Tailored Shirts at Off-the-rack Prices
The most versatile item in your wardrobe can now also now be the most flattering.
A traditional off-the-rack men's dress shirt is made to fit a statistically average man, which means it only kinda fits everyone poorly -- and no one perfectly. Custom shirts are made in an intricate process that takes a long time and a lot of money.
Made-to-order lies somewhere between off-the-rack and custom -- made from an existing shirt that's customized to fit your measurements. Assuming you don't have a hump or Brock Lesnar's guns, this is the way to find the best fit possible for a reasonable price. Turnbull & Asser, Ascot Chang, and Roger Charles are a few of our favorite made-to-order shirt brands. Here are four quality factors to look for among the best of 'em:
Of course, the first step in buying a tailored shirt is getting the right fit. We're talking about a comfortable 1/2-inch in the collar, a sleeve that stops right at the bone of your wrist, and shoulders that don't droop.
Choosing your fabric gives you flexibility. Broadcloth, also known as poplin, will give you the most bang for your buck. A shirt made of this smooth, strong, textured fabric is among the best buys at any price, but it happens to be surprisingly affordable. All the brands above offer shirts in this fabric at a range between $180 and $200.
Ask for fabric with 20 to 21 stitches per inch. Though you won't be able to discern this with the naked eye, it will be stronger and more densely sewn -- and asking for it will show your tailor that you're looking for good-quality merchandise. Also ask for two-ply threading (two threads twisted around each other), which creates a sturdier -- but more flexible -- fabric for greater strength and a longer-lasting tailored shirt.
Beyond the cloth, construction is paramount. We're talking about how they assemble the shirt from its component parts, including the sleeves, cuffs, buttons, collar and cuffs. A poorly sewn shirt will lose its buttons, have threads unravel, and won't have a seamless look about it. If the sewing isn't done well, the stitching is going to give and it's going to fall apart in the wash … or on your back.
"Unless you have a housekeeper who can baby the wonderful shirt made by hand in Milan, you should opt for a sturdy machine-made shirt. Otherwise, it'll never survive the laundry," says Robert Gillotte, senior manager at New York City's renowned tailored shirt shop, Turnbull & Asser, which uses machines operated by craftsmen trained in the company's 125-year tradition.
Finally, look at the details. One of the major complaints of a cheap shirt construction is that it doesn't allow for shrinkage in the collar. So ask for at least an extra 1/2-inch in the collar in your tailored shirt, which is standard at Turnbull & Asser. Also ask to feel the collar's lining; it should be soft and comfortable. It should also appear flat -- not lumpy or puckered in any way.
Keep in mind the classic rule: A guy should have at least 10 shirts if he's wearing one to work every day. This allows for one trip a week to the laundry, without having to go more than once a week. A good tailored shirt can last 10 years, and if you avoid using starch and wear it only once every two weeks, you will extend the life of the garment.
Aim for your shirt to outlive you! Let's face it: If you get one of these babies, it's gonna have more personality.
Michael Rovner has written for Vogue, Esquire, and Details. He has been on staff at WWD, Star Magazine and Life & Style. He has also covered fashion and style for the New York Post and The New York Times magazine.
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