“To be truly elegant one should not be noticed”: George Bryan (Beau) Brummell
The women on my father's side of the family were either tailoresses, or leather workers. They had a sharp eye for detail, and appreciated a well-dressed man. My great-grandmother, Alice Boxall, believed that a man always looked his best in a simple, midnight-blue suit, and a crisp, white shirt. Essentially this understated style was created by Beau Brumell in the late 1700s, and his philosophy of men's fashion has been with us ever since. He was exceptionally fond of starched, white shirt linen.
I usually approach Jermyn St via Piccadilly Arcade, at the end of which is Beau’s statue. I give him a nod and bid him good morning, head across the road to have a nose in Hilditch and Key’s window, as I’m fond of their shirts, but decide instead that I’m going to proceed to Turnbull and Asser, on the corner of Jermyn St and Bury St.
Turnbull & Asser is a fine Edwardian shop; just standing in it feels like you’ve time-travelled to a bygone age of gentlemanly elegance. The shop was built in 1903, and the interior has floor-to-ceiling mahogany shelving, displaying their beautiful shirts, ties, pyjamas, pocket squares, socks, and just about everything a gentleman needs, in a myriad of colours.
You become aware that you are standing in history; you’re standing where Sean Connery stood for his 'Dr No' fitting by Mr Fish. It’s believed that F. Scott Fitzgerald, who was a customer himself, based the shirt scene in The Great Gatsby on his experience of Turnbull & Asser. The names of sartorial gentleman from the last 130 years: Chaplin, Picasso, The Beatles, Sinatra, Winston Churchill, to name a few, have all been clients. Prince Charles granted them his first warrant in 1980. Almost every men's fashion book in The Obsessive library references Turnbull & Asser. They continue to be a significant and relevant brand in menswear. This is quite an achievement.
I’m usually a 16" collar, but need to check, so I descend the wooden staircase to the fitting area. I’m greeted courteously by an immaculate gentleman who, on one glance, suggests a 16½ collar. It fits perfectly. He proceeds to take me through all the different types of shirts: the weave of the cotton, the mother of pearl buttons that are cross-locked stitched with waxed thread; he goes into just the right amount of detail not to confuse, but enthuse you. I opt for their signature 'Classic' plain white, double-cuffed shirt, with the distinctive T&A cutaway collar. The shirts are all proudly made in England, in their Gloucestershire workrooms.
As I step out of the shop into the bustle of Jermyn St, immaculate well dressed men are scuttling to lunch. Much the same way I imagine Beau and his dandies did all those years ago.