Sunday 11 November 2012

The Soul of Spencers Trousers-Made in Britain

The Soul of Spencers is an article I wrote for Mens File Magazine recently.I hope you  enjoy the  History
combined with our unique underground Scene and innovative style.

The Soul of Spencers
Its March 29th -1922-
Mr JWR Spencer drafted the original pattern that will act as the cornerstone of Spencers made to measure trousers for the next  90 years.
English tradition is still being carried out. A rare event and living proof of the entrepreneurial spirit and survival instinct that was established in the Calder Valley area.
The original Factory in Friendly, Sowerby Bridge was originally built in 1906 to manufacture Workwear Overalls..It was,built on solid foundations:Quality,Fit,Function and Service along with a supply of expert local workforce and locally sourced fabrics.
The Calder Valley in West Yorkshire,England is renowned worldwide for the finest trouser cloths you can buy.The area specialises in bottom weights and jacketing’s. Pile fabrics such as Cord and Moleskin is an expertise  along with wool blends and Yorkshire Tweeds –Local Names that still supply these quality cloths to Spencers are Mallalius of Delf Ltd and Brisbanemoss of Todmorden to name a few.Both had have been leading Calder Valley mills since 1840.
The Spencers Factory has kept reinventing and adapting itself throughout its history, being bought more recently from Mrs Spencer  in 1975 by Alan Oldfield when Mr Spencer was ill in hospital. He still owns and produces the Spencers branded  product today. Spencers now supplies English made to measure product around the globe from Japan ,USA, Russia and UK.
Spencers Trousers are  a collectors dream. They are a  True British Heritage Brand established from 1922 and their product is still being created, with every style a unique one off.
All trousers are still to this day cut by hand on a made to order on a payment upfront basis within 7 days. This is probably why the company has survived all this time doing what it is doing for its loyal 10,000 strong customer base worldwide.
Its now 1976-
The Club-Wigan Casino-Satisfied the need for upbeat Northern Soul.
(The official Heart of Soul and voted No 1 Club Worldwide ahead of Studio 54 in New York.)
The Fashion-Spencers satisfied the need for unique style trousers..
Bespoke ,Tailored, and customised by the Northern Soul fan-A very modernist ethos that had certainly come before.
This was all new for a 14 year old that was part of the Wolverhampton Soul Crowd travelling to Wigan Casino on a weekly basis.
Spencers Trousers made to measure unique detailing that satisfied the teenage need /thirst to be different but still part of a unique underground scene.
Above all it was new and unique and the styles created would in turn influence others at the Casino that week. Trends spread organically. Designed by the Soul scene for the Northern Soul scene.
The Northern Soul scene was all about Dancing to rare soul. Record collecting and being part of something underground and unique that the youth could call our own.
This is the reason the soul scene still survives today because it has never been commercialised.
Alan freely admits that “I couldn’t run a business on Soul alone, the volumes weren’t sustainable and the styles weren’t cost effective”
Key for the look were the Spencers Trousers-Wide cut 40” bottom  trousers which kept the Dancer cool for the hours of adrenalin fuelled dancing. These were available at the Club or made to measure mail order. The accessories were Vests ,Bowling Shirts Simon Shirts and Tank tops .
Whilst there were other Brands supplying the Independent Soul market,non of these were made to measure and only Spencers were on sale every Friday night Oldies all-nighter at the Famous Wigan Casino-The Heart of Soul.
The young teenagers wore their customised Spencers like a Casino Anniversary Patch as if to say-I was there- one of the elite underground soul scene.
Devotees were young resourceful and creative in whatever they had and did.
Spencers styles were created by the soulies for the soulies which helped the fashion grow itself.
Alan Oldfield admits”We are a trouser maker with specialist skills not fashion designers”
He said during this period of Spencers, ideas were sketched and sent to them by the Soul fans and because of their made to measure service they just made what the consumers wanted-to order.
These ideas were then worn to the Casino the following weekend.People saw  the new ideas  and Spencers added the details to their portfolio of details to offer other customers.
This was genuine organic marketing ,driven and fuelled by one upmanship within an underground scene.
The styles needed to be as rare and unique as the rare soul record labels they were hunting down in the USA and collecting.
Spencers were the made to measure catalyst to allow a scene to design their own styles for their own scene.
Some of the styles that I remember first hand –these were all unique as you wouldn’t copy you would be influenced by that people you saw pushing the boundaries of their Soul bags.
Trouser Fabrics were 2 Tone,Cord &Gabardine.
40”to 60” Width Bottom Bags,
Crown flaps and multiples of them .I remember 12 back pocket flaps on 1 pair of trousers!!Crown Flaps in varying fabrics to detail and Pleat flaps with buttons ,again in multiples to give exclusivity.
Numbers of front pleats varied-usually 8 but there was plenty for fabric to do more.
Tunnel belt loops were standard but these also came in contrast fabrics to carry the Fashionable White belt or the “Wrigleys chewing gum wrapper belt” again fashionable during this period in the 70’s.
Then there were the people who really pushed their style..Harlequin blocked Fabrics-2 colours of fabric used on each quarter of the trouser.
Patchwork Denim was sold on mass in these Spencers styles-Alan remembers picking up old Wranglers and Levis Denim from Rag merchants in Manchester then cutting them up and making blankets to be cut into trousers. Of course the brand conscious soul fans wanted all the Levis and Wrangler and Brutus Gold brand marks and details from the Jeans on their Soul Bags!!!
This patchwork idea was taken one step further. Popular on the scene were Beer towels to wipe the sweat from the dancer-often dancing with his top off and wearing only his soul bags with a beer towel tucked into his waistband.
Alan remembers making blankets from collections of Beer towels acquired from the local pubs and making them into Spencers Soul Bags.
I remember making my all nighter bag out of beer towels for my overnight change and to keep my precious Records in that I had purchased that all-nighter. The stiffener for the end of the bag was a cardboard 7”record cover.You had to be resourceful when you couldn’t buy alternatives from the shops.
See photos of these and  the hand drawn flyers illustrating some of the details designed by Soul fans attached to this article.

Today-Bringing Spencers up to date:
Whilst the Soul scene survives, the need for Soul Bags has reduced.
Spencers still produces made to measure styles for old customers who still wear the 40” Flares in a revivalist way at all nighters such as Togetherness- at Kings hall in Stoke on Trent. He also makes costumes of these styles for recent period Brit Films such as the 2011 released “Soul Boy” and “Once upon a time in Wigan”
Since the late 80’s the new niche for Spencers has been supplying the made to measure requirements worldwide for Golfers ,Plus 2’s and Plus 4’s and Country Pursuits-Hunting ,Shooting and Fishing .
Markets that recognise the value in specialist Tailoring ,Local Fabrics and above all made to measure in Friendly Works, Friendly, Sowerby Bridge ,West Yorkshire in the heart of the Calder Valley- England.
Alan says  he’s always looking for the next niche of loyal quality followers to emerge. Perhaps revivalist Work wear beckons linking back to the factory’s roots in 1906.
If you want to be part of a British Clothing institution contact Alan Oldfield sales with your measurements or visit
I hope you’ve enjoyed the article of inspired first hand nostalgia that aims to re kindle the memories that make your heart beat just that little bit faster.
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