris catwalk or in the pub.
Avante-garde Alexander McQueen is at home on Savile Row: its namesake trained for two years at Anderson & Sheppard. The rumour that he wrote a rude message in Prince Charles’ jacket lining though is untrue – it was checked when the story gained traction after McQueen’s death in 2010. And under Sarah Burton, who has followed a hard act faultessly, tailoring is still a signature, underpinning the gothic drama. “Menswear is about subtlety,” said the renowned showman himself. “It’s about good style and good taste.”
Claiming to be the oldest manufacturing factory anywhere in the world, Lea Mills – on the outskirts of Matlock, Derbyshire – was co-founded in 1784 by Peter Nightingale and the first of four men called John Smedley to run the company in a row. By the end of the 18th century, the firm had expanded from muslin and spinning cotton to knitting and hosiery – hence “long johns”. But it was the introduction of exceptionally soft handle sweaters (now made from a blend of sea island cotton and cashmere) in the 1960s that gained Smedley the international reputation it holds to this day.
With 250 stores in the UK and a further 154 diffused across 31 countries worldwide, Topman performs the branding dark art of being at once mainstream and bleeding edge, high street and high fashion. That’s thanks chiefly to its presence at London Fashion Week Men’s, where it shows its own trendsetting Topman Design collection, and its financial support of the Newgen Men scheme for fledgling designers, which ensures a steady stream of future collaborators – and the kind of cred denied to cut-price copycats.
Tracing its history back to 1882, Kilgour has the heritage and expertise to match anyone in high-end British tailoring. But walk into No.5 Savile Row and you’d mistake it for an architectural design firm, not some stuffy outpost of the menswear establishment. The granite floors and minimalist styling should give you a clue that this brand is not exactly about traditional suiting, either. In recent years, its aesthetic has become modern and daring with notch-less lapels (or no lapels at all), a lack of breast pockets and silhouettes inspired by traditional Japanese funeral wear. It’s still the company that dressed Cary Grant, so you can expect the finest wools and 4,000 stitches lovingly made by hand on its bespoke suits. Don’t have £5,000 burning a hole in your pocket? Don’t worry – the brand is also creating a ready-to-wear collection.
Everyone should own a Sunspel T-shirt. And if you don’t, buy one. But there is more to the brand than just a few well-fitting staples. Since being founded in Nottingham in 1882, Sunspel has developed from a mere textiles manufacturer to a fully-functional fashion brand, responsible for the iconic white boxer shorts in the 1985 Levi’s launderette ad, to bespoke clobber for Daniel Craig’s Bond in Casino Royale. These days, the Long Eaton-based brand caters to the well-dressed everyman, relying on unrivalled fit and quality over gimmicks.
In the 1960s, no skinhead starter pack was complete without a Ben Sherman button-down, making the iconic shirtmaker a dyed-in-the-fabric part of British style. Having existed for five decades now, the brand founded during the golden age of mens’ fashion and recognisable by its use of the Royal Air Force roundel has, well, rounded out its repertoire to include sharply-cut suits and everyday casuals but remains a symbol of rebellious youth culture.
You Must Create – otherwise known as YMC – has been a rising menswear star since its 1995 inception. Founded by designers Fraser Moss and Jimmy Collins, the label focuses on the core essentials of a man’s wardrobe: your classic jackets, plain tees, minimalist kicks and casual shirts. That doesn’t mean it runs boring, though. YMC melds a workwear element with typical British design, resulting in a line that’s solid, impactful but sure to weather the ever-changing trend wheel. Plus, it sits on the more affordable end of the designer spectrum.
Emma Willis may be one of the more recent – and to date the only female – ‘shirteliers’ to set up shop on London’s Jermyn Street, but she has quickly established herself as a force in the menswear world. Every year since opening in 1999, Willis has produced around 7,000 shirts for a wide range of clients, from those that lead the world (Barack Obama) to those that save it (Daniel Craig) while also running her Style for Soldiers charity, which provides bespoke shirts for injured servicemen.
