Web Page No 2230
22nd January 2016
Top Picture: Moss Bros in King Street, Covent GardenSecond Picture: Moss Bros Store about 1920
Third Picture: Modern Moss Bros store
Several months ago when I looked at men’s outfitters I had an email informing me that I had missed one of the biggest, Moss Bros. This firm was all over the country, I think the reason I missed it out was that if I ever had to hire a Dress Suit it came from Norah’s in Southsea, who were cheaper!
The origins of Moss Bross goes back to 1851, the year of the Great Exhibition and in Covent Garden two small shops leased by Moses Moses formed the beginnings of the company Moss Bros. Moses was a dealer in quality second-hand clothes and nobody is certain when the name Moss Bros first appeared, but it was known that in 1881, Moses moved to King Street. In 1894, Moses died leaving the business to two of his sons, Alfred and George. Within five years the shop was rebuilt and the Moss Bros name stood over the door. George was a clever cutter, Alfred a talented clothes buyer, while a third brother Lewis - though not a partner - was a persuasive salesman. The business grew until 1897 when Alfred's readiness to help a friend had an effect on their fortunes. Charles Pond, an eccentric rich stockbroker and amateur actor, had fallen on hard times. Though still welcome in the finer houses he was reduced to 'singing for his supper' at the musical evenings. He no longer had the clothes necessary for these occasions, so he took his problem to Alfred, who then lent him smart outfits. But Pond took the loans for granted, causing Alfred to say "It's about time you paid something for these clothes," and a fee of 7/6d (37.5p) per hire was agreed. From this modest venture grew Moss Bros Hire service.
From the earliest days, Moses had bought spare suits from fashionable Savile Row tailors, later he expanded the ready-to-wear department by buying remnants and employing skilled tailors to make up suits. It wasn't until the early 1900s that the craftsmanship of the Savile Row tailors convinced customers that ready-to-wear was worth considering. Bespoke tailoring was becoming expensive and many ready-made garments were produced by machine while Moss Bros suits were still hand finished, putting the firm ahead of the competition. Another was as suppliers of military uniforms. After the Boer War, a collection of army oddments in a cupboard in the King Street store was discovered. Military men came to Moss Bros for their everyday needs but not for uniforms. However in 1910, an assistant named Martin successfully kitted out two officers in military frockcoats and later found the perfect uniform for another officer. This soldier was so pleased that he recommended Moss Bros to all his friends and so the Military Department was born. In 1914, vast numbers of newly commissioned officers acquired their uniforms from the King Street store. The pressure on staff was enormous, with some sleeping on piles of clothing after a 15-hour day! Monty Moss, a skilled buyer and a member of the team, fell at Passchendaele but when peace returned Moss Bros soon demonstrated that it had lost none of its flair for innovation. During the 1920s Moss Bros had become known for riding outfits, so it was a natural to add a Saddlery Department in the basement at Kings Street. In 1924, King George V insisted that Ramsay MacDonald's new Labour Government dressed correctly at court. Ministers were happy to wear uniform rather than knee breeches, but were worried about the cost. The company was proud when the King's Private Secretary suggested that second-hand dress could be had at Moss Bros for just £30!
Harry Moss, Alfred's nephew, joined the business in 1909 when he was 13. By Christmas 1921, he was 25 and already a Director. Moss Bros went from strength to strength in the 1920s and Harry concentrated on the ready-to-wear market. Each suit had to pass his personal checks, he would try on every jacket and overcoat regardless of size to test its balance and feel. By 1934, Harry was Managing Director. Alfred Moss died in 1937. During the days of the Depression people's tastes became more frivolous, customers looked for light relief by cruising, choosing Moss Bros to dress them.
With the outbreak of WW2 most of the Hire Department went into storage and the Military Department came into its own. The priority was to set up provincial outlets. Following branches in Manchester, Edinburgh, York and Bristol in 1939, the following year they opened in Portsmouth with the naval business in mind. However, within just a few days, the first bombs on Portsmouth landed on the store. Undeterred, the Company Secretary John Russell found a wooden hut which he persuaded the Navy to tow across the harbour. The hut was erected outside Portsmouth Dockyard and continued to do business well into peacetime. In 1947 Moss Bros became a public company, with the Moss family maintaining a controlling interest. The company was now advertising itself as the 'complete men's store'.
