Causal Dress Shirts

If you want to dress down a tailored jacket, there are few better ways to do it than wearing a casual dress shirt. Things in slightly more textured or patterned materials will be less formal looking than your traditional, solid white and light blue broadcloths, and make you look less like you’ve just come from the office. In his books Dressing the Man and Clothes & the Man, Alan Flusser has some suggestions that I think are particularly good. A few of them are pictured above. All are unique enough to be casual, but also still unassailably in good taste. 

Some other pointers for picking good, casual dress shirts:

  • Stripes work year-round, but checks can sometimes be seasonal. Gingham and madras, for example, work better in the warmer months, while tattersalls, graph checks, and tartans look better with the tweeds and corduroys we wear in the cooler seasons.
  • Although light blue is a staple for many men, don’t be afraid of colors such as burgundy and dark green. Just get them in patterns, instead of solid colors.
  • Forgo the tie, especially if your shirt is particularly casual (e.g. busy patterns or non-traditional fabrics). 
  • Remember: the bolder the pattern, the more casual the shirt.
  • Consider less-formal materials. Brushed cotton flannels, chambray, and wool-cotton blends have a visual heft that goes well with tweed jackets. Linen and madras, on the other hand, are good with summer jacketings. 
  • Small collars can give you a very modern look, but they’re more likely to collapse underneath your sport coat when you’re not wearing a tie. If you want your collar to stand up, you have two options. The first is to go with a button down collar, which will stand up once you fasten the collar points. The second is to get a semi-spread collar with a tall enough collar band, long enough points, and stiff enough interlining. Be careful to not get something too big or stiff, however. Things can quickly look cheesy. I think our advertiser Ledbury has a particularly nice collar for wearing casually with sport coats. 
  • Shirts with a slightly lowered second button will give you a more attractive neck line when your collar is unbuttoned. Again, our advertiser Ledbury does this well. You can also request it on custom shirts. I use Ascot Chang and think they do a great job. For other options, consider MyTailor, Dege & Skinner, and CEGO (the last of which you have to be in NYC). For online made-to-measure companies, check out Cottonworks and our advertiser Proper Cloth. We have a series on custom shirts that can help you through the process.

You’ll rarely go wrong with a solid white or light blue shirt, but if you’re trying to dress down a sport coat, consider more casual options. Again, any of the patterns in Alan Flusser’s guides above would be a great place to start, so long as you pay attention to the details. 

Real People: Dressing Down a Suit

Open any men’s fashion magazine nowadays and you can read about the 101 ways to dress down a suit. The problem is, the suit is more often than not a sober looking garment, so when you try to “dress it down,” it can be like painting a mustache on the Mona Lisa. A safer way to dress down a suit is to simply get a more casual suit. Instead of one made from a smooth, worsted wool, try something in cotton, linen, corduroy, or even tweed. That way, your suit is inherently more casual, and you won’t have to awkwardly try to pull back its formality with some unusual accessory.

That does require buying a separate suit for casual occasions, however, which can get expensive (especially once you factor in seasonal fabrics). If you want to try to dress down a standard business suit, try pairing one with a softly colored pastel shirt, perhaps something in pink, lavender, or sea green. Any of those will be more casual than your standard solid whites or light blues, and can help both soften the edge of a suit while also enlivening its look. If need be, you can dress it down further with some casual footwear, such as tassel loafers or something made from suede. Our friend Niyi in New York City shows how well can look above.

You can get pastel colored shirts at any number of places these days. Ralph Lauren and Brooks Brothers are good starts, so long as you stay away from the ones with embroidered logos. Our advertiser Ledbury has a lime green one in their “short run shirts” section until the end of today. If you want something custom made, I can recommend Ascot Chang. They have offices in New York City and Los Angeles, although they also tour throughout the United States to meet clients (I meet them in San Francisco twice a year). They do great work, but being bespoke, they are a bit pricey. For something more affordable, but custom, there’s Cottonwork and our advertiser Proper Cloth. For something affordable, but ready to wear, there’s TM Lewin and Thin Red Line.

Madras Shirting

Readers interested in getting madras shirts for the summer may want to know that Atlantis Fabrics has a ton of new madras shirtings right now (shirting means shirt fabrics, just as suiting means suit fabrics). There’s about eight pages worth, many of which seem to scroll endlessly. 

