My New Pajamas
I came home from Beijing last night and brought back with me a new set of pajamas I had made while I was there. Beijing is huge (one of the biggest cities I’ve been to) and there must be hundreds of tailors in the capital. I talked to about seven. One was from Hong Kong and seemed fairly skilled, but he was expensive and very backed up. Others were cheap (one only charged $20 for a custom-made shirt) and could turn things around quickly, but I had much less confidence in their work. I finally settled on a tailor that was located just a couple of miles from where I was staying. He mainly made custom suits and shirts, but said he could turnaround a pair of pajamas for me in two days for about $100. 
The results are a bit mixed. On the downside, the stitching is mediocre. A well made garment should have a high stitches-per-inch count, but of course, this slows down the production, so many tailors opt for something faster and less refined. The pajamas are also made with a basic seam instead of a flat felled seam, which is cleaner looking and more durable. The fabric could also probably be a bit better. On the upside, however, I have pajamas that actually fit and I was able to design them as I liked. I sketched out the collar and pockets, told the tailor where I wanted the white trimming, and picked out the fabric and buttons.
I’ve been waffling over whether I think this was a good purchase, but after finally sleeping in them last night, I’ve decided that I like them. Off-the-rack pajamas don’t fit me, and custom made ones in the States are way out of my budget, so this is a good compromise. It seems to me that a place like Beijing is great for these sorts of things. If you find yourself in need of a custom shirt, for example, and have a limited budget, you could get some made in Beijing if you’re ever in that region of the world. The workmanship won’t be amazing (unless you go to one of the higher-end Hong Kong tailors), but you’ll be able to get a decently fitting garment for a reasonable price. Just try to bring your own fabrics.

My New Pajamas

I came home from Beijing last night and brought back with me a new set of pajamas I had made while I was there. Beijing is huge (one of the biggest cities I’ve been to) and there must be hundreds of tailors in the capital. I talked to about seven. One was from Hong Kong and seemed fairly skilled, but he was expensive and very backed up. Others were cheap (one only charged $20 for a custom-made shirt) and could turn things around quickly, but I had much less confidence in their work. I finally settled on a tailor that was located just a couple of miles from where I was staying. He mainly made custom suits and shirts, but said he could turnaround a pair of pajamas for me in two days for about $100. 

The results are a bit mixed. On the downside, the stitching is mediocre. A well made garment should have a high stitches-per-inch count, but of course, this slows down the production, so many tailors opt for something faster and less refined. The pajamas are also made with a basic seam instead of a flat felled seam, which is cleaner looking and more durable. The fabric could also probably be a bit better. On the upside, however, I have pajamas that actually fit and I was able to design them as I liked. I sketched out the collar and pockets, told the tailor where I wanted the white trimming, and picked out the fabric and buttons.

I’ve been waffling over whether I think this was a good purchase, but after finally sleeping in them last night, I’ve decided that I like them. Off-the-rack pajamas don’t fit me, and custom made ones in the States are way out of my budget, so this is a good compromise. It seems to me that a place like Beijing is great for these sorts of things. If you find yourself in need of a custom shirt, for example, and have a limited budget, you could get some made in Beijing if you’re ever in that region of the world. The workmanship won’t be amazing (unless you go to one of the higher-end Hong Kong tailors), but you’ll be able to get a decently fitting garment for a reasonable price. Just try to bring your own fabrics.

My Pajama Project

I’m visiting Beijing for a week and while I’m there, I’m hoping to get two or three pairs of pajamas made for me to take back home. I’m a really lean guy, and although pajamas are meant to fit a bit full, I’ve never been able to find a pair that didn’t make me look ridiculous. Which is why I’m hoping to find a tailor who will make them for me while I’m in China. 

In my mind, the perfect pair of pajamas has a shirt with curved collar points, satin piped edges, and three patch pockets - two at the hips and one at the breast. The pants have a button fly and flat draw-cord waistband. The draw-cord should be in the same color as the satin piping. Silk wears a bit warm, so I think cotton is better. The colors should be like a man’s shirt, either light blue or white, and in a solid color or with simple Bengal stripes. 

