A few weeks back, we got the chance to chat with Darren and James over a tea break upstairs in the cutting room. Head Cutter, Mr Butcher was there too, but was almost on his way home, so we didn’t get quite as much of his wisdom as we would like, but having distilled much of his knowledge and sensibility into Darren and James over much of the past decade, it was hard not to hear his voice. He did have some comments to make, however...
Take it easy and get what you want
Darren: Many customers get quite nervous when taking the plunge with bespoke shirts for the first time. They feel like they don’t know enough or are uncertain about what they want and find it hard to relax. That is all part of our job, we guide each customer through, both in terms of what will work best for them and also in getting them to relax into their natural posture.
James: Bespoke shirts are a really good stepping stone for getting into the world of bespoke and experiencing a little of how the process works. It is also an affordable route. Wearing a shirt that fits you beautifully and is in a cloth of your choosing is a great feeling, especially at the start of the day when you are getting dressed.
What should people think about when ordering a shirt?
Darren: The following things are useful to give some prior thought to: What will the shirt be used for? Where are you going to wear it? What are you planning to wear it with? What colours and patterns do you generally wear? Is this a shirt you plan to wear with or without a tie? Also, how you wish for the shirt to fit, whether slim or roomy and whether you plan to wear it formally or casually, perhaps untucked. For some of our customers, these considerations are part of the pleasure of bespoke and they really consider what cloth to choose and how to integrate with the rest of their wardrobe.
James: We will listen to what a customer wants, but might need to be discreet from time to time, advising against a cut or detail if it is unflattering to the form or impractical for use. We don’t mind getting creative, actually, we thrive on it, but we want to make sure that what we produce is functional too with a feel-good factor.
What do most people opt for and what would you recommend off the bat for new customers?
Darren and James in unison: A sky blue or white shirt, with a Budd collar and double cuff. Around 90% of customers will opt for our house collar as it is so easy to wear.
What is the biggest misconception that customers have when it comes to ordering bespoke?
Darren: How long it takes to get the initial pattern right. For an average body, it can take us 2-3 hours to draft the pattern and another 2-3 hours to cut the cloth for the sample. The average shirt has 12 different pattern pieces to factor in. Then there are often much more complicated elements to work on too.
John Butcher: Customers often expect you to fit their mind, not their body. That is most often the biggest struggle when trying to meet expectations.
James: We are not tailors and tailors are not shirtmakers, we tend to reference each other a lot and often know each other, but the words “My tailor says…” this is not Top Trumps and we are each specifically skilled in our fields. Your suit and shirt sleeve lengths should complement each other though so as to maximise elegance.
Darren: People often say to us “I want my shirt to fit like this or that person’s..” but the shirt should fit them in as most flattering a way as possible. Not all cuts are for all people.
James: We get quite a few people who say that they want to look like Daniel Craig does in his shirts. Our objective is to satisfy people’s requests and make them feel as good in their shirts as possible. However, shirts are investment pieces and our aim is to make a shirt that flatters your body and shape in the best way possible. There is nowhere to hide in shirtmaking, we can’t use tricks or cheats to manipulate the form like you can in bespoke tailoring.
What should people consider when they receive their first bespoke shirt?
James: When we start out with a new customer, we make them a sample shirt first. Many people jump to conclusions and take the sample as a finished shirt rather than a work in progress and a point from which we can review cut and ft. With bespoke tailoring, you have baste fittings that allow you to see your suit gradually take shape, but with shirtmaking that is not an option. Once we have modified the sample to perfection, we then proceed on to make the remaining shirts in each order.
Do you only wear bespoke and have you cut shirts for each other?
John Butcher: I tend to wear ready to wear shirts. Over the years I have made dozens of bespoke and used to wear a lot of them in the 70s and 80s, but the ready to wear block of our shirts works really well for me.
James: I only wear bespoke and spend a lot of my spare timing working on my clothes. I am passionate about tailoring too and have been trained in the basics over the years, improving as I go along. I therefore make pretty much all of my tailored clothing, or at least cut it. I can be a bit lazy when it comes to sewing and tend to send the cut cloth out to makers. I have made my dad a few shirts over time, but he still opts for ready to wear most of the time and has done a lot of “market research” amongst London’s shirtmakers.
Darren: We have cut patterns for each other. I still use the pattern James made me. It is spot on. James still uses the pattern that I made for him too.
What do you think some people underestimate the most?
James: I understand that what we produce is a luxury product and that its price is beyond the reach of many. However, I do find it frustrating when people question the price, as though they are buying a mass produced shirt from the high street. People tend to underestimate what goes into making a shirt. From the cutter’s perspective, there are years of training and the time involved in drafting and cutting a pattern. Then, there is the time that it makes for the shirts to be made at our workshop in Andover, where our skills are really exceptional and long-honed, and of course, superior materials sourced from the best mills. Just the basic costs of making a shirt out-price an off-the-shelf version. You are paying for experience, both in terms of who is wearing the shirt and who has made it.
What are your dream shirts?
James: I actually have them all! I tend not to be able to resist when it comes to fulfilling my urges in shirtmaking! Cloth wise, I adore Zephyr and Soyella shirtings, both produced by Alumo. In terms of styling, I love wearing a round tab collar and a rounded cuff. In the Winter I really enjoy wearing Cashmerello and think it adds a really cool texture when work dressed up.
Darren: I have a signature shirt that I wear and wear. It is a raglan sleeve shirt with a one piece collar and is cut in denim. I am pretty chuffed that we will be adding it in to the ready to wear collection in the shop and online this Autumn.
James: I am a big fan of Cos and think you can get some great pieces to add in to your wardrobe. I also like a lot of what New & Lingwood has to offer. When it comes to bespoke, I am a bit spoiled for choice and I have a lot of hero tailoring houses.
Darren: I am a big Anderson & Sheppard fan. We have always worked closely alongside their bespoke tailoring team and team up with them quite a lot. I have been an even bigger fan since they opened the haberdashery shop. I find it a riot of imagination and colour and could spend hours in there. They have a great team too and feel more like colleagues than competition.
Who irons your shirts at home?
Darren: I am the only person that is allowed to iron my shirts, I don’t think anyone else would dare. I have my method and I also find it pretty therapeutic.
James: Me, but not really through choice!
John: I usually do my own, but don’t mind my wife doing them!
Learn more about the world of bespoke shirt making here.