Off the peg: Hackett is the gentlemen's outfitters for pinstriped City types and tweedy country squires. So how did it also become the choice of the terrace boys?

t began during the World Cup. The only

polo top to be seen in was red, white and blue and featured the St George's cross flag on the chest. It came from the gentlemen's outfitter's Hackett, which sold 5,000 of them (at pounds 39) during the tournament. Since then, Hackett has been enjoying a new cult status among the label-conscious lads on the terrace who tend to wear, en masse, a new name every football season - Polo Ralph Lauren and YSL having been past favourites. Last year's top brand, the US Tommy Hilfiger, has been ditched for something closer to home.

Why has this fogeyish company replaced Tommy Hilfiger as the name on everyone's chest? Some say it's because Hilfiger's liberal use of red, white and blue is too American, while Hackett's use of the three colours is most definitely English and therefore more authentic for the terrace boys, especially in a World Cup Year. Another theory is that "'Ackett" sounds better than "'Ilfiger" in the English vernacular. Personally, I think the availability of Hilfiger in Tesco might have tipped the balance.

The society gentleman Jeremy Hackett started his company selling aristocratic hand-me-downs to the men of Fulham in 1983, and now has seven London stores. He is bemused at the idea that Hackett might be the new Hilfiger.

"Oh, I don't know about all that," he says modestly. "We've been doing that George Cross polo for six years. In fact we designed it for rugby fans. Yes, they are very attractive - but we're as surprised about their success as everybody else."

Mr Hackett is keen to point out that branded clothes are a tiny part of the business. "We sell serious clothing. Our best-sellers are moleskin and tweed trousers and dress suits for weddings. We also do specialist gear for polo players, and yachtsmen."

Mr Hackett is far removed from the fashion world and its strange ways. For him, fashion and designer clothes have always been disappointing. "The quality never matches the price," he sighs.

Hackett is lucky. Hilfiger has to rely on being "in" to draw the crowds while Jeremy Hackett can just stick with the traditional English clothes that his customers - gentlemen, farmers and society sportsmen - will always want to wear. If they happen to have a fashion moment, so much the better. Melanie Rickey