The word Crisp is among those terms whose intuitive obviousness is muddled by the variety of context where it might pop up: washing crisp lettuce; he replied in a crisp tone; the air was crisp this morning; the Chablis was as crisp as he expected. And, most appropriate in our context, a white shirt ought to be crisp.

A white shirt is the epitome of crispness. Even worn casually, say with jeans, its glaring salience makes it an item that stands out. A white shirt is the ideal backdrop for a beautiful suit, setting off a tie, naturally matching a linen pocket square, and gloriously enhancing the general allure of the wearer.
A white shirt is crisp in that its suggestion of fragile purity proclaims ultimate care, pristine attention, and well-ironed class. Crispness lies in the feeling of something on the verge of breaking that sheens of immaculate novelty.

Why is the white shirt the go-to shirt? Of course, there are aesthetic reasons, such as the possibility of contrast. There’s even a hint of formality: blue, grey or black suits with a white shirt can easily become uniforms. 
But colour is also a cultural phenomenon that digs deep into our unconscious. In textile, white has been associated with purity as it required prowess to achieve whiteness in a cloth; while this reference might be lost today, the evocation of cleanliness and hygiene remains today—bath tubs and sinks are usually white. Up to very recently, sheets and shirts were supposed to be white and no other color was deemed acceptable.

There are two ways a shirt can be a go-to shirt: by default or by election. The no-problem, works-with-everything shirt has its merits. But the exceptional garment that you want to wear is on a different plane of experience. And for this feeling of crisp excellence, you need to go bespoke. 
I experienced the process in Paris with a local tailor. Adriano Bari is a bespoke tailor with exquisite taste (he also offers less expensive Italian-made MTM). I already own a made-to measure suit from him, which he magnificently altered with perfect bar tacks, and he offered to show me the full extent of his hand-made skills.
A French tailor whose parents are Italian, Adriano is an old-school tailor with family ties to the craft. His father owned a knit factory and his mother is fluent in women’s tailoring. There is nothing glamorized, prettified, or romanticized about his tailoring: it simply rings true to home-made craft. I imagine he would fall in the now rarefied best-kept-secret-category of tailoring, not only for his craft but also for his approachable prices since he has no extra marketing costs.

His take on the white-shirt challenge was straight-forward: once he took my measurements, he got to work—without a pattern, as he often does, relying on his eye and not on a predefined template.
My body shape being what it is, I am a good candidate for made-to-measure or bespoke (I know, what an excuse…). Standard shirts are always either too narrow in the chest or with sleeves too long, and depending on which flaw I pick, the collar is inevitably too tight or too loose. Other people have different issues: long arms, long torso, large biceps, etc. are not easily accommodated by ready-to-wear shirts.
Adriano’s measurements were the fundament of his work, not a mere alteration of an already existing pattern as it often happens in MTM.

My ideal shirt has no placket and a long skirt. I don’t have strong opinions about collar shapes —though I do love a nice cutaway. I picked a collar among those on display and simply trusted Adriano with the myriad of stylistic and technical decisions. As it turns out, Adriano Bari is an exceptional craftsman who insists on (and, I suspect, delights in) sewing everything himself with pinpoint accuracy. There is something fascinating about stitches that are visibly hand-made—the dotted line a neat reminder of the time spent working on the cloth. Each buttonhole is hand-made, as is the collar stitching. The result is a stunning piece of work, a pure ar-made marvel with the soft feel of perfection. Sharp. Crisp.
A lackluster white shirt can disappoint and show banality or lack of precision—with no patterns or texture to make up for that. But when expectations are met with virtuosity, you end up with an exceptional garment—one to cherish and keep for special occasions.

On paper, there’s no real justification for exceptional garments: how good can a shirt be after all? However, you have to consider the value that comes from experiencing once you have tried a bespoke shirt you have a different category of experience to refer yourself to.
As with everything under the sun, there are several levels of excellence and pleasure. And there is no small measure of contentment in being aware of the true extent of excellence that exists. Whether you find it worth your while to order a bespoke shirt is another story, but the process provides you with genuine insight into what tailoring is about. And that should count as an enlightening experience.

This is not a sponsored article. The writer received the items for free in exchange for an honest review. To read Styleforum’s review policy, please click here.

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John Slamson

JS is a writer and translator based in Paris. He loves a generous lapel. He’s also a jazz producer and critic who believes we should let the good times roll.

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2 thoughts on “Crisp.

  1. I looked at Mr Bari”s website.
    It is a beautifully made shirt.
    Your idea of a single versatile white shirt is intriguing, but not necessarily feasible. wearing your formal looking white dress shirt with jeans always looks a bit stiff IMHO.
    what fabric was chosen?
    this is the most important choice after fit.
    what cuff style
    is the collar stiff or relaxed.

    • Yes!!! True words.
      A single white shirt is an interesting idea, but not in practice.
      Perhaps while on a holiday, one could pack a single white shirt and either ‘dress it up’ or ‘dress it down’ depending on the need. But for everyday use, no.

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