To turn these into shirts, you’ll need to find a custom shirtmaker. If you don’t have someone local you can go to, I can recommend our advertiser Cottonwork. They’ll make a custom shirt for you according to body measurements you supply, but if you’re feeling iffy about the process, they can also copy the cut of any existing shirt you have. Just send them your best fitting shirt along with any notes about what you’d like to have tweaked (if anything). They charge about $45 per shirt if you’re supplying the fabrics. 

Atlantis’ shirtings cost about $6/ yard. You can find higher quality madras fabrics at Rosen and Chadick, but you’ll have to call in to request swatches. They charge about $15/ yard once you order. Be sure to ask how wide are the fabrics, and then ask your shirtmaker how many yards you’ll need based on a fabric of that width. You should expect to order two to three yards, depending on your size. 

Of course, good ready-to-wear madras shirts can be found in O’Connell’s Sport Shirt and New Old Stock sections. For something more affordable, check out Brooks Brothers and J Crew

The OCBD Shirt Series, Part VI: Our Recommendations
After reviewing so many companies, we thought it’d be useful to say which we recommend the most. Obviously much depends on your taste, build, and budget. The great thing about having such a varied market, however, is that there’s almost something for everyone. 
If you want something traditional, I recommend either Mercer & Sons or O’Connell’s. Mercer & Sons has a great oxford cloth that’s a bit more variegated in color and nubby in texture than the standard stuff you’d find at Brooks Brothers or J. Press. They also have a fully sized, unlined collar that gives the kind of wrinkly, carefree roll that enthusiasts find so charming. The only problem is that Mercer & Sons’ shirts fit very, very full, so you if you use them, you may have to turn to their made-to-order service. That’s where you can size the body down two and taper it further by two or four inches. To find out if this might work for you, email Mercer and ask for their shirt measurements.
The other exceptional option is O’Connell’s, who has one of the best button down collars I’ve seen. Ethan there tells me that they’re also working on a new model based on mid-century Brooks Brothers designs. That should be released sometime by the end of this year, and we’ll be certain to announce it when it does.
For something slim fitting, I really like Kamakura. They make two fits – a regular cut and a slim fit. I suspect the slim fit is just the regular cut, but with darts in the back. Admittedly, darts look a bit strange to me on an OCBD, but the body of the shirt still fits fairly well, so long as you have a slim stomach. Either way, both the regular and slim fits have great looking collars. See it worn here at Ivy Style.
You may also want to consider Brooks Brothers’ slim and extra-slim fits once they go on sale. I like Kamakura’s shirts better, but on the downside, they never go on sale. Brooks Brothers’ oxfords, on the other hand, regularly get discounted to about $50 a pop.
Conversely, if money is no object, you can check out Harry Stedman, who makes a pretty nice design from a hodgepodge of classic American details. Just note that they fit pretty slim, so if you’re a regular 36, you may want to opt for a 38 or simply a size small.  
If you want something dressy, try Ledbury. Theirs isn’t a conventional OCBD like the others we’ve covered here. The fabric is a smoother Thomas Mason cloth that’s somewhat reminiscent of Royal Oxford, and the shirt doesn’t have details such as box pleats or chest pockets. All in all, it’s just a dressier looking shirt, which can be good depending on what you’re going for. 
For something affordable, I like Land’s End’s tailored fit oxfords. Their fabric feels better than what Uniqlo and Lands’ End Canvas offers, and the fit isn’t as trendy. Though, depending on your style, Uniqlo and Lands’ End Canvas’ slimmer fits and shorter collars might work better for you. Either way, be sure to wait for sales. Lands’ End oxfords can be had for about $30 or $35, while Uniqlo and Lands’ End Canvas will often be sold for about $20.
Finally, if you want to get something custom made, I can recommend Cottonwork and Ascot Chang from personal experience. Cottonwork, as I’ve noted, does online made to measure, while Ascot Chang does full bespoke. The second tends to have an advantage in terms of executing an ideal fit, but the first will be considerably more affordable. Both do good work, however. You may also want to look into other custom shirtmakers, such as CEGO, Geneva, Anto, Dege & Skinner, and many others. Check StyleForum for recommendations, and perhaps acquaint yourself with the process of buying custom shirts through these posts I wrote last year. 

The OCBD Shirt Series, Part VI: Our Recommendations

After reviewing so many companies, we thought it’d be useful to say which we recommend the most. Obviously much depends on your taste, build, and budget. The great thing about having such a varied market, however, is that there’s almost something for everyone. 

