Trying On Shirts Tailored Online
Custom Options Expand, But Getting a Fit Isn't Easy; Too Much Room in the Neck
By BRIAN CRONK
July 27, 2006
A custom-made men's shirt is no longer a luxury reserved for fastidious dressers.
Internet sites are expanding and improving their do-it-yourself tailoring options, offering a quick way to order custom clothing without going in for a fitting. The concept has been available for several years, but lately retailers such as Target and Lands' End, along with established shirt makers, have been piling on the customizing features to attract younger customers and repeat buyers.
The price is tempting. Online tailoring sites charge as little as $50 a shirt, and you can order one at a time. A traditional fully bespoke shirt generally costs more, sometimes requiring a minimum order of six shirts at prices starting at around $275 each.
Plus the Web sites offer you a chance to design your own shirt, with choices of fabrics, collars, cuffs, sleeves, stitching, pleats and pockets.
WALL STREET JOURNAL PODCAST
The Journal's Brian Cronk bought five different custom-made men's dress shirts from Web sites to see if they fit when they show up at his door. Hear the results of his shirt-buying experiment.
To see how the customizing services stack up, we bought a custom shirt from five different Web sites that offer made-to-measure ordering. At each site, we entered the same measurements for a tapered fit and requested a basic, white, 100% cotton pinpoint shirt. Our tester was a bit of a difficult fit, with extra long arms and a small neck.
We found that the service was as convenient as billed. But there was one little problem: Only one of our five custom shirts actually fit well.
In part, this is because the sites often factor in a "shrinkage allowance," meaning a shirt may not fit until it's been washed multiple times. Also, since you act as your own tailor, you need to take precise measurements of yourself and resist the temptation to embellish when describing your body type. That means not indicating you're "athletic" when "portly" is more like it.
Still, the sites all offered to remake our shirts, so we didn't feel hung out to dry. And generally, the retailers were very responsive, offering quick responses to our questions. For those with patience who are willing to experiment a bit and are prepared to pay shipping costs, the online customization services are a good way to find what you've always wanted"”a chevron-weave purple shirt, for instance, with a tab collar, Milanese cuffs and a script monogram.
The Web site for Liste Rouge, a tailor based in Paris, offered a full range of photos, diagrams and an extensive fabric catalog. The shirt we received was about an inch too large in the neck, but the company said that the extra fabric was "on purpose" and that the shirt would fit eventually, after a few more launderings. To achieve a tapered fit, extra seams were sewn in the back, making the shirt look a bit too much like a blouse. The company quickly offered to remake the shirt and suggested we send in our best-fitting shirt so it could match the measurements.
On the same day we placed our order with Bestcustomshirt.com, we received an email asking us to call the designer directly to go over pricing, measurements and style details. The shirt arrived within about two weeks, and we liked the quality of the fabric and thorough follow-up service. But we thought the shirt had too much breathing room in the neck and the sleeves were too long. The company said it adds a half inch to the neck and to the sleeve length for shrinkage, adding that it would take nine washings for the shirt to fully shrink. The shirt also had extra stitching in back, which the company said is usually done when shirts call for a tapered look. A company representative offered to remake the shirt.
The Execshirts.com Web site had a broad selection of features and fabrics, and it offered a five-minute tutorial on measurements. The shirt, sent to us straight from Thailand, where it was made, was a bit droopy in the shoulders, and the sleeves came up short. The company offered to try again, minus the $9.75 shipping fee back to Thailand and a $10 fee for its initial shipping cost. Execshirts.com said our experience was an exception, and that its customers find the right fit the first time "nine times out of 10."
The process of creating a "fit profile" on the Lands' End site included scrolling through pictures of collar styles and indicating body proportions on a series of front- and side-view drawings. The site promises that if the fit isn't "just so," you can change your saved online profile and reorder. The shirt fit fine overall, but the neck was a touch roomy, and the small collar points looked more appropriate for a casual shirt than a dress shirt. Lands' End said it sometimes takes more than one time to find the right fit, but that "once you have it, you have it."
Ordering was especially quick at Shirtcreations.com, the online operation of an established shirt maker. The site offers an optional level of more-detailed measurements for $25 a shirt, but we stuck with the basic sizing that didn't cost extra. Simplicity turned out to be best in this case. The shirt fit well on the first try. It had a slim fit without extra seams in the back, and the collar was appropriately dressy. This one was a keeper.