Custom Shirting

June 23rd, 2002


Besides the individualization of its styling, the advantages of the custom-made dress shirt over one that is ready-to-wear can be found in its precise fit as well as the superior quality and taste of its fabrics. The most visible and important component of the dress shirt is its collar, and the bespoke process allows for one that is designed to best present the wearer’s face. The fit of the dress shirt’s cuff to the wearer’s hand, its second most noticeable detail, is another area where the custom route is decidedly the higher of the two roads.
In choosing a shirt maker, you must inquire about what process he will use to produce your shirt. The maker should begin by creating an individual pattern from which he makes a sample shirt. having been worn and washed several times at home, the shirt should be examined on your body for final approval or further altering. After those washings, the collar should fit comfortably while still allowing for some shrinkage. The shirtsleeve should still be long enough to show ½” of cuff from under the jacket sleeve and also have enough length to offset further shrinkage.
If cut from a stock pattern rather than an individual pattern, the shirt is not custom-made. In some cases, if you are a standard fit, the shirt might require little adjustment, but it would be inaccurate to call it bespoke. Shirts deserving to be called custom-made cost $150 and up and should be made from thirty-six-inch-width, 100 percent cotton, two-ply cloth. This is easy enough to determine. Ask the salesman to show you a bolt of the fabric and ask him to measure its width. Since fabric woven in this old-world width is always two-ply, this is a fail-safe checkpoint. Thirty-six-inch narrow-width shirting fabrics are made on Europe’s older, slower looms, which produce a luxurious cloth of richer colors and hand than the fabric will feel even silkier with wear. As long as the shirt’s fabric is woven in either Switzerland or Italy, you are assured of a finished product of deluxe caliber.
To confirm a shirt’s pedigree, you must establish the shirt’s level of sewing artistry and manufacturing skill. The entire shirt, including its side seams, should be sewn with a single needle. This construction allows for the smallest stitches, the narrowest seam, and the most meticulous finishing. The shirt’s side seam should be precisely narrow and the individual stitches on its collar so small as to be almost invisible. The collar so small as to be almost invisible. The collar and cuff lining should be cotton (not fused) and from Europe. Switzerland makes the best. The yoke on the back of a custom shirt should be made of two separate pieces joined in the center and the button should be genuine mother-of-pearl and attached by hand. If there is a monogram, it too should be hand-embroidered as opposed to machine-made.

If the answers to these areas of investigation are satisfactory, you can be assured of receiving a top-quality product and should be prepared to pay $150 to $300, depending on the country where it is bought and any extras and collars. Choose to have the shirt’s excess fabric set aside rather than made into a finished collar. If you lost or put on weight, it’s better to have fabric on hand. The costs can also vary according to the quality of two-ply cotton fabric used, which can range from 100s up to the very expensive, silk like 220s.
Of course, all thing being equal, the cost of the bespoke dress shirt ultimately rests on the genius of its pattern and the nuances of its fit. However, there are some aspects of shirt making that do separate the masters from the top makers. These details include special gussets to reinforce the shirt’s side seams where they meet at the hem bottom, pattern matching on the back yoke to the sleeve, hand-sewn buttonholes (found only in Europe), horizontal sleeve placket buttonholes, and extra-thick mother-of-pearl buttons.
All of the above quality the product as custom-made. Below this, there are a variety of methods of individualized shirt making that are often called custom-made. Obviously, this term stands for a specific process of creating a particular shirt with an attendant quality of shirting fabric and shirt making. Make-to-order, individually cut, and made-to-measure are all terms that indicate something less than custom-made, and that is why they need to be understood if one is to compare apples with apples. If you pay less than $150 for a dress shirt and it is represented as being comparable to the top-of-the-heap bespoke ones, something is amiss. That is not to say that a custom-made shirt will always look better than a less expensive garment. A well-designed ready-to-wear shirt can look more flattering than a bespoke one with a poorly designed collar. As with all wearing apparel, design, not quality, is the ultimate arbiter of stylish longevity.

From Style and The Man by Alan Flusser

  

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