A true gentleman not only appreciates a well-iron dress shirt, but one that is well-fitting, well-made, and stands the test of time! So, continuing from part 1 on off-the-rack shirts, today’s installment is the second on our three-part dress shirts series where we talk about made-to-measure shirts, and part 3 will be about bespoke shirts.
What Is A Made-To-Measure Shirt?
Basically, a made-to-measure shirt sits between an off-the-rack shirt and a bespoke shirt. It has the advantage of using your actual measurements, which is more like a bespoke shirt but then using an already created pattern that is just modified based on those measurements.
In case you didn’t know, a pattern forms the basis of every shirt or garment, and it can be made out of paper or cardboard or other materials, and it helps to trace the outline and cut the different parts, which are then sewn together. So, you create a three-dimensional garment out of a two-dimensional fabric.
Unlike an off-the-rack shirt, made-to-measure shirts are made one-off for you, but it doesn’t take as much time as a bespoke shirt because you just make changes and don’t create something from scratch.
Typically, you can also choose from a wide range of cuff styles, placket styles, or collar styles from a catalog. So, you may want a certain fabric with a certain cuff and collar, for example. Mostly, you can then further customize the choice of buttons, the thread color of the stitching, as well as maybe a contrasting fabric on the inside of your collar, as well as things like monograms.
Pros of Made-to-Measure Shirts
1. They Are Less Expense Than a Bespoke Shirt
Made-to-measure shirts are typically made in a factory. They’re not made one by one by a tailor that again creates efficiencies and lowers the price.
Typically, they have many specialized sewers, they have computer systems, and a process that allows them to work quickly. You would just take the measurements once for a made-to-measure shirt and then you receive the final shirt. There are no in-between fittings required.
Obviously, because those shirts are less involved than a bespoke shirt, they’re also much less expensive. You’re also not creating anything new. You’re just choosing and picking and combining from pre-existing or designed elements. So, that makes it much less expensive.
When made-to-measure shirts first became more popular, you typically had to go into a store, someone there – a salesperson – would measure you and then those measurements would be sent off to the factory, and your shirt was made.
Today, there are probably more online made-to-measure shirt retailers and sometimes, they also call their product bespoke or custom, when in fact, all of this is made-to-measure. So, buyer beware and fully understand what those companies actually offer.
The key point to ask is: Do you create a pattern just for me or do you modify an existing pattern? And then, as a follow-up question: Can I choose and design any detail I want or can I only select from a pre-existing range of options? And sometimes, some manufacturers are made-to-measure but they still allow you to maybe change the collar shape in certain ways or add a detail that is typically only found in bespoke.
Some manufacturers will also offer to you to just replicate a shirt so you can send it in or they just want your shirt measurements. Obviously, making a shirt in that way is a lot easier because you can compare the actual lengths of the sleeve directly to each other, and it’s going to fit.
On the flip side, if you take body measurements, you have to add a certain measurement to get the desired fit you want. You want a roomy fit or a classic fit, add more to that body measurement. If you want a super slim fit, add just a little bit to that measurement. And that’s when fit becomes a much bigger issue.
Also, every brand has a different way of adding different lengths to body measurements. So, it will always be different depending on what company you buy your made-to-measure shirt from. Although most made-to-measure companies are not based in Asia, most of the shirts are actually made there, because they have a lower labor cost and therefore, you get a less expensive shirt.
That being said you can also find made-to-measure shirts from Italy or other countries in Europe, as well as the United States. Typically though, they can’t compete with a product made in India or Southeast Asia because the made-to-measure shirt has to actually be made for you, there’s typically a lead time, but with quick international shipping, optimized logistics, and supply chains today. Sometimes, it can take as little as two weeks from order to getting your shirt in the mail. Other times, it may take a lot longer. It all depends on the different factors of the supply chain and the delivery.
2. You Have A Much Larger Range of Choices
Sometimes, you can choose from thousands of different fabrics, sometimes, from hundreds, and other times, just from dozens. It depends on the business model of the company. Some may just buy cut lengths and not have any fabric in stock. But just get the exact length for your shirt from the manufacturer, which means it’s likely a higher price and it takes longer. Others may decide to buy a certain range of bulk fabrics, so they can then quickly produce your shirt at a lower cost.
