Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Tailored Shirt vs. Off-the-Rack

A few months ago, a friend of mine called and told me that someone he knew wanted to make a shirt for me.  The offer seemed to be promotional, so I proceeded cautiously.  We met at the location in the Back Bay and I was measured up in triplicate with not only the usual geometry expected from a tailored fitting, but with a few inexplicable crossings and tapings of a random hypotenuse here and there.  As it turns out, I am able to shrug without moving my shoulders.

Instead of a tailored suit, I first tested the waters with a shirt.  I flipped trough cloth after cloth, pattern after pattern, and then described the exact style I wanted, rounded French cuffs, tapered middle, blah blah blah.

A few weeks later, I got the call to come try on the shirt and pick it up if no further alterations were needed.  I needed none, so I took it home.

Now, in full disclosure, I accepted no discounts or promotional anythings from the clothier.  I paid the full price, so I could write whatever I pleased with a clear mind, 'cause I ain't no shill.  When I got home, I compared the custom-tailored shirt to one of my trustworthy shirts in the closet.

  The cuffs are rounded on the tailored shirt.

 The new tailored shirt did NOT have the split-yoke that my shirt did.

 Same cut-away collar.

Same general look and fit.  The tailored shirt did come with my monogrammed initials on them and some brass collar stays, but since I lose collar stays but never forget my initials, there is little value added.  The fit was basically the same as the shirts I buy online (not literally off of an actual rack).  The big difference was that the tailored shirt cost $130.  My usual expenditure for shirts of the exact same cut is between $30 and $40.  Why do I include these tacky little details of price in a blog post?  I include them because this is an example of what tailoring gets you, especially with shirts.  It's just too expensive.  There is no magic fit, and no proportionate elegance.  I like to support local businesses and I like to wear nicely fitting clothes, but not when I can get the same thing for 1/4 of the cost by being patient.  Go to eBay or a thrift store for even deeper discounts.  

If you want a really odd shirt with bizarre features and particular fabric, then tailoring may be for you.  If you already know your size and measurements, and you have a trusted manufacturer, stay with it.  If you are like me and think that paying full retail is a fool's game, you can have your clothing at deep discount and refine it afterwards.  A blog about wearing clothing is one thing, but a blog about buying clothing is unreadable.  

Verdict: Not worth the money.

I am a big advocate for after-market tailoring for better fit/saving money:

The tailored suit estimates were reasonably priced, and I may proceed with one from them in the future.  I will report back if/when that happens.  

P.S. Wikipedia has a hilarious and great explanation of what a shill is.  It really is worth a quick read.


  1. I suspect the advantage is for those where "off the rack" does not provide a good fit or when one wants a specific fabric in a specific style.

  2. I seem to have unusually long arms, and when I first started working, I had to have some shirts made by a tailor. I agree with you that they were nice, but not worth the money. I eventually found some shirts at Saks that fit well, and stocked up on those.

    Another down-side to tailored clothes is that they have to go to the same cleaners that destroy all your other, more readily-acquired garments.
    --Road to Parnassus

  3. Is there a particular advantage to a split yoke? I always thought that it was just a fabric saving measure on behalf of the manufacturer.

  4. *DocP: Exactly. Elements that I don't need.

    *Parnassus: I hadn't even considered that angle. Very true.

    *Phillip: The split yoke theoretically allows for better drape and for ease of altering. its a detail and not a necessity.

  5. I had to crack a smile at the mention of the collar stays and monogram. I needed that.

    I like Lewin shirts, but their slim fits are unforgiving.

  6. Well done YWP. Good post.

  7. The Chinese definition for shill on Wiki has a similar hilarious effect...the counter part of shill in Chinese slang I guess...good read
    Back to shirt, I agree with your thrift, but 130$ for this much fitting and detailing is actually reasonable among the made-to-measure shirt makers...

  8. We're one of the made-to-measure companies online. We really do feel fit is everything, however I actually find that for my body type off-the-rack shirts fit well. That may not be the case for all men. In contrast, with a suit having a made-to-measure one makes a huge difference for me.

    We just introduced a line of custom fitted shirts and our mid-range is around the $130 price point as well. You do get some of the more unusual options though by going that route (French cuffs, etc.). For me, it's a rare occasion that I would wear French cuffs, but I do like having a couple of shirts in my wardrobe that take it up a notch in terms of fit and finish.



Let's keep it clean... but if you DO have to get foul, at least give it a bit of wit. Also, advertising disguised as comments will be deleted, unless it is clever.