The Doctor of Shirts | A Considerable Town | Los Angeles | Los Angeles News and Events | LA Weekly

The Doctor of Shirts 


Steven Quin is a well-dressed man. His lightweight blue wool suit fits his trim frame graciously. His sleeves show just enough cuff, his trousers drape neatly, nipping the tongue of his shoes, and his handkerchief contrasts boldly. He unbuttons and re-buttons his coat unconsciously, in a reflexive gesture that emphasizes the ease of his stylishness — the way an actor might when readying to deliver his lines. The getup complements his smooth blond hair and blue eyes. But it is Mr. Quin’s shirt that makes the man. It ought to. He is wearing a handmade Turnbull & Asser bespoke shirt of blue-striped poplin. The material is exclusive to Turnbull & Asser, and only 240 meters are made — enough for just 120 shirts — and then it is retired. It is the sort of shirt you’d expect Mr. Quin to wear. He is, after all, a master shirtmaker and Royal Warrant holder — meaning His Royal Highness, the Duke of Windsor, a.k.a. Prince Charles, wears shirts made at Mr. Quin’s home office, on Jermyn Street in London. As have Winston Churchill, Robert Evans, Alec Guinness and Sammy Davis Jr. (whose first order was for 50 shirts at $75 each).

Mr. Quin, in from London for a brief stay, is at T&A’s new store on Brighton Way in Beverly Hills to show prospective customers what it means to have a custom-made and -fitted shirt. In Mr. Quin’s capable hands, a man feels as if he is choosing his own shirt — even if Mr. Quin really is guiding his taste. Thumbing the leaves of leather-bound books of cloth patterns and colors the way a croupier counts money, Mr. Quin gently insists, “Every customer here is an individual.”

As I watch, Mr. Quin takes out a tape and then calls out the measurements of a casually dressed man — not the sort you’d expect to find in a Savile Row establishment. He measures the neck, down to the quarter-inch; he checks the centerline of the sternum to place the placket where it belongs; he carefully seeks the man’s counsel on how, exactly, he wears his shirts, tucked in or out, to get the right length. “Your left shoulder slopes a bit down, not like the right,” he notes when he measures each side of the yoke. The man explains that he’d once rolled his car, and this was the lingering result. “Do you always wear a bulky watch?” Mr. Quin asks when he got down to the gauntlet — the part of the sleeve where the buttons are — and then made an allowance in the circumference. From these measurements a paper pattern will be cut in London, a sample shirt sewn, the customer fitted, and, for anywhere from $350 on up, shirts will be made.

Turnbull & Asser is known for its daring hues, purples and oranges, which dress up even a drab physique. Mr. Quin, however, provides a caveat. “I wouldn’t say our shirts would cosmetically change someone. It might give a bit of shape.”

Mr. Quin is speaking in his seemingly unflappable tone when in walks Alan Harris, a 50-year-old deportation lawyer who obviously works out a lot. Dressed in a white T-shirt, black jeans and red Converse All-Stars, Harris immediately undermines the staid tenor of the plush mezzanine salesroom when he announces, “I have a shirt fetish.” He lays three pages he’s torn from the latest Vogue on the zebrawood table where Mr. Quin is working and asks, “What’s going on here?” He points to the collar of a Ralph Lauren shirt on one of the pages. “It’s more extreme than a Regent’s collar,” Harris continues. “I’m not appalled by this. I like it.”

Mr. Quin interjects softly, “I think it’s too extreme, Mr. Harris.” He knows Harris well. “It doesn’t look good. If that were a light tie, that would look terrible.”

“That’s the doctor of shirts talking,” Harris says, slipping on his dramatic black-horn-rimmed glasses. Mr. Quin seems to wish the encomium had never been uttered, but remains cool. “Do you want to try one of those?” he asks, referring to the collar. “It wouldn’t kill me,” Harris answers. “This is what’s in my head: I’ll at least be in style until February.”

Harris then jumps to his next concern. “These ties have a lot more material,” he comments, again pointing to the Ralph Lauren ad. “They’re more Victorian. That’s not what you’re selling me.” His phone rings. It’s his wife. When he finishes, I ask him if he likes solids or T&A’s famous striped shirts. “I’m a very certain person,” Harris states. “I do not do stripes.” He adds, sponte sua, “If you want to be precise about it, I’m wearing $8 shoes from Shoes for Less. They’re seconds.” And then, to a man and his wife waiting to receive Mr. Quin’s advice, he repeats, “The doctor of shirts is in the house.”

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