The white shirt – Telling the men from the boys

Sonya Glyn NICHOLSON

The white shirt – Telling the men from the boys

Don’t deal in lies.

Don’t give way to hating.

And no matter how tough the going gets… hold on.

Rudyard Kipling (1865 – 1936)  gave boys everywhere expert advice on how to become a man in behavior and character in his well-known poem,”IF”.  Kipling’s dictum to young men everywhere sticks in my mind and makes me notice the “great divide” between men and boys. And the more time we spend on this planet, the more that it becomes apparent that turning age 18 or age 21 definitely does not make a man.

And who can forget T.S.Eliot’s (1888-1965),«The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock», where we visit the tortured male psyche that tosses and turns with feelings of inadequacy–the prototypical well-cultivated modern man whose social moors crack at the surface as he struggles with the dichotomy of his emotional closeness, yet distance, from the world that he knows?

While admittedly a mental stretch, I draw the analogy that the perennial white shirt is able to give clues about manhood itself. And OK, even if you disagree that a white shirt is an indicator of manhood, still–the postulate makes the topic of the white shirt a little more interesting. After all, even Dougal Munro, President of Holland and Sherry, who selected my fuchsia fabric (yes, he chose fuchsia!) for a recent suit, told me when I asked for advice on selecting a shirt fabric to pair with my suit–with a bit of a pause, a slightly crooked smile and a jesting shrug, he said…«It’s just a shirt».

The day I met Dougal Munro, President, Holland & Sherry

Still, male and female alike–we love our white shirts. The white button-down shirt is on constant duty — prepared to rescue its owner whenever he finds himself in a sartorial stupor. The white shirt is worn until its last breath, or until its color shifts to some unknown off-white shade that is only named in paint store flip-guide color palettes. We  have a certain penchant for our new white shirts. And, like a new car’s first scratch, we cringe at the first drop of red wine or salsa dip that jumps defiantly onto the front panel (of course) of our gleaming white.

Without a man saying a word, the choice and condition of his white shirt is able to give a few clues about his personality. Noticing his white shirt during the span of one week, I can’t help but have some clear impressions about whether this person is creative or unimaginative, takes care with his appearance or is indifferent to dressing well, and whether he is good at attending to details or not.

Without going into excessive explanations, we can agree that the man who shows up to a meeting with a faded, slightly wrinkled white shirt that looks like it was picked off the shelf at Wal-Mart (alongside a baguette and some shaving cream), has nothing on the man with the clean, crisp, white, well-woven shirt with an obviously selected weave, collar, cuff and placket style. And, all of this leads me to wonder…if a person decides to embrace the gestures and attitudes of being the man (or woman for that matter) that he wants to be…will he become that man?

If it seems silly to elevate the importance of a white shirt, it seems less silly to do so when we realize that for many of us, the white shirt is on our backs a couple of hundred times a year. A white shirt can create emotion, even if it is just a shirt.  And if we look at shirt-making as an artform and an act of craftsmanship, then we began to sense the possibilities of making this staple…something special.  The chase to create a signature white shirt specifically designed for a man can’t help but be an intriguing adventure that yields real dividends.  And, what man or woman would not be at least curious to see such a result?

It only takes a little time to review the options in front of you before selecting a shirt…specifically your shirt, formulated by your own thoughts and preferences.

For a quick reference on choosing your ready-to-wear, made-to-order, or custom shirt, start here:

CHOOSE YOUR FABRIC — NOT AS BORING AS IT SOUNDS

Jean-Claude Colban of Charvet gives us a glimpse into the world of fabric selection.

I recently scrutinized every shirt available (several hundred) offered by Howard’s. After more than a week of studying in detail a vast selection of shirt construction variations, I began to approach the possibility of having at least a respectable discussion about the art of shirt-making.

Most strikingly, I noticed during this review of Howard’s shirts, that by changing the type of fabric weave in identically constructed shirts, a major overall difference resulted in the appearance of the shirt, simply based on the fabric of which the shirt was constructed.

Although there is an array of fabric choices available, here are the basic fabric groups you may select from to get the look that you want.

TWILL (Includes Herringbone)

Twill fabrics include standard twill and herringbone twill. Each of these constitute a special weave that that has diagonal ribbing, or  wale. The diagonal weave causes twill fabrics to have a softer hand and fewer wrinkles. They are also easier to iron. On the downside, twill fabric is more difficult to clean if it gest soiled, and will not be as crisp as a well-pressed broadcloth or pinpoint. If you like a softer and heavier fabric with dimension,  you will enjoy a twill or herringbone white shirt. Twill fabrics are suitable for formal and informal occasion.

Standard Twill shirting fabrics

Herringbone twill shirt

THE THREE OTHER WEAVES

The Oxford weave is much like pinpoint cotton, except for slightly heavier thread. It is the most durable, but also the most casual of the fabric choices, as it was originally designed for wear during sports. While an Oxford shirt works well for casual wear, it should not be used for formal occasions or after 6 pm.

