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Assessing shirt quality

post #1 of 22
Thread Starter 
Hello, Unlike many members of this forum, I have not had the pleasure of owning shirts from high-end labels. This weekend, however, I examined a few from various stores (Hilditch & Key, Charvet, Borrelli, Barbera, Alfred Dunhill). (I wish I had more freedom to slowly browse and examine them but salespeople were always bothering me.) What struck me was how undistinguished they were. It was obvious to me that they were very well made and finished but the fabrics (especially the Barbera one that I saw) almost look faded and washed out; are they supposed to be like that? Perhaps I have all this while incorrectly believed that good fabrics should have a slight sheen to them and should hold colors very well? Furthermore, I thought the buttons that Charvet uses are very undistinguished. So my question is, how can one, using eyes and hands, assess the quality of a shirt? I understand that this may be a very basic question but I sincerely hope to learn from all of you. On another note, I also saw the new "Z" line from Zegna which left me extremely dissapointed. It is priced at a much lower price point from their regular range, but the designs were very very uninspired. A step down from Club Monaco, if I may say so.
post #2 of 22
Thread Starter 
Anyone?
post #3 of 22
I've felt sorry for this post sitting here all day unanswered. And I'd be interested in the answer myself.
post #4 of 22
It's not just one factor, its a combination (obviously). I've seen shirts from Banana Republic, Express, Faconnable, etc. that had amazing fabrics given the price. Yet, the rest of the shirt wasn't so great. Things to look for: - Pattern matching on seams, and on front pocket - Quality, thick buttons without much discoloration - High quality fabrics, with a fine feel and finish (too many F's) - Split yoke - Single-needle tailoring - Hand-attached sleeves (evident by slight puckering on the seam I believe) - Gusset triangles on side seams - Well-designed collar and cuffs - Hand-sewn buttonholes - Hand-stitching on rest of shirt
post #5 of 22
Here's an amateur attempt: My criteria prior to the last six months had been cost, construction, cut, and finally cloth (I've since rearranged my priorities to fit, construction, cost, and finally cloth).  For the sake of novelty, I'll use the analogy of diamond shopping as a comparison to finding the perfect shirt. Cost is the easiest factor to identify.  I haven't started my career yet, so I can't afford Borrelli, Brioni, Turnbull & Asser, etc. even at Ebay prices (~$100 shirt).  For now, I must be content with shirts in the >$60 range. For less than $60 a shirt, fine construction is difficult to find.  Jantzen is probably the best bet for low cost construction.  Nice shirts should include the following details: single needle construction--it looks cleaner and most well-constructed shirts favor single vs double needle stiching; a split yoke; pattern matching along the yoke and sleeves; an unfused collar and cuffs is preferrable to some, but I actually like lightly fused examples of both; finely stiched button holes; thick cake MOP buttons; and a horizontal button hole at the last button.  Higher up in the food chain may include details like perfect pattern matching along the placket and sleeve; three piece collars; and then the little nuances that people request with MTM or bespoke.  My personal favorite is a slightly larger left cuff for accomodating a watch. Fit:  Another personal matter.  I need to buy "slim fit" shirts since I'm a little guy.  I'm seriously considering taking a bunch of low-end English shirts (Thomas Pink/Charles Tyrwhitt) in my closet to the ghetto tailor and adding darts.  I've found that some Zegna, Ascot Chang, Seize Sur Vingt, Paul Smith, and Janzten all are great options that fit into my budget at full retail or serious discount.  Tailoring sleeves is also a possibility, but be forewarned--$14 a shirt. Cloth: Spend some time in the MTM department at a high-end department store or visit a local shirtmaker, and check out fabric swatches.  If you have no intent on buying, be courteous enough to inform the salespeople or tailor of your intentions so they don't waste valuable time.  Mike at Cego shirts was nice enough to go through a small selections of his fabrics last year.  I learned a lot, and probably spent a good hour yapping.  DJA and Alumo (Thomas Mason??) are safe bets to start out with in your personal "shirt" education.  Keep in mind that finish influences the texture and appearance of fabrics quite a bit, and can be misleading to simply assume that all shiny shirts are made from superior fabrics.  I've learned that the higher count cottons (140s Sea Islands--my personal best, or better) are more about self-indulgent comfort rather than aesthetics. FWIW, I find that handstiched details, a la Borrelli, are a nice addition but add little to the overall quality of the garment. Good luck in finding your perfect shirt. matt
post #6 of 22
Actually, you hear different opinions with regards to the gusset. Some people say that it strengthens the seams. But, others say that its unnecessary and bulk detail. And, the thinner the pearl buttons, the more likely they are to break up from the washing and drying. The thicker pearl ones are less likely to have this problem. In some cases, its actually better to have plastic buttons than thin pearl buttons. But, I've never understood the reasoning behind single needle stitching. I understand that it costs more for the manufacturer to do this than double. So, I guess you could correlate it with a higher end shirt by reasoning if the manufacturer is willing to do this, then they probably also spent more on other details as well. But, I don't know if this feature alone makes that much of a difference. Somebody wrote that it looks cleaner. But, this isn't noticeable unless you're raising your hand to ask a question. And, besides, is it really that big of a difference if there are two small lines vs. one small line?
