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Building your Shirt Wardrobe

Here is a little article I wrote about bespoke shirts for Riddle Magazine

Things to look for with bespoke shirts:

Fabrics: are they in an unlabelled book, or from an actual fabric mill. How well does the salesman know the fabrics and the mill, so that they can best advise the client based on the client’s preferences? Are the fabrics prewashed, so there are no nasty surprises. Having lots and lots of suppliers doesn’t mean all of the fabrics are good. Like going to a restaurant that does everything: pizza, burgers, sushi, Thai. Nothing will be remarkable.

Collars and cuffs: does one have to pick from a selection of existing designs, can they be modified or a design made from scratch? Picking from existing designs is made to measure, not bespoke. Can the interlining be chosen to give a softer or a stiffer feel.

Buttons and details: choosing from a wide selection of different coloured buttons and embroidery options should be at the bottom of the priority list. They can always be changed at the end. The fit of the shirt cannot. Ideally the buttons should be mother of pearl. They are the real thing and in my opinion look nicer. It is also a good test for a laundry. If the buttons come back damaged, image what they are doing to the rest of the shirt, change your laundry!

Measurements and fitting: taking lots and lots of measurements is no guarantee of a good fitting shirt, nor are multiple fittings. Taking accurate measurements and knowing what to do with those measurements is more important. Looking at the client, and listening to the client is even more important in terms of figuration and fit. What does the client actually want. One man’s slim fit shirt, is another man’s loose fit. Deciphering that, and understanding how the shirt will be worn are essential to creating the product the client will be happy with. Doing all of this remotely for the first time, is like drawing the Mona Lisa when one never has seen a picture of her, and does it purely based on description. Once the pattern for the client has been established, then future orders can be done remotely, as long as the client’s shape has not changed.

Handmade details: the hand stitching if executed skilfully can be beautiful, if done badly, can look like a blind person trying to stab a live chicken. Hand stitching is favoured by some Italian shirt makers, especially in the South of Italy, it is unheard of in London. There is no plentiful supply of cheap labour for hand sowing in London like there is in Naples, where a lot of hand stitching is done by out workers at home in their spare time. Some Neopolitan firms even boast about the drops of blood left by the hand sowers on their shirts. Personally, I dislike hand stitching on shirts as I feel it makes them too precious and I question their longevity. Ignoring that, an English gentleman would never take off his jacket in public, so the actual construction of the shirt would never be on public display, not so with the hot and humid climate of Southern Italy. Either way, no matter how well the shirt is made, by hand or machine, if it doesn’t fit, then the construction is irrelevant. 


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