BESPOKE SHIRTS & POCKET SQUARES
HARVIE & HUDSON
Any gentleman worth his sartorial salt will know that he needs to wear bespoke shirts. What is more, he will also be convinced – as I am – that he is he not properly dressed without a silk handkerchief in the outer breast pocket of his jacket, and that his pocket square must relate, first and foremost, not to his tie, but to his shirt. By ‘relate’ I do not, of course, mean match. A matching pocket handkerchief and shirt would be an even greater solecism than a matching tie and handkerchief – and we all know what a foul abomination that is. It is therefore both right and sensible for a gentleman to obtain both his shirts and his pocket squares from the same place and at the same time. I thought it was the moment to refresh my wardrobe in both respects, so I went to visit the company which is famous as one of the best bespoke shirt-makers in the world – Harvie & Hudson.
Thomas Harvie and George Hudson founded their company in 1949. Their first premises were in Duke Street. Later they moved into Jermyn Street, London, S.W.1., where the firm now run by their descendants, Richard Harvie and Andrew Hudson, currently occupies numbers 77 and 97 – as well as a shop at 55 Knightsbridge and a shop in Lime Street in the City. Nowadays much is done via the website (www.harvieandhudson.com), whereupon you can create and order your own shirts, by choosing the pattern, the style of both the collar and the cuff and the length of the sleeves. This is a remarkable facility, particularly for those who find it difficult to get up to town or who reside overseas. But for true bespoke shirts, you need personal attention, so that your own measurements, style and preferences can be translated into the paper pattern – unique to you - which will be used to make your shirts. It is this pattern, after all, which is the essence of bespoke. (Trips are made to the United States to offer this service. Details of the itineraries are available from the company on request.)
Thus it was that I came some years ago to be pictured with Richard Wood’s hands at my throat. Mr Wood hails from Eltham, in south London. He is the Chief Cutter at Harvie & Hudson, and he was the original cutter and the creator of my pattern, which is why you can see him – in what is now an historic photograph – taking a precise measurement of my neck. Of course, on subsequent visits, I always discuss anew the choice of cloth and the stylistic details with Richard Harvie. Mr Harvie smiles a great deal – an occupation which comes easily to this intelligent, charming and ever-helpful fellow. (He also manages to look younger every time I see him, so I suspect that he keeps a portrait of himself in his attic.)
In the shop are kept lengths of cloth. (I like to make my choice from these, as it is so much easier to have an idea of the eventual shirt from a roll than from a small sample in a book.) From these, on this occasion, I selected two. (Four is the minimum number for a first order of bespoke shirts, but as I have had shirts made at Harvie & Hudson previously and my pattern is already in the workroom – a smaller number can be ordered.) Prices for bespoke shirts begin at £225 each, including V.A.T. Mine, given their particular features, would be £245 each. Two thousand fabrics are available, either from the shelf or via the pattern books. They are all two-fold cotton poplin 100s. (‘Two-fold’ means that each line of cotton used to weave the fabric is composed of two strands.) The firm is proud of the fact that it is the only family-owned and family-run shirt-maker in Jermyn Street and that it still does its cutting in Jermyn Street. Needless to say, only mother-of-pearl buttons are used.
I like the designs which are exclusive to Harvie & Hudson. And I like stripes. As my age increases, I also find that my fondness for bold colours is intensifying. It therefore took me only a few minutes to select the two cloths which would satisfy all these preferences admirably. You can see from the pictures that, like Joseph’s coat, they are of many colours. Then I plunged into Mr Harvie’s box of silk pocket squares (£45 each) and pulled out two which would be marvellous with the striped cottons I had chosen. You will see that I followed my own injunctions: the silk in each case relates to and complements the cotton, but there has clearly been no attempt whatever to find a match. Each reinforces and emboldens the other. They are exactly what I wanted. (Incidentally, I must urge gentlemen to deal with their pocket squares properly. They should not, repeat not, be folded in any ‘sharp’ manner, otherwise the wearer will look like a junior bank clerk from the 1950s. They must be ‘au naturel’ – a look which can be achieved by simply taking the four corners between the finger and thumb and pushing the apex downwards into the breast pocket.)
Of course, having exactly what you want is the joy of having bespoke shirts made. I must have separate collars of the cutaway shape and I must have surgeon’s cuffs. Why do I insist upon these features? I often wear separate, white, stiff collars, but I also need to have a matching soft collar to hand, for those – admittedly rare – occasions when I feel that a modicum of informality is appropriate. And I cannot do without the surgeon’s cuffs. They are also separate and are attached to the ends of the sleeves by buttons. The name derives from the habit of doctors in far-off times, who would simply remove their cuffs before attending to the (potentially messy) needs of their patients. I have been asked many times about my enthusiasm for such cuffs and their relevance to the gentleman of today. They possess two advantages: first, if they become worn, their turning is the work of but seconds; and second, they are of necessity slightly heavier than the usual cuffs and therefore always sit more elegantly than cuffs which are sewn into the sleeve.
The customary procedure is straightforward: after six weeks the trial shirt is ready for the try-on, to ensure that the fit is exactly right; and, after another six weeks, all the shirts in the order can be collected. (If, like me, you like to show the cuff of your shirt when you are wearing your jacket, be sure to explain this to your cutter, and remember that your jacket will always pull up your shirt sleeve by a small amount – so, at the try-on, put on your jacket over your new shirt.) But, as a regular customer, I needed no try-on. I therefore simply waited eight weeks, and then the shirts were ready for collection.
Now, when I put them on, I am always reminded of why I go to Harvie & Hudson for my bespoke shirts. The shirts are elegant, comfortable and beautifully made – exactly as bespoke clothes should be. And there is also that wonderful frisson created by the knowledge that the exclusivity of the fabric means that very few other people in the world have similar shirts. The fit, of course, is perfect. I do not feel – as I sometimes do feel in one or two of the off-the-peg shirts I have been foolish enough to purchase over the years – that I am about to burst out of the straining buttons or that I need constantly to be tugging at my sleeves to try to show the cuffs or that I should be pulling down the shirt tails because they are too short. All is calm. There is abundant capacity for my frame, my cuffs show without effort and the tails are so long that I can sit on them in comfort. And, I need hardly add, the pocket square I selected to wear with each shirt is entirely right.
The right bespoke shirt and the right silk handkerchief – from Harvie & Hudson. Any gentleman worth his sartorial salt will say ‘Amen’ to that.
HARVIE & HUDSON
96/97 Jermyn Street, London SW1Y 6JE, England.
Telephone +44 (0)207 839 3578
55 Knightsbridge, London SW1X 7RA, England.
Telephone +44 (0)207 235 2651
12/13 Lime Street, City of London EC3M 7AA, England.
Telephone +44 (0)207 283 1911
Bespoke shirts: from £225, including V.A.T. (minimum first order: 4)
Made-to-measure ‘semi-custom’ shirts: from £185
Silk pocket squares: £45