If you want something traditional, I recommend either Mercer & Sons or O’Connell’s. Mercer & Sons has a great oxford cloth that’s a bit more variegated in color and nubby in texture than the standard stuff you’d find at Brooks Brothers or J. Press. They also have a fully sized, unlined collar that gives the kind of wrinkly, carefree roll that enthusiasts find so charming. The only problem is that Mercer & Sons’ shirts fit very, very full, so you if you use them, you may have to turn to their made-to-order service. That’s where you can size the body down two and taper it further by two or four inches. To find out if this might work for you, email Mercer and ask for their shirt measurements.

The other exceptional option is O’Connell’s, who has one of the best button down collars I’ve seen. Ethan there tells me that they’re also working on a new model based on mid-century Brooks Brothers designs. That should be released sometime by the end of this year, and we’ll be certain to announce it when it does.

For something slim fitting, I really like Kamakura. They make two fits – a regular cut and a slim fit. I suspect the slim fit is just the regular cut, but with darts in the back. Admittedly, darts look a bit strange to me on an OCBD, but the body of the shirt still fits fairly well, so long as you have a slim stomach. Either way, both the regular and slim fits have great looking collars. See it worn here at Ivy Style.

You may also want to consider Brooks Brothers’ slim and extra-slim fits once they go on sale. I like Kamakura’s shirts better, but on the downside, they never go on sale. Brooks Brothers’ oxfords, on the other hand, regularly get discounted to about $50 a pop.

Conversely, if money is no object, you can check out Harry Stedman, who makes a pretty nice design from a hodgepodge of classic American details. Just note that they fit pretty slim, so if you’re a regular 36, you may want to opt for a 38 or simply a size small.  

If you want something dressy, try Ledbury. Theirs isn’t a conventional OCBD like the others we’ve covered here. The fabric is a smoother Thomas Mason cloth that’s somewhat reminiscent of Royal Oxford, and the shirt doesn’t have details such as box pleats or chest pockets. All in all, it’s just a dressier looking shirt, which can be good depending on what you’re going for. 

For something affordable, I like Land’s End’s tailored fit oxfords. Their fabric feels better than what Uniqlo and Lands’ End Canvas offers, and the fit isn’t as trendy. Though, depending on your style, Uniqlo and Lands’ End Canvas’ slimmer fits and shorter collars might work better for you. Either way, be sure to wait for sales. Lands’ End oxfords can be had for about $30 or $35, while Uniqlo and Lands’ End Canvas will often be sold for about $20.

Finally, if you want to get something custom made, I can recommend Cottonwork and Ascot Chang from personal experience. Cottonwork, as I’ve noted, does online made to measure, while Ascot Chang does full bespoke. The second tends to have an advantage in terms of executing an ideal fit, but the first will be considerably more affordable. Both do good work, however. You may also want to look into other custom shirtmakers, such as CEGO, Geneva, Anto, Dege & Skinner, and many others. Check StyleForum for recommendations, and perhaps acquaint yourself with the process of buying custom shirts through these posts I wrote last year

The OCBD Shirt Series, Part V: The Reviews

The OCBD Shirt Series, Part VI: Reviews and Conclusion

Our series on oxford cloth button downs started with a short history of America’s most beloved shirt design, and then covered two sets of reviews for contemporary makers. Today, we finish our series with a final set of reviews, which naturally will include the company that invented them: Brooks Brothers.

Brooks Brothers

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Size: Traditional Fit: 15 x 32; Slim Fit: 15.5 x 32

Retail price: $79.50

Features: Curved chest pocket; box pleat, seven-button front; slightly off centered cuff button; no gauntlet button at the sleeve; lightly lined unfused collar

Measurements: Traditional Fit: Chest 23.5”; Waist 22”; Shoulders 17.75”; Length 32”; Collar tip 8.5cm. Slim Fit: Chest 22”; Waist 20.75; Shoulders 18”; Length 31.25”; Collar tip 8.5cm

Impressions: 125 years or so after they invented them, Brooks Brothers still makes some of the better OCBDs around. The fabric they use is nice, hefty, and nubby, and fairly comparable to what you’d find at some of the other traditional clothiers (such as O’Connell’s and J. Press). The collar tips are also long enough to yield a roll, and the body comes in three different cuts: traditional, slim, and extra-slim.

