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. 

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.

The online made-to-measure shirt tailor Modern Tailor is offering a $19.95 introductory offer for shirts in their simplest blue oxford fabric. I’ve been looking for a couple of plain blue button-down oxfords, and for $24.95 each I bought three. The extra $5 was because I opted for thick mother of pearl buttons. Shipping added $20 to the total.
My measurements were based upon a made-to-measure oxford by my shirt maker, CEGO in New York (who I recommend wholeheartedly, by the way). If you don’t have a great-fitting shirt to base your measurements upon, I would be careful ordering more than one shirt.
I’ve been a bit skeptical of online made-to-measure, frankly, but I get many emails from folks who can’t find a shirt that fits them because of an unusual body type, and not everyone can afford $125-200 per shirt for a traditional custom shirt. For those people, operations like Modern Tailor and Jantzen can be a good option, though fabric can’t be inspected in person and one doesn’t get consultation from an expert.
We’ll see how these turn out. I’m already worrying about whether they’ll account for laundry shrinkage. Still, $25 is less than Lands’ End, and nothing ventured, nothing gained. Looking forward to the shirts’ arrival.

The online made-to-measure shirt tailor Modern Tailor is offering a $19.95 introductory offer for shirts in their simplest blue oxford fabric. I’ve been looking for a couple of plain blue button-down oxfords, and for $24.95 each I bought three. The extra $5 was because I opted for thick mother of pearl buttons. Shipping added $20 to the total.

My measurements were based upon a made-to-measure oxford by my shirt maker, CEGO in New York (who I recommend wholeheartedly, by the way). If you don’t have a great-fitting shirt to base your measurements upon, I would be careful ordering more than one shirt.

I’ve been a bit skeptical of online made-to-measure, frankly, but I get many emails from folks who can’t find a shirt that fits them because of an unusual body type, and not everyone can afford $125-200 per shirt for a traditional custom shirt. For those people, operations like Modern Tailor and Jantzen can be a good option, though fabric can’t be inspected in person and one doesn’t get consultation from an expert.

We’ll see how these turn out. I’m already worrying about whether they’ll account for laundry shrinkage. Still, $25 is less than Lands’ End, and nothing ventured, nothing gained. Looking forward to the shirts’ arrival.