Impersonation of shopkeepers

“A nation of shopkeepers,” is how one wag once described England, musing in not the nicest way that we’d all be too busy stacking shelves and taking stock to put up much fight if anyone had a mind to, say, pop across the Channel and introduce the king to Madame Guillotine.

This isn’t a nation of shopkeepers, thank you very much. Never has been. What it is, though, is a nation world-beating when it comes to outfitting its shopkeepers. Measure however you might the retail nous of those high and mighty magasineers of Avenue Montaigne, for instance, or the “charisma clerks” of Tokyo — none nowhere, never, hold half a candle to the costume of the independent traders in this country right here. Going back a few years, albeit, when not only was everyone best pals with their neighbour, and not only was there was a bobby on every street corner, but every high-street was blessed with butchers, bakers, and candlestick-makers, who each to a man and woman wore fine mid-century workwear, thanks presumably to the local mid-century workwear shop.

We are talking in particular about the shopcoat. Unique in the workwear family tree, the shopcoat, because — since keeping shop isn’t only about lugging this and lifting that but also about facing at quite close quarters members of the general public — more often than not it has a lapel, making it a degree smarter than your typical work jacket or coverall.

And that’s the tradition in which the shopcoat now in development will ply its trade. So, while in some respects it will be a medley of workwear greatest hits — loose-lapped seams, big pockets, and overlapping collar — and is being formulated and cut and eventually assembled with every effort in the direction of lasting all career long, it will also have the semi-tailored silhouette that wouldn’t look out of place in white-collar society. A shopcoat quite true to type, then. But also, since no one wants to step out wearing one and be asked every other second for a Curly Wurly and the latest copy of Auto Trader, there will be new ideas here, too. Many seams will be dual-purpose, those big pockets will be stacked inside others even bigger, and it may go down as the first shopcoat in history to brandish a peak lapel. It will be fairly forward-thinking, then, in several key ways, such that if mission is accomplished the look will be like Open All Hours but set on Ganymede.

The shopcoat could in shorthand be described as the work jacket, but longer and smarter. And since that jacket has found itself over the years turning its hand to corduroy, to wool, to linen, and most recently to a type of waxed cotton, it seems plausible that the shopcoat — though of more niche appeal — will eventually cover wide territory, too. It will debut, however, in what’s known as working worsted. This is cloth from Yorkshire which revives and replicates, perfectly aptly, a heavy and hard-wearing but smart uniform fabric of yore — such yore, indeed, that it was probably being made when Napoleon made his jibe about shopkeepers. The newly developed shopcoat is coming together with this cloth now, at time of writing, and all being well, will be available from all good workshops in October.