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.

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.

We Got It For Free: Tailor4Less Sport Coat and Pants
Some men, like me, have a very difficult time fitting into  off-the-rack garments. They may be too thin or heavy; too tall or short;  or perhaps they are just unusually proportioned. For such men, custom  clothing is usually the best solution. This is traditionally done by  local or traveling tailors, or higher end brands, such as Ralph Lauren,  who offer made-to-measure (MTM) programs in addition to their  ready-to-wear lines. 
In the last ten years or so, however, the internet has made it  possible to reformulate the custom clothing business model. Customers  can now place orders online, submit their own measurements, and have  custom made garments sent to them anywhere in the world. The upside to  this model is that it’s typically more affordable. The downside is that  the garments are often not very well-made and the customer is  ill-equipped to make important decisions. By ordering online, you don’t  get to see how the fabrics feel or move in the light. You also risk  measuring yourself poorly, or at least differently than the tailor  would. Still, these companies have made custom clothing much more viable  for most people and that’s to be applauded. 
I was recently approached by one of these online MTM companies, Tailor4Less,  to review some of their products. I’ll admit that I was pretty  skeptical about the company from the name alone. There are few things  I’m willing to trust a “4Less” on - Paintball4Less maybe, but tailoring,  no. Their website didn’t inspire much confidence either. Nonetheless, I  placed an order for a custom-made sport coat and pair of trousers, and  they arrived remarkably quickly.
The results are a bit mixed. The sport coat buttons at the waist  (which is great) and the lapels are well proportioned for the jacket’s  size. The back fits nicely and the vents don’t flare. The sleeves are  also made with non-functional buttonholes, which make them easy to  alter. On the other hand, the collar doesn’t hug the neck as closely as  it should and the shoulders are a bit boxy.
The pants fit slightly better, but they’re a bit too slim. The leg  openings, for example, taper to a 7.5” opening, which is a good quarter  to half an inch smaller than I think is recommendable for a guy my size.  The material used for both garments are also pretty poor. The wool is  cheap and the lining is polyester. Still, both garments are much better  than what I thought I was going to end up with.
I’ve had a hard time deciding whether I should recommend this  company. On one hand, I think you should just save up for a better  custom garment, but a well-made custom sport coat can cost  between $1,000 and $1,500. Even then, you’re not guaranteed to get  something satisfying if you don’t know what you’re doing. Tailor4Less,  on the other hand, will make you a sport coat for $150 or so. Yes - the  material isn’t very good, the jackets are fused, and the fit is a bit  boxy. However, if you’re impossible to fit with an off-the-rack garment,  and you can’t spend $1,000+ for a jacket, then you might want to consider trying something like this. If you decide to, I would leave you with four tips:
Get lots of measurements: Though I took my own  measurements for the pants, I had the benefit of having fairly reliable  measurements for the sport coat. I’ve been to seven or eight custom  tailors, and through those experiences, have honed down on a set of  measurements that I think translate pretty well to an online MTM order.  If this is your first time getting a custom garment, I recommend you get  measured by seven or ten different people - most of whom should be  professional tailors. The more data you can get, the better. Weed  out the anomalies and figure out the averages. 
Keep it simple: When people get their first custom garment,  they often hang themselves by over customizing. You should keep it  simple. Skip the wacky linings, hacking pockets, monograms, etc. until  you really know your preferences. 
Know your other options: Though I haven’t tried them, you might want to also check out Indochino.  They also do this sort of thing. You should also know that some suits  fit very, very slim. A 36R in some lines actually fits like a 34R, and  if you’re smaller than that, you might be able to find something in the  boy’s section (this is not to be insulting). 
Know your fabrics: In my opinion, if you’re going to get a  more structured jacket, it’s better to go with a heavier fabric than a  lighter one. Tweeds and heavy wools will work better than linens and tropical  wools. Of course, this is just a stylistic opinion, so take it for what  it’s worth. At the very least, if you can, try to get fabric swatches.  It’s easier to pick between fabrics once you’re able to handle them.

We Got It For Free: Tailor4Less Sport Coat and Pants

Some men, like me, have a very difficult time fitting into off-the-rack garments. They may be too thin or heavy; too tall or short; or perhaps they are just unusually proportioned. For such men, custom clothing is usually the best solution. This is traditionally done by local or traveling tailors, or higher end brands, such as Ralph Lauren, who offer made-to-measure (MTM) programs in addition to their ready-to-wear lines. 

