At the end of last year I completed a project with Sean O’Flynn to cut a traditional dress shirt, with voile back, Marcella front and detachable stiff collar. Some readers may remember they have already seen this shirt in black tie shoots with The Rake. I can only apologise it’s taken this long to write up the details.

While I have written recently of seeking a Neapolitan shirtmaker to eventually replace my whole shirt wardrobe (with Satriano Cinque the front runner), for a formal shirt like this the twin draws of tradition and proximity drew me to Sean.

Sean’s pedigree is unrivalled, having started his career with an apprenticeship at Huntsman at the age of 16 and gone on to be the head cutter at New and Lingwood. He started his own business in 2005 and is now one of only a handful of bespoke shirtmakers in London, cutting everything by hand on the premises.

The shirt we made was a slight deviation from the norm, with a very lightweight voile back and heavy Marcella front. Normally the back wouldn’t be quite as light, for fear of pulling away from the more structured front, but seeing as the shirt will get light wear and be washed carefully, I was comfortable with the risk.

 

We opted for two detachable collars in the end, a stiff wing collar (they’re very stiff) and a turn-down Marcella one. The former will go best with my Richard Anderson tux, perhaps, and the latter with the Timothy Everest velvet jacket.
English shirtmakers don’t normally do a fitting, unlike their European peers, instead making a trial shirt that should then be perfected on the next shirt (hence the minimum orders some makers require). Sean was pretty confident he could get the fit first time, however, and he was pretty much good to his word (despite the reports of some readers). The only point that was a little too tight was around the hips, which is hardly the worst place for the fit to be off. Elsewhere it was perfect.
 

The stiff collar takes some getting used to, but does show off a good bow tie to its full potential. In the case of the Rake shoot that bow was a specially commissioned one piece from Le Noued Papillon. The stiff collar could be seen as the crowning glory to a good tuxedo.

 
The shirt has been worn, washed and reworn and performed very well. I might change the lightness of the voile, but that is purely because the wool/mohair exclusive Richard Anderson cloth is so light that any step outside at an evening event induces chills. It contains no hand sewing, unlike the European makers we have discussed, but that hardly seems a priority.

 

Sean charges £241 for a standard shirt and £278 for a dress shirt such as this (both including VAT).
 
In the photos, studs and cufflinks by The Hanger Project.

Photos: Luke Carby

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Frank

Thank you for this article. Are the prices right? I paid 209 GBP last year and I think 221 this year for a not standard cloth. My first shirt was too tight around the belly. It was clearly a matter of not measuring right, so I had appreciated kind of a reduction on the next shirt. Mr. O’Flynn is very helpful with choosing the right cloth, though. On the other hand your credit card is already charged as soon as the shirt is being made up, i.e. before you have seen it. This does not have to be a problem, but it is when issues arise. Unfortunately, this occurs rather often. Wrong collars, wrong buttons, too short sleeves etc. even though everything was written down by Mr O’Flynn. Although you get plenty of excuses, in the end you as a customer pay for all mistakes. Then there is bad communication too – you often do not get answers on emails etc. for instance when the cloth is out of stock. All in all I am happy with the shirts, but every commission in Sackville Street is kind of an adventure. My conclusion is that there is too big a gap between the price tag and the service & quality you get.

Anonymous

A wing collar with a black tie!

Good grief man, you look like a waiter, or possibly an American actor. 🙂 ….

Bill

Anonymous

I thought that it was American menswear!

JED

Anonymous

I do agree with Anonymous above… wing collars look best with white tie, the black band around the neck is not an attractive look in my view.

In any case you may find you do not get much use from the wing collar, as it is almost impossible to find anywhere that will do a decent job of laundering and starching them. And I write as a barrister, so I have plenty of experience with detachable wing collars…

Anonymous

Barker’s don’t do a bad job. When I left Eton they were recommended to me by the school laundry for stiff collars.

Richard

Would also recommend Barkers. I think that they do the majority of the stiff collar laundry and startching in the UK. Most of the retailers probably outsource to them.

