The Popover Shirt
Summer is a great time for slightly more casual takes on tailored clothing, and there’s no easier way to dress down a tailored jacket than by using a slightly more casual shirt. So instead of the finely woven cotton dress shirts you might use for the office, consider something in a linen or linen blend. Bolder patterns can also make a shirt look more casual, although you want to be wary of anything that looks too busy. I find blue and white Bengal stripes to be the most useful.
I’ve also come to really like popovers, which is a pullover style with a half placket front. Before sport shirts were made with coat fronts – where the opening went from the collar down to the hem, like a coat – they were made with half-plackets such as this button-down. Nowadays, popovers can be seen a sort of “in-between.” They’re more relaxed than a traditional shirt, but dressier than a polo, which makes them great for those days you want to look sharp, but casual.
The problem with popovers is that they can be sometimes hard to fit. Unlike long-sleeved polos or rugbys – which are styled similarly – these are constructed from a woven, rather than knitted, material. Which means they’re less stretchy. So, in order to easily slide in and out of these things, you want your shirt to be cut a little bigger, but not so big that it looks baggy when worn. 
I ended up going through my shirtmaker Ascot Chang in order to get the right fit, but you could also try many of the ready-to-wear options and be more exacting with your alterations tailor. Try Sid Mashburn, Gitman Brothers, J. Crew, G. Inglese, Individualized Shirts, Fun Time Shirt Company, and Ralph Lauren to start. For something custom, check out Mercer & Sons, Luxire, and our advertiser Proper Cloth. The first will do made-to-order, where you can customize your shirt from a wide range of pre-selected options, while the last two can do made-to-measure, where you’ll get a shirt made according to the body measurements you submit online.  

The Popover Shirt

Summer is a great time for slightly more casual takes on tailored clothing, and there’s no easier way to dress down a tailored jacket than by using a slightly more casual shirt. So instead of the finely woven cotton dress shirts you might use for the office, consider something in a linen or linen blend. Bolder patterns can also make a shirt look more casual, although you want to be wary of anything that looks too busy. I find blue and white Bengal stripes to be the most useful.

I’ve also come to really like popovers, which is a pullover style with a half placket front. Before sport shirts were made with coat fronts – where the opening went from the collar down to the hem, like a coat – they were made with half-plackets such as this button-down. Nowadays, popovers can be seen a sort of “in-between.” They’re more relaxed than a traditional shirt, but dressier than a polo, which makes them great for those days you want to look sharp, but casual.

The problem with popovers is that they can be sometimes hard to fit. Unlike long-sleeved polos or rugbys – which are styled similarly – these are constructed from a woven, rather than knitted, material. Which means they’re less stretchy. So, in order to easily slide in and out of these things, you want your shirt to be cut a little bigger, but not so big that it looks baggy when worn. 

I ended up going through my shirtmaker Ascot Chang in order to get the right fit, but you could also try many of the ready-to-wear options and be more exacting with your alterations tailor. Try Sid Mashburn, Gitman Brothers, J. Crew, G. Inglese, Individualized Shirts, Fun Time Shirt Company, and Ralph Lauren to start. For something custom, check out Mercer & Sons, Luxire, and our advertiser Proper Cloth. The first will do made-to-order, where you can customize your shirt from a wide range of pre-selected options, while the last two can do made-to-measure, where you’ll get a shirt made according to the body measurements you submit online.  

Expanding a Shirt Wardrobe in the Summertime

Luciano Barbera once said that while you can have too many clothes, you can never have too many shirts. “Shirts are quick to wash and easy to store. Plus, they look great. A man should own as many shirts as he wishes –- the more the better.”

I don’t know if I would go that far, but having more shirts does allow you to play around a bit with a tailored wardrobe. Solid and striped shirts in your basic colors (white and light blue) are great mainstays, but having a few causal options can let you get some versatility out of what you already own. For summer, I like the following:

  • Madras: A lightweight, plain weave cotton that’s known for it’s bright and bold plaids. By tradition, these used to be dyed with vegetable dyes that would bleed in the wash, which in turn would give the shirts a distinctive, blurred look. Today, madras is almost always colorfast (meaning they don’t bleed or fade), which is perhaps lamentable, but I find they still go excellently under cotton or linen sport coats, or even worn on their own with a pair of chinos and some plimsolls. You can find them at O’Connell’s, J. Press, Brooks Brothers, Ralph Lauren, and J. Crew.
  • Linen: I love the look of wrinkled linen, as it adds a casual, carefree touch to clothes that make them look more lived in. Plus, the plant fiber is just so lightweight and breathable, making it ideal on hot days. With the breeze blowing through, you’d hardly known you were wearing a shirt at all. You can find them at Brooks Brothers, J. Crew, and Ledbury. Our advertiser Proper Cloth also can make you something custom from their cotton/ linen blends – which will have the breathability of linen, but won’t wrinkle as much.
  • A dressy chambray: This one is admittedly hard to find. A long time ago, some guys at StyleForum became enamored with a distinctive chambray from the French weaver Simonnot Godard. It had the right mix of white and blue threads to make it a chambray, but was dressy enough to wear with tailored clothing (so not like the workwear chambrays you see everywhere else). At some point, it was found that the cloth has a small percentage of polyester in it, so traditionalists quickly abandoned their stock. I personally still love the fabric, and count it as one of my favorite shirtings. It’s unique without being loud, and something you can wear to the office or outside of it. Today, the closest you can find to those original Simonnot Godard chambrays is this shirt from Ledbury (which is 100% cotton). Otherwise, you can try searching around for various end-on-ends, which is a kind of weave that sometimes yields a vaguely similar look.
  • A washed chambray: More the workwear variety, and perhaps something that’s better in the fall with tweed jackets. In the summer though, I’ve found light blue chambrays to go excellently with casual clothes (leather jackets, chinos, and such). Just find something that’s light enough in color to look like a regular light blue shirt, but has a bit of ruggedness to it so that it’s casual. I like the ones from Chimala and RRL, although the prices are admittedly very dear. For something much more affordable, check out this shirt from Everlane

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.

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.