In the last ten years or so, however, the internet has made it possible to reformulate the custom clothing business model. Customers can now place orders online, submit their own measurements, and have custom made garments sent to them anywhere in the world. The upside to this model is that it’s typically more affordable. The downside is that the garments are often not very well-made and the customer is ill-equipped to make important decisions. By ordering online, you don’t get to see how the fabrics feel or move in the light. You also risk measuring yourself poorly, or at least differently than the tailor would. Still, these companies have made custom clothing much more viable for most people and that’s to be applauded. 

I was recently approached by one of these online MTM companies, Tailor4Less, to review some of their products. I’ll admit that I was pretty skeptical about the company from the name alone. There are few things I’m willing to trust a “4Less” on - Paintball4Less maybe, but tailoring, no. Their website didn’t inspire much confidence either. Nonetheless, I placed an order for a custom-made sport coat and pair of trousers, and they arrived remarkably quickly.

The results are a bit mixed. The sport coat buttons at the waist (which is great) and the lapels are well proportioned for the jacket’s size. The back fits nicely and the vents don’t flare. The sleeves are also made with non-functional buttonholes, which make them easy to alter. On the other hand, the collar doesn’t hug the neck as closely as it should and the shoulders are a bit boxy.

The pants fit slightly better, but they’re a bit too slim. The leg openings, for example, taper to a 7.5” opening, which is a good quarter to half an inch smaller than I think is recommendable for a guy my size. The material used for both garments are also pretty poor. The wool is cheap and the lining is polyester. Still, both garments are much better than what I thought I was going to end up with.

I’ve had a hard time deciding whether I should recommend this company. On one hand, I think you should just save up for a better custom garment, but a well-made custom sport coat can cost between $1,000 and $1,500. Even then, you’re not guaranteed to get something satisfying if you don’t know what you’re doing. Tailor4Less, on the other hand, will make you a sport coat for $150 or so. Yes - the  material isn’t very good, the jackets are fused, and the fit is a bit boxy. However, if you’re impossible to fit with an off-the-rack garment, and you can’t spend $1,000+ for a jacket, then you might want to consider trying something like this. If you decide to, I would leave you with four tips:

  • Get lots of measurements: Though I took my own measurements for the pants, I had the benefit of having fairly reliable measurements for the sport coat. I’ve been to seven or eight custom tailors, and through those experiences, have honed down on a set of measurements that I think translate pretty well to an online MTM order. If this is your first time getting a custom garment, I recommend you get measured by seven or ten different people - most of whom should be professional tailors. The more data you can get, the better. Weed out the anomalies and figure out the averages. 
  • Keep it simple: When people get their first custom garment, they often hang themselves by over customizing. You should keep it simple. Skip the wacky linings, hacking pockets, monograms, etc. until you really know your preferences. 
  • Know your other options: Though I haven’t tried them, you might want to also check out Indochino. They also do this sort of thing. You should also know that some suits fit very, very slim. A 36R in some lines actually fits like a 34R, and if you’re smaller than that, you might be able to find something in the boy’s section (this is not to be insulting). 
  • Know your fabrics: In my opinion, if you’re going to get a more structured jacket, it’s better to go with a heavier fabric than a lighter one. Tweeds and heavy wools will work better than linens and tropical wools. Of course, this is just a stylistic opinion, so take it for what it’s worth. At the very least, if you can, try to get fabric swatches. It’s easier to pick between fabrics once you’re able to handle them.

J. Hilburn: A Potential Revolution in the Custom Tailoring

It’s probably be a bit too early for me to say, but I think J. Hilburn could revolutionize custom clothing.

The current market for custom clothing is, roughly speaking, separated into two camps. On one side, you have custom tailors who typically serve a local area, but sometimes also travel to different cities. All of the best custom clothing operations are of this breed. The problem with these operations is that they tend to be somewhat costly, not only in money, but also time if you don’t happen to live close to the tailor. 