Some small operations will even allow you to provide your own fabric. Of course, keep in mind that there may be problems associated with it. For example, what happens if something goes wrong with a shirt and it doesn’t fit you? Who’s gonna supply the second length of the fabric? Or what if it’s damaged and they can’t cut around it and can’t produce the shirt for you?
In general, I would advise to only use your own fabric in a truly bespoke environment and to go with the fabrics that the manufacturer supplies to you. It will just create fewer headaches and will likely result in a better product for you.
In my opinion, being able to choose the fabric not only enables you to be more enamored with a shirt, but it also allows to maybe pick a really breezy, open-pore lightweight fabric if you live in a hotter climate, or just choose something as much thicker and warmer if you live in a cooler climate. More importantly, you can combine exactly the fabric you want with the color or cuff shape you want, or the placket, or the buttons.
3. You Have Flexibility with Your Design
Unlike, with the off-the-rack shirt, you can actually choose details, and because they’re predefined for you, the choice is relatively simple and easy. Some manufacturers even tone it down for you, so they don’t confuse customers and make the sale easier.
Personally, I prefer companies that give me the largest range possible because I already know what I want and I don’t feel intimidated by the process. But, again, it all depends on where you’re at. If you’re new to this and more choice actually makes it harder for you to decide, then maybe go with a company that just offers you a few options of customizations that will likely leave you happier at the end of the process.
It’s worth mentioning that not all made-to-measure companies are alike, and there are huge differences. Some made-to-measure even offer you to choose the thread color.
In my experience, typically, only the better ones allow you to customize things like the interlining of your collar. Do you want a soft interlining? Do you want a stiffer interlining, maybe a medium-stiff one, or do you want a completely unlined collar? Most men who buy shirts will have never thought about the interlining of their collars and cuffs. But, it not only makes a huge difference in the way it looks but also the way it feels.
For example, an unlined collar is a lot softer but it will also wrinkle more easily. So, in my opinion, it’s not the right interlining for a proper business shirt or an evening shirt, but it’s great for an Oxford button-down shirt, or maybe a denim shirt. And, even though it sounds counter-intuitive, an unlined unglued shirt collar is actually more expensive to produce than a fused collar.
Even among the interlinings, there are differences in quality. Cheap interlinings are much more likely to bubble up, which means you have to throw the shirt because it looks unsightly. Higher-end companies will use premier interlinings that just feel good, keep your collar in shape and, makes it always look dapper.
Fortunately, most made-to-measure companies I’ve dealt with have used higher quality interlinings – from companies like Wendler in Germany. But, even if they say we use Wendler linings, pay attention to what they use because they have a basic, a classic, and a premium range, and only the premium range is actually made in Germany. The others are made in Asia; they’re just not as good and less expensive.
So, if the companies don’t provide the information, ask them exactly what they use and see if they can answer that. Because chances are the sales staff doesn’t even know.
Typically, the lower price made-to-measure offerings have more limitations and fewer options to choose from versus the higher priced ones that have a larger range and more things to choose from. But, of course, they’re always exceptions to the rules, which brings us to the cons of made-to-measure shirts.
Cons of Made-to-Measure Shirts
1. They Are More Expensive Than Off-the-Rack Shirts
First of all, obviously, they are more expensive than off-direct shirts. But, it just makes sense because it’s actually something that’s made for you rather than something that is mass-produced.
2. The Measurement Process Can Be Complex
Of course, you have the risk of getting the measurements wrong. While it may sound ideal and romantic to get that perfectly fitting shirt after taking your measurements, in reality, I’ve never had a first made-to-measure that came back and fit me perfectly.
When you’re at a made-to-measure store and someone takes your measurements, the burden is not on you but on them to provide you a shirt that fits. A lot of companies have recognized that and so, they offer a fit guarantee. But, it pays to read the fine print because some companies just offer you to have alterations made to your garment, and then, you have to submit receipts, which takes time and effort on your end.
Other companies just say, “If you’re unhappy, we’re remaking the shirt until you are happy.” So that, of course, makes it easier for you.