post #7 of 22
Quote:
Actually, you hear different opinions with regards to the gusset. Some people say that it strengthens the seams. But, others say that its unnecessary and bulk detail. And, the thinner the pearl buttons, the more likely they are to break up from the washing and drying. The thicker pearl ones are less likely to have this problem. In some cases, its actually better to have plastic buttons than thin pearl buttons. But, I've never understood the reasoning behind single needle stitching. I understand that it costs more for the manufacturer to do this than double. So, I guess you could correlate it with a higher end shirt by reasoning if the manufacturer is willing to do this, then they probably also spent more on other details as well. But, I don't know if this feature alone makes that much of a difference. Somebody wrote that it looks cleaner. But, this isn't noticeable unless you're raising your hand to ask a question. And, besides, is it really that big of a difference if there are two small lines vs. one small line?
One of the reasons often cited for single-needle tailoring is the prevention of unsightly "puckering" at the seems. Although I think this is more a function of the shirt material and way the material was pulled when stitiching (pardon the pun, but this is completely off the cuff, given my ignorance of the finer points of sewing). My more casual Ralph Lauren button-downs (single-needle) tend to pucker after a few washings, while my English dress shirts (from a famous maker that will remain nameless) are not single needle stitched, yet don't seem to pucker.
post #8 of 22
Thread Starter 
Thanks for the responses I am curious if one can develop the skill to distinguish, using only the eye, a Tyrwhitt or Jantzen plain white shirt from a Charvet plain white shirt, when it is worn by someone in everyday settings. (I understand the wearer can tell the difference, but I am just wondering whether can someone looking at the wearer tell the difference.) Thanks
post #9 of 22
Quote:
Thanks for the responses I am curious if one can develop the skill to distinguish, using only the eye, a Tyrwhitt or Jantzen plain white shirt from a Charvet plain white shirt, when it is worn by someone in everyday settings. (I understand the wearer can tell the difference, but I am just wondering whether can someone looking at the wearer tell the difference.) Thanks
I think a lot of what we talk about is "angels on the head of a pin" type of stuff when you frame it in the context of what others can see. The obligatory answer is that the wearer himself knows he is wearing a quality well-designed garment, and would rather pay a little more for something that warranted the cost. That said, I think other people that pay attention can definately tell the difference. It's amazing how my Charvet shirts seem to draw more compliments. Then again, if an observer is drawn more to a typical English collar, they might be more taken with a simple Tyrwhitt (which I think is a very fine shirt for the money). Quality does matter though, even in areas as mundane as durability. I have a Pink and a Tyrwhitt that have served me well, but are beginning to show their age and number of launderings . . . then I have a Charvet (the deilcate gussettless wonder that it is) that is older and has seen more washings, but looks brand new. Now I'm sure the Charvet was babied a bit more than the other two, but it makes you wonder if maybe there is something to this whole you get what you pay for idea.
