Beyond London: Bivolino Shirts And Debenhams

Words by: Andrew Williams


When I left rural Norfolk and came to London to attend university my eyes were opened. I remember the first time I realised there were actually entire streets dedicated to tailors and shirts makers. At the time their names were alien to me. Today I can’t imagine not having these retailers at my disposal. But of course the majority of people don’t live in London, and when talking about clothing and tailoring it’s all too easy to fall into a London centric mentality. Not to mention partaking in a little petty snobbery. So what do you do if you live beyond the M25?

The obvious option is to turn to the internet and try your luck with the myriad of online tailors and shirt makers offering made to measure, semi-made to measure or customised off the peg.

I was recently given an opportunity to try out a new online service provided by UK high street department store Debenhams. Billed as made to measure, the service itself is provided by a Belgium based outfit which I was hitherto unaware of. The company has its own website but the advantage of going through a recognised retailer like a Debenhams is that you have both a point of contact and an element of reassurance -it’s their reputation on the line.


Prices are cloth and features dependent. The cloths start at £45 and rise to £59, coming in several grades of pure cotton. However, monograms, certain cuff and collar styles, as well as patterns on the collar stand add extra cost. In fact the range of choices offered is substantial; 50 fabric swatches; 10 different collar types; 5 different cuff choices, contrasting collars and cuffs, coloured buttons and stitching etc. The website is set up in such a way that you can play with designs without having to commit, and you can go backward and forwards at leisure. It’s all easy to operate and six views of your shirt allow you to check the details of each element.

The shirt is posted to you and comes in a protective plastic pouch

The only down side is a poor bit of web design whereby you click on a collar type and the details of size and spread appear in a caption box behind other collar styles. The collar is crucial for me and I want to know the height of the stand and other such details. The fact I had to go onto the Bivolino company’s website to check the details of each collar type was tedious. But that can and so should be fixed.

There are two reasons to spend the extra and invest in tailor made shirts, these are design and fit. With so many options you have plenty of opportunity to express yourself and get what you want. Even if, as in my own case, you just want a simple black shirt with no pocket (although I did opt for cocktail cuffs and high, rounded Lincoln collar). For those with an individual style this alone makes for an affordable and worthwhile option.

In terms of fit they use an uncomplicated and patented system called biometric sizing. First select your cut -classic, tailored or slim- and then as long as you provide an accurate height, weight, collar size and age they compute the rest. This biometric sizing technology apparently results in a return rate of only 3.8%. Having had bad experiences with other online tailoring options –who demanded many more measurements- I was prepared for the worst. However, I was actually pleasantly surprised by the fit of this shirt, including the sleeve length –often a problem.

Normally I’m pretty sceptical of these types of online tailoring options, but then that’s the London mentality coming out. There are a few things I’d change with regards to options available, but I regard this as a reasonably priced hassle free means of acquiring an individually styled shirt.

My trial of this service was free and I accepted the offer because I had nothing to lose. So the proof of the pudding is whether I’d be prepared to put my own money on the line. Well, I’ve just ordered myself another black shirt.