You see these kinds of pajamas worn by Cary Grant, Paul Newman, and Rock Hudson in many of the old, Hollywood classics. Jimmy Stewart, in fact, played a whole film wearing almost nothing but pajamas. And they all looked great. Sure maybe they’re not things you wear out to the world, but you’ll appreciate them while you’re at home, lounging around and reading a book, and that’s what counts.

To get something like this made in the US can be extremely expensive (around $500, depending on the fabric and tailor). If you’re lucky enough to not be shaped like a twig, you can get really nice pajamas from Brooks Brothers, J PressO’Connell’s, and Derek Rose for a fraction of that cost. Custom made ones in the US are way too expensive for me, and off-the-rack versions don’t fit, so hopefully my pajama project in Beijing will pan out. 

“Many people still associate Chinese-made product with inferior quality, just as Japanese electronics were once considered junk, but those of us who have actually visited facilities in China know that they are not far off from the potential of eclipsing Italy in terms of production of quality garments.” —  Jeffery Diduch
“I need some help finding a durable, comfortable pair of summer shoes. As to whether they should be fashionable: I dress like a rich hobo — fitted terry cloth jackets; flowing, baggy jewel-tone silk tunics; baggy, pleated, high waisted pants in cottons and silks, frayed shantung cravattes with wing collared shirts, earthy linens — yet my color tone is very muted, for the most part. Normally, I wear alligators loafers or patent oxfords or opera pumps, but this summer I’ll be walking extensively along the Great Wall, and I need a more practical shoe suggestion.”

A reader who has just set the gold standard for Put This On questions. If you can’t meet this standard, I’m not sure you should even type “contact@putthison.com” into your email “to” field. In fact, I may shut down this blog, because this question is so amazing that there is nowhere else to go.

(PS: My suggestions were jodhpur boots or desert combat boots.)

Modern Tailor: First (and Second) Impressions
A month or two ago, the Chinese made-to-measure operation Modern Tailor offered a special introductory offer: a basic oxford shirt for $19.95. I jumped at the opportunity to try out the overseas, internet-based MTM experience. I’ve finally got my shirts in hand, and thought I’d offer a quick review of the process and product.
The Status Quo
Most of my shirts come from one of two sources: the New York made-to-measure operation CEGO or the thrift store. At CEGO, Carl Goldberg (who runs the joint) measured me in person, and offered me an array of fabrics, including both bolts and swatches. He’s a genuine expert, whose advice is immensely valuable. When I order from him, I know what I’m getting, but the prices are (by my modest standards) steep. Shirts usually end up costing around $150 - an amount I could best afford when I had a small wardrobe budget for my TV show.
Thrift store shirts are much cheaper, of course, but they have their own problems. Fit is iffy, even with alterations, and you have to take what you find, style-wise. It can be difficult to build a basic wardrobe through thrifting.
My hope was that online made-to-measure might fill the gap, especially for the readers who write me with difficulty finding any off-the-rack shirts that fit. The answer? Yes. It might.
The Process
I found the ordering process at Modern Tailor simple and clear. I grabbed a shirt that fit me well (one of my CEGO oxfords) and took measurements from that with a seamstress’ tape. Input was easy, and my order was processed very promptly. Too promptly, as it turned out - I realized a few hours after clicking “send” that I had forgotten to account for shrinkage.
Customer service at MT was extremely helpful. They tried to correct my order, but it had already gone into production, and they instead offered to send me the shirt in production for free, and allow me to adjust measurements for the three shirts I ordered on that basis. Shipping was prompt (took about two weeks, total).
The shirt, when it arrived, had all kinds of problems. The fabric wasn’t what I’d expected. An oxford, yes, but a very, very lightweight one, almost untextured. This is, of course, the kind of problem one can reasonably expect from online - if you don’t have the fabric in hand, you can’t judge it well. (Modern Tailor does offer a swatch book, which comes with some coupons, for $25.)
The sizing was badly off. I’m not sure if it was my measurements, laundry shrinkage or a manufacturing mistake - my guess is a mix of the former two - but it was simply unwearable. Customer service at Modern Tailor was happy to wait for adjusted measurements, though, and I finally found time to make the appropriate changes.
The final shirts were made promptly thereafter, but were apparently held at the post office for a few weeks. My mailman never left initial notice (they require signature on delivery), and only left a second notice after Modern Tailor inquired as to why the package hadn’t been delivered.
The Product
You can see the results above. The pattern still needs some tweaking - it’s tight in the shoulders and the waist. (Unflatteringly so in the waist… that I posted it on the internet is a sign of my commitment to you, the reader.) There are also things an in-person shirtmaker can account for, like shoulder pitch and posture, that are tough to impossible for online to handle, even when measuring from a perfectly-fitting shirt.
The cuffs have a stiff interlining that I’m not crazy about. The mother-of-pearl buttons (an extra couple bucks a shirt) are quite nice. The shirts, as they are, are very wearable and were a bargain at $20. Would I buy them regularly at the standard $60 price point? What about $100 or $150 for premium fabrics? I’d have to consider it.
The Bottom Line
There are people for whom it’s very difficult to buy clothes that fit off the rack. The very tall, the very thin, the very thick, the lopsided. Some of those folks can afford to consult with an expert shirtmaker - and I recommend that those do. For those who can’t afford it, online custom is a reasonable substitute.
The process is fraught with challenges. You’re not a professional measurer. You may not have a shirt to measure from. Shirts may vary in manufacture. It’s tough to judge fabrics without experienced advice and in-person evaluation. These are smaller problems in shirts than they are in suits (witness the disastrous online MTM tailored clothes that show up every day on the clothing fora), but they’re significant problems nonetheless. The end result of all this is that it’s more of an adventure than a luxury. I’d certainly send a friend to CEGO before I’d send them to Modern Tailor.
That said: I think there is a place for this kind of operation for those with developed taste and specific needs, but slim bankrolls.

