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BY DESIGN : Have Your Shirts Your Way

August 18, 1994|WILLIAM KESSEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Custom-shirt maker Anto Sepetjian probably dresses more of Hollywood's leading men than Giorgio Armani at an Oscar telecast. His 3,500-square-foot Beverly Hills shop, called simply Anto, turns out about 125 custom shirts a week.

Harrison Ford wears half a dozen fine Swiss cotton shirts by Anto in "Clear and Present Danger." Nick Nolte courts Julia Roberts in a pinpoint Oxford in "I Love Trouble." And Arnold Schwarzenegger goes through about 120 Sea Island cotton shirts while dodging bullets and airplanes in "True Lies."

"Arnold has a 17 3/8-inch collar, a 50-inch chest and sloped shoulders, so he has to have a custom-made shirt," says Anto, who uses only his first name. "If he wears a straight-shouldered dress shirt off the rack, it will cut on him and he'll be very uncomfortable."

What's the difference, you ask, between a store-bought and a custom-made shirt? Basically, everything. Before the first stitch, 15 measurements are taken, eight for the collar alone. The customer selects fabric, collar, cuff and pocket design, after which a shirt is sewn from muslin to confirm the fit. First-time customers must order at least six Anto shirts, which cost $165 to $185.

A less expensive way to go is Nordstrom's unadvertised, by-appointment-only custom-shirt service. These shirts, made by New York shirt designer Ike Behar, start at about $95. The Custom Shops chain specializes in "semi-custom-made" shirts; a customer chooses the fabric, but pockets, cuffs and collars are standardized. Cotton shirts range from $47 to $99.50.

CUSTOM VERSUS STORE-BOUGHT

PRICE Custom: Anywhere from $95 to about $185. Store-Bought: Average price about $30. *

FABRIC Custom: Better quality, usually 120-thread cotton, tighter weave. Pre-washed to prevent shrinkage. Store-Bought: The average dress shirt is made of CVC ("chief value cotton"). That's a nice way of saying a cotton-poly blend. Usually 65% cotton, 35% polyester. If 100% cotton--such as an Arrow shirt--the thread count is usually 80 threads per inch. *

BUTTONS Custom: Mother-of-pearl--stronger and more aesthetically pleasing. Hand-sewn. Store-Bought: Plastic--can break during dry cleaning. Attached by machine. *

STITCHING Custom: Single-needle stitches, often done by hand. Store-Bought: Double- or triple-needle stitches done on machines. *

COLLARS Custom: Lined with fabric and sewn; the collars get softer over time. Store-Bought: Fused--another word for glued. Initially stiff, fused collars often crinkle, crack and fray after repeated dry cleanings. *

CUFFS Custom: Dozens of variations--from tab closures to interesting angles. Store-Bought: Two varieties--French or button. *

MONOGRAMS Custom: Hand-stitched. Store-Bought: Machine-stitched, usually for nominal fee by department store. *

LAUNDERING Custom: Anto's in-store laundry service. Pick up, wash, press and delivery, $4.50 per shirt. And hold the starch, Anto says--it ruins the fabric. Store-Bought: In-home laundry service. New "wrinkle-free" dress shirts can be worn straight from the dryer. Great for cotton shirts, but "wrinkle-free" cotton-poly shirts are the same as, excuse the expression, perma press.

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