Alun Thorne visits a revamped clothes shop for the bigger man
Growing up I have always been the tallest of my friends. In fact, at 6ft 5in since my early teens, I was always taller than all my teachers at school.
It certainly has its advantages. I was an automatic pick for the basketball team and I have always been able to help old ladies reach the nice jams on the top shelf of the supermarket.
But all these obvious benefits were negated somewhat by my inability to find a pair of Farahs to fit and a blazer that looked like I’d stolen it from a child at the nursery around the corner.
As an adult, finding clothes to fit has been slightly less traumatic but when it comes to suits, it would be fair to say that the majority of your standard high street stores are not fully catering for those of us with a 36 inch inside leg. But there is one shop in Birmingham that is determined to call time on ill-fitting suits for the larger man, which is on a mission to bring an end to jokes about spreading jam on one’s shoes and inviting one’s trousers down for the tea.
High and Mighty has been sat on Smallbrook Queensway for nigh on half a century, having been offering sartorial solutions for the larger man since the mid 1960s.
As Birmingham has evolved – not least with the Bullring just a stone’s thrown from High and Mighty’s front door – the store has quietly being going about its business while the brand has expanded to pretty much every major city in the UK.
However, as part of a new drive to bring the stores into the 21st century, the Birmingham operation has just undergone a seven week, £1million refurbishment and store manager Hilary Fraser couldn’t be happier.
“We wanted to have the corporate identity throughout all the stores and so went through the refurbishment earlier this year,” she said. “We wanted a modern look and a revamp all the way through the store – I went to the Glasgow store recently and you just feel like you are in a High and Mighty. We love the new store although I do sometimes miss the lovely old sofas, I don’t miss the nasty old carpets.”
Hilary is hoping the new fresh store and brand will help boost sales and is pleased to be shop shape for the Christmas rush and the start of their sale on December 23 although a shop doesn’t last more than 40 years unless it is already serving a purpose.
“I think undoubtedly the need’s there,” she said. “Just because your tall or big, doesn’t mean you can’t have a nice suit. If you are over a 46 inch chest then it is very difficult. We get that customer in here and more often than not he is walking out with three suits. It makes our customers feel good – what’s worse than trousers up above the ankles?
“What our guys try and do is make the customer feel at home – make them feel comfortable with who they are as big people can be self-conscious when shopping. The personal touch is very much the way to shop.”
Part of the business that has seen significant growth in recent years is made to measure suits which start at not much more than a decent suit off the hanger on the High Street. “Made to measure is something we have been doing for a couple of years and is going very well,” said Hilary. “We do the whole range of sizes off the peg but can also offer that something extra for a special occasion. In the new year we start tailored shirts as like suits, shirts will often either fit the arms and not the body or vice versa.”
To have my suit fitted I was placed in the more than capable hands of Bob who, elegantly dressed in a skinny black suit, has been with the company 24 years. He’s in charge of measuring me up for my suit while Max types in the measurements. I’d imagined lots of chalk dust and pins in uncomfortable places but this is made to measure not tailored - however, with a measurement taken from every mathematically possible combination from my hip down, there was never any danger of any ill-fitting dramas. However, any necessary nip and tucks when the suit comes back are all part of the price. He says the service is growing but Birmingham has a way catch up other stores.
“This store’s always been a bit more casual whereas you sell a lot more suits in our Reading store for instance - although I’m not sure why Reading is a suit town particularly.”
But whether it’s a made to measure wedding suit or a t-shirt for the gym, the door is always open at High and Mighty for the desperate.
“Last week we had a guy in here at 6pm on his way to a do that night and I was pressing his shirt for him,” said Hilary.
“It’s really important that customers know they can do that.”