Anonymous

“The shops that sell them in the west end (Budd, New & Lingwood, Ede & Ravenscroft) can normally recommend somewhere for cleaning.”

Yes, but are they any good? I increasingly find my collars come back in a state that might be acceptable for court wear – where the older and more dishevelled your outfit the better – but would not do for a state banquet.

However, you can now buy home-washable stiff collars from Darcy Clothing, which are actually pretty good provided you remember not to use steam when ironing.

mack11211

I recall a trip to London 30 years ago when I searched out & found a RTW formal shirt with detachable collar, AKCO brand perhaps, that was nowhere to be found in my American town. The last time I wore it, my size had changed slightly, and all I recall of the evening is that front collar stud pressing into my throat like a nail. So, without sounding too vampiric, I urge you to keep your neck thin & shapely. It would be terrible if something happened to it!

Lee Butler

call me old fashioned, but for £241 I would expect it to be bloody great. Could not see me ever going back if it were not.

Carl

I have to applaud the black tie with wing collar.

My impression is that the dinner jacket was originally an informal substitute for the tailcoat, and as such would have been worn with white tie accouterments. Over time the dinner jacket has become more and more informal; RTW makers have a financial interest in using stock lounge suit patterns, so we now see DJs with two and three button fronts, flapped pockets, and notched lapels. Hollywood types wear them with turn down collars and four-in-hand ties either because they don’t know any better, or because they think they’re “improvements.” They’re not.

I think the wing collar with black tie is distinctive and pleasantly anachronistic, but is only a success if you take the trouble to do as Simon has. The shirts with attached wing collars available on the RTW market are risible. The ones I’ve seen are too low and disappear beneath the jacket collar, and are made of soft material that puckers when ties go around them.

Carl

The detachable wing collar says quite a bit about the man who wears it. With all of the studs and links and washing and starch, it says he’s rich enough to have a valet or fortunate enough to have a VERY devoted wife.

Anonymous

I’m interested in why you are looking for a new shirt maker? Perhaps I missed the reason for the change, but I thought you were using T&A. Greg

Anonymous

If you’re going to the trouble of having what is essentially a white-tie shirt made, you might as well have proper white-tie style single linked cuffs.

Anonymous

P.S.
The price seems to quiet reasonable … I am looking at (varying on the cloth besides the marcella) 350-600 euros!

Anonymous

Thanks for the post and pics!
I am just about ordering a similar shirt. I am, however, not so sure with the voile. Is there an alternative with thicker cloth which would enable you to take off the jacket – I am asking since your DJ has, like mine, a waistcoat.
For the collar; I would agree with some comments above and leave the wing-collar for white tie. My question is whether or not, given this preference, a detachable turndown collar is still preferable to a normal turndown collar.

sambo

I agree with those who prefer classic collar for black tie and wing collar/single cuffs for white tie.

Richard

Simon, I am considering a bespoke dress shirt similar to this one. Can I ask whether you would still recommended Sean, or would you have any other recommendations in a similar price range?

Richard

Simon, can I ask a question about stiff starch collars. I am confused. I have read that you should get a collar half a size bigger than your shirt collar. I normally take a 15″ collar. Does that mean that I should purchase a 15″ tunic shirt and a 15.5″ starched collar, or a 14.5″ tunic shirt and a 15″ starched collar?

Many thanks.

Richard.

borobarrister

In response to a few of the comments posted.

Barkers do launder starched collars and many of my profession use them. I used to wear them every day for work although I have changed my wing collar from the traditional starched version to a stiff cotton. Ede and Ravenscroft have recently (in the last five years) introduced this non-starched fused cotton stiff wing collar which is as good as the starched version and far more comfortable to wear. It doesn’t stick when you are hot and further, you can simply launder them as you would any white cotton shirt. All they need is an iron and they are as good as new (saving money on sending them away for cleaning and starching).

