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Military tailor measuring up to its toughest foe yet - by Caroline Bullock for the Times 10.05.21

Lee Dawson’s business in Aldershot (Samuel Brothers) may be nearly two centuries old but it is adapting to Covid.

Even before he wields the tape measure, Lee Dawson of the military tailors Samuel Brothers in Aldershot, Hampshire, has correctly guessed both his client’s height and preferred swimming stroke.

“Butterfly — it’s the strong, broad shoulders,” he adds, measuring the Royal Engineers reservist for a parade jacket on what’s proving to be a busy Sunday morning.

“You get a feel for these things; the tape measure gives you a size but it’s all about knowing and taking into account a person’s shape so that the jacket looks perfectly symmetrical.”

Out of hours activity in the grey bricked unit on a trading estate is proof that it’s not only hairdressers who have had a client backlog to deal with since the lockdown was eased. Downstairs, in the vast warehouse space, thousands of state and ceremonial uniforms in familiar tomato red and emerald green hang awaiting fittings as bespoke tailoring that had been suspended by the pandemic resumes, along with the occasions to wear the clothes.

“It’s feast or famine — very little has been happening other than selling buttons and badges from our online shop, but we’ve ridden the storm and there’s now the challenge of fulfilling the orders,” Dawson, 53, a tall, waistcoated figure, says.

“We’ve not been able to get over to Sandhurst [military college] to make uniforms for the cadets so there’ll be lots to do there. My only fear is that people will forget we’ve been shut for a year and expect everything to happen fast — what if we can’t get hold of enough cloth from the mills?”

Indeed, Dawson’s niche supply chain of trim merchants and button makers has already been strongly tested during the past 12 months and shown to be vulnerable. One long-standing partner, the UK’s only button dyer, was an early casualty — “irreplaceable,” Dawson says sadly, shaking his head, “These people become friends and it’s very upsetting.”

It’s keeping him awake at night but the “strong-willed and goal-orientated” former sergeant major with the Household Division in London is used to a challenge.

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