Modern Tailor: First (and Second) Impressions

A month or two ago, the Chinese made-to-measure operation Modern Tailor offered a special introductory offer: a basic oxford shirt for $19.95. I jumped at the opportunity to try out the overseas, internet-based MTM experience. I’ve finally got my shirts in hand, and thought I’d offer a quick review of the process and product.

The Status Quo

Most of my shirts come from one of two sources: the New York made-to-measure operation CEGO or the thrift store. At CEGO, Carl Goldberg (who runs the joint) measured me in person, and offered me an array of fabrics, including both bolts and swatches. He’s a genuine expert, whose advice is immensely valuable. When I order from him, I know what I’m getting, but the prices are (by my modest standards) steep. Shirts usually end up costing around $150 - an amount I could best afford when I had a small wardrobe budget for my TV show.

Thrift store shirts are much cheaper, of course, but they have their own problems. Fit is iffy, even with alterations, and you have to take what you find, style-wise. It can be difficult to build a basic wardrobe through thrifting.

My hope was that online made-to-measure might fill the gap, especially for the readers who write me with difficulty finding any off-the-rack shirts that fit. The answer? Yes. It might.

The Process

I found the ordering process at Modern Tailor simple and clear. I grabbed a shirt that fit me well (one of my CEGO oxfords) and took measurements from that with a seamstress’ tape. Input was easy, and my order was processed very promptly. Too promptly, as it turned out - I realized a few hours after clicking “send” that I had forgotten to account for shrinkage.

Customer service at MT was extremely helpful. They tried to correct my order, but it had already gone into production, and they instead offered to send me the shirt in production for free, and allow me to adjust measurements for the three shirts I ordered on that basis. Shipping was prompt (took about two weeks, total).

The shirt, when it arrived, had all kinds of problems. The fabric wasn’t what I’d expected. An oxford, yes, but a very, very lightweight one, almost untextured. This is, of course, the kind of problem one can reasonably expect from online - if you don’t have the fabric in hand, you can’t judge it well. (Modern Tailor does offer a swatch book, which comes with some coupons, for $25.)

The sizing was badly off. I’m not sure if it was my measurements, laundry shrinkage or a manufacturing mistake - my guess is a mix of the former two - but it was simply unwearable. Customer service at Modern Tailor was happy to wait for adjusted measurements, though, and I finally found time to make the appropriate changes.