Never knowingly undersold, John Lewis is the department store equivalent of what you might call idealised “British values” if forced to put pen to paper. Think fair play (its price matching manifesto) and modesty (its clothing offering is anti-bling, favouring solid, unshowy classics). It’s a formula that clearly works, with the department store having a track record of selling garments to the nation for over 150 years.
Dressmaker to Queen Elizabeth II, Sir Edwin Hardy Amies served in military intelligence in Belgium during World War II (in a Savile Row-tailored uniform no less), organising sabotage missions and a Vogue fashion shoot. He died in 2003, having sold his brand, which was bought by Fung Capital in 2008. The name and premises at No.14 Savile Row, which house the HQ and bespoke workshop, remain, while the store at No.8 sells ready-to-wear and stylish essentials – like Sir Hardy’s ABC of Men’s Fashion, a must-read menswear tome that is still followed to the letter by sticklers.
Few would think to consult a Brit when it comes to anything related to warmer climes, but Orlebar Brown, the sophisticated swimwear label launched by former photographer Adam Brown, has been helping guys look cool around the pool for more than a decade. Prized for its tailored approach to holiday staples, the brand’s iconic Bulldog swim shorts look just as good in the sand as they do out and about in the city.
Another British shoemaking stalwart from Northamptonshire, Loake is still run by the same family: MD Andrew is the great-grandson of John, who kickstarted the business with brothers William and Thomas in 1880. Indeed, the brand’s premium Goodyear-welted shoes are made in the same Kettering factory that the brothers built in 1894, although it also produces some styles abroad. In 2007, Loake was bestowed with a royal warrant by appointment to HM the Queen as manufacturer of men’s shoes. If it’s good enough for Liz…
Though some have tried to snatch credit away and apply it to a tail-less jacket spotted in New York’s Tuxedo Park, it’s a widely accepted truth that esteemed Savile Row tailor Henry Poole created the first modern-style dinner jacket based on specifications from the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII). Now under the stewardship of Simon Cundey (the great-grandson of Poole’s cousin and business partner), the 211-year-old firm is every bit as innovative, recently collaborating with Adidas on a pair of sneakers.
From its humble beginnings in 1994 as a wholesale menswear brand, AllSaints has grown dramatically to establish itself as one of the biggest names on the high street. Today the firm headquartered in East London has more than 200 stores worldwide, each stocking its selection of signature distressed clothing and quality leather jackets, all finished with the instantly identifiable ramskull logo.
The outerwear of choice for Hollywood icons such as Cary Grant and Humphrey Bogart, for more than 160 years Aquascutum has set a high watermark for stylish coats. The brand adopted its name – a mix of the Latin words aqua (water) and scutum (shield) – in the 1950s after the firm’s founder, Mayfair tailor John Emary, patented a method of producing a water-repellent textile still used on its famed tan-outside-check-inside rain macs today.
It’s hard to imagine a space on the British high street for “Dr Jaeger’s Sanitary Woollen System Co”, but as the simply named “Jaeger”, the 130-year-old business is nothing short of an institution. Named after a German zoologist who promoted the use of animal hair in clothing, its woollen long johns were worn by famous explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton. Today, it’s more widely known for its line of contemporary staples.
Long before anyone had heard of Tiger Tim, Fred Perry embodied a golden era of both tennis and menswear. The 55-time career title winner launched his eponymous label in 1952, peddling a now-iconic knitted cotton pique polo shirt that has subsequently grown into a full collection. The famous laurel logo isn’t solely limited to centre court, either. Repurposed by multiple subcultures (mods, skinheads, NME indie cindies), Fred Perry has also produced various collaborations which catapulted Wimbledon threads into street style worthy of Milan.
Leather goods are something of a rite of passage. Any man north of 27 knows that a decent wallet, notepad and briefcase are the hallmarks of a “proper” gent, and British label Smythson knows it too. Founded in 1887 by Frank Smythson, the manufacturer became popular for classic products that catered to a notable clientele: prime ministers, adventurers and Grace Kelly to name a few. Plus, the brand’s sheer consistency resulted in three royal warrants from the Prince of Wales, the Duke of Edinburgh and the Queen herself. Long may it reign.
