Bespoke evokes images of style, tradition, refinement and handmade clothing created from the finest fabrics by the most skilled of craftsmen. Welcome to London.
Budd Shirtmakers (3 Piccadilly Arcade) is a source of national pride as it's one of the last remaining Mayfair establishments that can boast having its own working cutting room on site. It's a little den of pleasures where you can experience traditional shirt making as it was performed over a hundred years ago. Cindy-Lou Dale investigates London's affordable bespoke shirt alternative.
No short cuts
All of their bespoke shirts are handcrafted and cut at their Mayfair cutting room located above the shop. You will be measured by one of their three cutters (all of whom followed traditional apprenticeships in the trade and between them have eighty years' experience) who will produce a concise set of over 20 measurements. Your frame, posture, even your stance will be factored in the shirt's cut as your cutter prepares to create a garment that follows your exact measurements resulting in a shirt that will sit against your skin, shadowing your body's every contour. Your cutter will talk you through selecting a fabric and give you styling advice regarding collars and cuffs. A paper pattern is made and a sample shirt is cut which is then handed to the seamstress for sewing, washed then returned to the shop. You will be asked to wear your sample shirt a couple of times and if alterations are needed a new sample shirt will be made and the process repeated. If not, your order will go ahead. “There are no short cuts in our process and no compromise when it comes to fit, quality and craft. We believe we make the best shirts in London and our continued reputation for excellence spanning over one hundred years attests to this.” Says Head Cutter, John Butcher.
But bespoke shirts don't come cheap. You're looking at £225 each, with a minimum order of four. However, Budd also offers ready-to-wear shirts and for clients who don't perfectly fit in these, but don't want to go bespoke, they offer a made-to-measure service. A stock pattern is used to fit the customer; the cuff, collar and fit are chosen. There are about the same number of fabrics available as when going bespoke. The made-to-measure process takes between six and eight weeks and the bespoke fractionally longer. Prices for the made-to-measure shirts start at £174, with a minimum order of three.
A sensible investment
One of the greatest plus points of custom tailoring is the professional advice passed on, which includes accentuating your physical attributes and minimizing your unbecoming bits. This guidance guarantees your considerable spend to be a sensible investment, in comparison to the alternative off-the-peg chain store version, which proves to be false economy. Bespoke has become an overused and on occasion inaccurately used term in tailoring and shirt making. In London it means a unique, tailor-made and very, very exclusive.
Heading to Dege & Skinner at 10 Savile Row, the neighbourhood that's been applauded the world over as the place for handmade men's clothing, I found Master Cutter Robert Whittaker. “Our shirt patterns are cut specifically for an individual and no one else. That pattern is unique to that particular bespoke shirt customer. The trust between our customers and our bespoke shirt making team means that some customers even leave the choice of cloth design to us, relying on our advice and guidance. Some relationships have been held with customers for decades so there's a close understanding of what an individual might like to wear.” Although the majority of shirt customers at Dege & Skinner prefer to go the bespoke route, they also sell a collection of ready-to-wear shirts which are often altered on site with sleeves lengthened or waist darts added. Additionally, they have a ‘stock special shirt service' which in effect means the customer buys a ready-to-wear shirt, made in a stock size, but using the customer's choice of fabric.
The price for Dege & Skinner's bespoke shirts start at £235, with a minimum order of four. Their ready-to-wear shirts, which include Royal Oxford and Poplin and two different collar styles (classic and cutaway) start at £125. The range of ready-to-wear dress shirts, including Marcella and ivory silk, all with three stud holes and removable buttons to allow for dress studs, start at £190. Prices for their stock shirts, where the customer chooses the fabric, start at £192.
There is a downside to all of this though. Once you have encountered a garment personally crafted for you, you may find it to be the beginning of a lifelong passion for sartorial elegance.
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Text and photos by Cindy-Lou Dale