I have had a shirt made for me just three times in my life. The first was at Gieves & Hawkes in London, the second in Hong Kong and thirdly, just recently, at Regent Tailoring in Salisbury. Three is not really enough, because a bespoke shirt is thing of joy, especially the pleasure that comes from having the perfect sleeve length. I would recommend it as either a personal indulgence (go on, you deserve it) or a gift (which mine was). However, one thing I would also advise is this: do your homework before you go and get measured up. I know very well that having a suit made is like the reverse of death by a thousand cuts – creation by a thousand questions, about jacket length, trouser width, pleats, ticket pockets, collar notches, button holes etc. etc. There might be fewer such decisions to make for a shirt, but I had forgotten that there’s still a bunch of them, starting with the very basic one: what colour?
I think even Don Draper might have rejected this one…
But that is just the beginning. It was my friend Jonathan Futrell who pre-warned me about one important aspect (he knows about clothes, fabrics, etiquette; check out his hip outdoor website – yes, those two words do go together here – http://www.goodgear2go.com, which displays but a fraction of his sartorial knowledge). As I wanted a formal shirt to wear with a suit, he cautioned against going with the modern trend of straight cut bottom/tail, on the grounds that they tend to pull out of the waistband of the trousers, which isn’t a good look.
There is one surefire way to prevent this, as used by Frank Sinatra. David Gale, head cutter at Turnbull & Asser, explained it to me thus: ‘It is called a quorn strap, like the hunt [and not the meat substitute], and it runs from the tail and is attached to a lower button at the front. It was originally designed for hunting, so the shirt didn’t pop out of the breeches, but in Sinatra’s case it would be so he could lift his arms on stage without the shirt bunching or coming adrift.’ As I reckon I am unlikely to be singing My Way on stage anytime soon – or, indeed, ever – I decided to go forego the strap in favour of traditional shirttails.
“Look, no bunching!”
However, having got that out of the way with Jason Regent, owner of the eponymous store and the man who was measuring me up, he had plenty more to quiz me on. I first met Jason a few years back when I was profiling him for GQ magazine and I wrote this:
“Regent, who worked at Ede & Ravenscroft (Est. 1689) before branching out on his own, often sounds like a mix of Jeeves the valet, Alfred the butler and a naughty uncle as he advises clients on the conventions of dressing for sporting or social occasions. ‘It runs in the family,’ he says, ‘My grandfather was butler to the Flemings, the bankers, which included Ian Fleming, and he used to pick me up at school in a Bentley, which at the time I thought was his. He would tell me things like, never trust anyone who is too polished, that old money is usually a bit scruffy round the edges. He also gave me the first puff on a cigar and drink of whisky. I think I was ten.’
Born in Essex but brought up in Henley-on-Thames, both Regent’s personality and products effortlessly straddle town and country, traveller and toff, Glastonbury and Glyndebourne. The shop, which is a combination of Timothy Everest’s higgledy-piggledy Spitalfields atelier and the bric-a-brac emporium style of early Paul Smith stores, reflects this. It sells moleskin country trousers, but with a narrow, urban cut, sharp city suits but with roomy shooting jacket pleats and brilliant own-brand woodland boots with a tweedy upper section that really ought to give Hunter a run for their money as the preferred footwear of the country squire manqué. Plus there are little twists that make you smile, such as the tweed caps that can come, if you wish, with matching hip flask.”
All of which is still true, although Jason has recently cultivated a luxuriant beard that makes him look like an East London hipster who has suffered a sudden attack of good taste. So, Jason’s job, apart from getting your dimensions correct, is to guide you through the important decisions, asking if you want to close the cuffs with buttons or cufflinks (he isn’t fan of dual-purpose cuffs, but will make exceptions), what type of collar (I went for a Kent, named after the Duke, rather than the more cutaway New Kent) and buttons (do upgrade from plastic). Then there is the little matter of choosing your fabric….
Eventually, I got through this shirty Spanish inquisition and a month later the much-debated garment arrived. I’d say it fits like a glove, except it fits like a very well-made bespoke shirt. It’s due its first public outing very soon at a Christmas party where, apparently, there will be be dancing.
Let’s hope I don’t regret rejecting the quorn strap.
Regent Tailoring (73 New St, Salisbury SP1 2PH, 01722-335151, http://www.regenttailoring.co.uk). Custom shirts from £130 (minimum order: one) .