However, women customers - buying and hiring riding kit, ski outfits etc. now accounted for a bigger share of the business so a Women's Department was opened and proved popular. With rationing still in force, a Women's Hire Service was added for everything from evening dresses and gloves, to bags and even mink coats, plus entire outfits for brides and bridesmaids. As society changed in the 50s and 60s, Moss Bros played to its strengths but studied the trends. The company was still strong in riding outfits and saddles and television had brought sports such as show-jumping to a wider audience and parents came to Moss Bros to ensure their offspring looked the part when they rode. Other major events of the 1950s brought society to Moss Bros. The funeral of King and the coronation of Queen were two of the biggest occasions in the company’s history.
The sudden death from polio of Alfred's younger son, Graham, in 1952 was a shock, fortunately, Alfred's elder son Basil and his cousin, Monty, were already established in the company. The 'swinging 60s' produced steady growth and within another decade Moss Bros had grown to 100 stores nationwide. In 1982 Moss Bros acquired the cloth and clothing company, Fairdale, Five years later Moss Bros founded The Suit Company, a chain of shops specialising in suits etc.
The sale in 1988 of the large site in King Street, Covent Garden, which housed not only the store but also offices, manufacturing and warehousing space, meant that capital free to allow for growth. Moss Bros merged with Cecil Gee, which brought with it Beale & Inman and Savoy Taylors Guild, with its store next to the Savoy Hotel.
Rowland Gee, whose father founded the Cecil Gee chain, became Managing Director of the Moss Bros Group. When the doors closed for the last time at King Street in February 1989, the Head Office moved to Clapham, where it remains to this day. But early in the 1990s, the company returned to Covent Garden opening a traditional Moss Bros store opposite the original site in King Street.
More acquisitions followed, beginning with Dormie in 1992 and the Blazer chain from Storehouse in 1996. Franchise agreements with Hugo Boss and Canali allowed the Group to operate stand-alone stores in this country. There are now sixteen Hugo Boss stores operated by Moss Bros in the UK.
In 2001, the Moss Bros Group introduced the 'Code' brand for the 'dress down' market. Forty branches - either Moss Bros or Savoy Taylors Guild - were converted into Code stores but this was only a partial success and the Code brand was axed.
The millennium has witnessed innovations for the Group. Moss Bros Hire opened its first hire concession on Cunard's QE2 in 2003. They also announced a partnership with Ascot Racecourse to produce the Royal Ascot Collection, formal wear for those special occasions. MossDirect, the first internet and mail-order division was launched in August 2005.
Today, Moss Bros company values remain the same, as does the Group's commitment to quality service and products.
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News and Views:
On this day 22nd January 1960-1965
On 22/01/1960 the number one single was Why - Anthony Newley and the number one album was South Pacific Soundtrack. The top rated TV show was not listed and the box office smash was North by Northwest. A pound of today's money was worth £13.68 and Burnley were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.
On 22/01/1961 the number one single was Poetry in Motion - Johnny Tillotson and the number one album was GI Blues - Elvis Presley. The top rated TV show was Sunday Night at the London Palladium (ATV) and the box office smash was One Hundred and One Dalmations. A pound of today's money was worth £13.25 and Tottenham Hotspur were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.
On 22/01/1962 the number one single was The Young Ones - Cliff Richard & the Shadows and the number one album was The Young Ones - Cliff Richard. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was Lawrence of Arabia. A pound of today's money was worth £12.89 and Ipswich Town were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.
On 22/01/1963 the number one single was The Next Time/Bachelor Boy - Cliff Richard & the Shadows and the number one album was Out of the Shadows - Shadows. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was The Great Escape. A pound of today's money was worth £12.64 and Everton were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.
On 22/01/1964 the number one single was Glad All Over - Dave Clark Five and the number one album was With the Beatles - The Beatles. The top rated TV show was Steptoe & Son (BBC) and the box office smash was Dr Strangelove. A pound of today's money was worth £12.24 and Liverpool were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.
On 22/01/1965 the number one single was Yeh Yeh - Georgie Fame and the number one album was Beatles For Sale - The Beatles. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was The Sound of Music. A pound of today's money was worth £11.69 and Manchester United were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.