Having sung the praises of online shopping in my previous post, I was immediately reminded of its limitations when a repeatedly used clothing retailer in Italy informed me that it has suspended shipments to the U.K. due to Brexit.
As I have rather neglectfully managed to reach a point where several necessary renewals have coincided, the search for new sources has been more focused than usual. I refuse to give up: the dearth of easy solutions to the problem of what I consider the lack of appealing men’s clothing in the U.K. is not about to make me part with my hard-earned for things I do not really like simply because they are readily available. And that especially holds true when significant outlay may be involved.
When it comes to browsing (even virtually) in Italy the supply problem rapidly disappears (as would my savings, if I let them), only to be replaced by a partly cultural one: despite my appreciation of the work of their fine tailors, I do struggle to get my inhibited English mind round the kind of figures that Italian men seem willing to spend on their clothes. While the difference between rubbish and well-made items is readily apparent to anyone who cares to look, I retain a suspicion that the law of diminishing marginal returns must set in after a point. How much better than a £300 jacket can a £2000 one really be? Beautiful materials and superb craftsmanship do not (and should not) come cheap – but even so, there are surely limits to what is justifiable purely on grounds of superior quality. I found myself wondering just how much of a premium some of those renowned brands command just for their name…
Or am I just showing my ignorance? It is certainly true that having pushed upscale somewhat in the past, it is much harder to accept going back down it again – so maybe there is more to it than meets the eye. On the other hand, is it wise – or even necessary – to keep trading up the ladder of connoisseurship? At what point do we reach good enough? And of course, even were one willing, the capacity of one’s wallet does present a constraint that no amount of canny purchasing can entirely wish away…
So when my searches landed me again at the virtual door of a relatively local business, I took the opportunity to investigate a small retailer whose website I had discovered at around the time of the first U.K. lockdown and whose shop I have been intending to visit ever since. The Italian Shirt Shop is situated in a rather nice ‘independent’ shopping street not far from the centre of Ipswich. As restrictions have now eased, I recently took the opportunity to make the thirty-mile trip and do some in-person shopping for a change.
‘Antonio Bellini’ is on a mission to bring Italian style to the British Male – and he appreciates that cost can be an issue. His shop is lovely: a transplanted version of what every small independent Italian menswear shop still is – but without the hefty price tags. Antonio has arrangements with manufacturers in Italy that allows him to retail his own brand at something much more approachable, while still retaining a very pleasing quality. His customer service, too, is exactly what one would hope for from such a shop. He has now diversified beyond shirts – and is certainly a lot more visitable than anything south of the Alps right now.
At present, he only accepts one customer in his shop at a time – which was not a problem on a quiet Thursday morning – and so I had his undivided attention in helping me identify what was admittedly a limited number of items at the more generous end of his size range. This, he says, is a perennial problem with Italian producers, who are widely uninterested in broadening their appeal simply to address the mere inconvenience that customers everywhere are getting larger. He also confirmed that a huge proportion, perhaps 75%, of those vast prices can simply be a premium for having the ‘right’ label. There is much better value to be found elsewhere – including in Ipswich.
I came away with the couple of summer shirts that I had been seeking (and a rather dinky jacket that I hadn’t) – all for a price that would barely cover one shirt from some higher-profile sources. Time will be the ultimate test, of course, but I know a decent fabric when I feel one.
I stand by my comments from the previous post, concerning the opportunities afforded by supporting small businesses online, but I do not think it is incompatible with supporting in person local ones where they do exist. And it is certainly a very much more enjoyable experience to spend time in a real treasure chest like Antonio’s shop, than the virtual equivalent. You can’t stroke all those lovely fabrics online, for a start. Let alone chat with someone who knowledgeably shares your enthusiasm.
My brief splurge is now done – summer shirts and properly weatherproof shoes are once again to hand, their predecessors having been worn to destruction over the past five or ten years. (The shoes might have lasted longer had it been possible to reach a repairer more easily in the past eighteen covid-restricted months…) A couple of items ordered online are yet to arrive – but here’s to one British gent (for despite the name he is British) who has had the nerve to stick his neck out and retail what he loves. Long may he continue to do so – I shall be going back.
Shop photos taken from Antonio’s website with his permission. The views in this post are entirely my own.