I had a friend once who worked in the City.
The capital C, of course, denotes that part of London where they used to pay silly money to bankers in the 1980s. Given that we were friends in the late 1980s, it stands to reason that silly money was what he got. Looking back, I can’t see how else he could have afforded to do what he did with his shirts when the working week was over: send them out to be laundered.
It struck me as bonkers at the time. Sure, they came back pressed and folded and separated by layers of crisp tissue paper. But still, couldn’t he have loaded a washing machine, learned how to operate an iron and used the money he saved to buy a pair of flared dungarees and a Happy Mondays LP?
On reflection, he must have been one of those men who take their shirts seriously. Few do these days – even fewer than take their shoes seriously and polish them from time to time.
The man who is serious about the care of his shirts is probably also serious about the buying of them, in which case the only place to shop is at a bespoke outfit like London’s Kent, Haste & Lachter, located just off Savile Row, where they’ll measure you up, drop a few stories about rapper Kanye West in your shell-like – he’s one of their customers, don’t you know? – and charge you upwards of £150 per shirt. They’ll also try to persuade you that you need five and, if finances allow, 10 shirts. Is it worth it? They think so, and so do their customers. Besides, if you wander over to Jermyn Street, where the majority of bespoke shirt-makers have their shops, the prices are more or less the same.
At the cheaper end of the market, you’ll find M&S. It does what Jermyn Street shirt-makers Russell & Hodge calls a handmade-to-measure service, which isn’t quite the same thing as bespoke. It starts at £45 and lets you choose from eight different collar styles – I won’t list them, except to recommend the Forward Point, the Round Over The Cutaway and the Semi-spread – and five different sorts of cuff, only one of which will require links. You can also have the pocket monogrammed and, if you go right through the process, you’ll need to find out what a placket is.
The word “bespoke” is popular as the appeal of mass-produced goods falters, luxury reasserts itself and the artisanal crafts and skills associated with it enjoy a renaissance. But the word is still most commonly attached to the prestige garb – suits, shirts, shoes – of the world’s bankers, politicians, oligarchs and power-brokers.
They say that when you wear bespoke, you never want to go back, which means it’s a slippery slope to embark on. In fact you might need to get yourself a job in the City to be able to afford it. n