Unfortunately, the Brooks Brothers store near me ran out of extra-slim fit oxfords, and they didn’t have any slim fits in the same size as traditional. So, I picked up a traditional in size 15 and a slim in size 15.5. This doesn’t make comparisons very easy, but even with the half size up, you can see the slim fit is considerably smaller than traditional.

It’s been a long time since I’ve tried on Brooks Brothers’ extra slim fit, but from memory, I thought it was too tight on my thin frame. The problem with clothing this slim is that they can make heavy men look heavier than they are, and thin men look thinner than they are. If you’re considering the extra slim fit for the first time, at least give the regular slim fit cut a shot. It may be more flattering. And if you have more traditional taste, consider the traditional cut, which fits something like this.

 

Brooks Brothers’ Black Fleece

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Size: BB1

Retail price: $195

Features: Curved chest pocket; box pleat, seven-button front; split yoke; fabric loop at the top of the yoke; side gussets at the hem; lightly lined unfused collar

Measurements: Chest 20.5”; Waist 19”; Shoulders 18”; Length 30”; Collar tip 8.5cm.

Impressions: A $195 off-the-rack shirt is hard to swallow, especially when you consider that good bespoke shirts can be had for around the same price. Still, Brooks Brothers’ Black Fleece collection (which designed by Thom Browne) has a number of really nice oxford cloth button downs. The collar is a bit nicer than Brooks Brothers’ mainline shirts, and the body is slim, but still fairly classic fitting. These might be a good buy if you can find them on discount.

 

Cottonwork and Ascot Chang

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Size: Custom

Retail Price: ~$75 and up for Cottonwork; ~$180-200 and up for Ascot Chang

Features: Variable, as these will be custom shirts

Impressions: You can get custom shirts from any number of places, and every one should be able to make you a custom oxford cloth button down. The two I have experience with are Cottonwork (who’s one of our advertisers) and Ascot Chang (who’s my main shirtmaker).

Cottonwork is an online made-to-measure operation while Ascot Chang is full bespoke. As is the nature of these things, there are different advantages to each. If you can find a highly skilled, local tailor that can make you a bespoke shirt, you have the advantage of being able to see and feel fabrics before placing an order. Then, after you receive your shirt, you can have the tailor access the fit in person and decide whether or not any changes need to be made. However, good bespoke shirts are expensive (rarely less than $175/ shirt in the United States) and not everyone will have access to a good tailor in their area. If bespoke isn’t an option, consider online made-to-measure. They’re cheaper, and if you’re willing to do a few orders and play around with adjustments, you can dial in on something pretty good. Of the six or seven online made-to-measure shirt makers I’ve tried, Cottonwork was easily the best – in construction, fabric quality, and fit.

Cottonwork and Ascot Chang can make you a custom collar, but they do have their defaults. Oversimplified, Cottonwork differs in that it has longer collar points – 9cm as opposed to Ascot Chang’s 7.5cm. If you go with Ascot Chang, I’d recommend asking for something a bit more traditionally sized. Or, if you have a collar you like, you can send it to either company and have it copied.

Mauve, Flannel, and Tweed

Last fall, I wrote a post about other shirts readers might want to consider after they’ve built a solid foundation of light blues and whites. The softer shades of pink and lilac, for example, can be easily worn underneath navy or grey jackets for a livelier look, and ecru adds something interesting without straying too far from white. I also like striped shirts in brown, grey, or green, so long as the shirts aren’t dominated by those colors, and not combined with similar trousers (e.g. no mid-grey striped shirts with mid-grey wool trousers).

Well, add mauve to that list. I recently found the two photos you see above – the first from Heavy Tweed Jacket and the second from Luciano Barbera’s blog. A warm tweed sport coat combined with a comfortable pair of grey flannel trousers is nothing new, but when you swap out the standard light blue shirt for a striped mauve, I think it becomes a slightly more interesting look. These can be worn with your standard fall and winter ties, such as the ancient madders and woolens you see above, and the warm tones all around can be brought out through a pair of shell cordovan shoes made from Horween’s #8 leather.

Since seeing the two photos, I’ve been looking for a nice, striped mauve shirt for myself, but not with much luck. Light pinks and lilacs are easy, but this very specific shade of mauve seems elusive. The one place I found was Cottonwork, who has a version of it here. Cottonwork tells me that there’s a very subtle weaving pattern to the material, which is only visible on close inspection. Alternatively, they have this plain weave, but it’s in a slightly cooler shade of purple. I’m thinking about getting the first material made into a semi-spread collar shirt with a French placket and no pocket, precisely to wear with things such as tweed jackets and grey flannel trousers.

