LUKE EYRES (& WESSEX FORMAL WEAR)
People sometimes look at me oddly. Often their expression says, “What a strange fellow!” Less frequently, my spirits are lifted by an altogether different sort of glance – which speaks of admiration and respect. And what item of clothing draws these contrasting responses? My collar.
There are not as many of us nowadays who wear stiff white collars. In my youth it was not unusual to pass gentlemen in the street wearing such items. But even so, I realised that they were doing something a little special. I resolved at an early age to emulate them. What attracted me? The surface shine, the rigidity, the hint of formality, the clear statement that the wearer cared about his appearance and that – no matter how much trouble was involved – only the very best would do. The perfectionist in me yearned to be a member of this club of the best dressed. The appeal is exactly the same today. But now there is more. For since the age of 17, when I proudly struggled into my first stiff collar, I have been addicted to the whole business of putting on and wearing ‘proper’ collars.
And it is a business. So – if you are not yet One of Us – let me open the door to this strange world and try to persuade you to come in.
First, the basics. A stiff collar is white, made of cotton and starched to such a degree that it has the consistency of balsa wood or thick plastic. If it has been laundered properly, it will have a surface shine and be like polished furniture to the touch. It is, of course, a separate collar and must therefore be used with a collar-less (or tunic) shirt – to which it is attached by means of a short back stud and a long front stud. The size of the collar will be your usual shirt collar size (say, 16 inches), and the size of the neck-band of the shirt will be half an inch less (thus, 15½ inches).
To obtain your tunic shirts – which usually come with one or two separate, soft collars in the same fabric – you will need to visit the gentlemen’s shops in London’s Jermyn Street for either off-the-peg versions (for £65-£90) or for bespoke (around £160). Cheaper shirts can be obtained from the outfitters used by barristers, clustered around Chancery Lane. If you are not able to get to London, I would advise telephoning one of the suppliers listed at the end of this article and asking about their postal services. Most cities in other parts of the world, I fear, know not of these important matters. When ordering your shirts, do not forget to order at least two pairs of front and back studs.
Stiff collars can usually be obtained from the same outlets (for about £7-£11 each). They will probably have been made by the noble firm of Luke Eyres Limited, in Littleport (a village near Cambridge). Founded in 1894 and famous for the production of cricket jumpers and college scarves, this is now the only company in the world to make stiff collars from beginning to end (having taken over this vital production from the firm of Frederick Theak a few years ago). The process is four-fold: the collar is made from the finest cotton; it is heavily starched; it is dried; and finally it is polished. The final process is accomplished on hundred-year-old, gas-fired, cylindrical machines – which probably exist nowhere else on the planet. Only one style of day collar (as distinct from the wing collar, for evening wear) is now produced – an elegant ‘semi-cutaway’. Ah, those happy days when I could choose from half a dozen styles – round corners, long points, full cutaway… (Still, do check with each shop: several different styles might still be in stock.) But – even if it is making only one style – let us rejoice that Luke Eyres is still going strong!
The laundry of a stiff collar is not something to be attempted at home. My dear Auntie Maud used to expend much time and energy in laundering my collars, but the results of her kindly labours were often too rough to the skin for me to wear with comfort. So a good laundry must be found. Easier said than done. As I have discovered to my annoyance and frustration over the years, even the few professional laundries which offer this service can frequently make a sorry mess of the operation. The number of times I have been obliged to return collars for re-laundering has tested even my gentle patience. (See the bottom of the page for a good laundry.) Expect to pay £4 and above for the laundry of each collar.
So you have your shirts, your collar studs and your stiff collars. Now comes the difficult part. Putting on your collar and tie. But do not be put off. Although this operation has been known to make grown men weep and Field Marshals to reach for their service revolvers, if you follow my 7 stage plan, all should be well. (And do not give up. Practice helps enormously.)
- Open up the 3 stud holes at the front and back of the collar. This is essential.
- > Wearing your shirt with the studs in place and fastened at the neck by the front stud, fix the collar to the shirt by the back stud only.
- Tie your tie so that it hangs loosely round the outside of the collar.
- Push your tie under the collar, starting from the middle of the rear and working round to the front.
- Fasten the right hand side of the collar to the front stud.
- Tighten and adjust your tie – leaving about 1½ inches to go, so that when finally tightened the knot will be in the middle.
- Fasten the left-hand side of the collar to the front stud and fully tighten the tie, making such adjustment as is necessary. This is the most difficult stage, particularly with a new or newly laundered collar, as the tie can be very resistant to movement within the fastened collar. (A helpful reader suggests putting a little talcum powder - of the sort used on a baby's posterior - inside the collar, to ease the movement of the tie. I have not tried this myself, being anxious about the possibility of soiling my neckwear. But it might well be a useful stratagem, if you are having great difficulty.)
A lot of trouble? Of course it is. But most worthwhile things in life are. And once you have mastered the art, you will never want to go back to the slovenly ways of the rest of the world. You will wear your stiff collar with pride, dismissing the stares of the scoffers and quietly proud of the glances of the admiring. And you will be warmed by the knowledge that you have made another step towards your goal of sartorial perfection.
PLEASE NOTE: Stiff collars are also manufactured by Wessex Formal Wear. I have tried their wing collars, classic collars and Eton collars. (The last design is with rounded edges). They can be obtained online from www.mycollarsandcuffs.com (see under 'Accessories'). (Readers should be aware that I have found that the neck sizes of these collars are more "generous" than those of other collars.)
Luke Eyres Limited
Stiff collars can be obtained directly from Luke Eyres. The minimum order is six collars (of the same size and style). Price: £4.10 per collar, plus VAT, plus postage.
Harvie & Hudson
77 & 97 Jermyn Street, London, S.W.1., England.
Telephone +44 (0)20 7930 3949
New & Lingwood
53 Jermyn Street, London, S.W.1., England.>
Telephone +44 (0)20 7493 9621
Hilditch & Key
73 Jermyn Street, London, S.W.1., England.
Telephone +44 (0)20 7930 5336
Ede & Ravenscroft
93 Chancery Lane, London, W.C.2., England.
Telephone +44 (0)20 7405 3906
9 Burlington Gardens, Savile Row, London W1X 1LG, England.
Telephone +44 (0)20 7734 5450
CLEANING STIFF COLLARS
For the laundering of stiff collars and stiff-fronted dress shirts, I recommend the following firm, which offers a good postal service. (If, like me, you like your collars and shirt fronts to be very stiff, ask for the 'Toastmaster Service'.)
3 Dominion Road
Bournemouth BH11 8LH
Telephone +44 (0)1202 291295
In the U.S.A. the following firm has been recommended to me:
SAM SING LAUNDRY
613 West Chicago Avenue
Telephone (001) 219 398 1177