With regards to black tie wing or traditional turn down collar argument – I am for the turn down collar with black tie and wing with white. The wing collar black tie reminds me of all those naff patterned dress shirts that were floating abut in the late 80’s and early 90’s.

T.Cao

Just wanted to ask if the marcella front is attached on top of the shirt’s self fabric? to be more clear of question, is the marcella part of the shirt one layer or two layers of fabric? Much appreciate if you can answer.

Svein Olav Nyberg

I am about a year away from getting my body and finances in the proper shape for this, but having read your blog and a few other information outlets, it seems that there are many fine bespoke shirtmakers, but that perhaps the best in London are Stephen Lachter and Sean O’Flynn. I get the impression that both of these gentlemen have a deep care for and knowledge about individual fit and comfort, which is what matters to me.

But from there to choosing one of them is the difficult last step: how would you compare the two, and what are their relative strongest points?

Svein Olav Nyberg

Thank you very much, Simon.

Do you know their rough prices these days, and the timeline of finishing a shirt with each? I’d be travelling from Norway, so that kind of thing matters. And I need to know how much to save up. Shirts are the key element in he wardrobe, in my opinion, so it pays to get them right.

Anonymous

I have experiences with both, I would definitely recommend Sean.

A . D. Lewis

Dear Simon, Many thanks for sharing another fascinating post! Was the stretched detachable wing collar made by Mr O’Flynn? The reason I ask is that I have struggled to find a starched wing collar with the wings pointing downwards, in the fashion that yours does. I suspect but am by no means certain, that this is down to most detachable wing collars being manufactured for barristers and judges who indeed do wear the wings pointing upwards in their signature bands. This look of collar I find, however, does not lend itself well (or rather perfectly) to evening wear as the wings are always somewhat awkwardly pushing down on the bowtie. Your correct collar, on the other hand, looks absolutely pristine with the bowtie covering the wings. Any idea if I could have some such collars made and starched? I have a few old ones from the 1930’s , unfortunately no longer starched, which could serve as a template. Where could you direct me for such a project.

A. D. Lewis

Thank you very much, Simon! Will do. Best wishes, Andrew

Henry

Simon, have you ever ordered a bespoke shirt from John Garland? If yes then what’s your opinion. Regards, Henry

Joel

Why is it formal shirts aren’t 100% Marcella instead of just the front?

Evan Everhart

Hi Simon,

Love yr evening shirt here! I have a full voile evening shirt, with pleats, but I can see why you might want a voile only back as some events get quite warm, to say the very least….I personally prefer a fine 2 ply poplin or very fine pinpoint Oxford for an evening shirt if it is to be a starched front. I find that the body of it seems to lend itself better to that in those fabrics.

As to breast plate shirts; I wear a detachable breast plate on a single cuff linked cuff shirt for the most formal of events, the single linked cuff arguably and according to every authority on the subject being more formal. That said, as yr wearing it with black tie, it is quite perfect. I like the Darcy no starch collars myself, and some of the antique ones that I’ve gotten over the years. My favorite style is the Imperial, which I wear for the most formal of occasions, including, occasionally for black tie, but only with my Winter white DB scoop neck flat bottom waistcoat. Something about it harkens back to white tie in a charming manner for me. I chiefly wear antique 1880 to 1920 evening waistcoats with my Dinner suit though…..I also wear the detachable collars including a poke wing collar (a wing collar with clubbed tips) with my Morning wear, but sans breast plate. I don’t like turn down collars with morning wear, myself, unless its a stroller, but to me, that’s more of a mutt anyway. Sadly, there’s not too many chances for wearing the Morning tails on the U.S.’s Left Coast…..At least these days….Even a few years ago, I could pull it out semi-frequently for weddings.

Sean

Hey Simon,

Is this type of shirt with the bib front and detached collar appropriate for formal evening dress(white tie) as well? It would be nice to have a shirt that can be used for both types of formal and semi formal dress. Considering that both formal and semi formal dress are not worn regularly by most people.

Thank you,

Sean