SEHK-SH-01 revisited

Change, whether we want it or not, comes to us all. It has come even to that most under-radar of garments, the shirt — which until now had gone about unchanged here at the workshop since just before day one.

In an affront, then, to the advice about not changing the not-broken, over the past few months, the shirt has been changed. Not tweaked changed, but proper, fully taken apart changed, with every piece scrutinised and challenged and in most cases remade, then put back together in a same but different way. There’s been a lot learnt since day one, after all, and while the shirt is a simple thing, like any object in this world, it is comprised nevertheless of an infinite number of smaller pieces. And, with something so standard-bearing as a shirt, more than with any other garment, these smaller pieces seem of monumental significance. That’s just fine, though, because weighing them up and ruminating on them is very enjoyable indeed. There are matters of shape, of cosmetic design, and of make. There are also matters of the interplay between each of these factors — and also of their interplay with other garments. The shirt, after all, is at the fulcrum of most outfits. The development of the new shirt is done with all this and more in mind.

It might not look like much, but an extra quarter-inch on the end of the collar makes all the difference; bringing a cleaner line to the buttoned down collar — especially seen from the side.

The change begins on the macro level, with the outward outline of the shirt. The body of the new shirt provides both more freedom and more shape, with pleats and darts deployed to full effect in key areas across the back. The same paradoxical state of affairs applies to the sleeves, too, which provide greater room up top, but have darts at the elbow to help them taper significantly but at-the-time imperceptibly down to a type of cuff which grips wrists in a most commanding manner. The shirt is also longer, but has fewer front buttons; the hem is rounder, but has lines more sharp. The contradictions go on and on.

The rough heavy cotton here, used sometimes for testing patterns, has the benefit of showing starkly every flaw, every tug, every drag, imbalance, and overburdened stress-point. It leaves nowhere for a sloppy pattern to hide.

And, while a shirt is a shirt — a thing of minimal if any structure, which would do well not to get above its station lest it become a bit silly — the shoulders of the shirt now have more shape to them. They are rounder, fuller, resisting pull-lines and collapses no matter how many times worn. The chest pocket has been removed, rotated a full 90-degrees, then again, and again, then placed back along slightly different coordinates. The collar looks identical to the current shirt, but now wings down an extra quarter-inch at the front, so as to counter the quarter-inch upward pull of the Kelly collar and button-down fastenings.

On the face of things, in truth, to the untrained eye, shirts old and new are very similar. This is not by chance. They share the same turned seams, same single-needle stitching, same unfused collars and cuffs, same turned placket, and same all the other accoutrements of a shirt very well made in London. And, hands up, fair cop, it is much the same sort of shirt. The worst thing you can do when fixing the not-broken, after all, is putting out of joint the nose of anyone who liked it just as it was. But, still, under the bonnet, things really have changed. The cumulative outcome of thinking about shirts a great deal over the past half-decade, how they are worn, and how they fit in and around jackets and trousers — SEHK-SH-09 turns up in the shirt aisle at the end of next month.