Note, Cottonwork is an advertiser of ours, but before becoming so, I was a customer (and fan) of theirs for a quite a while. Of the five online made-to-measure shirt operations I’ve tried, I found theirs to be the best. Their shirts fit me better and were more nicely constructed (e.g. higher stitch count, straighter seams, nicer interlinings, etc). You can create a custom shirt through them by submitting your measurement online, or by sending them your best fitting shirt and asking for it to be copied. To read about how to take advantage of custom shirt programs, you can read my series on the topic here.  

Madras Shirts for Summer

I love madras - the colorful, airy fabric named after the Indian city from which it originally came. The stuff is lightweight and very breathable, which means it makes for the perfect summer shirt. Madras shirts are a wonderful accompaniment to trousers or suits made from cotton or linen, and of course should be worn with summer appropriate footwear, such as loafers or suede bucks. Unfortunately, good madras shirts are hard to find these days, and not because all the new stuff is colorfast, instead of bleeding and fading easily like the ones from yesteryear (for that truly dégagé look). Rather, it’s because most don’t fit me well or they lack the design details I want. 

My solution has been to get ones custom made. You can buy madras fabrics online through Atlantis Fabrics. They have two web pages - here and here - dedicated to them, and many are just $6 a yard. Given that the average sized man only needs about two yards per shirt, that’s just $12 for materials.

You can also check fabric stores to see if they have anything suitable. Above are some swatches from Rosen & Chadick, a fabric shop in Manhattan. Though they’re in New York City, they’re more than happy to send out fabric swatches for free. After you’ve figured out what you want, you can call them and pay for your order with a credit card. Most selections are $15 a yard. 

Once you have your fabrics, you’ll need to find a shirtmaker who is willing to take them from you. If you don’t have someone local you can go to, I recommend Cottonwork. They can custom make something to your body measurements or, if you’re hesitant about the process, they can copy any existing shirt you have. Just send them your best fitting shirt along with any notes about things you’d like tweaked (if any). They charge about $45 per shirt if you’re supplying the fabrics. 

If you’re reluctant to go the custom route, there are a bunch of ready-to-wear companies you can consider, such as O’Connell’s, J PressBrooks Brothers, and Dann Online. Some of these will fit quite full, such as the ones at Dann Online, while others can be very slim, such as Brooks’ Extra Slim Fits. 

You can also check out Gant Rugger and Ralph Lauren. Gant Rugger’s shirts are very slim and mostly meant to be worn untucked, while Ralph Lauren has the fuller ”Classic Fit” and slimmer “Custom Fit.” Finally, for something cheaper, try J Crew. In the past, they offered disappointingly drab designs, but this season’s are pleasantly colorful (as madras should be). If you wait till the end of the season, you can easily find their madras shirts discounted by 40-50%. 

(Cottonwork will be a Put This On advertiser next month, but our advertising and editorial processes are separate. - Jesse)

Cut, Make, Trim
If you enjoyed our series on custom shirts, and are now thinking about having some made, consider supplying a tailor with your own fabrics. The process is known in the trade as “cut, make, trim,” or simply CMT. By giving the tailor your own cloths, you can save money on the mark up that the tailor would otherwise charge for the fabrics in his books.
Supplying your own fabric is easy once you know where to go. For good, affordable basics, I strongly recommend Acorn, an English shirting merchant that is known for selling quality, workhorse fabrics. They have a variety of weaves and designs. Those above a 150 thread-count can be fairly expensive, but much of their stock is priced affordably. Their oxford cloths, for example, are about $20 per yard, including shipping. The quality is as good as, if not better than, most of what you’d find in stores.
To go about this process, you just need to figure out which shirtings you’re interested in, and then ask Acorn to ship you some sample swatches. They’ll arrive in small, clipped books like the ones you see above. You can sit on these for a bit. Figure out which you like best, consider their texture and color, and put them against the various trousers you think you might like to wear them with.
Once you decide what you’d like, find a tailor that will take CMT and have Acorn ship them the materials. Of course, which tailors are available to you will vary by region, but two online custom shirtmakers, Cottonwork and ModernTailor, confirmed with me that they would take CMT orders. Cottonwork charges $45 (including shipping) and ModernTailor $25 (not including shipping). ModernTailor is a bit cheaper, but their workmanship isn’t as good. One of my shirts from them, for example, had its seams fall apart in the wash, which is something that has never happened to me before. Still, if you’re on a very tight budget, $25 plus the cost of fabric can be very attractive.
Most men will need about two meters of fabric, depending on the width of the roll and their body size. You should confirm with your tailor exactly how much he thinks you need. Assuming you’re of average size, however, that means you can get a custom shirt made from good fabric for about $75. If you’re feeling iffy about the process of measuring yourself, remember that both Cottonwork and ModernTailor can copy an existing shirt if you send it to them. Your new shirt will fit in the exact same way. 
You can take a look at Acorn’s shirting selections here. Fabrics in 36” width tend to be of higher quality, but they’re also more expensive. My favorite (affordable) lines in the 60” range are King, Oxford, and Windsor. Check out their full collection to see what else you might like. 

