The Full Monty

Less about taking your clothes off, as actually putting them on!

There are various origins of the famous phrase ‘The Full Monty’, but one version is that it came from the ‘demob suits’ given for free to all demobilised servicemen after WWII. These were full three-piece suits (a jacket, waistcoat and trousers) – in comparison to the standard two-piece suit, and they were provided by a Leeds based firm called Burtons. As an intern at Leeds Discovery Centre I have been privileged enough to work with their vast collection of suits, including those from Burtons own collection and I was particularly fascinated by the demob suits I came across.

Burtons was first established in 1903 by a Lithuanian immigrant Jew, ‘the tailor of taste’, Montague Burton (the name taken after the former Meshe David Osinsky spent a pleasant afternoon at Burton-on-Trent railway station). Hence why the demob suits obtained the nickname – ‘The Full Monty’!

Burtons was not only hugely important in the war effort, during and after, but estimates also suggest that at one point Burton was clothing a fifth of British men, with ready-made or made-to-measure suits. He was even knighted for his efforts. Burtons was also hugely important for Leeds itself and will forever be part of its history – many families in Leeds can still today recall at least one family member, if not more, who once worked for the Burtons corporation.

 

Demob suits were generally known for being of a high quality, made of good materials with such merits as turn-ups on the trousers and their owners were proud of them. For many of the owners it was their first ever suit and they were very pleased with them. However, due to issues like rationing from the early 1940s to the 1950s we saw the introduction of utility cloth which led to some demob suits being made in utility style. These suits were ill-fitting and shapeless, with none of the luxuries such as back pockets, shoulder padding or even turn-ups on the trouser legs.

The fact that on the conclusion of world wars, all fighting men were rewarded with a suit tells us that they had a special meaning in twentieth-century society. The now universal nature of suit-wearing of the nineteenth century was both a reflection of social and cultural change and an outcome of innovation in retailing. Therefore, demob suits were in fact, a clever marketing strategy as suits had become a powerful way of acquiring ones sense of place in modern society.

By Rebecca Jenkins

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