The final shirts were made promptly thereafter, but were apparently held at the post office for a few weeks. My mailman never left initial notice (they require signature on delivery), and only left a second notice after Modern Tailor inquired as to why the package hadn’t been delivered.

The Product

You can see the results above. The pattern still needs some tweaking - it’s tight in the shoulders and the waist. (Unflatteringly so in the waist… that I posted it on the internet is a sign of my commitment to you, the reader.) There are also things an in-person shirtmaker can account for, like shoulder pitch and posture, that are tough to impossible for online to handle, even when measuring from a perfectly-fitting shirt.

The cuffs have a stiff interlining that I’m not crazy about. The mother-of-pearl buttons (an extra couple bucks a shirt) are quite nice. The shirts, as they are, are very wearable and were a bargain at $20. Would I buy them regularly at the standard $60 price point? What about $100 or $150 for premium fabrics? I’d have to consider it.

The Bottom Line

There are people for whom it’s very difficult to buy clothes that fit off the rack. The very tall, the very thin, the very thick, the lopsided. Some of those folks can afford to consult with an expert shirtmaker - and I recommend that those do. For those who can’t afford it, online custom is a reasonable substitute.

The process is fraught with challenges. You’re not a professional measurer. You may not have a shirt to measure from. Shirts may vary in manufacture. It’s tough to judge fabrics without experienced advice and in-person evaluation. These are smaller problems in shirts than they are in suits (witness the disastrous online MTM tailored clothes that show up every day on the clothing fora), but they’re significant problems nonetheless. The end result of all this is that it’s more of an adventure than a luxury. I’d certainly send a friend to CEGO before I’d send them to Modern Tailor.

That said: I think there is a place for this kind of operation for those with developed taste and specific needs, but slim bankrolls.

LA Times: In China, Alpha Males Carry Designer Purses

Indeed, pricey handbags — power purses, if you will — are often  wielded for maximum effect, said Paul French, a Shanghai-based author  and chief representative of the market research group Access Asia. The  retail analyst said he was struck by the way many first-generation  Chinese entrepreneurs used these props, leaving them unzipped just  enough to whip out a gold lighter or reveal a brick of 100-yuan notes.

LA Times: In China, Alpha Males Carry Designer Purses

Indeed, pricey handbags — power purses, if you will — are often wielded for maximum effect, said Paul French, a Shanghai-based author and chief representative of the market research group Access Asia. The retail analyst said he was struck by the way many first-generation Chinese entrepreneurs used these props, leaving them unzipped just enough to whip out a gold lighter or reveal a brick of 100-yuan notes.

