The Anatomy of a Decent Shirt

In my last post, I compiled a brief index of the Matt Smith dress shirts.

Pictured: A style icon

These shirts continue to enthrall and elude cosplayers at all levels. The eBay hunt for vintage Paul Smith continues to be cutthroat even now, more than ten years on. But one thing in particular has vexed us above all else:

The custom shirt.

In Series 5, Matt Smith wore primarily one of two Paul Smith “Scroll” shirts, but as costumer Ray Holman left the series and classic-era Doctor Who costumer Barbara Kidd came onboard starting with A Christmas Carol, a new look was ordered and his shirts became entirely custom-made by the wardrobe department.

This means none of the Series 6 shirts are purchasable. When Howard Burden joined the show in Series 7, he was told that he was allowed to switch up the Doctor’s look, so for the second half of Series 7 (which followed a brief hiatus), the purple frock was brought in and a few of these new shirts were made by Budd Shirtmakers – but others were also made in-house. Though most of those Budd shirts were discontinued many years ago, it’s conceivable that, if given a replica fabric, Budd might be amenable to a custom order (has anyone tried this? Drop a comment below if you have!). There is no hope of the BBC costume department doing the same for the shirts they made – which are some of his most iconic looks.

Over the years, a few Series 6/Series 7 custom shirt fabrics have popped up on other Paul Smith shirts, most notably the diamond dobby weave from Series 6 (like the one pictured left that I used to own). This appears to be simply a coincidence – the screen worn shirts have been confirmed made by the BBC costume department and the Paul Smith shirts’ details do not match the screen worn costumes at all (perhaps Paul Smith and the BBC simply source their shirtings from the same suppliers?). Despite this, the Utah, Snowmen, Bells of St. John, and Hide shirtings have all been found on Paul Smith shirts, either in the original or alternate colorways (maybe even more that have been kept a secret by their owners).

But this turns out to be a real boon for us cosplayers, as many entrepreneurial and creative cosplayers have worked to create both high quality Spoonflower prints of these fabrics or had them replicated from scratch. Much of this work would not have been possible without access to these Paul Smith releases.

But let’s say you are a discerning cosplayer and have purchased several yards of carefully rendered Spoonflower fabric or painstakingly rewoven replica cloth (or maybe you’ve been lucky enough to source vintage fabric!)… Now what? If you are a tailor, what pattern are you cutting these shirts to? If you are not a tailor, you must be even more precise as you give this fabric to someone else to tailor for you.

What do these custom shirts look like?

A project that has inspired me since my early years of cosplaying, this is one of the reasons I became a tailor in the first place! After many years of discussion about the pattern details with other cosplayers, research gathering, and test garments, I recently finally tackled this project with some cloth I’ve been keeping in deep storage. Most of this information has been verified with video and images, but some tiny details have been collected in good faith from people who have handled screen worn shirts over the years. I have hopefully made it clear when information is verified and when it is unverified or speculative.

Please allow me to walk you through the anatomy of the custom Matt Smith dress shirt. Let’s get nitty gritty. While many people have contributed to this information, I want to give special thanks to Daniel Pawlik and Ewan Anderson in particular – go give those guys a follow.

The Front Panels

The most easily observable part of the Smith dress shirt are the front panels, as they are on display for the majority of both Series 6 and Series 7 (both parts). Pretty standard fare here, it features a sewn-on button placket that is 1⅜” wide, topstitched on each side at ¼” (some blue pinpoint shirts appear to be stitched slightly wider than the others, nearing ⅜”, but this is probably more error than design). There does not appear to be any interfacing in the button placket, as it gently wrinkles and ripples in all incarnations (see reference above). Because there is no breast pocket, the six buttons down the front, sewn to a cut-on/fold-over button stand, complete the look.

The Collar

Here, the first of the unique touches emerge. Smith’s collar is known as a tab collar. Tab collars are a bit wider than some other classic collars, lengthening slightly to a gentle point with close-set, near-vertical front edges. This is intended to accommodate the collar tab, two bits of fabric that fasten together underneath a tie (or bow tie, as the case may be).

These tabs, a ubiquitous but often-overlooked feature of the Matt Smith Series 6 shirt, keep the collar snugly pulled into the neck (often creating a bowing effect, as observed on the blue pinpoint and Utah shirts in the above references). Even if you think some of the Series 6 shirts omitted these tabs, I promise you, they did not.

