You might be surprised to hear that Which? used to test shirts. They were so essential that we planned user tests of ‘drip-dry shirts’ for our very first magazine. Does a crisp white shirt still have its place in the office?
In our 1957 test, twenty men wore and washed a couple of shirts every day for a month, recording their comments daily.
However, we waited three years to publish our shirt reviews, as our 1957 records ‘told us a great deal about the wearers, but nothing whatever about the shirts’.
Decline of the shirt-wearing worker?
A good 50 years later, are shirts still essential in the modern workplace? Ironing is a hassle, particularly linen shirts, and in some offices you can feel overdressed if you don a shirt. Getting a good fit can be tricky too – I used to struggle to get an off-the-peg shirt that didn’t garrotte or end an inch before my wrists.
In a straw poll as I write this in Which? HQ, about half of the men-folk are in shirts (myself included, in one of Herbie Frogg’s two-tone wonders). But could the shirt be in terminal decline? Some workplaces switched years ago; in my first Saturday job at a DIY chain I was glad they’d just made the move to polos from polyester shirts and ties.
On the other hand, Norfolk police have just announced that shirts and ties will be reintroduced to its force, as they make wearers ‘more professional, honest and approachable’.
Cultured and colourful clothing
Of course, culture is important to your attire as well. Go to Milan and you’ll see colours in combinations thought impossible outside of a Wonka factory, while in New York I’ve met financiers who have been ordered to change their coloured shirt for a blue or white one.
I don’t understand that. While American workplaces seem to detest extravagant shirts, their fashion also seems to love the pointless; from shirt pockets (useless since the demise of smoking), to buttons to stop collars flying in the face (a mischance I’ve avoided even on the windiest of days).
For those who can pull off more colourful shirts, a pink shirt will apparently increase your salary by £1,000 compared to your blue-shirted colleagues. I’m not quite sure about that, but I certainly don’t just stick to blue or white shirts.
Even in 1974, when Which? once again tested shirts, ‘men [were] escaping from the tyranny of white and doing for other colours to wear at work’. However, they don’t always go down well.
Sometimes you only learn your particular workplace’s dress code when you wear the wrong outfit. Homer Simpson was once sent to an asylum for wearing a pink shirt to work. And while my experience wasn’t quite that bad, lawyers at my firm once told me with a mixture of horror and disgust that clerks definitely do not wear City shirts to court.
Since that dark day a decade ago, I have made the most of the fitted kaleidoscope of shirts that is offered on Jermyn Street, London’s premier spot for shirts. So, as you may have gathered, I’m a fan of shirts. Are you?