That being said, you shouldn’t just go out and carelessly take your measurements yourself because that is a recipe for disaster. Instead, have another person take measurements and follow the instructions of the company if it’s a remote made-to-measure operation.
3. It May Take A Few Times to Get the Perfect Fit
Next, you have to keep your expectations in check and maybe assume that only the second or third shirt will actually fit the way you anticipated. Also if you do remote made-to-measure, it can really help to take a video of yourself wearing a shirt and then sending it to them so they can see the flaws in motion, which is much more helpful than just having photos.
Of course, even if a company offers you to remake the shirt for free, there’s still time involved that it takes to reproduce the shirt and you have to reply to emails, maybe re-measure and all those things and your time is worth money, too. Especially if you need the shirt for a big event such as a wedding, you can’t afford to have multiple remakes, but you want to make sure that you get the thing you want in a timely manner.
We also strongly recommend taking a look at the instructions a company provides because each and every one of them has slight differences.
Sometimes, when you look at the advertised prices for shirts at made-to-measure companies, you may think, “Wow! They are just as expensive as an off-the-rack shirt so it’s a really good deal.” But, once you take a look at their fabric offerings, you realize that only the base fabric has that cheap price, and more interesting and higher-end fabrics are considerably more expensive.
Yes, you can typically get a light blue or white broadcloth shirt at a very low price. But, once you’ve got those, you’ll have to invest more money before deciding on a company, maybe check out their entire fabric offering to see if the cost works for you in the future as well. Also, check if costs for mother of pearl buttons or monograms, or other changes are included or excluded because the initially quoted price can really go up or down a lot depending on what you choose.
Fortunately, most online companies have their configurators, so you can configure the entire shirt and see how much it costs before you provide your measurements. Obviously, choosing a more expensive fabric will increase the price but keep in mind that a more expensive fabric may have a higher quality cotton made of a longer staple raw material, and it will also feel softer. But, a super 180s cotton fabric will also wrinkle much more easily than, let’s say, a super 80s Oxford fabric. It will likely also wear out more quickly even though it is much more expensive.
4. MTM Companies Can Give Questionable Style Advice
So, understand what your needs are and, when in doubt, always go with a two-ply fabric because they’re typically longer lasting. I found that one big con for made-to-measure companies is they oftentimes provide questionable style advice and shirt customization options.
The vast majority of made-to-measure shirt companies out there were founded because someone had expertise in logistics and supply chain management or online marketing and web design. Those people saw an opportunity to take their skills and make money with a product that doesn’t require any high stock levels in capital but a healthy margin to make a living.
When they started with their company, they were often not passionate about classic style, history, or stylistic details. They just did something that they thought looked cool in my experience. This becomes evident with monograms, for example, because they’re often offered in weird spots. So, you can have your monogram on your cuff or on the back of your collar, on the inside of your collar. But, they often don’t give you an option to actually place it where monograms were traditionally placed, which is on the left side around your waistline
Also, they offer you options to have bold contrast stitching and contrasting buttonholes and all those things, which just limit you in the occasions you can wear this shirt on.
At the end of the day, you can choose what you want and they just provide options. That is a good thing, but the lack of passion for the overall look is very apparent, in my opinion, in the collar tip curl.
When you have two layers of fabric that you sew together straight. They remain straight, however, if those fabric layers are not straight and they’re now sewn together, one side is shorter and this side becomes longer. When you wash that fabric, that can lead to tensions and eventually, the collar tip will curl under. In my mind, that’s a hallmark of a cheaply or not thoughtfully made shirt collar. Unfortunately, most made-to-measure company shirt collars I’ve seen and even off-the-rack shirt collars have that issue.
If I pay top dollar or at least more than for an off-the-rack shirt and I still get that look, I’m disappointed because, ultimately, I buy this shirt because I want to achieve a certain look and I don’t want to have a sloppy, curled shirt collar.
Made-to-measure shirts give room for customization but have limitations, too. Hopefully, the pros and cons presented would help you identify whether MTM is worth your time and money and if they help you create the effect and style you want in your menswear looks.