February 3, 2014 by Ville Raivio
The English firm of Turnbull&Asser prides itself with a 128-year history, during which it has clothed a remarkable horde of renowned men. T&A does offer a wide selection of accessories and off-the-peg clothing, but its specialisation lies in collared shirts. The maker has achieved an enviable reputation the younger guns on Jermyn Street can only dream of, but this much and more has been said in many publications already. Unlike several established makers and fresh firms, T&A has not taken part in the price bonanza that has given birth to 4 SHIRTS FOR 100£ or similar clauses with more exclamation marks. The company still owns a factory in Gloucester and offers English shirts for the man who cares. T&A charges 155 pounds for a shirt instead of a small heap of shirts for the price and, given their reputation, I had to find out what makes their English shirts so very special.
Overall cut and collar
Turnbull&Asser shirts are known for their vivid colours and vast selection of stripe fabrics. The company archive houses tens of thousands of more or less interesting shirtings, and a recent remake of The Great Gatsby reminded me of the original film from 1974. It’s a colourful scene, the one where Jay shows Daisy how big his is, both the house and his fortune, and they pass through the many rooms all the way to one bedroom. It is romantic to think that Daisy is moved by seeing the man after so many years, but I like to humour myself by picturing that the shirts are the cause. “They’re such beautiful shirts…It makes me sad because I’ve never seen such beautiful shirts before!” she screams, tossing Jay’s dozens of Turnbull&Asser shirts around the room and breaking into tears. With this memory in mind, there really was no other shirt but a striped one to review.
What’s in a shirt
The example shirt is an off-the-peg shirt from T&A’s selection, made with a straight collar instead of the Classic one. This shirt has three buttons on a crooked cuff, a signature detail of the house. I have owned and handled several shirts from the maker since this one, and must say that T&A’s fabrics are an experience. They never pill, the colours are bright, the surface smooth and all fabrics have a nice rustle when fondled. Most of them are woven in Italy of Egyptian cotton, and my little bird tells me that they’re made in the Albini factory. Fabrics in the Classic range are more or less the same each year, the Exclusive range offers smaller and limited runs changing with the season. All seams are straight, the single-needle stitching dense and the cut clearly more form-conscious than the usual baggy English one. A sad detail is the lack of pattern matching on the gauntlet, body and shoulders.
Straight collar shape
The shirt has been made from 33 pieces as a mixture of varying handwork and machine precision. No spare buttons are attached because buttons do not come loose on T&A shirts — or so they say. Still, the buttons have been hand-sewn with a shank and seem to be strongly there. The Australian mother-of-pearl buttons are quite generic: not too thin, not too fat, not too wide nor narrow. They’ve a pleasant sheen and shape with one groove. The hem is longer and remains tucked in all situations. The cuffs are cut to meet askew and to be closed with three buttons (or less, if sprez is of interest), and I’ve never met another maker with a similar cuff. Most shirts on the market have three to five wide folds around the cuff to produce a narrow sleeve, but T&A has its shirred into a dozen or more tiny folds. A detail I love. The sleeves are set high and the armhole is cut small to allow great freedom of movement. The placket is firm and of average size.
Unmatched patterns on gauntlet and shoulder to sleeves
Turnbull&Asser still hangs onto unfused collars and cuffs with a woven bias-cut interlining, an old construction offered by far too few makers. Theirs is a stiff collar which will hold its shape in all situations, and the same goes for the cuffs. While these will be unpleasant for the sensitive skin, I’ve seen that the collar can be bent to produce a roll. Not an arching one like those on Ivy League collars, but a stiff roll which can’t be achieved with a fused one. A laudable detail: the collar points will remain in contact with the body of the shirt regardless of how they’re worn. The usual collar back height is 4 cm, which guarantees an excellent presence and shape. While the example shirt has a straight collar, T&A’s signature model is the Classic collar, a slightly spread model with a unique outward flare to the collar point. To show the shape, I’ve taken a few photos of another T&A shirt with this collar. It really must be seen in person.
Three-button cuff, hexagonal gusset and placket
While the collar does have removeable stiffeners, I’ve found no use for them. The stiffy holds its shape just fine without any addendums. T&A’s yokes are hand cut with the top yokes being cut on the bias. While they offer no significant benefit on a readymade shirt, they’re a nice detail to have. There are also small hexagonal gussets laid on and sewn where the side seams join the shirt tails, yet another nice detail which the maker informs us will strengthen the seams. The only points I’d change are pattern-matching throughout, the quite wide cuffs, the half-inch sizing and the second-highest button, which should be set lower.
The Classic collar shape
As a whole, I feel Turnbull&Asser shirts are always worth their price: the make, fabrics, collars, details and construction are excellent. Regrettably they only offer collar sizes by the half-inch: if the reader’s neck size is a European 40, T&A’s size 15½ may just be too tight and 16 too large. The collar button can always be moved a bit, but it may not be enough. When worn open, the problem disappears but won’t make for a formal whole. What I do love is the unfused but stiff construction, the materials and the signature cuff and collar. I have owned, handled and tried shirts from most of the makers on Jermyn Street, and I feel Turnbull&Asser is the best one out there.
First published in Finnish on the 30th of 11. 2012.