Fifty years suits him

AFTER five decades of measuring inside legs and waists, it's time for Douglas Cobb to find out if retirement “suits you, sir”.

By RICHARD CORNWELL

Felixstowe editor

richard.cornwell@eveningstar.co.uk>

AFTER five decades of measuring inside legs and waists, it's time for Douglas Cobb to find out if retirement “suits you, sir”.


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He has been a familiar face to shoppers after 50 years in menswear - nearly 40 of them spent at Grimwades in Ipswich, and the rest at Richard Fairweather and Coes in Felixstowe.

As he retired, Mr Cobb looked back on his career - and the changes in the rag trade since he started as an apprentice, the last Grimwades, on Ipswich's Cornhill, took on back in 1957.

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In those days it was much more like TV's Are Your Being Served with items made to measure rather than today's shops selling rail after rail of similar items imported cheaply from the other side of the world.

“I was the last indentured apprentice at Grimwades - you were taught properly how to measure a person's inside leg and other parts of their bodies for different clothes and alterations, and how to measure for hats, shirts and so on,” said Mr Cobb, 65.

“It was a very personal service and while a lot of the new suits were made away from the shop, we did have a fitter and tailor upstairs who would do all the alterations on the premises.

“You had to learn your materials, too, and know the difference between a cashmere and a camel hair, how to keep them clean and tidy, and keeping your stock.

“It's very different today. There are no apprentices any more because the independent shops are few and far between with most clothing now done by the big multiples - you see it on the rack and help yourself.

“I think it would be very difficult today to open a menswear shop, a proper tailor's, because it would be hard work to come up with the money and premises to make a go of it.”

Mr Cobb, who lives with his wife Anne at Wherstead, rose to become hat buyer at Grimwades by 1971, then ran the shirt and hosiery department in 1979, before becoming the main buyer in 1988 until the shop closed - ending one of Ipswich's oldest and best-loved institutions after 151 years - in 1996.

He then moved to Richard Fairweather's shop in Hamilton Road, Felixstowe - where Edinburgh Wool is today - as shop manager until that closed, and then Coes at the top of Bent Hill as joint shop manager.

“It was very sad when Grimwades closed. We were like a big family and you felt that your department was yours, your baby - you loved and cherished it and worked hard,” he said.

“I have really enjoyed my time in the business. It has been a great career.”

He plans a busy retirement - planning to see his daughter Sarah and son Stephen, who live in London, more often, continuing his work as a parish councillor, helping at the village school, and studying history, and jokes that he may or may not write The Memoirs of an Inside Leg Measurer.

Do you have memories of being served by Douglas? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail EveningStarLetters@eveningstar.co.uk

FASTFACTS:

Family firm Grimwades traded in Ipswich for 151 years - when it closed all the shop's fixtures and fittings were auctioned off.

The clothes industry has been a popular topic for TV - with the Rag Trade, Never Mind the Quality Feel the Width, and Are You Being Served among many shows to have graced our screens.

Back in the 1950s when Douglas Cobb started work, men bought their suits made-to-measure rather than off the peg, and shops specialised in big ranges of shirts, ties, waistcoats, trousers and hats for the well-dressed man.

In the 1960s, fashions began to change regularly and shops had to adapt to the trends - mass production and cheap clothing from abroad later caused a revolution in the tailoring industry, making bespoke clothing much rarer and today very expensive.

Savile Row in Mayfair, central London, is the home of men's bespoke tailoring and its companies still attract the wealthy, famous and powerful today as their customers.

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