Q and Answer: What’s a Country of Origin Worth?
Greg writes to ask: I  was wondering if you could help with county of origin labels. Notably,  is there a way to tell quality from a ‘made in’ label?  For example,  I’ve seen labels that say “Assembled in America from  Imported Materials” and “Made by American Craftsmen” and “Tailored in  the USA.”  Are there any people looking for a good deal should watch  for? Avoid? “Made by tiny hands in a US protectorate,” for example?
Country  of origin has been a hot topic the past couple of years in the clothing  world.  The “Made in the USA” label has become almost talismanic among a  certain set, and buying clothing made anywhere else has started to seem  almost treasonous.
There’s some sense in this.  As American  clothing manufacturing has declined over the past thirty years or so,  we’ve been left with two types of domestic production.  The first is  artisinal - Alden or Oxxford or Filson make their clothes in the US  because they can control every aspect of production that way.  These are  high-end manufacturers who want to use well-established, veteran  workers.  That means a price premium, but it’s worth it to these  companies, which are looking for a way to distinguish themselves from  the high-end herd.  The other is companies who manufacture (or have  manufactured) clothes for the military.  These manufacturers, like Bates  or American Optical, are required by law to manufacture in the US if  they hope to get military contracts.
What does that mean,  quality-wise?  Most companies that still manufacture in the States and  are selling to civilians are manufacturing high-quality goods.  This  isn’t so much because of an inherent superiority of the American worker -  in fact we generally have a relatively poor reputation in that  department, relative to other first-world countries.  Instead, it’s a  matter of market forces that pushed low-end production overseas, in  search of cheaper labor.
So is “Made in the USA” an analog for  quality?  Not exactly.  In a contemporary context, it does have about as  much meaning as anything else on that tag, other than the brand name.   There are only a handful of factories that make suits left in the  States, and if your suit was made here, it’s likely of either good or  great quality.  However, I wouldn’t recommend anyone run out and buy  corrected-grain Bates policeman shoes just because of where they were made.
This  is especially true for older goods.  Many more clothes were made in the  United States in, say, the 60s and 70s.  This included some  high-quality clothes, but also many, many low-quality clothes.  When I’m  out thrifting, it’s rare that I don’t run into poor-quality clothes  with a Made in the USA label.  On older stuff, “Made in the USA” is even  less evidence of quality than it is on contemporary clothes.
What about other countries?
Probably  the best bet is “Made in England.”  The English garment industry has  had the same contraction problems as the American industry, but they  also have a much broader (given the nation’s size) tradition of  high-quality clothing.  There is some variance in “Made in England”  clothing, but it’s as close as you can get to a country of origin  standing in for quality.
"Made in Italy" probably represents the  broadest range of quality.  Italy manufactures the highest-quality  clothing in the world, but it also manufactures plenty of dreck.  It’s a  nation of highly skilled garment workers - and of low-cost, low-skill  immigrant laborers from Eastern Europe and Asia.  Luxury firms are also  notorious for assembling goods in Italy that were manufactured elsewhere  to earn a coveted "Made in Italy" label.
France is largely  comparable to the United States - less manufacturing than ever, not a  great tradition in the world of tailored clothes, but mostly artisinal  makers still in business.
Europe is also home to some low-cost  manufacturing centers, like Portugal and Romania.  These are nations  with almost no high-end manufacturing, but like other countries with  large garment industries, their factories are capable of a wide range of  quality levels.  I have Incotex pants that are made in Romania and are  as nice to my eye as those made in Italy.  It’s not a hand-stitched  suit, but it’s still a good product.
East Asia, and especially  China, is a region on the make.  Thirty years ago, the clothing  factories of the region were only capable of making the lowest-end  products.  Now, there are facilities capable of making decent stuff.  As  an indicator, though, that “Made in China” label still means that the  brand decided cost was the most important factor in their manufacturing  process, which is never a good sign.
The upshot is that if you’re  not choosing your clothes for moral or socio-political reasons, you’re  much better off learning about what makes a quality garment than you are  basing purchasing decisions on country of origin.
Oh - and “designed in XXX” means nothing, and “tailored (or assembled) in XXXX” means next to nothing. 

Q and Answer: What’s a Country of Origin Worth?

Greg writes to ask: I was wondering if you could help with county of origin labels. Notably, is there a way to tell quality from a ‘made in’ label?  For example, I’ve seen labels that say “Assembled in America from Imported Materials” and “Made by American Craftsmen” and “Tailored in the USA.”  Are there any people looking for a good deal should watch for? Avoid? “Made by tiny hands in a US protectorate,” for example?

Country of origin has been a hot topic the past couple of years in the clothing world.  The “Made in the USA” label has become almost talismanic among a certain set, and buying clothing made anywhere else has started to seem almost treasonous.

There’s some sense in this.  As American clothing manufacturing has declined over the past thirty years or so, we’ve been left with two types of domestic production.  The first is artisinal - Alden or Oxxford or Filson make their clothes in the US because they can control every aspect of production that way.  These are high-end manufacturers who want to use well-established, veteran workers.  That means a price premium, but it’s worth it to these companies, which are looking for a way to distinguish themselves from the high-end herd.  The other is companies who manufacture (or have manufactured) clothes for the military.  These manufacturers, like Bates or American Optical, are required by law to manufacture in the US if they hope to get military contracts.

