img591When names like Burtons, Marks and Spencers, and Moss Bros have been part of the British menswear scene for over 100 years, it’s hard to imagine them as anything other than solidly Anglo-Saxon institutions which is precisely what their founders wanted to achieve. But they, like so many of the critical influences behind men’s fashion in the UK before and after the Second World War, were the leading edge (not cutting, that would be a terrible pun) of the Jewish tailoring trade that, in 1901, accounted for the occupation of 60% of all Jewish men in London.

Meshe Osinsky – or Montague Burton as he styled himself – typifies the pre-War innovators. From an era when those who could afford it had their suits individually hand made – and those who couldn’t bought second hand from rag traders – Burton’s introduced the age of the factory-made, affordable, but still tailored and good quality, suit, and so entered the lexicon of British male dressing – even to the extent of being the subject of the slang RAF for a one-way trip, ‘Gone for a Burton’ (the exact derivation of which is the subject of raging debate even today). Burton was joined on the high street by Moses Moss, whose family involvement allowed him to coin the now familiar Moss Bros label as they moved from providing demob suits to former servicemen to the rental service that the name immediately conjures up. Another post-War arrival was Cecil Gee; that’s a name I’d always associated with 60s fashion, and certainly that was the Gee heyday with shops up and down thBurton___s_fa__ade_in_East_Ham__c1930s___credit_Burton_Family_Archivee Charing Cross Road and Shaftesbury Avenue, but who made his entrance stocking the ‘American Look’ in 1946 to cater for the demand for the broad-shouldered, double-breasted suit familiar from Hollywood movies but, thanks to rationing, denied to the British male frame since the start of the War.

And all of this is celebrated in a new exhibition at the excellent Jewish Museum in Albert Street, Camden. The exhibition sets itself a challenging timeline, stretching from the turn of the 20th Century to the spread of fast fashion in the 1970s. For the MidCentury fanatic, that means some frustrating omissions, and I would have loved to have seen a part of the exhibition dedicated to the independent Jewish tailors who catered to the whims of the early Teddy Boys as they copied and adapted the Edwardian styles being sported by likes of Bunny Rogers. To be fair, though, the equivalent ‘Mod Suit’ is given pride of place, right alongside the jacket tailored for John Lennon in the early 60s, and there are some excellent original pre-War suits, donated by the families of the original owners who bought them ‘for best’ and still owned them when they died.

There’s much more to see at the Museum besides this special exhibition, with a fascinating array of displays charting the history of the Jewish community in London, including those unlucky enough to be caught up in the persecution in wartime Europe. Some of the stories are harrowing – all the more so when they involve ordinary Londoners to whom one can easily relate. The exhibition itself runs until 19 June and details are on the Museum’s website.

And 12932913_10154080733760477_5528310629042402042_nwhat’s more, the journey from Camden Town tube station to the Jewish Museum takes you right past the door of Sounds That Swing record shop at 88 Parkway. Recently taken over by long time stalwarts of the Rock’n’Roll scene, Neil Scott and Martin Heaphy (organiser of the Rockin’ Bones club alongside Irvin Gordon) this is the mother lode for the rock’n’roll record collector, offering an overwhelming selection of vinyl and CDs, from the rare and highly valuable to quality reproductions, affordable and satisfying to collect and play in their own right. Mrs M and I spent a happy hour in there, chewing the breeze with Neil and walking out with a fistful of repro 45s, plus one rather tasty original. And we didn’t even venture to the sister shop Vinyl Vault downstairs! I plan to write a feature on the guys and their plans, but it’s a place worth visiting for anyone with a taste for good rockin’ music and a few quid to treat themselves with. Check out their Facebook Page for the latest news and acquisitions.