Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A trip to Jermyn Street, if only via the Internet....

Every morning I open my wardrobe and begin my daily ritual of dressing for the day ahead. This involves selecting a shirt to wear and while the process in those early morning hours may still be clouded in sleep, they are made much easier by the selection process which has taken months and many times years earlier.

A shirt, while it may seem like a very simple garment, it actually a much more complex item when it is examined closely. The small details which many take for granted, can make the difference between something which simply keeps you covered and something which is a pleasure to wear.

Last year, I decided to make a slight, but in many ways large change in my selection of shirts. As an American I had long bought only American made shirts from American companies. But with the addition of chemicals to shirtings to make them "non-iron" and the movement of production to third world locations, I felt less bound to follow well worn paths to my traditional clothiers. Then with the world media attention focused on London and British style with the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, I began to draw new inspiration for my wardrobe and my shirts in particular.

There was something about the English semi-cutaway collar and the check shirts which compelled me to explore these things further. Over a year later, I can say I've been very happy with the results and have made English shirts a permanent addition to my wardrobe.

As an American, there are several ways to buy English shirts without having to find your passport and cross the Atlantic. Several English companies have set up shop on the internet and many of the best even come to America a few times a year to take bespoke orders.

One such company is Harvie & Hudson. Recently, I had the chance to ask Richard Harvie, grandson of founder Thomas Harvie, a few questions about their shirts and what make them different from other shirts available on the American market today.

Thomas Harvie was the managers of the now defunct "Jermyn Street Shritmakers," where Andrew Hudson was the shirt fitter and pattern maker. They were good friends and decided to make a go of things on their own and opened their first shop in Duke Street, just around the corner from the current location, in 1949. Today, Harvie and Hudson remains a family business who see things more on a long term basis than large corporations looking to make their shareholders happy that quarter. Shirt making is more than a job for them, it is a way of life.

Jermyn Street, current home to Harvie and Hudson, is famous for its shirt makers. And Harvie and Hudson epitomize the Jermyn Street shirt, a hand made garment, even when it is off the shelf. It's not about the label on the outside, but rather it's obvious in its richness and shape. They retain the details of fine shirt making which have been left behind by inexperienced buyers and accountants who see shortcuts as a means to increase profits at the buyers expense. Many of the attributes of a good off the rack shirt are similar to the bespoke shirt. They both should have good shell buttons, interlining and above all good quality fabric.

The shirts of Harvie and Hudson cannot help but be English, it's in their heritage. Their classic English shirt has a hand turned non-fused collar top, non-fused cuffs, a raised placket front, shell buttons and a long tail. This long tail, longer in the back than the front, is one feature I have never found in any American shirts and one which I find very appealing. The shirt is also made of pure cotton without the easy care chemicals. While these chemicals in shirts may be popular today, the shirt never looks as crisp as one back from the laundry and always seems to retain body heat and leave you feeling too hot with no means of escape.

The semi-cutaway collar is also a distinctly English look which characterizes many of Harvie and Hudson shirts. It is one of the features of their shirts which brought my wardrobe selections to London via the internet.

Also, the lining of the shirt are relatively sturdy to allow a good look when worn open or worn with a necktie, avoiding the look of a man falling apart which comes from "limp" linings. The cuffs too are quite sturdy, but not too tight, with a deep turnback cuff completing the English look. I myself tend to still gravitate towards the button cuff, but there is nothing sharper than a Harvie and Hudson turnback cuff with a pair of elegant or sharp cuff links.

While I have never had the privileged of buying a bespoke shirt myself, Richard Harvie did provide me with some insight to how they differ from the off the shelf version. Not many people are a "perfect size," as represented by the collar and sleeve length of off the shelf shirts. We tend to be very fit or not so fit, presenting challenges to find a perfect fitting shirt. This is  where the experienced craftsmen of Harvie and Hudson, with years of experience, can draft a pattern which will make any man look good in a bespoke shirt. He's seen it all before and can make a custom pattern with ease. In addition to the custom fit, a bespoke shirt gives you the choise of about 2500 fabrics, any style of collar and cuff, in addition to many other details, allowing the customer to exercise his individuality, no matter what the current off the rack trend is this year.

So if you are looking to try something new, to stretch your wardrobe in a new direction, take a look at Harvie and Hudson. I have not been disappointed and neither will you. Their customer service is exceptional and a shirt order for off the shelf shirts arrives on my doorstep just two days later with their standard shipping.

They will be in America from October 12th through October 20th, visiting Chicago, Washington and New York as part of the American Trunk Show. More information can be found here: