Suits you sir - and madam! The rise of fashion shops in Sunderland

John Collier (the window to watch) in High Street West.
John Collier (the window to watch) in High Street West.
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Are you a dedicated follower of fashion?

Do you love to browse round the shops for the latest trends?

Sgt Peppers boutique in Maritime Place with staff pictured outside.

Sgt Peppers boutique in Maritime Place with staff pictured outside.

In the 1960s, the way of buying and selling of clothes changed forever in Sunderland.

Philip Curtis, of the Sunderland Antiquarian Society, explains how shopping for clothes became so much more popular and interesting around 50 years ago.

It was in the 60s that young people living in Sunderland had more disposable income than ever before.

That meant change, and they were looking to buy colourful and inexpensive clothing.

The latest fashions could be bought and worn immediately – no lengthy waits and tedious hours of being measured and fitted – remember all those pins?

Philip Curtis

In other words, an era of fast-changing fashion had arrived and it was soon booming.

And alongside change, as well as customers who were willing to spend money, there came an opportunity for the entrepreneur of the day.

It led to many young people with available finance opened their own boutiques. These were small shops which sold individual designs and fashion at reasonable prices. And they were popular in the city.

The first of these on Wearside was West One which was opened by Dave Docherty in 1966 in High Street West, which could be found close to the fire station.

A feature of the West One shop was the latest Ben Sherman shirts and clothes that seemed to have come direct from Carnaby Street.

The success of this saw the shop eventually relocate into premises in Holmeside, which was closer to the commercial centre of the town. It stayed here until 2004 when it closed to be replaced by Van Mildert.

Attempts to emulate the success of West One saw other boutiques open on the periphery of the town centre. In Crowtree Road, Chelsea Girl and Esquire began trading.

And Sgt Pepper’s, in Maritime Place, was also very popular and carried on into the 1970s.

One of the most popular boutiques in the town was actually operated from a cellar in Frederick Street, and it was called The Petticoat Boutique.

It was at that time that the pattern of buying all clothes ready-made finally became all but fixed for the vast majority of Wearsiders.

As the twentieth century progressed so the market in women’s fashion changed from made-to-measure to more choice of ready-to-wear selections which were being manufactured in larger quantities.

This meant the latest fashions could be bought and worn immediately. It also meant no lengthy waits and tedious hours of being measured and fitted. Who remembers all those pins?

However men, who were more conservative in their taste and expected their clothes to last longer, still went to the tailors for a new suit.

However, even as early as the 1930s, off-the-peg suits could be bought in the city.

Gradually it became more common for men to shop this way until, by the 1960s onwards, it was a symbol of luxury to order a made-to-measure shirt suit or jacket.

Post-war tailors in Sunderland included Jacksons, March The Tailor (with its slogan of dress you well, impress you well), John Collier (who we all know as the window the watch).

Also in the town were Dunns, John Dean, Hepworths and Alexandra (all in Fawcett Street).

Strand on the corner of High St West and Crowtree Road was also very popular – and cheaper.

Eventually, the large Sunderland department stores began follow the independent shops and introduced boutique departments.

Some of the well known examples were the Wallis Boutique in Binns and The Younger Set which could be found in Blacketts.

Today, designer fashion is available throughout the city in department stores as well as individual national chain shops.

However are there any which bring the sense of anticipation and excitement that you felt when visiting those first small boutiques which began in Sunderland half a century ago?