For 60 years Mark Giddings has watched men’s fashions in 20-year cycles come and go and return again. Buttons grew and receded on suit jackets, lapels widened and narrowed as did ties, until customers would say, “I’ve got those tying up the tomatoes.”
Today’s fashions are far removed from the days when every man wore a suit.
“Young blokes think putting on a pair of jeans is dressing up,” Mark said. His father Ken always wore a suit and a hat when Mark joined him in his menswear shop. “We have become casual now; you go out for tea these days, people are in shorts and a T-shirt.”
Yet Mark believes a suit and tie are still worth wearing, most especially for the father-of-the-bride on his daughter’s big day. Adding a vest is even better.
Mark would know. His livelihood has depended on good suits since the day he stepped into his father’s shop as a 12-year-old sweeping the floors, and working there for three weeks during the summer school holidays.
All these years later, at the age of 71 he is still measuring up men to either sell or hire them a smart suit.
Retailing was on both sides of the family. Mark’s grand pop on his mother’s side Arthur Marsh owned the Classic Vogue cafe. Arthur also had a horse and dray for delivering coke and coal to hotels to stoke and fuel their fires. The cafe was on the site of Kentucky Fried Chicken on a large block with a back paddock where the family kept two horses.
“By lunchtime he would stop at the last pub and stay there for the remainder of the day,” Mark said. “There were no phones then; my nanna (Emily Marsh) would be wondering where he was,” he said.
The Giddings family’s menswear business began when Ken, back from World War II in the late 1940s and working for another clothing retailer Allen’s Store, spotted his opportunity to strike out on his own. Allen’s moved from its location on the north end of Auburn Street to opposite the Post Office to get closer to pedestrian traffic and Ken took over their shop with his new venture, Ken Giddings Menswear.
Leaving school in Year 10 and unable to fulfil his first choice of a carpentry apprenticeship, because none were available at the time, Mark joined his father. This would be only a 12-month stint after which he planned a second attempt at securing an apprenticeship on the tools.
“Then I discovered girls, and a car and all those things,” he said, reflecting on his decision to stay and focus on menswear. He has never left.
“When I first started they only had white shirts, no colours, nothing,” he said. “The second year they brought out a pale blue, then a cream and gradually they put a bit more emphasis on colours, the blue was a bit darker and then in latter years some stripes came out, thinner stripes. There wasn’t many short-sleeve shirts, more long-sleeve.”
Ken Giddings and Son thrived. His father had supplied Inveralochy College, Lake Bathurst with school uniforms, and when the principal transferred to St Patrick’s College in Goulburn, he supplied them with uniforms. St Pat’s students later became regulars in hiring formal wear, which Mark introduced to the business. For a time they opened two menswear shops on either side of Auburn Street, the second one managed by Mark and carrying a broader range of menswear.
The hiring arm continued to grow until the 1980s when cheap suits from China arrived in Australia. But customers soon discovered their limitations. In a shower of rain $90 suits shrunk causing the stitching to grab and buckle up. “The only way to fix it was to pull all the stitching out and restitch it, but if you are going to do that, it is going to cost you the same as a dear suit,” Mark said.
“We are the heart of the wool producing areas and have always had pure wools and wool blends because they last and they look good,” said Mark, who has proved as durable over the decades of retailing in Goulburn.
Giddings Formal Hire is located at 330 Auburn St, Goulburn. They’re open from 9 am until 5 pm Monday to Friday, and from 9 am until 12:30 pm on Saturdays.