Revisiting Thom Sweeney casualwear

Monday, June 28th 2021
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I’ve been spending more time in Mayfair in recent weeks, as restrictions have eased here in the UK and businesses have opened. 

It was on such a visit that I went into Thom Sweeney recently, really out of a desire to see everyone I could. Having not been into any stores for several months, it was good to see everything first hand. 

I was struck by how much the current collection fits into our recent discussions of ‘casual chic’: that art of appearing refined and elegant without wearing a jacket or suit.

The Thom Sweeny colour palette has always been narrow. It’s navy, white and grey, with only the occasional olive or beige, and brown in footwear more than anywhere else. 

It’s very classic, even corporate: transposing business colours direct from suits and ties into knits and chinos.  

This works well for the simplicity of casual chic. There aren’t the subtle, earthy shades of brands like Stoffa or Rubato, but it all works together smoothly and intuitively. 

It’s not unusual to look along a rail in the Thom Sweeney store, and see just navy, white and grey. But that does mean it’s all very familiar and easy.

The quality of the product is also consistently high. I think I’d forgotten this, as I’d looked mostly at tailoring and shirts in the past and not bought ready-made for a while. 

A good example - sticking with a recent theme - is their knitted tees and polos. 

Both use a high-twist cotton that has a dry handle similar to the ones we offered recently from Umbria Verde. While I particularly like merino, this is the nicest fine cotton I’ve seen, and the twist helps both to keep their shape. Unlike, for example, John Smedley Sea-Island models.

The polos have an effective collar that, although not made with a stand, does a decent job of staying up under a jacket or cardigan. And that helps them frame the face too. 

The T-shirt’s collar is made with a tubular section below its interlock stitch, which helps it retain its shape. It’s also cut that little bit higher than most mainstream T-shirts. 

These all make the tee a good candidate for wearing under tailoring - if that’s your style. 

Thom [Whiddett, co-founder] does this often, and on the day we met to discuss the collection, he was wearing a navy version under a dark brown DB jacket, and charcoal wool trousers. He was the epitome of casual chic. 

That’s also him on the right, above, with the same tee under a cream jacket. 

“My favourite part is the little split in the side seams, at the bottom,” he says. “That little detail makes the T-shirt look so much more considered when you wear it untucked.”

The way the Thom Sweeney collection is put together, Thom says he’d wear that tee with almost everything in the shop - from high-twist trousers to shorts: “The only thing I probably wouldn’t put it with is the finest worsted trousers, like our Weighhouse suits.”

There are many things in the collection I wouldn’t wear. The trousers have always been too slim for me, and I’m not going to wear the track pants, zipped hoodies or caps. 

But don't be put off by these things. As Thom and I discussed, it would be easy for someone to wander into the store and think this was a fairly standard, fairly mainstream brand. All the expected colours and the categories are there. 

But there’s usually more to the product when you look closely. For example, the merino cardigan (above) has a placket that's wider than most, giving it a subtle collegiate feel. And the tension on the ribbing is less than most, so it doesn’t gape open. 

It’s little things like this, and the quality of the materials, that elevate the casual clothing above anything mainstream. 

This is, of course, reflected in the cost. The cardigan is £295 and the T-shirt £195. (Although if one more person tells me that’s ludicrous for a T-shirt, I will scream. It’s a sweater, just with short sleeves. Not a big-panel cut-and-sewn mass-manufactured tee.)

It’s a long time since I’ve had something made bespoke by Thom Sweeney. Eithen and the  team are now all on the basement level of the new store (above). 

But talking to Thom did remind me that their taste level and modernity extends to tailoring, and this still separates them from most English tailors. 

They were the first house to offer something as adventurous as Caccioppoli, a decade ago. And Thom was enthusiastic about the best current examples from Loro Piana and Solbiati, including the latter's Aloe Vera-infused linen shirting. 

The ready-to-wear tailoring has also got progressively softer, and there are now two lines: one with only a thin pad in the shoulder and the other with nothing at all. 

Thom Sweeney have always had a celebrity following, many of whom really are friends, and regularly turn up unannounced - or gather for the Thursday drinks in the top-floor bar. 

When I visited this time it was Michael Keaton, who sheepishly finished a bespoke appointment and left with a casual goodbye. 

Sometimes this exposure - and the team’s relative lack of social media - makes me forget how good some of the product is. I recommend looking at it with fresh eyes next time you're making that still occasional visit to Mayfair. 

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Freddy Robdall

They have a shop in Mayfair to support with all the associated overheads that entails. The pricing of that t-shirt at £195 IS ludicrous, it has to be to cover those costs.

