Wardrobe upgrade: the perfect, custom made shirt

A man starts off life by having his clothes bought for him. In time he begins to buy them for himself ‘off the rack’. And then there’s a fork in the road. When it’s encountered some chaps opt to return to the beginning and have their clothes bought for them. Others decide to continue to self-indulge, a journey that oft sees them pursue greater fineries. For such men, bespoke pieces are not just something of the ultimate, sartorial luxury, but when first indulged in bespoke pieces are also a rite of passage.

Adding to their lustre, bespoke pieces were for a long time out of the reach of many. With the rise of the fashion label and all that it brought with it, bespoke suits became less coveted, custom made shirts almost unheard of. As it has done with so many other things, the rise of new media and e-commerce has changed all that. Now bespoke is firmly back on in the fashion forwards’ conscious, replacing the too often talked about ‘label’. And something else has cropped up in the middle, something that has always existed but was never as easily accessible: made-to-measure. The internet is now full of sites offering each of us the ‘tailored’ experience, with suits and shirts of all varieties offered at prices far cheaper than other custom offerings and sometimes cheaper than the high-street’s offerings.

But cheap doesn’t necessarily mean good. And made to measure don’t always convey quality. So with men everywhere at risk of buying made-to-measure shirts that make them look the fool, Fashionising.com has set out to help find the perfect shirts to go along with the perfect suit. Because we’re that nice.

After the break you’ll find my thoughts on getting the best shirts possible, along with a review of the best clothiers from which to get them.

made to measure shirt review

Made to measure shirts: what they’re not

We have to clear it up, here and now. If you’re buying a custom shirt online then the odds are it’s not a tailored shirt. At all. Tailored shirts imply that there’s a tailor involved. That means that a tailor doesn’t only do precsiely what you request down to the smallest detail, nor that they also cut the cloth and use years of acquired skill to stitch the various pieces together, but also that a tailor measures you for the shirt. And online, that’s not going to happen. It’s likely that you’re going to be standing there in your underwear measuring yourself (if that read rude I’d like to take this opportunity to say that you have a dirty mind, congratulations). So while you’ll see ‘tailored shirt’ written on just about every online, custom shirt store, don’t for a moment think that’s what you’re actually getting.

Instead, you’ll be receiving a made to measure shirt. It’ll be made to your specifications, and be detailed with a number of the options that caught your eye. But each of those personalisations will come from a list that you’ve selected from, not a whim that you’ve communicated and a tailor has made reality.

So as we move on, keep it firmly in mind: we’re reviewing made to measure shirts. And it won’t be a tailor that does the measuring.

How to: the art of the made to measure shirt

Buying the perfect made to measure shirt might seem as easy as hitting up a search engine and punching in a few select phrases. But it’s not. While there are a lot of stores selling quality custom shirts, there are an equal number who are selling shirts cut from a cloth whose quality is akin to a dishrag. “Oh it’s meant to have that oily, brown stain,” they’ll tell you when you ask their customer service department as to why they’ve sold you something that looks nothing like what was described. That is, of course, if they even have a customer service department to begin with.

How, then, to get exactly what you want? Here’s what I personally found while reviewing many an online shirt store.

Start with the right foundation.

Transitioning from ‘off the rack’ shirts to made to measure shirts is a step. One that is in the right direction, but one that I wouldn’t recommend you take until you already have what I see as the required foundational piece in your wardrobe: the perfect shirt.

Yes, you’re trying to buy a perfect, made to measure shirt. But no, I don’t believe you can do that until you already know what the perfect shirt is for you personally. For all my shirt purchases I started with my favourite shirt; a blue and white gingham Tom Ford shirt. As far as shirts go it fits perfectly, and sits and wears precisely as I’d want a shirt to.

Decide what your perfect shirt is in terms of fit and sit, and use it as the foundation for the measurements you’ll provide to the online shirt makers. If you don’t yet have a favourite or perfect shirt, I’d recommend you hit the high street until you find it.

Don’t look for cheap: look for cheaper (if you must).

There are a lot of custom shirt stores who’ll try and catch your with with a cheap price. But remember: the aim is to look your best, not your cheapest. So ignore the base prices; these often connote the cheapest available fabric without any of the flourishes that will personalise your shirt. Instead look for the made to measure shirt maker who offers something in your budget and who can tell you something about the quality of the cloth.

For instance, a number of the shirt makers I frequented offered shirts in cloth from Thomas Mason. Thomas Mason is an English maker of shirtings whose cloth is now milled in Italy. Despite the cross border operations, their cloth is top notch. When reviewing who you’ll spend your money with, look for this kind of distinction as the quality of the shirt’s cloth can be equally as important as its measurements.

Avoid the pre-designed shirts.

