Off Your Back
Made-to-Measure Shirts Cater to Men Who Want a Streak of Perfection in their Wardrobes
From the Print Edition:
Rush Limbaugh, Spring 94
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"Many people might think that's outrageous, but it isn't," says Yu, whose customers include a lion's share of various industry moguls. "When you have five residences like many of our customers, that's only 30 shirts per house."
Ascot Chang, which has been in the custom-shirtmaking business since 1948, hand sews its shirts in Hong Kong almost exclusively, except for orders from special clients such as George Bush, Richard Nixon and various politicians. All Ascot Chang shirts that are custom-made for American presidents, senators and congressmen, even a few Democrats, says Yu, are made in the United States. Naturally.
Eight years ago, Ascot Chang established its New York headquarters in an attractive brownstone on 57th Street, where Yu says he can better serve customers. (There is also a shop in Beverly Hills, California, and two in Hong Kong.) An Ascot Chang custom shirt can cost from from $80 to $390, with a four-shirt minimum. With two fittings, the process takes about five weeks from initial fitting to final product. And apart from offering the widest range of collars a man could want, Ascot Chang will duplicate any style of shirt a man may already own.
Another popular custom shirtmaker is Mark Christopher, whose Wall Street location is well suited to the brisk trade this shop does with high-powered movers and shakers of finance. Mark Christopher's shirts range from $145 to $275, with a six-shirt minimum order required.
According to Mark Lingley, president and founder of the 12-year-old company, service as well as quality have been the keys to his success. Mark Christopher is unique in that the shirtmaker sends its fitters directly to the inner sanctums of these corporate executives, who need not even get out from behind their desks for a fitting.
"Our customers are very busy, with no time on their hands for shopping, but who insist on the very best in life," says Lingley. "They know well that the intrinsic value in a custom-made shirt is that it's an investment in their appearance and executive style. They would never settle for second best."
Traditionally, the best custom shirtmakers have been British, hailing from such London style epicenters as Savile Row and Jermyn Street. Fine-haberdasher aficionados know the names well: Turnbull and Asser, Hilditch and Key, Edward Sexton, Bowring and Arundel, New and Lingwood, and H. Huntsman and Sons, all of whom make two annual trips stateside to service their customers, usually out of hotel rooms in major cities. In some cases, these shirtmakers offer their shirts made-to-measure in better American men's stores as Bergdorf Goodman Men (which also handles Paris-based Charvet), Barneys New York, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Neiman Marcus.
Updated traditionalist men's clothiers such as Paul Stuart, Brooks Brothers, J. Press and Tripler also offer their own custom, made-to-measure shirts. And Robert Talbott, arguably the finest shirt manufacturer in the United States, offers shirts made-to-measure from its new Madison Avenue boutique in New York.
While store-bought dress shirts come with only two basic measurements--neck size and averaged sleeve length, a custom shirtmaker will usually take at least 10 basic measurements and in some cases as many as 30. Any man in search of a made-to-measure shirt should expect these measurements to be taken, and if they aren't, should question the quality of the shirt he's getting.
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