By industry standards, Folk is but a teenager. Unlike most adolescents, however, the London-based label has never experienced an awkward phase or a propensity for questionable trends. No, Folk is mature beyond its years in more ways than one. Instead of relying on theme or novelty, founder Cathal McAteer does the opposite: simple, well-cut staples in colours that’ll pop. Which, all things considered, hits that elusive statement sweet spot without looking like you’re trying to dress all “Fashion”.
Kent & Curwen
A David Beckham endorsement doesn’t come easily (or cheap), but Kent & Curwen has got the world’s best-dressed footballer on lockdown. First established in 1926, the British label was responsible for one of cricket’s most iconic sweaters – the double-striped V-neck – before eventually branching out into other sports-tinged separates. Kent & Curwen is far from tally-ho fare, though. Rose-embroidered shirts sit alongside rugged denims and New England-inspired workwear, resulting in a collection that can hit every cornerstone of a modern man’s wardrobe.
Lock & Co
The term ‘Mayfair milliner’ conjures images of top-hatted dandies dining out on members’ club fees that cost more than your house. Sure, Lock and Co. caters to that group. But, thankfully, it turns out they do casual pieces just as well. The London-based outfit crafts a range of hats, from bowlers to baker boys to baseball caps, and is said to be the world’s oldest hat shop – and one of the few in receipt of a royal warrant. A doff of the cap indeed.
Established in 1849, Huntsman started out as a bespoke tailor on London’s Savile Row (where else?) and has secured itself a handful of royal warrants along the way thanks to its reputation as a bastion of British tailoring. It’s not just royals who love this tailoring institution either: David Bowie was a fan – ergo, that’s the ultimate seal of approval. While the world outside the doors of this suit specialist has changed, Hunstman has retained its signature obsessive attention to detail and love of craftsmanship.
Drake’s may seem like one of those brands which has been around forever, but surprisingly, this quintessentially British clothing company sprung to life in the late seventies. It’s made up for lost time however, growing from an accessories-only label to today’s fully-fledged menswear design house. The concept is simple: season on season it offers up high-quality new takes on some of these small isles’ greatest hits.
We’re not just fans of Thomas Pink for its solid range of shirting and ties – it’s a lifeline when coffee and ink jump ship and land on your shirt, too. Founded in 1984 by three brothers who wanted to shake up stuffy shirt making, the brand has handily branched out from its original home on Savile Row to appear on street corners and in train stations up and down the country. We’re all for it because there a few tasks less fruitful than trying to cover a unintentionally patterned shirt.
Yes, Supreme may have the kiss of approval from super-brand Louis Vuitton, but (call us biased) we prefer the rough and ready charm of homegrown skate brand Palace. Founded in 2010 by Lev Tanju, Palace has gone from niche start-up to cult hit to fashion heavyweight with celebrity wearers reading like a who’s who of cool AF. All that at the age of seven suddenly makes us feel woefully under-accomplished.
Such is Scottish brand Mackintosh’s rock-solid status as the OG of raincoats, those that mimic the original still carry their forebear’s name. It’s no great shock to learn that it was rain-sodden corner of the planet that led to Charles Macintosh creating the world’s first rainproof coat in 1824. Nowadays, the brand still have classic style and field-leading tech on their side but – as their recent collaboration with Vetements shows – dusty, this heritage label is not.
Crashing onto Savile Row in the midst of the Britpop nineties, Richard James and his eponymous tailoring label broke with tradition by offering up fresh slim cuts and suit fabrics in unconventional colours. Today, Richard James is a firm fixture of London’s menswear scene with a ready-to-wear collection as well as a bespoke suit service, both of which retain that name-making ability to fuse trend with tradition and creativity with craft.
Proving that good things come to those who wait, Hunter Boots began life as the less appealingly titled North British Rubber Company in 1856. It was roughly 150 years before the brand became a full-on festival apparel phenomenon. Best known for producing Wellington boots that are actually stylish, the brand now uses its extensive heritage to create functional clothing that’s nice to look at too.