post #10 of 22
I guess it is time for a custom shirtmaker to add to this discussion. First and foremost. Is the fit. Does the shirt fit the way you want it to fit. This is after several washings and the shirt has shrunk to size. As A shirtmaker, I bring my bias into the fitting process. I make suggestions as to the appropriate fit, but I am not wearing the shirt. My customer is. My customer determines how they want it to fit. Secondly is the needlework. Hand stitching is a complete waist of time and only adds to the expense of the shirt. The only exception is in hand sewing buttons.Butons will fall off if the temperamental button sewer is not tying off the button cleanly. Stitching should be clean straight and tight. Broken stitches should be ripped and resewn. I have been asked how many stitches per inch are appropriate. My answer is always the same. Just make sure you can't count them with out a magnifying glass. Most of the other details listed are purely esthetic. Split yoke, Tail gussets, horitontal buttons at the bottom of the tail or sleeve placket are all unnecessary details. Single needle side seems look cleaner then a Double needle chainstitch. A double needle close is not an awful thing. There is even a double needle machine that you would never know is such. IT is called an off the arm machine. IT is slower then a double needle chain stitich but you can get a nice clean closing in one operation where a true single needle closing takes two operations. Just make sure that the sleeve is not a double needle close. Those never look right. Too tight looking. Matching stripes yoke to sleeve, and sleeve to sleeve placket are a nice touch. It is really only apparent on larger stripes. I don't really have the patience to discuss buttons right now. I could go on about Fabrics for a long time. I need to get to work so this will all have to wait. Carl www.cego.com
post #11 of 22
Actually, I find it very easy to distinguish between mediocre shirts and high quality shirts. Don't ask me to explain how I can do this, because it is not an intellectual but rather a sensual process. At least for me. I'm sure that others, more learned in these matters, can explain, by reference to the fit, construction, fabric and other matters.
post #12 of 22
TCN said:
Quote:
That said, I think other people that pay attention can definately tell the difference.  It's amazing how my Charvet shirts seem to draw more compliments.  Then again, if an observer is drawn more to a typical English collar, they might be more taken with a simple Tyrwhitt (which I think is a very fine shirt for the money).
TCN, I've often wondered about this french collar. In my mind it's somewhat smaller and softer than the english one and a bit wider than the regular semi-spread one. Very flattering, but seldom seen. Is this correct ? As for the proper topic, in my mind it's: 1:Fit  2:Collar style and fabric  3:Shell buttons and pattern matching  4:All the other frills (gusset, horizontal buttonholes, split yoke etc). The last category is more of a statement from the shirtmaker about the other important details. If these things are done according to the book, chances are that corners have not been cut with more important aspects of the shirt. Carl, do you have any experience as to what contributes to puckering of the seams ? I've heard many theories, such as those above and also that if the properties of the thread are different from the fabric it will react differently to washing. It stands to reason that if the thread shinks more than the fabric, you'll get the dreaded puckering. B
post #13 of 22
Bjorn, I agree with you on the French collar. Puckering can occur if either the fabric or the thread shrinks (much) more than the other. The shrinkage of the thread should be insignificant as it should have gone through various processes intended to prevent or minimize shrinkage. Shirtmakers generally use either cotton-wrapped polyester-core thread(which some claim is stronger) or 100% cotton thread. Though generally mercerized/sanforized to minimize shrinkage, fine shirt fabric may have a "dimensional stability" of 2%. Even 2% could be judged as significant - in a shirt with a 44" chest, the chest could measure 43". The vast majority of shirtmakers do not wash and iron the fabric before cutting. Washing and ironing the fabric before cutting is a step which could help to create a better finished product.
post #14 of 22
I have often read that a split yoke is a sign of quality, though I have no idea why. I always ordered my Jantzen shirts without split yokes simply because I liked the look of the yoke without interruption. Why is the split yoke important?
post #15 of 22
I'm sure someone better versed will weigh in before I'm even done typing, but... A split yoke on a RTW shirt means nothing. On a custom shirt it's a sign that each side of the yoke has been cut to the measurements of the wearer. Everyone (pretty much) is at least slightly asymmetrical, and custom shirtmakers adjust each side of the yoke to compensate. The yoke, split or not, is an important determiner of fit, since so many components of the shirt come together there. Someone awhile back (banksmiranda?) went through a process of making a pattern for their own yoke to send to Jantzen. I am not nearly that patient. Unnecessarily split yokes - on which each side is exactly the same - have followed side gussets, multi-button cuffs etc. as details of fine shirts that have trickled down to standard mall-available wear. This is not to completely shake my head at it, but I'd prefer pattern-matching in my j crew shirts to gussets. My shirts have never torn at the point gussets reinforce. EDIT: Split yokes also allow for patterned fabrics to be applied at different angles, and this is a styling detail some people prefer. The difference is obvious with stripes and tattersalls, especially. I admit I do prefer a split yoke with these patterns, but I don't ever remember making a shirt-buying decision on the basis of a yoke.
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