Forget designer labels. In men’s clothing, bespoke has long been the ultimate standard of quality and selection. The garment that’s made for you not only offers perfect fit, but your choice of form, fabric and details. The downside? Price. You pay in troy ounces when you step up to the level of a Savile Row suit or a pair of John Lobb shoes. But for those who long to sample special service without a buy-in of several thousands, an alterative exists: custom shirts.
When it comes down to it, shirts are among the most personal of garments, hugging your body as they do. The custom fitting that they get at the hands of a trained professional translates into heightened comfort that transcends even bespoke jackets and trousers. Off-the-rack shirts are based on two measurements—collar circumference and sleeve length—everything else is up to the cut the manufacturer determines. With made-to-measure you are getting perhaps dozens of measurements that take into account the full shape of your torso. And, as Max Farca, owner of Sartoria Ambrosiana, a full-service custom clothier, points out, getting that kind of treatment means “it’s you wearing the shirt, not the shirt wearing you.”
Moreover, custom brings you choice. Of course, you pick the basic shape of the garment—is it blousy or form-fitting?—then move on to the details. Collar types are a big concern as many style mavens feel you should match their stance to the shape of your face. But Farca says that you may just want to follow fashion—the British spread collar is currently the rage. Other considerations include the cuff—barrel or French, one button or two—the breast pocket—or lack thereof—and the monogram—style and where it should be placed.
“Once you have that, have fun with fabrics,” advises Farca. “A shirt is a blank canvas to a man’s wardrobe.” And you can paint that canvas with virtually unlimited colors and patterns. The fineness of material is a main determinant of the cost of the shirt. (In the case of Sartoria Ambrosiana, prices range between $135 and $200, unless you opt for a completely hand-sewn garment, which runs $300 to $500.) Buttons are another choice and often distinguish custom from off-the-rack in their noticeable quality.
Beyond the garment itself, there is the level of service that custom-made suggests. Hate spending Saturday at the mall? Many custom clothiers will visit your office and take your shirt order there. Farca, himself, makes visits in New York, Atlanta and Dallas. Perhaps most inviting are his regular weekly visits to the Nat Sherman store in Manhattan. Imagine doing your clothes shopping and smoking a cigar at the same time.