BESPOKE DRESS SHIRTS
HARVIE & HUDSON
There are those who believe that ‘black tie’ should include a soft shirt in the textured Marcella material, with an attached collar of the turn-down variety. I am not of their number. Such a belief does, of course, suit the prevailing inclination to shy away from making the extra effort. Settling for second-best seems now to be part of the Zeitgeist. But this will not do for readers of Bown’s Bespoke. Those of us who strive to maintain high sartorial standards know that ‘black tie’ (not just ‘white tie’) demands a stiff-fronted dress shirt with a separate wing collar. Yet it is very difficult – indeed, I suspect it is impossible nowadays – to obtain a shirt with all the desired features prêt à porter. To secure exactly what is required, you will therefore have to take yourself off to Jermyn Street, the home of bespoke shirt makers. And there I recommend that you seek out the noble firm of Harvie & Hudson. This is exactly what I did myself.
At number 77, I found the two gentlemen who could help me in my quest: Richard Harvie (pictured, with scissors) and Richard Wood (pictured, measuring my neck size on a previous visit). The first is the co-proprietor; the second is the cutter. They had already made day shirts for me (see separate article), so my exact measurements were in their files. But now there were different requirements to be discussed. And it was pleasing to be able to talk about them with such knowledgeable fellows. Their expertise produced for me exactly what I wanted, so I here present to you the details of the shirt which was mine after the usual wait of several weeks.
First, the material had to be smooth cotton. For shirts (but not for white waistcoats and white bow ties) I have a serious aversion to Marcella. It is, I am reliably informed, not liked by our Sovereign. And if it is not liked by our Sovereign, it is not liked by me – although my own taste in this matter was formed before I knew the view at the Palace. There is something about the ‘bubbled’ appearance of a Marcella shirt front which is unsatisfactory. It is simply not ‘sharp’.
The shirt I wanted would need to have doubled material for the bib and for the single cuffs, ready for the heavy starching they would receive at the laundry (Barkers of Bournemouth) – for both the bib and the cuffs need to be as stiff as firm cardboard when worn. There would, of course, be provision for the separate wing collar (available from Harvie & Hudson for £10.50). On the front of the bib I decided to have two holes for studs. Three holes are quite acceptable, but I find the appearance of three dress studs in this relatively restricted area a little fussy. (Many dress sets include three studs along with the cufflinks, and so – given my propensity to lose items of jewellery – this regime provides me with a ‘spare’.)
Now we come to the more arcane details – all of which can be seen in the accompanying illustrations.
A dress stud can be a beast to fit. Various designs are available. The stud can be in a solid piece; it can have a front which screws into the back; or it can have some sort of hinge mechanism. Of whichever sort, it will need to be inserted into the shirt without ruining the beautifully starched bib. Few things are more frustrating than finding one has ruined one’s appearance because of a long and angry struggle with a dress stud before dinner. The answer is to be able to get one’s hand to the back of bib without causing any crease in the starched front. This is permitted by having an opening at the side of the bib, preferably on the side opposite one’s dominant hand. Thus, as I am right-handed, my opening would be on my left side. With my left hand inserted, it is relatively easy to hold the back of the stud while I screw in the front with my right hand.
To keep the bib flat throughout dinner is the ideal. A bulging shirt front does no good to anyone. Two features of the shirt are designed to prevent this. First, a tab at the bottom of the starched bib is attached to the top button of the fly of the trousers. I find it helpful to have this tab made with two buttonholes, so that some adjustment can be made in the tightness of the downward pull – but it is important that there should be such pressure. And second, a loop is provided on each side of the bib. Through these two loops the braces are threaded. The tab and the loops are, of course, concealed once the waistcoat is worn.
The final helpful feature is at the back of the neck – another loop, through which the bow tie is threaded before it is tied. This prevents the tie from moving up the back of the wing collar.
You will not be surprised to learn that my new stiff-fronted bespoke dress shirt from Harvie & Hudson is a fine piece of work. At £250, I also consider it good value. It certainly makes my outings to ‘black tie’ events even more pleasurable.
For your convenience, here is a list of its features:
(1) material – smooth white cotton, doubled for the bib and the single cuffs;
(2) separate wing collar;
(3) two buttonholes in the bib for dress studs;
(4) opening on one side of the bib, large enough to insert one’s hand;
(5) tab at the bottom of the bib to button onto the fly of the trousers;
(6) loops for the braces; and
(7) loop at the back of the neck for the bow tie.
Dressing, when a stiff-fronted shirt is involved, can be difficult. Again, the important consideration is to avoid damage to the starched bib. In response to requests from readers, I offer the following order, which I have found to be the most efficient (when dress studs of the screw type are worn).
(1) Put on your trousers, with the braces fastened only the back.
(2) Put on your shoes and tie the laces.
(3) Put on your open shirt, with the collar studs already in place and with the rear of the dress studs already pushed through the buttonholes on the right hand side (as you wear it) of the bib.
(4) Thread the braces through the shirt loops and fasten to the front of the trousers.
(5) Fasten the top collar stud and then fasten the bib by screwing on the fronts of the dress studs (holding the back of the studs via the side slit).
(6) Fasten the loop at the bottom of the bib to the top button of the fly of the trousers, making sure it is exerting a pull downwards.
(7) Put on your wing collar and then your bow tie, threading it through the back loop.
You are now ready to put on your waistcoat and jacket.
HARVIE & HUDSON
96/97 Jermyn Street, London SW1Y 6JE
Telephone +44 (0)207 839 3578