I assume they do it for inspiration, but a lot of made to measure shirt makers will allow you to buy a pre-designed shirt. Honestly, I don’t see the point. Going to the effort of purchasing something made to measure is about having something that is perfectly you, both in terms of fit but also in terms of design. So avoid the genericness.

Cloth books sound great, but aren’t necessarily.

Most of the shirt stores you frequent will offer you a ‘cloth book’, whereby they’ll mail you a few select cuttings of cloth so you can feel the quality for yourself. In theory it’s a great idea, but unless you’re looking for a cloth that is rather extreme (I was in search of the perfect white shirt), you probably won’t get that much from them. You’ll get a slight feel for its quality, but you’ll still be in the dark about how it’ll wear and wash. If you don’t have an eye for thread count and cloth quality, stick to the names you can trust as described in point 2.

Look at the customer service policy.

You’re ordering a custom shirt, if it doesn’t fit perfectly you don’t want to be in a position where you don’t end up wearing it. So ensure that before you order you check each store’s customer service / returns policy to ensure that you’re comfortable with it. While most won’t accept a return (they’ve custom made you a shirt after all), a lot will work with you to alter an ill-fitting shirt to get it just right for you.

Order one shirt at a time.

Honestly, if there’s anything I learned it’s that you should order one shirt at a time from each manufacturer. You’re having these made to measure, and if one measurement is out then your multiple shirts are all wrong. Instead, order a sole shirt at a time and progressively perfect your measurements through repeat orders.

Made to measure shirt makers: the reviews

Below you’ll find a summary of several of the made-to-measure shirt manufacturers that we road tested and whose quality we would recommend (there were several whose shirts we opted not to feature).

Individual reviews of each made to measure manufacturer will be posted shortly, and this piece will be updated to link you through to those updates.

Tailor Store

Based in

Sweden

Produced in

Sri Lanka

Produces

Tailor Store offers all manner of made-to-measure men’s goods including shirts, polo shirts, chino pants, shorts and underwear. For review purposes we’ve focussed solely on their made-to-measure shirts

Shirt options

196 fabrics plus contrast-detail cloths, 9 collar styles, 32 buttons, plus a host of slighter personalisations

Style

With 196 different cloths and a good selection of buttons and collars, you could design just about every style from the corporate to the brash

Worth noting

They do make women’s made to measure shirts as well

Full review

Online shortly

Visit

Nialma

Based in

Australia

Produced in

Hong Kong

Produces

Shirts and a few knotted cufflinks

Shirt options

298 fabrics, 9 collar styles, 9 cuff styles and a small selection of other personalisations

Style

With so many fabrics you can design everything from the corporate to the whimsical, and the 9 collar styles on offer include the likes of the rounded club collar and a rather sharp cutaway. In short: just about any style and any occasion is covered

Worth noting

NiAlma cleverly offer three ‘labels’ which communicate the quality of the fabric you’re buying. Classic offers a 2-ply cotton from Japan, Premium an Italian fabric produced by Ferno, and Black Label offers a Thomas Mason cloth

Full review

Visit

Shirts My Way

Based in

China

Produced in

China

Produces

Shirts

Shirt options

They claim over 7 trillion customisations which betrays the true details: 60 different fabrics, 7 collars, and 7 cuffs

Style

Shirts My Way offers the odd casual cloth but certainly leans towards offering their customers corporate and day shirts

Worth noting

Constantly refreshes their fabrics with seasonal offerings; a great option for refreshing your wardrobe throughout the year should you decide to offer them repeat custom

Full review

Visit

Deo Veritas

Based in

Chicago

Produced in

Hong Kong

Produces

Shirts and a few accessories

Shirt options

79 fabrics, 6 collar styles, 6 cuff styles plus a basic offering of other personalisations

Style

From sleek to corporate-professional, but without anything whimsical, Deo Veritas offer a concise collection of potentially crisp looks

Worth noting

Offers cloth sourced from Italy’s Tessitura Monti, the Anglo-Italian Thomas Mason and source their entry-level cloth from Japan

Full review

Online shortly

Visit

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Author

Written by .

He was 5 when his teacher wrote on his report card “Daniel can’t sit still.” Taking it as a compliment, he’s been on the go ever since. Having flown over 590,000 kilometres in a single year (2012), he’s done much to push the boundaries of a fashioniser, always looking to fold one extra Tom Ford suit into his set of Samsonite cases and for one extra occasion to tie a tie for. As much an editor-at-large as he is Fashionising.com’s Editor-in-chief, when he's not travelling to all the fashion weeks his passports will allow him to, Daniel works on guiding this publication’s editorial and trend views. He is one of Fashionising.com’s co-founders.

He can be followed on Facebook and on Instagram.