Fashions come and go, but in Bridport there is always a need for tweed jackets, nightshirts and “excellent country trousers”, which is one reason why Smith & Smith has flourished in the town for 131 years as a traditional gentleman’s outfitter.
“We like to stock classic things with a nod towards fashion,” says proprietor Sue England.
“The devil’s in the detail, in the finish, it’s the little touches that make an item.” As she speaks she shows me a plain pair of brown trousers, flipping aside the waistband to reveal an astonishing lining patterned with European landmarks including the Eiffel Tower and the Coliseum. With a twinkle in her eye, she points out the hidden pocket-within-a-pocket where a chap might stow a useful tenner.
“They’re fabulous things these trousers. They’ve got a little give in the waist — most gentlemen like that,” she says, settling them back on the hanger.
Hiding super-snazzy boxers under their corduroys
For many passers-by, it’s not hidden details that catch the eye at Smith & Smith. The West Street shop is renowned for its window displays featuring “Pant Man”, a superbly built pair of male hips, who usually models tight boxer shorts in unbelievably vibrant patterns. Pant Man has even inspired a poem in his honour, which is often on display. According to Sue, Pant Man’s attire has become the underwear of choice for many men in Bridport.
So who are these men hiding super-snazzy boxers under their corduroys? “Our customers have got younger in recent years,” Sue reveals.
“Harris Tweed is loved by younger men. Elbow patches are coming back and the young lads like those. We had one of the barmen in a local pub save up for a Harris Tweed jacket with elbow patches.
“Some of our customers have been coming here for 50 years or more, and some of them have fathers and grandfathers who came here before that. But we also get lots of holidaymakers because our prices are good value compared to elsewhere. We offer classic with a twist and people like that.”
Customers also love the look of the shop, which has retained all its original 1920s shop fittings. There are gleaming mahogany counters, mirrors with barley twist frames and a wall of glass fronted display drawers. The service is commensurately old fashioned, friendly and polite.
Lots of men come in with their wives and 25 years ago the shop opened a ladies’ department upstairs. The lines here tend to be his ‘n’ hers brand matches such as Barbour, plus accessories including bags, gloves and hats. Beside the stairway is the “men’s sofa”, strategically positioned for waiting husbands and partners. “They used to pace about while their wives were trying things on, so we got them a sofa so they could sit down and be comfortable,” Sue explains.
Despite the love of tradition, things are gently changing at Smith & Smith. Shop manager John Williams retired at the end of March after 28 years service. Sue’s team now consists of Anna and Michelle full-time and Sue and Ann part-time.
“We’re proud of our heritage but we want to gently progress,” explains Sue.
One thing has not changed. Pant Man remains, the token male in an all-women team.
Pride and Envy
by JOAN ROBINS
There’s a fellow here in Bridport
Who’s extremely well endowed
Who of his ample assets
Is justifiably proud.
He stands in his shop window
In his snazzy underwear
And all the ladies passing by
Just have to stop and stare.
Now every man in Bridport
Is legitimately miffed
At this challenge to his ego
By this bloke in Smith & Smith.
But fear not all you gentlemen
Your virtues aren’t under par
Remember that this boastful chap
Is less than half the man you are!