The Pinpoint weave is like Oxford, except a finer thread and a tighter weave is used. More formal than Oxford, but less formal than Poplin (or Broadcloth), the pinpoint is highly versatile since it can shift into both the casual and the dress-up realm. Durability is the key advantage of the pinpoint, which has a formidable construction.

The Poplin (or broadcloth) weave is tightly woven fabric that has a very simple over-under weave plus a sheen that makes it quite dressy. Since poplin is thinner and lighter than the other fabrics, sometimes it can be slightly transparent.

There are other options, of course, ranging from honeycomb patterns to high-end sea island cotton constructions. But, knowing the four weaves above is basic and a great beginning to designing a quality shirt.

 THE COLLAR

Master Shirtmaker David Gale of Turnbull Asserwww.turnbullandasser.com.

The collar selection may be the greatest indicator of the mood of a man. Take a look at these collar choices, as well as a few examples of the shirt-maker’s result:

An especially attractive collar style is the “cutaway” widespread collar with short points. Howard’s of Paris does this collar quite well, and gives us a nice look at this striking design.

A daring, yet strong collar choice, the extra-long points collar:

The traditional, regular length, points collar works well with a serious suit:

A unique choice, a widespread collar with extra fabric. Sometimes a simple photo says it all (© Andy Julia / Moynat / PG)

Moving into the couture realm…widespread meets regular cut with a semi-spread collar:

Thom Sweeney, London Mayfair. www.thomsweeney.com

A well-done rounded tab collar give a sense of a regal and historical penchant for style :

Hugo Jacomet wearing a Courtot, rounded tab collar Bespoke shirt.

THE CUFF

Even with a suit coat, the shirt cuff is always visible and deserves some contemplation to get the overall look that you want. Here are eight cuff choices that offer a great starting point when experimenting with cuff cuts.

French cuff.

Angle cut simple cuff.

Infamous James Bond cocktail cuff, also known as the Flowback Cuff, Neapolitan, Turnback, Milanese, or Portofino Cuff.

WHAT IN THE WORLD IS A PLACKET?

The placket area (or button-down area) of a shirt has three standard designs.

Plackets are almost always made of more than one layer of fabric with interfacing between the fabric layers to give support and strength to the fabric area. The placket not only is a style statement, but is also functional, as if it is sewn well, it lessens the stress on the button area of the shirt when the garment is worn. The placket may overlap to make the shirt more tactile friendly–keeping fasteners from rubbing against the skin and even hiding undergarments. Of the style choices, the plain front gives a simple streamlined look, a front placket adds dimension to the shirt, and a fly front gives the most formal result.

Plain front.

Placket front.

Fly front.

SHIRT-MAKERS TO WATCH CAREFULLY

Hugo recommends these shirt-makers to pay attention to :

Courtot (Bespoke only)

113 Rue de Rennes, 75006 Paris, France

Phone:+33 1 45 48 54 86

No website.

Hugo’s personal shirt maker. Small traditional Parisian house. Warm and simple atmosphere. Fair prices.

Lucca (Bespoke only)

58 boulevard des Batignoles, Paris 75017, France

Phone:+33 1 43 87 75 10

No website.

Craftsmanship passed down through the generations, you won’t even find a website on Lucca. But the journey to this obscure and hidden shop will be worth the effort. Traditional bespoke. Fair prices.

Fray Italy (Ready-to-wear)

www.frayitaly.com

Not child’s play. A Fray shirt ($450.00) as featured in The Contender Magazine.

Emma Willis (Bespoke and Ready-to-wear)

66 Jermyn Street,

London SW1Y 6NY

United Kingdom

T+44(0)20 7930 9980

www.emmawillis.com

The only women bespoke and ready-to-wear men’s shirtmaker on Savile Row.  Adheres to traditional English shirt making techniques, using luxurious Italian and Swiss Cottons, silks and linens, many of which are designated exclusive to her collections.

The special silk above is designed by Emma Willis and is woven exclusively for her in Italy.  It is woven as Oxford Cotton, but using Silk yarn, creating a soft matte effect… Wonderful.

Dege & Skinner (Bespoke only)

10, Savile Row

London W1S 3PF

United Kingdom

T+ 44(0)20 7287 2941

www.dege-skinner.co.uk

The first – and still only – house to provide its own bespoke shirt facility on Savile Row. Dege & Skinner provides exquisite traditional bespoke shirts to demanding and refined gentlemen all around the world. The House’s shirt head cutter, Robert Whittaker, has won acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic.

Sonya Glyn Nicholson.

Sources:

Couture Lab feature on Charvet

The Suits of James Bond, An Interview with James Cook, Turnball & Asser Bespoke

Howard’s of Paris, Spread Collar

Glammeup: James Bond, The Double Oh of Style

Plackets: OfficeDressShirts. com

Michael Caine featured in Mr Porter.