Receive the Permanent Style newsletter
x
Follow us on:   Facebook Twitter Google Plus Pinterest Feedburner News Feed   About us

Silk evening shirts at Emma Willis

12 October 2011
Wing-collar shirts are flimsy things unless made in the detachable, collar-stud traditional manner. When attached to the shirt, the collar is inevitably too low and lacks the stiffness of the starched original. Precious few shirtmakers make a good detachable collar today anyway.

So your options are a plain turndown collar on a shirt with a pleated or piqué cotton front. Some glamour can come from studs, but it is rarely worth investing in these until you’ve got to the age that black tie events rarely lead to you being disreputably drunk in the small hours of the morning. I would make two alternative suggestions: silk and ivory.

This struck me during a conversation with Emma Willis recently. The shirtmaker has come a long way since she set up on Jermyn Street and brought some much-needed feminine glamour to the industry. The shop still has a distinct sensuality, a feeling of being swathed in Sea Island cotton and shod in cashmere stockings. But the company has moved on to establish its own shirtmaking facilities in Gloucester, and Emma tells lovely tales about the seamstresses there.

That conversation came round to black tie and a ivory silk shirt that was hanging prominently in the store. Now, this is not the silk of your 1980s imagination. It is not satin and certainly not sateen. It is sand-washed silk, which has a soft and textured handle. The shirt itself has a flat-turning bib front in silk pique and little mother of pearl buttons on a removable band so the shirt can be worn with studs (if you’re old and sober enough).

And its ivory is a distinct off-white. Some traditionally minded men swear by cream or ivory shirts as an alternative to white. So much kinder on the complexion. I’ve never bought that: for me, pure white has the necessary crispness of corporate business, something cream never can.

But with black tie – particularly, perhaps, with my brown and black velvet jacket from Timothy Everest – it has an attractive air of old-world decadence. Its tone stands out immediately from the cheap, flimsy white collars around it. The contrast is not dissimilar to that between black and midnight blue in the tux itself.

One final piece of advice from Emma to conclude: if you’re going to have a pleated front, look for sufficient overlap of the pleats; a cheap, machine-made front will have larger gaps between each one, and quickly make the shirt look cheap. Good ones are sewn on individually by hand.