Cut, Make, Trim

If you enjoyed our series on custom shirts, and are now thinking about having some made, consider supplying a tailor with your own fabrics. The process is known in the trade as “cut, make, trim,” or simply CMT. By giving the tailor your own cloths, you can save money on the mark up that the tailor would otherwise charge for the fabrics in his books.

Supplying your own fabric is easy once you know where to go. For good, affordable basics, I strongly recommend Acorn, an English shirting merchant that is known for selling quality, workhorse fabrics. They have a variety of weaves and designs. Those above a 150 thread-count can be fairly expensive, but much of their stock is priced affordably. Their oxford cloths, for example, are about $20 per yard, including shipping. The quality is as good as, if not better than, most of what you’d find in stores.

To go about this process, you just need to figure out which shirtings you’re interested in, and then ask Acorn to ship you some sample swatches. They’ll arrive in small, clipped books like the ones you see above. You can sit on these for a bit. Figure out which you like best, consider their texture and color, and put them against the various trousers you think you might like to wear them with.

Once you decide what you’d like, find a tailor that will take CMT and have Acorn ship them the materials. Of course, which tailors are available to you will vary by region, but two online custom shirtmakers, Cottonwork and ModernTailor, confirmed with me that they would take CMT orders. Cottonwork charges $45 (including shipping) and ModernTailor $25 (not including shipping). ModernTailor is a bit cheaper, but their workmanship isn’t as good. One of my shirts from them, for example, had its seams fall apart in the wash, which is something that has never happened to me before. Still, if you’re on a very tight budget, $25 plus the cost of fabric can be very attractive.

Most men will need about two meters of fabric, depending on the width of the roll and their body size. You should confirm with your tailor exactly how much he thinks you need. Assuming you’re of average size, however, that means you can get a custom shirt made from good fabric for about $75. If you’re feeling iffy about the process of measuring yourself, remember that both Cottonwork and ModernTailor can copy an existing shirt if you send it to them. Your new shirt will fit in the exact same way. 

You can take a look at Acorn’s shirting selections here. Fabrics in 36” width tend to be of higher quality, but they’re also more expensive. My favorite (affordable) lines in the 60” range are King, Oxford, and Windsor. Check out their full collection to see what else you might like. 

