When, in 1980, Prince Charles decided to issue his first-ever Royal Warrant to a menswear emporium just half a mile to the north of Buckingham Palace, he was by no means the first notable to endorse an establishment that began life enriching the wardrobes of the British capital’s more dapper denizens in the late Victorian era.
Several decades before the Prince set his proverbial and literal seal, one of the company’s regular visitors was Winston Churchill. The wartime PM understood the imperious edge-sharp apparel would add to his appearance: hence his decision to complement his Henry Poole chalkstripe three-piece suits with bespoke shirts and the now iconic spotted bow ties from Turnbull & Asser.
At the height of the war, The British Bulldog, as he became known, commissioned a garment that has since become emblematic of his heroics during the Blitz: the pinstriped “Romper Suit”. Churchill would slip the garment over his clothes when about to enter a bomb shelter (hence its alternative moniker, “The Siren Suit”), often accessorising it with a Homburg hat and python slippers.
In accordance with Churchill’s very specific instructions, this precursor to the modern onesie was generously cut from a quality suit fabric with breast pockets, a zip to fasten it, voluminous side pockets, pleated trouser fronts and a belt that worked wonders for its silhouette. So enamoured was Churchill with the garment, he wore it at a Hyde Park dinner with President Roosevelt (as well as during encounters with Eisenhower, Montgomery and Stalin).
The PM’s unconventional regalia, according to Roosevelt’s secretary William D Hassett, was “OK with the Boss”, and he’s not the only style-minded commander in chief to have approved of T&A’s output: the company has dressed no less than five US presidents, including Ronald Reagan and George W Bush. Churchill, meanwhile, went on to wear T&A-made “Romper Suits” in claret, emerald and peacock-blue velvet for years after peace was declared.
In the subsequent years, T&A nurtured a healthy relationship with popular culture, one that reached fever pitch when one particular legend from across The Pond decided to enlist the company to help him create his unique sartorial mojo. “You've either got or you haven't got style; if you got it, you stand out a mile,” sang Frank Sinatra in 1964 in the musical Robin and the 7 Hoods, and whether on-screen or off, whether in tailored sport coat or tuxedo, he had it in spades.
Sinatra – who would book out an entire floor of The Savoy for his bespoke shirt fittings – was a stickler for style rules: brown fabric after dark, tuxedos on a Sunday and non-orange/carelessly folded pocket-handkerchiefs all being anathema to him. High-waist cuffed trousers, double-breasted white DJs and oversized windowpane suits were all among sartorial trademarks, accompanied by bespoke shirts – buttoned under the crotch, hunting-style, with collars that sat low on the neck – from T&A. The always impeccable ensemble would often be topped off with a rakishly askew hat (brim curled up, front nudged down – “Cock your hat, angles are attitudes” was one of Sinatra’s favourite stylistic adages).
A number of cinema legends have also contributed to a curious anomaly whereby the number of people who have taken in T&A apparel without even realising is likely in the billions. Laurence Olivier and Warren Beatty were among the early Hollywood adopters, and the company’s garments have appeared in countless movies (not least the 1974 adaptation of The Great Gatsby, in which the protagonist, played by Robert Redford, is seen standing in front of a wardrobe full of T&A shirts, many stacked neatly in branded boxes).
T&A’s most sustained and prolific relationship with the silver screen, though, came courtesy of a sentence written several thousand miles away from London in Jamaica. Ian Fleming, himself a T&A customer, never identified the maker of James Bond’s shirts in his books – but his allusions to Sea Island cotton and Jermyn Street were enough to ensure 007’s on-screen iteration would be a regular customer.
This is no small compliment, James Bond being a master of studied carelessness, the personification of virile, understated dandyism and perhaps the most dapper protagonist in movie history. T&A made its Bond debut in the same movie as, and literally on the back of, Sean Connery: Dr No, which kicked off the relationship in 1962. Whether 007 is sporting a tuxedo and black bow tie or more casual undone sports coat ensemble, T&A shirts have since played quietly conspicuous co-star to four Bonds (Connery, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig) in several Bond movies over the decades.
Interestingly, T&A’s star-studded historical following is not limited to men: it’s the company’s nightshirts and pyjamas that have drawn in female devotees. Marilyn Monroe wore a set of silky T&A PJs, reading Heinrich Heine poetry, in a celebrated 1951 photo shoot, and Katharine Hepburn, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Jean Shrimpton, Bianca Jagger and Lauren Bacall were all among T&A’s “leading ladies”, as they’ve become known.
The latter’s quirky style credentials – open dress shirts, tucked into high-waisted pants; rumpled denim all-in-ones; cocked berets worn with two-piece suits; bold prints and clashing colours – are the stuff of fashion legend, but when it came to nocturnal attire, there was only one go-to label for Bacall. “Each night as I tuck myself into bed,” she wrote in a note to former managing director Kenneth Williams on his retirement, “I revel in my beautiful Turnbull & Asser nightshirts, which I have been wearing for years and I will continue. Bon voyage.”
The rich narrative tapestry that is T&A’s relationship with legendary figures is still being embroidered. Almost four decades after Prince Charles eagerly signed that first Royal Warrant, the company’s exceptional craft remains the toast of royalty from politics, music, art, film and literature, too – and long may it continue.