Chris

I mean that’s not ENTIRELY true Simon. Even those Japanese brands rarely hit 195 for a sweater or t. But I take the point. For a correctly engineered version of something, that both lasts and has the detailing completely accurate, I am prepared to pay more – but I do need to know that it has been designed to the best specifications – it’s something I’ve found drakes guilty of of late.. in their rush to release a huge number of Products, there have been mistakes in design . I love drakes but when paying a luxury price tag I want to know that something has been engineered to the best quality with a real eye to what makes it wearable and an eye to how it may age – in the same way PS products are.

Matt

Hello Simon.
I understand that you cover fine clothing on this website, and that that’s your interest. But whenever exorbitant prices are brought up you dismiss the conversation, saying that the high quality design or style makes the price worth it.
Don’t you think it’s worth acknowledging that there’s more to it that that? High quality should certainly cost more than low quality but there’s a limit. Isn’t it possible that some of these clothes are marked-up because the owner felt greedy?
That they wanted a 3rd foreign holiday this year or wanted to send their kid to a nicer school so they made a £150 sweater (price justified based on quality) £200?
Pointing out that it’s on par with most of the market could just means that greed is normalized in the market. It’s frustrating that all conversations in the hallowed halls of fashion journalism do not acknowledge that there’s really nothing stopping these businesses slapping on a huge mark-up because they like to see large numbers in their bank account.

As always, thank you for your time. I appreciate your blog coverage a lot.

come on and let me know

They also operate in a competitive market place with relatively low barriers to entry. So your ability to be a price maker vs a price taker is limited. No-one forces us to buy from any maker. If we think it’s poor value, go somewhere else.

Alex

Interesting debate.

While I accept that new or increased costs like refurbishments, marketing, new staff or the presence of private equity may bring pressure on a business to increase prices, none of these are likely to do anything to alter the value of the product in the customers wardrobe; the lesson to brands I suppose being that organic expansion at a slower pace is less likely to irk your customers or potential customers.

As far as TS casual wear goes, using your paradigms I think it’s an interesting example of an English take on Italian Smooth style, and all the better for it.

JSB

Hi Simon,

You have mentioned these knitted t-shirts and their high cost a number of times know, alluding to the fact that they are knitwear and not manufactured as a t-shirt. People will obviously keep querying the cost if they are continually referred to as t-shirts, as you have done too. I’m wondering whether they should now be called “t-sweaters”?

Ian A

Oh yes! But you see it’s worth it over the regular high street because…………reasons!

Paul

Mayfair. Was this an opportunity to wear a suit?

Jamie McPherson

I am wearing a pair of their chinos, with your Friday polo as I type this. I’ve always been a big fan of theirs and would always make a pilgrimage to the old store on Burton st lane when I was down in London for work., (fortunately a lot of my clients are in Mayfair).

I find their clothes really hit a spot at the moment what with working from home mostly and business becoming more casual.

ps I also brought a T-shirt recently and it really is a thing of beauty.

Richard Menzies

Simon,
Is the polo in the first picture not linen rather than cotton?
James

Maz

Hi Simone ,
My apologies for asking a non relevant question to this post ,
As a newbies to world of tailoring & bespoke journey what are your thoughts on getting my first suit commissioned to ?
I’ve approached few houses but I’m rather confused in terms of the costs ( not the style ) huntsman £3500 , HP £5700 , Michael Browne £6700 .
They seems all to offer fully bespoke etc… and I love all of their house style but not sure where to start as there’s few grand different in price !!
I can appreciate the fabric can add a little effect but mostly the craft will make a difference I think
Who do you recommend to go first for my bespoke suit manly used for office & travelling on airplanes & driving to meetings?

Regards

Peter Hall

As we require our clothes to do more, I think we will see much more of casual , ‘smartening’ whilst ‘formal’ becoming softer…If that makes sense. This look is relatively easy to achieve, although this quality pushes it above the norm. Sadly, this lean look is not really for me, but I can certainly use the tools to adapt it for my body shape.
Good stuff,Simon.

Stephen

Hi Simon,
I can hear you screaming from south London!
As I may have mentioned before, how one calculates the value of something can in many (but not all) cases be quite subjective. If you are willing to pay then it’s worth it, if not look for something else. I think discussion doesn’t really add anything.
I have visited and found the shop a pleasant place to visit.
All the best.

David

Have they got a barbers in their new store ?

RichardW

Hi Simon
Your mini-rant about the value proposition of the T-shirt made me smile on an otherwise grey and drab day. Thanks for that. It’s interesting how people can take very different perspectives on the value of a product depending on how they view cost versus things such as the quality of materials, the care in manufacturing, etc. No right or wrong viewpoint just different ways of looking at things.
I wasn’t aware that Thom Sweeney had opened a new store with RTW. I must pop in to browse next time I make it to London.

BC

What size do you wear for their knitted polo or tee?

Chris

TS reminds me a lot of Richard James, and before that Edward Sexton and Tommy Nutter. Clearly tastemakers and forward thinkers who will over times end up on both the right and wrong sides of fashion but will, as long as they keep their quality level high, and do not sell to Prada, earn a place in British menswear history. I very much wish them well and will be sure to check out their RTW- I hope they innovate here in the same way as PS clothing- finding high quality versions of t shirts, knitwear , polos is so strangely impossible in a city full of clothing.

