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The Perfect Bespoke Shirt


Candice Martini

LONDON, United Kingdom  — Fashion is a timeless keeper of tradition and history. In London, the world famous Jermyn Street continues to set the international standards for ‘well-dressed gentlemen’ after centuries thanks to the shirt-makers that honour the bespoke shirt tradition.

Hilditch & Key: An Ambassador For Tradition

Founded in 1899, Hilditch & Key is one of the main representatives of Jermyn Street. Chris Sedgwick, Buyer and E-Commerce Manager, explains that a Hilditch & Key shirt has its own hand-cutting pattern – the body with scissors, the collar with knife. Traditionally, Hilditch & Key shirts have a longer tail behind than in the front and the triangular insert on the sides is made of different fabric from the shirt.

bespoke shirt
The Quest For The Perfect Shirt
bespoke shirt
The Quest For The Perfect Shirt

Hilditch & Key’s classic collars have a washable bone sewn into the collar to keep it from curling. “A collar type should always be about preference. However, the gentleman should always consider how he will be wearing the shirt (…) We are noticing a trend in demand for more cutaway collars which can be worn with ties but also look great unbuttoned and relaxed”, says Chris. The designs of Hilditch & Key shirts have the seal of approval of the one and only Karl Lagerfeld, who has his high-standing collars made at the Jermyn Street shop.

While Hilditch & Key is an ambassador for tradition, the designers make sure to also adapt to contemporary trends. “At present, the best accessories for gentlemen are silk pocket squares with daring prints, unusual cufflinks, and interesting bow ties with different textures”, explains Chris. Certainly, Hilditch & Key offers a wide range of these accessories at its two London locations and the Parisian Rue de Rivoli.

bespoke shirt
The Quest For The Perfect Shirt

Emma Willis: Jermyn Street’s Finest Bespoke Shirtmakers

A couple of steps down Jermyn Street, Emma Willis’ cosy and elegant shop – featuring oak windows, stone floors and a beautiful chandelier – is the perfect example of an innovative mind combined with an admiration for the traditional methods of shirt hand-cutting and sewing. Emma Willis not only is the talented shirt designer and founder of the stylish shop, but also is directly involved in every step of the bespoke shirt-making.

Emma graduated from the Slade School of Fine Art before opening her shop in 2000. When she is not giving personalised attention to her clients, she is at the Gloucester factory overseeing the shirt-making process. Emma explains that in order to make a bespoke shirt, she first measures the costumer; then the specialised cutter makes a paper pattern and cuts out the various pieces. The team of machinists then sews the shirt, part by part, marking button positions by hand, to finally remove the loose threads, press the shirt and pack it by hand.

Emma Willis shirts are made using single needle machines for the neatest of seams. For the final touch, she uses real Mother of Pearl buttons.

“All our collars are hand trimmed and patterns are matched at the shoulder, gauntlet and back yoke seams. The back yokes are in two pieces and cut diagonally, which gives more flexibility even on a very tailored shirt, comments Emma.”

Emma’s success story motivated her to initiate the ‘Style for Soldiers’ project. In gratitude to service men and women, Emma measures soldiers recovering at the Headley Court rehabilitation centre for a complimentary bespoke shirt and walking stick, which led the team to receive a Morale Award from the British Forces Foundation and the fundraising of this project continues to grow.

As Hilditch & Key e Emma Willis demonstrate, the quest for the perfect shirt is timeless, but all the ways to look for it lead to Jermyn Street.

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