Take a walk down St James’s Jermyn Street and you’ll feel underdressed. The number of bespoke suits, tailored shirts and hand-crafted shoes that you’ll pass showcase the very best in British clothes making. But all of these meticulously-crafted garments and accessories share one thing in common – they are formalwear.
Be it the money involved or the sharp style tailored clothes afford the wearer, bespoke garments have never made the jump from the formal wardrobe to the informal. But one shop upon the country’s most iconic shirt making street is looking to change that. Emma Willis has taken tailoring away from the office, or black tie ball, and applied it to everyday. Because why can’t we look good in day-to-day wear?
“Over the last few years, the average age of a customer on Jermyn Street has fallen dramatically,” says Willis, showing Gentleman’s Journal around her shirt making shop. “It used to be around 50, but now it’s more around 30 or 40. Young men are considerably more aspirational, and they want tailored shirts.”
But, Willis explains, where her older customers may spend much of their time in the boardroom or business meetings – suited and booted for much of the working week – younger men are adopting less formal dress codes. The tie, says the shirtmaker, is increasingly shown the door – putting more focus on the shirt.
“Take off a tie, which is essentially used as distraction or point of focus,” says Willis, “and you’re suddenly looking at your collar much more. And that’s why we put so much effort into making out shirts beautifully. They’re hugely important.”
And this importance transcends the workplace, Willis says. With more and more men keeping things casual at work and on the weekends, the need for crisp, starched shirts may be down – but the want for tailored fits is higher than ever. As a result, Jermyn Street is seeing a rise in the want for fitted, bespoke casual shirting.
“People spend a lot of money on bespoke,” says the shirtmaker. “As such we have so much choice when it comes to formal shirting – books and books of fabrics to choose from. And there really wasn’t these options for customisation with casual fabrics.
“So many men go to the gym these days, they want to show off their bodies,” Willis laughs. “And not just in formalwear – in casual wear too. So our shirts offer the chance for that. You no longer have to hide your physique you’ve trained to achieve in a shirt that feels like a tent. Instead, materials like linen or brushed cotton are now available tailored – so they drape but still show shape.”
And the new AW17 collection from Emma Willis shows just these qualities. Blue ginghams, walnut graph checks and azure brushed cottons are casual, but their cuts show the quality and craftsmanship of a tailored shirt. Jermyn Street is changing, casual wear is coming, and Emma Willis is leading the charge.