It is common for collar tabs to be sewn directly into the side seam of the collar and fastened with a button, like so:

But Smith’s collar tabs are a bit unique here. They are simply a length of cloth 1½” wide, with the short ends folded to meet in the center, then folded in half again to create a long strip ⅜” wide, closed by a single line of edge stitching and then folded in half once lengthwise, as I’ve replicated here:

As far as I am aware, there are no visual references for how these are installed into the shirt collar itself, but my understanding is that it looks something like this:

You would think this would be easily verified by looking at images of the collar, as surely this construction leaves marks on the upper collar – but the bow tie typically covers this area in images. Without any direct evidence, it is hard to confirm whether this is correct, though through what images we do have of this area, and with an understanding that it definitely is sewn into the undercollar somewhere, this seems to be as reasonable a guess as anyone can make. A small seam, possibly trimmed to ⅛” to minimize impressions on the upper collar, running perhaps near where one would traditionally install a collar stay, with the tab stitched into it, must exist.

These tabs fasten together, usually left-over-right, with small nickel-plated snaps, like these made by Dritz in size 3/0, likely available at your local craft store.

Despite all this fuss about collar tabs, a few 7b custom jobs do actually omit them. The Snowmen, Cold War/Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS, and The Bells of St. John all notably feature production-made shirts sans collar tabs, though in each case the collar appears otherwise unchanged.

The rest of the collar is pretty standard fare. The tip is about 2¾” long from stand to point, around 2″ or so are visible in back connected by a gentle curve, with a slightly taller-than-average collar stand to accommodate at 1½” wide. These are interfaced with a piece of white cotton muslin sewn in (not ironed on) and topstitched into place at ¼” on the collar and ⅛” on the stand. The collar on the Snowmen shirt appears to be a slight exception with a much narrower topstitch, probably close to ⅛” .

The Back

The back of Matt Smith’s shirts are what really give the luxurious touch to the custom cut.

A few behind-the-scenes photos reveal that the button placket in the front of the shirt is mirrored by a lovely, slightly narrower 1¼” box pleat in the back. This box pleat is topstitched flat at ¼”, but is not sewn down to the shirt back itself (as I demonstrate below on my replica). There are also two sets of darts tapering the waist for that lovely bespoke silhouette. Pattern matching reveals these darts each to be ½” wide, removing 2″ from the waistline of the pattern (it is common to see darts remove as much as 4″ from a waistline, so Matt’s create a gentler silhouette). The dart height appears to change from shirt to shirt, though traditionally darts begin right under the shoulder blades and run down the back until they open up again at the hips.

The yoke of the shirt sits rather high – typical for a formal dress shirt like this (the longer the yoke, the sportier the shirt – the shorter the yoke, the dressier). It’s impossible to know exactly how short it is without an original in hand (or better images) but mine is slightly under 3½” from the neckline to the box pleat at the center back. The yoke is also topstitched at ¼” at the shoulders and back panel seam.

A dress shirt will traditionally have at least 1″ of ease added to the area where the yoke meets the back panel, typically in the form of knife pleats or gathers over the shoulder blades, or a box pleat that vanishes after a few inches (you undoubtedly have purchased dress shirts with similar features). This allows for ease of movement in the wearer. For a shirt to be perfectly aligned like this along the yoke/back panel seam, adjustments must be made in the armscye and sleeve.

The Sleeves

Well-fitted sleeves also betray the bespoke nature of these shirts.

Not too slim, but neither baggy, these shirts feature a fairly typical one-piece sleeve. Flat-felled seams at the armscye (topstitched at ¼”, as usual), with the sleevecap eased at the shoulder, and two pleats folding into the cuff. The pleats open toward the sleeve placket on the tower side and lie rather near it. In fact, on the blue pinpoint, the pleats appear to touch the tower (see left), though this is not identical across all shirts.

The sleeve placket itself is of standard length and features a triangular fold at the top. There is no button in the sleeve placket.

Smith’s shirts, lacking ease under the yoke, appear to have a relatively small armscye – bringing the armscye up close to the armpit allows more freedom of movement in the arms – something Smith would definitely need, given the volume of stunt work involved in the show. Perhaps the best look at sleeve fit can be observed in Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS as the bulk of the episode is spent coatless.

Promo pics from Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS appear to confirm that these shirts had the sleeves and sides sewn together as one seam, instead of installing the sleeves after seaming the front and back panels together (as featured on Capaldi’s white soyella Budd shirt). This is a traditional method of construction and is much easier to execute than installing the sleeves afterward. It is accomplished by flat-felling the sleeve to the armscye, then running one long flat-felled seam (topstitched down at ¼”) from the cuff to the hemline.

The sleeves plackets on the French cuff shirts are different, simply folded over and sewn down like a rolled hem with no tower, and appear a bit longer than the mitered cuff plackets. French cuffs typically require a roomier sleeve than a single cuff, and this appears to have been accomplished by shallowing the pleats (possibly even by eliminating one pleat entirely).