The Custom Shirts Series, Part V: Using Online Tailors
The traditional way to have a custom shirt made is to go through a local or traveling tailor. Unfortunately, the best ones are expensive. Many start around $200 and require a three to six shirt minimum on your first order. There are also good made-to-measure shops such as CEGO, but those will typically start around $125-150 as well.
If you can’t go to a traditional tailoring shop – whether because of location or budget – there are a host of online operations you can turn to. Here, you submit your measurements and design your shirts online. The company then manufactures your shirts in China according to a pre-made pattern they’ve adjusted for you, and then ships you the final goods. Prices in this field generally start around $60, which isn’t too far off from what department stores charge at full retail.
Of course, the model isn’t without its problems. Taking your own measurements can be tricky, even if you have someone to help you. One solution is to have four to six different people measure you and then figure out the averages. By doing so, you reduce the risk of error. You may also want to consider padding the numbers by adding a quarter of an inch all around. Remember – if the shirt is a bit too full, it’s still wearable; if it’s too tight, it’s not. You can see how the first shirt fits and then adjust your measurements on the second order. 
The other problem is that it can be difficult to figure out what a particular fabric looks like from a small “swatch” on your screen. There are many dimensions that won’t come through, such as how it feels, whether it’s somewhat thin or transparent, and how it looks when it moves. There’s no substitute for having a real swatch book in front of you, but it can help if you review my primer on fabrics. The descriptions of fabrics you read online should tell you enough, assuming you know the technical jargon. Some companies will also send you fabric samples from their different price tiers, so you can at least judge the varying qualities. 
So, which companies can you turn to? There are probably more than a dozen operations, and I’ve only tried a handful. The best, from my experience, has been Cottonwork. In the interest of full disclosure, you should know that Cottonwork will be an advertiser here at Put This On, but I genuinely recommend them. Of all the online shirtmakers I’ve used, they’ve been the best fitting and most consistent. They have a good range of fabrics, including affordable ones that start at $65 (though in my opinion the more workable stuff is at the $75 tier), as well as finer shirtings by Thomas Mason and Tessitura Monti. The seams are made with a fairly high stitch count, thus making them nearly invisible when done, and everything is finished on the inside with a flat-felled seam. This takes more time to execute than the cheaper overlock stitch, but it prevents the fabric from fraying over time. Perhaps most importantly, Cottonwork’s website allows you to see how your shirt might look as you add on different options. 
I’ve also had shirts made by Made Tailor and Biased Cut. Their shirts fit considerably slimmer than Cottonwork, so if you’re just getting your first one, I strongly advise you pad the numbers a bit. Their fabrics aren’t as nice, but they have a number of customization points in their favor. Made Tailor, for example, has a particularly handsome cutaway collar, and Biased Cut allows you to put a monogram on the shirt’s sleeve gauntlet. 
Another big player in this field is Modern Tailor. On the upside, they can be much more affordable than any of the options above. On the downside, I’ve found their consistency and quality control to be rather lacking. Different shirts made on the same order can sometimes be cut to different measurements. The stitching is also not as fine as it could be, though that part is well made up for in the price. The one area they seem to be decent at is in copying shirts. Here, you just need to send them the shirt you want copied, specify the fabric and details you want added or subtracted, and they’ll send you the shirt back along with their copy. Generally, these shirts will fit exactly as your original.
There are many other companies as well, such as Joe Button and Proper Cloth, but I have no experiences with them. Whoever you choose, I recommend you pick someone you think you can use for the long term. Online custom tailoring is a tricky thing, and the payoffs really come when you have your second or third shirt made. If you’re lucky, the first shirt will fit well, but more likely than not, it won’t. You have to expect that adjustments will need to be made; it’s the nature of what happens when you submit your own measurements. If you can find a company that will look at photos of you in your new shirt, and advise you on what adjustments need to be made, all the better. Just make sure you’re picking someone with an eye towards subsequent orders and iterative improvements, not just who can make you the cheapest product. 

The Custom Shirts Series, Part V: Using Online Tailors

The traditional way to have a custom shirt made is to go through a local or traveling tailor. Unfortunately, the best ones are expensive. Many start around $200 and require a three to six shirt minimum on your first order. There are also good made-to-measure shops such as CEGO, but those will typically start around $125-150 as well.

If you can’t go to a traditional tailoring shop – whether because of location or budget – there are a host of online operations you can turn to. Here, you submit your measurements and design your shirts online. The company then manufactures your shirts in China according to a pre-made pattern they’ve adjusted for you, and then ships you the final goods. Prices in this field generally start around $60, which isn’t too far off from what department stores charge at full retail.

Of course, the model isn’t without its problems. Taking your own measurements can be tricky, even if you have someone to help you. One solution is to have four to six different people measure you and then figure out the averages. By doing so, you reduce the risk of error. You may also want to consider padding the numbers by adding a quarter of an inch all around. Remember – if the shirt is a bit too full, it’s still wearable; if it’s too tight, it’s not. You can see how the first shirt fits and then adjust your measurements on the second order.

The other problem is that it can be difficult to figure out what a particular fabric looks like from a small “swatch” on your screen. There are many dimensions that won’t come through, such as how it feels, whether it’s somewhat thin or transparent, and how it looks when it moves. There’s no substitute for having a real swatch book in front of you, but it can help if you review my primer on fabrics. The descriptions of fabrics you read online should tell you enough, assuming you know the technical jargon. Some companies will also send you fabric samples from their different price tiers, so you can at least judge the varying qualities. 

