My wife bought me a ‘just because’ present. From a charity shop. She’s always been a big spender…. Still it wasn’t just a charity shop; it was the 2gether shop in Chislehurst, described by one newspaper as ‘the Harrods of charity shops.’
The ‘just because’ present was a salmon pink shirt. Bright pink. I didn’t like it, not even a little bit. Plus, the fact that it came from a charity shop, even ‘the Harrods of charity shops’ didn’t exactly improve my view of it. Furthermore, I already had a very nice pale pink shirt in my wardrobe, thank you. But what was I to do? You can’t say to your wife (at least I can’t say to my wife…) thank you for buying me a gift for no reason at all but actually I don’t really like it.
So I thought I better have a closer look. As I did, a minor but important detail caught my attention. Salvation! The shirt was size 16½. I had found my honourable way out. I had never found a 16½ shirt that fit me properly. So I would try it on, my wife would see that it did not fit and I could escape the scourge of the bright pink shirt. I was already practising my speech: ‘Thank you for the shirt, Hun, but it doesn’t fit. It will have to go back. sorry… (tee hee).
At least that was the plan. Until I tried the shirt. The blessed thing not only fit , it fit better than pretty much every other shirt in my possession. Bother–freakin–ration!! Was this some kind of sorcery?? Took the shirt off and then noticed a second but also important detail. It was a shirt by T M Lewin. Three weeks earlier I had not heard of TML. However, I had wandered into their shop on Chancery Lane quite by chance, which is one of the older TML shops, complete with wood panelled walls, interesting staircases and attentive and knowledgeable shop assistants who wander about with a tape measure over their shoulders and referring to each shop visitor as ‘Sir.’ Their clothing stock appeared to be of excellent quality, with the prices to match. Needless to say, I left without making a purchase.
So it was a well-tailored quality shirt, from a Jermyn Street tailor, the traditional home of British shirt tailoring (Saville Row, for suits, Jermyn Street for shirts). But this still did not explain why this shirt fit when every other 16½ shirt I had tried in my adult life didn’t. So I had a closer look at this shirt which is when I noticed the third important detail. On the other side of the label was the number 36. I had no idea what it meant but had a feeling that it had something to do with the mystery.
So I eventually plucked up the courage to go into one of my local TML shops (we had two), and they measured me up and said I needed 36 inch sleeves but only needed a 16 or 16½ inch collar. To be quite honest I didn’t quite believe the measurement. I’d been a 17½ for two decades and had never found a size 16 shirt which didn’t have sleeves that were comically short. The big surprise for me was discovering that TML offers each shirt size with at least 3 different sleeve lengths, and in some cases 4. Moreover, this was the advent of slim fit shirts so those with a relatively slim build could have a shirt which wasn’t too big across the chest and waist.
I can’t quite work out why large department stores like Debenhams & M&S often don’t even bother to print sleeve length on their shirt packaging. As for shirts with varying sleeve lengths M&S, Next, & Austin Reed have a few shirts in their range which come with extra long sleeves but not very many. Debenhams in contrast don’t. It would be a step in the right direction if stores routinely published sleeve lengths along with collar and chest sizes.
The real epiphany moment came some months later. I had bought my first TML shirt in their after Christmas sale (OK, second if you count the pink one). It was from their recently launched slim fit range in blue twill. I couldn’t bring myself to buy a 16½ (old habits die hard) so bought a 17 instead. It fit pretty well, I thought. So I was looking for another shirt and popped into the TML shop on the Strand after a meeting in central London. I thought I might try out a 16½ this time round so asked the attractive shop assistant how significant the size difference was between a 16½ and 17 shirt.
Having looked me over, head to toe she asked, ‘What size shirt are you wearing now, Sir?’ ‘Size 17½,’ I replied. She said, I would be happy to measure you, Sir, but I’m pretty sure that you will need a size 16 or 16½. That shirt you are wearing now is clearly too big for you.’ She then proceeded to explain to me in the next few seconds all the various ways in which the shirt I was wearing was an unflattering fit. When she did measure me, sure enough I was a 16½. When I arrived in that shop I felt pretty well dressed. I left feeling pretty inadequate. However, I also left with a lovely TML shirt in lilac twill. Size? 16½ inch collar and 36 inch sleeves.
Even after this I still needed further convincing. It’s really difficult accepting that something you have known to be a fact for 20 years is not after all true! Luckily there was a TML shop 3 miles from home. So one afternoon I went in and they let me try on shirts in different sizes, 17, 16½ and 16 in both slim fit and regular fit. It was only after that exercise that I was able finally to accept that I had been wearing the incorrect shirt size for over 20 years. The good news was that I had now discovered my shirt size, and crucially knew my sleeve length. The bad news? Now that I had a few shirts which fit me well, all my older shirts suddenly didn’t fit properly. Moreover, each time I put one of them on I could see all the specific points which had been raised with me by that overly honest TML shop assistant. Luckily, I was beginning year 2 of my 5 year project so shirts moved up the priority list.
As for the salmon pink shirt, it’s still in my wardrobe. That ‘just because’ gift turned out to be far more valuable than the sticker price. It is now the oldest formal shirt I possess; all the older ones have gradually been replaced. I still think that the colour is a bit too bright for me, but 4 years down the road it has happily faded somewhat. I’m just grateful that it came along because without it I probably still would not have discovered my perfect fit.
Having said that, it has also cost me a fortune in shirts… I am now a shirt anorak, nursing a slight addiction. But perhaps more of that another time….
Have you found your perfect fit?