The Cuffs

Matt Smith’s custom dress shirts feature a mitered cuff.

These are also interfaced with sew-in cotton muslin and are topstitched at our usual ¼” inset or slightly narrower. Cuff length itself is 2¾”. French cuffs appear to have a folded length slightly longer at 3⅛”.

The Snowmen and Bells of St. John shirts (below) feature French cuffs in place of these miters with some kind of vintage or custom gold cufflink. They feature a rounded corner.

The Cold War/Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS shirt seems to be notable as the only custom shirt without collar tabs that includes a mitered cuff.

The Hem

Another unusual touch for the Matt Smith dress shirt, the shirt is hemmed with a ½” flat, folded hem instead of a traditional rolled hem (and I don’t blame the shirtmakers – a flat hem is a hell of a lot easier!). This is never observed onscreen to my knowledge, but can be seen in this old Instagram post from madmanboxpod (whose page appears – sadly – to have been removed).

And finally, to finish it off:

The Buttons

Matt Smith’s mitered shirts all feature the same buttons.

They are 18L, 1½mm thick, flat, single-rimmed, mother-of-pearl buttons. These buttons are not easy to find in the accurate thickness (most online places don’t sell under 2mm), but they add such an exquisite cherry to the top of your shirt that they are worth tracking down. Nine buttons are needed to complete a shirt – 1 for the collar, 6 down the front, and 2 for the cuffs. As mentioned earlier, the sleeve plackets do not feature buttons.

The buttons also offer one of my favorite eccentricities of the Series 6 shirt – the unique way they are sewn.

It is common to see one of two button thread arrangements: Parallel or crossed – or as I like to think of them, the = sign or the + sign.

For the Series 6 shirt, the parallel option was chosen… but the buttons were rotated as if they would be sewn crosswise. The result:

They’re all sideways! Why is this?? I have absolutely no idea but it delights me. Somebody in the BBC costume department woke up day after day after day and chose chaos every single time. Chef’s kiss.

Unfortunately, by Series 7b this was changed. Both the Hide and the Cold War/Journey shirts use the same buttons but they are sewn crosswise. How basic.

The Snowmen and Bells shirts have different buttons on them, thicker with an embossing and no rim, sewn crosswise (does that Bells button have only one line of stitching on it??).

These do appear to be the same button style on both, though it is difficult to verify with the current reference images.

Beyond this, there are six buttons down the front of the shirt. The first button sits relatively high at only 1½” below the collar stand. Thanks to a particularly clear high res of the Utah shirt, we can determine with certainty that the buttons were spaced exactly 12½ diamonds apart from each other, or 3¾”. This spacing appears to be at least relatively consistent across all the shirts.

We also catch the smallest glimpse of the final buttonhole oriented horizontally (left). This is not totally unusual in fine shirtmaking, but it is not particularly common either, and is a neat detail to include if you are already going through all this effort.

And with that, I think this deep dive into the Smith shirt is complete! As mentioned earlier, I recently tackled this project myself with fabric I had been storing for many years, and I have to admit I am pleased with the results!

How did I do? Did I miss anything in this analysis or my sewing? Drop a comment and let me know!

Did you know you can purchase the same replica Hide bow tie I have from Time and Space Replicas? The quality is unmatched – a must-have for 7b cosplayers!

If you enjoyed this post and would like to support me, consider buying me a coffee to say thank you!


About Alex

Alex is an American singer, actor, writer, tailor. He likes to cosplay between contracts in his Big Boy Job as a cruise line entertainer, traveling the world while singing.
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2 Responses to The Anatomy of a Decent Shirt

  1. Pingback: A Decent Shirt – The Smith Shirt Index | The Ginger Doctor

  2. Dapper Warlock says:

    I can actually make out the distinct seams of a tower on that Snowmen sleeve, and from checking other images I’m certain the shirt actually has them. The thing that confuses me about that is that Bob Mitsch sews the sleeves on his replica shirts for his Etsy page in the way you described… even for the mitered cuff shirts, which definitely SHOULD have a tower. He claims his shirts are “based on patterns of a screen-worn shirt,” which is vague enough to mean next to nothing, but there’s the slim possibility he got his hands on the Bells shirt, and only THAT one has its sleeves constructed that way, and there’s just no footage that can show that for certain. I certainly don’t know where he’d get the notion to sew them that way otherwise, as towerless sleeves are pretty much unheard of in my experience.

    Though as an aside, the shirts I got from Bob were back in late 2020 and early 2021, so he may have updated his pattern since this was posted.

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