It has been said, among my friends, that I have become a rather unctuous high-street drum-beater. Even I myself fear that my initial ravings about how good the overlooked menswear departments of high street retailers actually are has turned into a sanctimonious and rather dull eulogy. Shaking my head at the ‘fools’ spending their week’s wages at the perplexingly popular Abercombie & Fitch, tut-tutting at the gross overspend at Bond Street boutiques and generally exhibiting a nauseating, self-satisfied air of aloofness. For this walk of pride always deserves a fall; as good value as the stores I profess to admire are, they are far from perfect and should I be in a position to purchase greater numbers of higher quality garments, I will surely take advantage.
And, testament to the imperfection of the stores which I have so heartily recommended, there are certain items sold in these establishments which are, to put it bluntly, not good enough. I could never again purchase a smart shirt from a ‘true’ high street shop. Zara and H&M are good at what they do – but they are really quite bad indeed at manufacturing proper shirts. Especially when you consider what can be obtained locally for the same price, or even less.
TM Lewin, a favourite shirt shop of mine, does not qualify as a high street shop in my mind, even though the name familiar once only to ‘shirties’ is now a household one. It has a long established history and considerable expertise in manufacturing shirts. It knows cloths, it knows collars, cuffs, plackets, buttons and yokes. The brand might be rather ubiquitous now, especially as it continues to trade on it’s grand, Jermyn Street origins, but the fact of the matter is TM Lewin shirts, for the money, are very good value. £30 doesn’t buy you a lot these days in clothing terms. Many high street manufacturers charge at least £35 for a shirt and Banana Republic has been known to charge a mind-boggling £75. Lewin’s shirts, invariably ‘on sale’, are currently priced at £25 for current season and £19 for end of range shirts. In my mind, if you are a gentleman who is the proud recipient of a new and exciting job and require advice on an inexpensive but reliable shirt manufacturer, I would direct you here first.
Gentlemen are certainly in need of a good selection of shirts. Other Jermyn street oldies, like Turnbull & Asser, Harvie & Hudson, New & Lingwood and Hilditch & Key do sell excellent shirts in their remarkably silent, antiquated berths on ‘The street of shirtmakers’ but though the quality is high, the price is equally so. For a shirt collection of five or more you will have to part with a significant sum. It’s no wonder the doorbell is the most audible sound in Turnbull’s when the economically minded man who requires shirts only for his City career can get 4 for £100 a few minutes down the road. A gentleman would have to be rather serious about shirts, or perhaps merely seriously wealthy, to purchase from these hallowed emporiums.
The sad fact of the matter is that most gentlemen are hardly serious about shirts at all. This is perhaps why the pile-‘em-high merchants on Jermyn are doing so well in comparison to their quieter, perfectionist neighbours. Both Hawes & Curtis and TM Lewin, and to an extent the slightly dearer Thomas Pink, have colonised ground beyond SW1 and though their shirts are produced at far greater volumes, the overall quality has only slipped a little in the past 10 years that I have been wearing them. While they are rather sneered at as being ‘commercial’, ‘common’ and ‘crass’ by their financially overshadowed companions on Jermyn Street, they are without a doubt among the best on offer elsewhere. The collars retain strength wash after wash, the fabric is of a very good quality for the price range and they last for years and years – models I have purchased from Marks & Spencer, Zara and Next have crumpled and faded within a year. I still wear a Lewin’s shirt bought in 1998.