Lifestyle

Bargain British Shirt Buying


So what if the pound is trouncing the dollar? British shirts can still be affordable -- if you know where to look

Believe it or not, now is actually a very good time to go shopping in London. Despite the fact that the dollar is the 98-pound currency weakling of the Western world, a number of London's best-known shirtmakers are offering their wares at astonishingly low prices.

The reason? Precisely because the dollar is so low. Many of the shops that line Jermyn Street, Oxford Street, and Bond Street cater to American customers, a lot of whom might otherwise hold off on restocking their wardrobes until the exchange rate becomes more favorable.

And while still not cheap—even at the relative bargain price of £49.50 each, Harvie & Hudson's ready-made shirts, for example, still cost slightly more than $100—there is no denying that British shirts, with their trademark bold stripes and stiff collars, are considered to be among the finest in the world. (Of course, there are also superb tailors in France, Germany, Italy, the U.S., and elsewhere.) And it is easy to spend considerably more. Nearly all the top Jermyn Street makers have a bespoke business where customers can have shirts tailored to their exact measurements. A bespoke shirt at Turnbull & Asser starts at around £160 and can cost more, depending on the material.

Single-Needle Tailoring and Eight Buttons

What makes an English shirt so special, let alone worth all that money? If you have never owned a British dress shirt, you are in for a new experience in distinctive styling that some may like and, frankly, some may not like. The body styles usually come in standard and slim versions, so if you have a paunch, go for the standard cut, which gives you more room than you actually need.

The sleeves are sewn to the body of the shirt in single-needle tailoring, which is stronger and smoother than what you may be used to. The shoulder has been cut into two pieces, called a split-yoke, for a smoother and more comfortable fit. And the shirt has extra fabric at points of stress and uses eight buttons, not seven, to close the front of the shirt, another signature of British shirtmaking skill and quality.

Collar styles go from semi-wide to wide to really wide (sometimes called Prince of Wales and cut-a-way for the wider versions), rather than the U.S. business standard uniform with the narrow opening of a button-down collar for a necktie.

A Dazzling Array of Fabrics

The choice of fabrics is amazing, from smooth poplin to multi-colored end-on-end weaves to a woven herringbone pattern and rugged Oxford cloth. There are choices of cuff style as well. The most common are double cuffs (called French cuffs in the U.S.), which require cuff links, and button cuffs. If you prefer button cuffs, get ready to button more than one button. The Brits like at least two, and three is better. And most dress shirts don't have breast pockets either. However if you want a bespoke shirt, they will be happy to add a breast pocket—or any other sartorial whim you might care to indulge.

When one is accustomed to the usual shirt color choice of U.S. department and specialty stores of white or blue, and maybe a blue or red striped dress shirt, the choice of colors and patterns in British shirts is dazzling. You will see shirts in every color and multi-colors in solids, wide stripes, narrow stripes, big checks, and little checks— with a few surprises too, such as collars and cuffs in white and other colors and fabrics.

Exceptional Holiday Values

If you're intrigued by the cache of shirts from British shirtmakers, there's good news. The sale is on! And it's not a ho-hum value. Several well-known retailers, such as T.M. Lewin, are offering their shirts for the amazing price of four for £100. Regularly the prices can range from £75 to £150 to £200 or more.

Here's the math. Living in America allows one to deduct the 15% British VAT, or value-added tax, which means the prices drop down to 4 for £85 or £21.25 each. which is $42.50 based on recent exchange rates. Shipping is extra, for less than the price of a shirt.

Before Christmas, there are several shirtmakers that are running specials. These include:

T. M. Lewin Shirtmakers. This purveyor may have started the special value offerings of 4 for £100 on its Web site www.tmlewin.com. There's usually a nice assortment of colors and collar styles. I recently received three as a gift and am very pleased.

Charles Tyrwhitt. This growing chain has an extensive selection of the 4 for £100 shirts. This shirtmaker at www.ctshirts.co.uk is well known for its more traditional colors, affordable prices, and good quality. Their shirts wear very well.

Hawes & Curtis. A long-established Jermyn Street shop, it has the special four for £100 shirts and has lowered its prices on neckties and sweaters. Look at www.hawesandcurtis.com.

Haines & Bonner. Located in Covent Garden, the City, and elsewhere throughout Britain, Haines & Bonner is offering a 20% to 30% price reduction on selected shirtings and collar styles as well as neckties and cufflinks. www.hainesandbonner.co.uk

Not every British shirtmaker is having a pre-Christmas sale. But some of the more famous have post-Christmas sales. Some follow the tradition of starting their sale on Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, while others wait till January or even later.

Turnbull & Asser. One of the most respected of all British shirtmakers, T&A has a Royal Warrant from the Prince of Wales but it still conducts its annual sale. The secret is when. Visit www.turnbullandasser.com. T&A has a location in New York City.

Thomas Pink. Not all the shirts are pink, but it has some of most distinctive colors of any shirtmaker. A division of the French luxury goods company LVMH Moët Hennessy (LVMH), Pink will hold its sale "sometime in January or February, we have not decided yet," according to a spokesman. Ask to be put on their e-mail list at www.thomaspink.co.uk. Pink also has retail outlets in the U.S.

Coles. www.coles-shirtmakers.com was one of the first shirtmakers to offer its shirts on the Internet. Their Web site did not give sales dates and a call was not returned, but the homepage said purchases of £150 and up will be shipped free.

Prowose and Hargood. Jump on this quickly. In addition to the 4 for £100 pricing on specific shirts, this retailer is offering an additional 40% discount on selected styles. Go to www.prowoseandhargood.com/

James and Longbourne: Has beautiful materials and some very interesting luggage just for shirts. www.jamesandlongbourne.co.uk

Ede & Ravenscroft. A sartorially select friend in Britain said this is his favorite store for shirts. www.edeandravenscroft.co.uk


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