On the other side you have online made-to-measure operations. For these, a customer submits his measurements, selects a fabric, and chooses from a number of customizable options. The company then forwards these specifications to a factory they’ve partnered up with (typically ones in China), and the shirt is shipped out to you once it’s made. The upside is that these garments tend to be more affordable and customers can buy them even if they don’t live in a major city. The downside, however, is that certain things can’t be accurately accounted for in the measurements, such as the slope of your shoulders or your natural posture, all of which can affect how well a garment fits. You also can’t handle the fabrics, which means you won’t be able to tell how it wrinkles or whether there’s a sheen that will affect how it looks when it’s moving. There’s a large number of tactile dimensions to fabrics that you’ll simply just miss out on. Additionally, since you can’t visit the tailor to show him or her how the finished garment fits, you won’t be able to get a professional opinion on how to improve future iterations. 

Perhaps most importantly, however, is that online MTM companies lack control over how you’re measured. In the end, almost everything hinges on the accuracy of your measurements and how well they correspond to the factory’s conception of how something should be measured. 

I have seven sets of measurements of myself - ones taken by Ascot Chang, Spoon Tailor, J. Hilburn, Franz Custom Tailors, Advanced European Tailors, a personal friend, and myself. None of them agree with each other. Some measurements even vary by as much as an inch. The problem isn’t just in the skill of the person measuring you but also in how each person conceptualizes the way a measurement should be taken. By not having in-house control over the measurements, online MTM companies are more at risk for error. 

A Third Model

J. Hilburn has come up with a third model. They’ve trained a national network of “style advisors” to come to your office and take your measurements according to J. Hilburn’s specifications. These advisors also look for things such as the angle of your shoulders and ask you how you like your shirts to fit. Since you’re working with someone in person, you can put on some of your shirts and say what you like and don’t like about them. This gives your advisor an idea of how best to design your custom shirt. The style advisor also brings with them a swatchbook, so that you can actually handle the fabrics you’re buying. Finally, once your style advisor delivers your shirt, you can put it on for them to see, so that they can take notes of how to improve future iterations. 

Where this kind of skilled service typically comes at a high cost, J. Hilburn makes custom shirts for as low as $80, which is about $10-20 more than a typical off-the-rack shirt from brands like J Crew. 

When I first learned about the company through Lawrence, the blogger behind Sartorially Inclined, I admit I was a bit skeptical of model. I had the impression of a menswear equivalent of Tupperware ladies - where a company threw a bunch of products at someone and sent them off on sales missions. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The style advisor that showed up at my home was clearly well-trained. She knew how to properly take measurements and was very informed on fabrics and fit. I had a conversation with her in the way I would have with any custom tailor. The only thing she didn’t know were the details regarding the fusing and interlining of collars, but to be fair, few people know those things. 

Of course, the real test is whether the shirt fits well. My first shirt is coming in a week or two, so I can’t comment on that yet, but I will write about it in my upcoming series on custom shirts. 

An Expansion into Custom Suits

Most interestingly, J. Hilburn now has a custom suit program. The suits will be made in Portugal, in the same factory that makes garments for Paul Smith, Incotex, Burberry, Zegna, and Armani. The fabrics will come from two famous Italian mills, Guabello and Vitale Barberis Canonico (VBC). Guabello is a 200 year-old mill that sells luxury wool fabrics to houses such as Kiton and Oxxford. VBC is one of Italy’s largest mills and they supply reputable operations such as WW Chan and Brooks Brothers with many of their standard cloths. The suits will also be half canvassed, though not with a floating canvas. All in all, however, it looks like some quality stuff. 

Like their shirts, J. Hilburn’s suits will be based off of your measurements, taken by one of their trained style advisors. Once your measurements are taken, you select one of two fits - tailored or classic. The tailored cut supposedly fits a bit like Isaia, with a cleaner body, shorter jacket, and higher armholes. Classic is a bit fuller and supposedly fits like Zegna’s Roma model. You can also specify the buttons (two or three), vents (center, side, or none), and pockets (besom with or without flaps, ticket pockets, hacking pockets). There are twenty five different fabrics to choose from, and some interesting seasonal options. For fall and winter, they have a 16 wale corduroy and a range of flannel wools. For spring and summer, they have tropical weight wools and linen blends in solid and fine line stripes. They also plan to introduce a peak lapel jacket and double breasted jacket by the end of the year. 

Suits start at $700 and sportcoats start at $525. It an incredibly impressive price given that they make jackets in the same mill, using the same fabrics, as say, Zegna, which charges about $1700 for a suit. Of course, again, everything is about fit. The line is new, so I neither have first hand experience or seen anything from other customers. If it fits decently, however, I think J. Hilburn might have just struck a revolutionary new model for custom suit making.