The history of Leeds is long and varied, but no chapter is as rich as the one of tailoring in the city. It’s woven – quite literally – into the buildings, the streets, and carried around on the shoulders of those suited-and-booted workers on their daily commutes. For any Leeds local trying to connect with their area, simply look at the clothes you wear every day. After all, this was the place where giants like Marks & Spencer’s and Next were born.
Beginning as far back as the 15th century, wool was dyed and sold at local markets which popped up in places like Leeds Bridge and Briggate, bringing in visitors from nearby towns. The textiles produced in Leeds were what drew in the crowds of sellers, buyers and traders. A hundred years and a few dozen new factories later, the population exploded as a result, creating the foundations for the city as we know it today. New trade routes sprung up in the form of a completed River Aire, adding to the textile boom as companies became capable of exporting their goods further. By the 1770s, Leeds was handling around two-thirds of the West Riding’s cloth exports.
Of course, with the growing popularity of textiles, the rise of the tailor was an inevitable development. As other towns began to catch up with Leeds and tighten the competition, the city shifted its course and set its sights on the finer craft of tailoring. Business boomed. Factories flourished, employing thousands of people, and Leeds became known across the country for its quality clothing and bespoke tailoring services. The outbreak of the two world wars created an even higher demand, which the skilled workforce of Leeds was more than capable of stepping up to, and by the 1960s, 60% of all suits sold in Britain were made in Leeds. That’s quite a hefty figure for this little northern city!
These days, the everyday wearing of suits is a less common phenomenon. However, that doesn’t mean the tailors have gone elsewhere, or the skill has been lost – in fact, it’s quite the opposite. If it’s a quality tailor you’re looking for, then Leeds is still one of the best places you could go to find them. Many of these tailors have hundreds of years of experience under their belt. Abraham Moon & Sons is one such place – founded in 1837, this tailor controls every element of the manufacturing process, starting at the sheep and finishing on your shoulders. They’ve worked with the likes of Burberry and Ralph Lauren, which certainly says a lot about the quality of their work.
Another brilliant Leeds-based service provider is MC & J Brightbart. Tucked away on New Briggate, they’re one of the last remaining Jewish tailors in the city, coming from a family that escaped persecution during the wartime years. To step into their office is to step back in time, and you experience the feeling of grandeur that comes with having a suit created specifically for your needs. They also offer an alteration service – something that can often be hard to come by in this modern age, but can make a world of difference to your clothing.
For another recommendation on where to go for your tailoring, there’s Michelsburn in the Victoria Quarter of Leeds city centre. They’ve got something for every occasion – weddings, funerals, races – and their specialised service means that the suit they make for you is guaranteed to reflect who you are as a person. Whether it’s a formal English look, or a more relaxed European-style fit, they can talk you through your vision and make it a reality.
When choosing between getting your suit from your local H&M or splashing out on a tailor, it can often feel like the easier choice to go for the former. But Leeds was a city born from textiles – generations of families have lived and worked in mills, cotton factories, and tailors. There’s no better place to go to find your perfect suit – and when they’re made in the way that Leeds makes them, you can be sure they’ll last forever.