Harrogate debate: Huge response to claims of 'scruffiness' by respected ex-king of menswear shops empire

A letter from a Harrogate Advertiser reader who is a former top fashion retailer has sparked a huge debate on whether our residents are too scruffy...

Sunday, 6th December 2020, 6:43 pm

The days of smart suits and ties appear to lie in Harrogate’s distant past - or they did until the Harrogate Advertiser received a letter from a reader last week.

Had it been from any other reader, the suggestion that Harrogate had turned into a “tatty town with a badly dressed and scruffy-looking population, full of sloppy and careless dressing in what was once the smartest town in Yorkshire,” might have been dismissed as wistful nostalgia - or simply ignored.

But the letter came from Mr Brian Greenwood who, when it comes to fashion and traditional standards, especially in men, really does know what he’s talking about.

Although now in his 90s and happily retired, for decades Mr Greenwood presided over Britain’s largest privately-owned menswear chain, including the Harrogate branch until 2018 - in other words, a genuine king of retail...

Even so, despite Mr Greenwood conducting his own survey of nearly 1,000 pedestrians on prime shopping street James Street, an outsider hearing of the affair might have expected the warning by the former king of British retail to fall on deaf ears in the modern era.

Instead, the response has been phenomenal and, in a further twist, by no means negative.

In fact, when his letter was posted on social media, reaching thousands more people, it became clear from the reaction that the issue of smartness had struck a chord.

Reader Elizabeth Thomson praised him: “Here, Here Mr Greenwood Well said, you are spot on. Taking pride in ones appearance takes little effort and you do not need an extensive wardrobe.”

Another reader Linda Metcalfe said she thought Mr Greenwood may be a bit oldfashioned but that he still had a point.

She said: “I think Mr GB Greenwood may be a little old-fashioned, however, he has a point about Harrogate being tatty. It’s certainly not the posh town it used to be, if you actually start to open your eyes and take a closer look it’s getting tired and unkept.”

Andrew Stewart, the owner of 108 Fine Art, who himself is known for his sense of sartorial style at the exhibitions he hosts in his gallery on Cold Bath Road in Harrogate, said: “I couldn’t agree more with Mr Greenwood’s sentiments about men’s clothing tastes. Why beige? Why jeans? Why choose dull?

“Let’s encourage and celebrate a bit of flair and individuality on the streets.”

Some readers went as far as to suggest Harrogate should hold an annual Tweed Day...

Harrogate’s modern-day experts in menswear are in agreement that there is a serious point at the heart of Mr Greenwood’s letter, one with relevance to a time when so many people are working from home.

What they say: Rhodes Wood bespoke tailors, 56-58 Parliament Street, Harrogate

Jeremy Wood Beaumont, owner of Rhodes Wood which has stood at the bottom of Parliament Street as a bastion of high standards and traditional values, even shying away from displaying brand names on the outside of its garments, said the decline of people working in offices in recent months had hastened a worrying trend.

He said: “Even though we sell suits as the backbone of what we do, it’s very much a niche business, though it does appeal to people nationwide and we have a substantial number of clients in London. The days of suits are probably gone, as is headwear in general. But the lockdown has made things worse. Everything has got more casual. Things have to move on but it’s moved on too far. It’s sending out the wrong message.”

What they say: Smithers clothiers, 1 Westminster Arcade, Parliament Street, Harrogate

Another of Harrogate’s traditional menswear shops held in high esteem, is Smithers Menswear.

It recently moved to a new address - the former premises on Parliament Street of Mr Greenwood’s former shop.

Smithers’ co-owner Chris Bradley said the trend towards casual wear had degenerated into “slobbiness”.

He said: “I prefer a mix of formal wear with casual wear but modern life is based on driving somewhere and jumping in and out of cars.

“People don’t promenade in public like they used to.

“A friend of mine who has been working at home since lockdown began in March, told me he starts the day by taking his dog for a walk in his tracksuit and then found himself wearing it all day sitting working at his lap top.

“When he realised he was dressing scruffily all the time, he decided to dress better.

“The summer saw a lot of people in Harrogate in shorts and T-shirts dressing slobbily.

“It reflects on the town centre which looks to me to be in a rut.”

What they say: Cordings, Westminster Arcade, Parliament Street, Harrogate

But not everyone is cut from the same cloth on the issue of looking smart.

Hillary Becque, marketing director of Cordings, the famous British Classic country wear store which opened up in Harrogate in 2015 having kitting out explorers, rock stars and royalty in the finest tweed and wool at its London shop since 1839, said the notion that Harrogate was a scruffy place was ludicrous.

She said: “Mr Greenwood does raise an interesting point but Harrogate will never in our opinion be ‘tatty’; it has stunning architecture, there is a wonderful sense of community and locals have an immense pride in the town. Rather than bemoaning the casual nature of peoples clothing, we at Cordings want to highlight the benefit of spending a little time on your appearance.”

What Mr Greenwood says

As for the man who initiated the smartness debate, Mr Greenwood says he has been heartened by the response.

Talking to the Harrogate Advertiser this week, Mr Greenwood said: “I was glad to learn that you have had a significant reaction to my article.

“Since most views are positive, I am very encouraged and can only recommend your viewers to think a bit more about how they dress and generally conduct themselves.”

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