So, which companies can you turn to? There are probably more than a dozen operations, and I’ve only tried a handful. The best, from my experience, has been Cottonwork. In the interest of full disclosure, you should know that Cottonwork will be an advertiser here at Put This On, but I genuinely recommend them. Of all the online shirtmakers I’ve used, they’ve been the best fitting and most consistent. They have a good range of fabrics, including affordable ones that start at $65 (though in my opinion the more workable stuff is at the $75 tier), as well as finer shirtings by Thomas Mason and Tessitura Monti. The seams are made with a fairly high stitch count, thus making them nearly invisible when done, and everything is finished on the inside with a flat-felled seam. This takes more time to execute than the cheaper overlock stitch, but it prevents the fabric from fraying over time. Perhaps most importantly, Cottonwork’s website allows you to see how your shirt might look as you add on different options. 

I’ve also had shirts made by Made Tailor and Biased Cut. Their shirts fit considerably slimmer than Cottonwork, so if you’re just getting your first one, I strongly advise you pad the numbers a bit. Their fabrics aren’t as nice, but they have a number of customization points in their favor. Made Tailor, for example, has a particularly handsome cutaway collar, and Biased Cut allows you to put a monogram on the shirt’s sleeve gauntlet.

Another big player in this field is Modern Tailor. On the upside, they can be much more affordable than any of the options above. On the downside, I’ve found their consistency and quality control to be rather lacking. Different shirts made on the same order can sometimes be cut to different measurements. The stitching is also not as fine as it could be, though that part is well made up for in the price. The one area they seem to be decent at is in copying shirts. Here, you just need to send them the shirt you want copied, specify the fabric and details you want added or subtracted, and they’ll send you the shirt back along with their copy. Generally, these shirts will fit exactly as your original.

There are many other companies as well, such as Joe Button and Proper Cloth, but I have no experiences with them. Whoever you choose, I recommend you pick someone you think you can use for the long term. Online custom tailoring is a tricky thing, and the payoffs really come when you have your second or third shirt made. If you’re lucky, the first shirt will fit well, but more likely than not, it won’t. You have to expect that adjustments will need to be made; it’s the nature of what happens when you submit your own measurements. If you can find a company that will look at photos of you in your new shirt, and advise you on what adjustments need to be made, all the better. Just make sure you’re picking someone with an eye towards subsequent orders and iterative improvements, not just who can make you the cheapest product. 

CottonWork Deal
If you’re a college student* and have a job interview coming up, CottonWork is running a promotion where they’ll make you a free custom shirt. Just apply here. The offer is good for the first hundred entries, but it renews itself every month. So if you miss out this month, just go back in January. 
I’ve used CottonWork before and in my experience, they’re one of the better online made-to-measure shirt companies. It can be nicer to get a shirt made by an experienced local tailor, but if you don’t have that available to you, online made-to-measure options are a good alternative. They’re also much cheaper. 
When getting measurements, I strongly suggest that you get them from five to ten different people. Weed out the anomalies and figure out the averages. The quality of a custom shirt largely depends on how good your measurements are, so get them from people you trust. 
If you’re not a college student, you can still take advantage of their “Essential” collection for promotional offer price of $40. My gut says it would be better to buy from the “Luxury” line or higher, but if you’re looking to just get a test shirt made, this can be a good place to start. 
* Note: Offer only available to students at one of the twenty-two colleges CottonWork has selected.

CottonWork Deal

If you’re a college student* and have a job interview coming up, CottonWork is running a promotion where they’ll make you a free custom shirt. Just apply here. The offer is good for the first hundred entries, but it renews itself every month. So if you miss out this month, just go back in January. 

I’ve used CottonWork before and in my experience, they’re one of the better online made-to-measure shirt companies. It can be nicer to get a shirt made by an experienced local tailor, but if you don’t have that available to you, online made-to-measure options are a good alternative. They’re also much cheaper. 

When getting measurements, I strongly suggest that you get them from five to ten different people. Weed out the anomalies and figure out the averages. The quality of a custom shirt largely depends on how good your measurements are, so get them from people you trust. 

If you’re not a college student, you can still take advantage of their “Essential” collection for promotional offer price of $40. My gut says it would be better to buy from the “Luxury” line or higher, but if you’re looking to just get a test shirt made, this can be a good place to start. 

* Note: Offer only available to students at one of the twenty-two colleges CottonWork has selected.