What does that mean, quality-wise?  Most companies that still manufacture in the States and are selling to civilians are manufacturing high-quality goods.  This isn’t so much because of an inherent superiority of the American worker - in fact we generally have a relatively poor reputation in that department, relative to other first-world countries.  Instead, it’s a matter of market forces that pushed low-end production overseas, in search of cheaper labor.

So is “Made in the USA” an analog for quality?  Not exactly.  In a contemporary context, it does have about as much meaning as anything else on that tag, other than the brand name.  There are only a handful of factories that make suits left in the States, and if your suit was made here, it’s likely of either good or great quality.  However, I wouldn’t recommend anyone run out and buy corrected-grain Bates policeman shoes just because of where they were made.

This is especially true for older goods.  Many more clothes were made in the United States in, say, the 60s and 70s.  This included some high-quality clothes, but also many, many low-quality clothes.  When I’m out thrifting, it’s rare that I don’t run into poor-quality clothes with a Made in the USA label.  On older stuff, “Made in the USA” is even less evidence of quality than it is on contemporary clothes.

What about other countries?

Probably the best bet is “Made in England.”  The English garment industry has had the same contraction problems as the American industry, but they also have a much broader (given the nation’s size) tradition of high-quality clothing.  There is some variance in “Made in England” clothing, but it’s as close as you can get to a country of origin standing in for quality.

"Made in Italy" probably represents the broadest range of quality.  Italy manufactures the highest-quality clothing in the world, but it also manufactures plenty of dreck.  It’s a nation of highly skilled garment workers - and of low-cost, low-skill immigrant laborers from Eastern Europe and Asia.  Luxury firms are also notorious for assembling goods in Italy that were manufactured elsewhere to earn a coveted "Made in Italy" label.

France is largely comparable to the United States - less manufacturing than ever, not a great tradition in the world of tailored clothes, but mostly artisinal makers still in business.

Europe is also home to some low-cost manufacturing centers, like Portugal and Romania.  These are nations with almost no high-end manufacturing, but like other countries with large garment industries, their factories are capable of a wide range of quality levels.  I have Incotex pants that are made in Romania and are as nice to my eye as those made in Italy.  It’s not a hand-stitched suit, but it’s still a good product.

East Asia, and especially China, is a region on the make.  Thirty years ago, the clothing factories of the region were only capable of making the lowest-end products.  Now, there are facilities capable of making decent stuff.  As an indicator, though, that “Made in China” label still means that the brand decided cost was the most important factor in their manufacturing process, which is never a good sign.

The upshot is that if you’re not choosing your clothes for moral or socio-political reasons, you’re much better off learning about what makes a quality garment than you are basing purchasing decisions on country of origin.

Oh - and “designed in XXX” means nothing, and “tailored (or assembled) in XXXX” means next to nothing. 

Feiyue shoes are the people’s sneaker of China.  They were originally designed for use in martial arts, particularly Wushu, the swirling exhibition sport whose biggest star is Jet Li.  They’re made out of cardboard and bailing twine (I’m guessing, based on their price) and they have super grippy soles.
Some sweet things about these sneakers, a pair of which I bought and wore extensively this summer:
When you wear them you feel like you can do awesome kicks.
They are pretty cool looking.
They feel great without socks.
They cost $14.99.
According to Valet, someone’s bought the US rights to the brand and is releasing them in various styles with “Warrior,” which apparently is the English translation of Feiyu, on the side.  From the pictures, I only like the one which you can get for $14.99 from the martial arts store, anyway.

Feiyue shoes are the people’s sneaker of China.  They were originally designed for use in martial arts, particularly Wushu, the swirling exhibition sport whose biggest star is Jet Li.  They’re made out of cardboard and bailing twine (I’m guessing, based on their price) and they have super grippy soles.

Some sweet things about these sneakers, a pair of which I bought and wore extensively this summer:

  1. When you wear them you feel like you can do awesome kicks.
  2. They are pretty cool looking.
  3. They feel great without socks.
  4. They cost $14.99.

According to Valet, someone’s bought the US rights to the brand and is releasing them in various styles with “Warrior,” which apparently is the English translation of Feiyu, on the side.  From the pictures, I only like the one which you can get for $14.99 from the martial arts store, anyway.