The Handbook
The Handbook

Three things in life are certain: death, taxes and the fact that there’s a sale on down at TM Lewin. Well not any more, as the purveyors of Britain’s best affordable shirts close all of their high street stores.

The shock announcement yesterday will see the retailer head exclusively online as the cost of operating during the shutdown and the uncertain outlook forced the decision, taken by the chain’s new private equity owners. And it’s left us in mourning.

You’d think that it’s easy to make decent shirts, but TM Lewin had managed to crack the code for creating a very good shirt for an affordable price. Until the shirtmaker exploded onto every high street a decade ago you were stuck with ghastly, poorly cut, floppy shirts with comedy collars from the likes of Next, Burton or M&S. If you were in London you could head to Jermyn Street and spend massively over the odds for something acceptable. But TM Lewin changed everything.

The recipe for a decent shirt starts with a plain colour in a light fabric, a pale blue tends to be safest. You could opt for white except for the fact it’s all that Jeremy Hunt wears and, well, you don’t want to look like Jeremy Hunt. Narrow stripes are fine but not if you’re going on telly (they fuzz) while a check or pattern is only acceptable if you’re headed into the countryside. Gingham shirt and tie with a suit in town is a dead tell for an estate agent.

A well cut collar is essential and double cuffs (with proper cuff links please, silk knots are only for when you’ve lost a pair) are a necessity. Unless you work at NASA in the 1960s, then breast pockets are not okay (file in the same faux pas drawer as short sleeved shirts) and definitely definitely not slim fit!

It’s a formula that TM Lewin understood and realised, moving manufacturing overseas and scaling to the point where a quality shirt was affordable to everyone. With all stock basically priced between £20 and £30 while offering perpetual sales, TM Lewin was the place to get a shirt.

It still should be, they’ve retreated online and, as we’ve all been doing most of our shopping via the internet for the last four months, it should still be easy to get your hands on your favourite shirt. And if their own pricing (and our appetite for cheap quality) is what drove them off the high street then it should at least sit well as an online offering.

Meanwhile, Thomas Pink has reopened its doors, so there’s options. Or for something that’s really well made New & Lingwood and Turnbull & Asser remain Jermyn Street stalwarts.