Trouser Tuesday: Hector Powe, the genuine vintage deal

For the 10th instalment of this series of Trouser Tuesday trouser reviews, I thought I’d do something even more different than changing fabric and style. We’re going to go 70 years back in time and take a look at a pair of trousers that were made for my Grandfather by Hector Powe of London. Bespoke maybe, at least made to measure, and by one of the name tailors of the time in London.

I’ve seen mention of how garment construction has been simplified over time, to reduce the number of operations needed to complete the piece. Which does make sense from the point of view of the bean-counters, but likely not from a design perspective. Taken to it’s logical extreme, we’d all be wearing sacks with a belt round of middle if we allowed profit margins to rule all decisions. Hang on, the belt wasn’t cost effective, use this piece of rope instead. It’s called progress.

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So, labelled Hector Powe, London and a date in May 1945, stamped onto the label. Nothing in the way of fabric contents declaration or washing instructions. Of course, “Made in Britain” was a given in 1945, wouldn’t want any Johnny Foreigners to be stitching our britches now would we?

Coming to review these trousers I’ll admit I have certain expectations. Made at a time, and by a tailor, that should have a certain pride in their work, I’m expecting excellent workmanship and details. The trousers are part of a three piece suit, including a waistcoat and double-breasted jacket.

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From the overview we can see that the trousers are straight og leg and generous of fit. Generous all round really, yet the waist size is just right for me. The rise is properly high, as befits a gentleman. Buttons for elasticated braces, naturally, to ensure the trousers hang well, yet have some yield for comfort.

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The fabric is something I wasn’t sure what to expect. On the one hand, I would expect olde world quality and charm, on the other hand I’m pretty certain we can make higher quality fabric on todays improved machines, if there is a margin of profit to be had.

What we have here appears to be a semi-coarse cotton twill in dark grey, with randomly spaced red stripes. The red gives it a bit of character and life, where plain grey would have been a little plain. Notice also the bar tack strengthening the pocket opening.

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This photo shows a detail of the waistband, coin pocket and buttons for the suspenders. Again the bar tacks on the pocket sides, showing that this method of improving the durability of areas seeing more wear and stress. The coin pocket here is surprisingly large as well.

Notice the stitches on the buttons. Original and solid, 70 years after they were stitched. How often do buttons quite quickly fall off your new piece of clothing? Yes, I know, and that’s due to them being attached rapidly and efficiently using a machine. It’s called progress.

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One of the advantages of having a really high rise on your trousers, and a generous and baggy fit, is that you can have absolutely huge pockets. I don’t know what the idea behind these was, perhaps to aid in a spot of gentleman’s poaching? I’m sure I could stuff a pheasant in one and a hare in the other, and still have room for a pack of Capstans in the coin pocket. Lovely solid cotton canvas has been used though and as every woman knows, a gentleman can never have deep enough pockets.

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A nice detail rarely seen on trousers made today is the heel protector in the form of thin leather hand stitched into the rear edge of the trouser hems. Trouser legs were worn a little longer in the 40’s and a hem that was rubbing against the rear of the shoe would wear, unless a little strengthening was added.

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Remember how I started out by saying I’d heard modern trousers use less parts than they used to? Less parts meaning less cutting, less sewing and quicker production? Well, the crotch area here is an example of there being more parts on these vintage trousers. The trouser legs, fly and sundry other bits come to 8 or 9 pieces in all. In comparison, I had a look through a few modern trousers and found they generally only used 4 or 5 pieces there. Is the older way better? It certainly looks a lot more like real craftsmanship.

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Speaking of craftsmanship and quality of work though… You may also recall how I was expecting exemplary standards of sewing and hand stitching? Well, all wasn’t good in the old days either. The above photo shows a detail of the trouser legs, and it’s not an isolated detail either, this is how it was done. We see part of the leg being quite randomly overlocked to avoid fraying of the fabric when in use. Most of the legs though are just the raw fabric edges, and not even neatly cut. Quite the shocker!

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I’m not sure what the rationale behind this was, other than that it was on the inside of the trouser legs, and the fabric appears to be quite resistant to fraying, but I was expecting to find proper durable felled seams here. Looks a bit like someone forgot to go back and do the seams properly after fitting, though I suspect this may just have been the way things were done.

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From a definite low to an absolute high though, the buttons and button holes are of stunning quality. Not only are all the buttons firmly and well stitched, and as far as I can determine they are all the original stitches, but the button holes are the best I have ever seen. I’ve seen the same stitching used on modern trousers, but not to this standard. Every single buttonhole is perfect, no loose threads, no wear, and no damage from wear. All buttonholes should be this good.

 

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A close-up to provide further gratification for the button-inclined out there! Hand-stitching a button on lasts 70+ years, which should be considered pretty decent value for the extra minutes it takes per garment.

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The braces attached to the trousers have been on them as long as I’ve known the trousers. Unfortunately they’ve not lasted as well as the rest of the trouser, but even though some of the rubber has degraded they still manage to keep the trousers from drooping in an unseemly manner. The brand “Jack Tar” I have never seen elsewhere. A strange name, as around WW1 it was used as a reference to members of the US Navy!

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And here we have the Hector Powes in action, with the accompanying waistcoat and my lucky brogues for extra spice.

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My grandfather may have been just a little bit taller than me, or maybe I just need to refurbish the suspenders for greater lifting action?

Oh, ok, let’s have another look at those button stitches…

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