A few months ago I had my first British bespoke suit made. Time, I thought, to repeat the experience in shirts – so I toddled off to 23 Bury Street, home of Turnbull & Asser’s bespoke service. 

I’ve been a fan of Turnbull & Asser’s shirts for a while, and wrote a while back about the vast improvement that has been made in the block for their ready-to-wear shirts. How many men with a 15-inch neck wanted that big a waist on their shirt I’ll never know. The new line is much slimmer, and fits better than some made-to-measure I’ve had done. 

Bespoke is made in almost exactly the same way as ready-to-wear, and all in the Gloucester factory. But the difference is the fit. I have to say being measured by master shirt maker David Gale was an eye-opener for me. The attention to detail in body and personal habits was greater than any other tailor I’ve had. 

Take the width of the cuff, for example. Obviously this is dependent on the width of the man’s wrist. It should be tight enough to that wrist such that the cuff stays at the base of the thumb and does not slip further down. That allows the shirtmaker to build in around an inch of excess material in the sleeve length, above the wrist, so that when a man’s arm is extended the shirt goes with it.

However, some men wear large watches on their wrist, making it impossible to keep the cuff tight enough to prevent slipping down the hand. So instead, the cuff is made larger but there is no excess in the sleeve length. To still allow for movement of the arm, a slight excess is built into the back of the shirt, rather than the sleeve. 

The same process would be used for a man that prefers to put in his cufflinks before he puts the shirt on. The cuff is made a little wider and the sleeve a little shorter, without that excess material. Equally for a man with particularly thick wrists in proportion to his hand. I do wear large watches, but I also have slim wrists – so it balances out. 

It also makes a difference what type of cuff link you wear. A silk knot keeps the cuff very tight; a bar is rather looser; and a chain is looser still – even if they are the same length, the looseness of the chain means it forms a bigger circle than a bar. This is as important as the thickness of your wrist. 

My first commission was for a white dress shirt, in Sea Island Quality cotton. This is not actually from the islands off Georgia and South Carolina, as Sea Island cotton originally was, but from the same plants transported to Egypt. I was told that the cotton you get today from the area is monopolised and thus overpriced. In T&A’s opinion, Sea Island Quality feels better anyway. I’ve felt true Sea Island cotton and it is heavier and silkier. Whether that is better is really a question of taste. 

The first, draft shirt will be ready in three to four weeks. This will be made slightly on the conservative (wide) side in terms of fit. For example, the excess of cloth in chest, waist and hips can be as low as two inches each. Mine will be five-four-four, with the presumption that it will be taken in. Better too much than too little, as you can’t make a shirt bigger. (Or not easily anyway. You can add side panels but it is a lengthy and costly process.) 

The shirt will then be worn and washed two or three times, before being presented to David for a fitting. Then the adjusted paper pattern goes back to the factory to be made into a final shirt. Watch out here for reports on both stages.