THE difference between an off-the-peg suit and one that’s been properly tailored is usually pretty easy to spot – the latter will have a better fit, smarter hang and finer structure at the very least. It’ll also be more comfortable for the wearer, and should contribute to their confidence and poise – a tailor would say the suit is an extension of the wearer’s own personality.
The same happens to be true of shirts. While picking a slew of shirts off the shelf according to collar size may be the way most men stock up their wardrobes, it’s a massively inaccurate way of doing things. Case in point: me. I have a relatively large collar size (17.5 inches), which, according to most shirt companies, would mean I’m also tall, broad-shouldered and long-armed. A rugby second row, basically. Unfortunately my neck size is more to do with time spent in restaurants than exercising. The result is shirts that are inevitably too big around the shoulders, too long in the sleeve, and, well, not roomy enough around the tum. Hey, stay back ladies.
There’s another advantage to having a shirt made to fit. If you’re no fan of shopping, once a tailor has your measurements you can order all the shirts you want, in any variety of colours and styles, and fill your wardrobe on the basis of just one visit. Companies like Hackett, Charles Tyrwhitt, Austin Reed, as well as the independent tailors on Savile Row and around town, all have bespoke shirt services.
For a properly extravagant option – we’re talking a £620 per shirt minimum – New Bond Street’s home of continental luxury Zilli (www.zilli.fr) recently opened a special bespoke shirt room above the shop. Ninety-five different operations, requiring 42 Italian seamstresses, go into the making of each shirt.
In need of a natty new shirt myself, I decided to head to Ede &?Ravenscroft. The tailoring business – a firm City favourite with smart shops in Gracechurch Street (by Leadenhall Market) and Chancery Lane as well as its Savile Row HQ – has its own shirt maestro, Roy Sarling, who has been advising on collars and cuffs for over 20 years. He’ll meet you at any of the shops by appointment. “We all strive to make the perfect shirt,” he tells me sagely, “but really it’s about understanding the imperfections and variations of people’s bodies.”
Measuring up someone for a shirt is a different business to measuring them for a suit. “A suit can be made to hang, whereas a shirt sits against you and needs to follow the contours of your body more closely,” says Roy. The crucial element is the yoke – the bit of shirt running across the shoulders and upper back. Every other part of the shirt – sleeves, body sections, collar – adjoin this. Get it wrong, and the whole fit will be off.
Roy measures my shoulders, chest, waist, underarms and neck. Because I’ve got a short neck and a bit of a double chin (I can feel an autumn diet coming on), he decides to cut the V of the collar lower than normal, so that the front will scoop down and give the neck some extra elevation. But what type of collar? Skinny cutaways are increasingly in fashion, but we go for a semi-cutaway to suit my face better. Interestingly, Roy advises against collar-bones. A well-made shirt should hold its collar shape without having points digging into your chest every time you look down.
Next Roy measures both my arms – they can vary in length – and both my wrists, including around my watch on my left wrist. Truly this is an exercise in precision and every element is accounted for. We go for a French (double) cuff, but with a variation that sees the underside of the cuff flaps cut back, meaning there’s less material hanging down in front of the cufflink. That’s to stop the cuffs continually flapping against the desk when typing.
As much detail goes into the choosing of the material. I’m after a plain blue shirt – bold stripes are about as fashionable right now as bowler hats – but there are any number of weaves, textures and shades to choose from. Roy even produces a magnifying glass to examine the weave and cotton count of the fabric swatches up close. I plump for a sky-blue end-to-end fabric – a textured weave that adds a little depth.
A few weeks later, I’ve a shirt that’s worthy of being worn with the sharpest tailored suit. For once the shoulders fit snugly, the sleeves don’t bellow, and there’s enough room around the middle for my lunch-enhanced waistline, without having to be especially voluminous. And I never even thought about the collar size.
Ede & Ravenscroft’s shirt service starts at £195. www.edeandravenscroft.co.uk