Lewis

I’ve often wondered why Thom Sweeney doesn’t receive as much coverage on sites like this as, say, Drake’s. It’s always worth a look if only for its styling and I agree that some of the recent casual pieces have looked great. There’s a lovely navy seersucker camp collar shirt in the current collection and this shawl cardigan from last winter is a thing of beauty.

Screenshot_20210411-171146__01__01.jpg
Adam Jones

I have bought a number of things from TS RTW over a number of years (and the odd bit of bespoke) Yes it is not cheap, and a touch higher in price than it used to be however the quality and fineness has increased. Just one example is knitwear – alot used to be made by lockie – fantastic manufacturer but now made in italy – much finer knit and great quality, with some design and fit elements that elevate the garment.

I think what is also great about the RTW collection is it serves as a great capsule – any man could walk in – find something they like and look great. worth the price tag if we can buy a small number of items, that are great quality versatile so will get plenty of use!

Emerging Genius

All a little too snug. Which is okay if you’re built like a waif.

JB

While it doesn’t look bad , a lot of this stuff just look like another Loro Piana clone, the shoes in particular are a bit too close for comfort.
That said, there are a lot worse things guys could wear on or off duty.

Nico

In which ways is Cacciopoli ‘adventurous’, Simon? Genuinely interested, I have browsed their jacketings from time to time and do not find the clue.

Nico

Interesting, thanks. It was those W/S/L’s I had been targeting, but their website does not give a very dynamic vibe. The fabrics seem to be more or less the same since 2 – 3 years with many of them permanently reading Sold Out. Also more presence of sisal in the place of silk.

Piri R

Hi All
This is more a comment driven by my personal experience and journey with Thom Sweeney – rather than just a commentary of style, etc – which I realise 100% is subjective and what they (or anyone) creates isn’t always for everyone.
I had my wedding suit made by Thom at the back end of 2013 at Weighhouse St before they launched their RTW collection on Mr Porter (before the Bruton St store and newly opened Old Burlington St townhouse). It was my first engagement with TS. Thom was genuinely humble, engaging and appreciative that I had shown a genuine admiration for what they were doing. It didn’t matter to Thom that I was neither a hedge funder or an A-lister (which they were still dealing with all the way back then) – he just wanted to deliver a top product to me on what was the biggest day of my life. They delivered not only a great suit – but a great experience. He created an environment and atmosphere that one just wanted to return to.
My wardrobe since then is now exclusively filled with TS. It hasn’t been bespoke or MTM – but has been nabbed from Mr P and the like over the years.
When ive popped into any of their physical stores to have alterations done on my items – the staff have been superb (Pete, Brad and Isaac spring to mind) and even Thom has recalled my name & the suit (without prompt from me) he made for me many years ago – despite him and Luke now very much dealing with many more hedgies & A listers over that time period. That to me highlights a level of real care.
Much as I’d like to be at that level of purchasing power – my personal experience when dealing with anyone associated with the company has never been anything but top notch.
Whilst Simon has given great insight into the level of quality TS creates (and his expertise is of course far beyond mine!) I of course realise that what they produce may not be “perfect” for everyone.
But really importantly they really appear to have cultivated is an organisation that really cares about what they do, who they engage with and the fact that it could be a genuine 50+ year relationship. I realise my first engagement with them was a wedding suit and therefore perhaps an emotive purchase – but they’re here to stay.
Just a point of view.
Cheers all.

Peter K

I’ll add on to this statement with my own experience. I had my first piece made with Thom Sweeney back in 2014. I’m US based and back then Luke, Thom and a helper or two would make the quarterly trips to New York.
Both Luke and Thom were incredibly kind, patient and fun to speak with. Luke handled my measurements and fittings directly, even though I started with just one coat.
Unlike many of their clients, I’m not a celebrity, or in finance or otherwise particularly well-to-do, buying a piece or two every couple years. But Luke (and the growing team) still remembers my face, asks about my family and genuinely makes me feel like a friend rather than a customer, despite the incredible growth they’ve had since those days.
I imagine this is the type of relationship men used to have with their tailors long ago, and it’s exactly the kind of thing that keeps me loyal to tailors like this. The fact that they are able to balance tradition, quality and a more modern style to match what I like gives me little reason to look elsewhere.

Dan

TS is just a step too far outside of my price range for the time being. However, they had an online sale a few months back, presumably to offload some of the RTW surplus that had accumulated during the pandemic. I picked up two pairs of trousers, a cashmere cable knit sweater and a scarf. The quality is staggering, as was the level of discount on offer. These are now prized items in my wardrobe and I’m going to struggle to resist purchasing more in future.