Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

MEN'S STYLE

Cut from a new cloth

As prices have dropped, more men are buying dress shirts made just for them.

January 29, 2012|Adam Tschorn
  • Anto Distinctive Shirtmaker has more than 10,300 patterns on file and takes more than 20 measurements to custom-make a man's shirt.
Anto Distinctive Shirtmaker has more than 10,300 patterns on file and takes… (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles…)

Custom-made men's dress shirts were once considered the privileged peacockery of the moneyed set -- a dash of sartorial swagger that could be afforded only by Hollywood A-listers, Wall Street bankers and monocle-wearing aristocrats of a bygone era.

But today, thanks to advances in technology, a competitive market and consumer demand, custom clothing has moved within the barrel-cuffed arm's reach of the common man. Click a button in Burbank and a factory in Beijing can cut and sew a dress shirt made to specification -- not just in size, shape and fabric, but with a mind-boggling number of other options as well (including mitered pockets, contrasting buttonholes, French cuffs and rounded collar points). And it can be delivered to your doorstep in less than three weeks for the sum of $100 -- less than half the price of an off-the-peg luxury brand using the same high-end Italian fabrics.

That's the business model of 5-year-old, Dallas-based custom clothier J.Hilburn, which couples e-commerce with a nationwide direct-sales team of "style advisors" armed with fabric swatches and tape measures who do initial in-person consultations. The company has gone from selling $1 million worth of custom dress shirts in 2008 to more than 10 times that last year, according to co-founder Veeral Rathod. "We sold 100,000 custom dress shirts in 2011," Rathod said. "Up from 60,000 in 2010."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, January 31, 2012 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 31 words Type of Material: Correction
Custom shirts: In the Jan. 29 Image section, an article about custom-made men's dress shirts said that clothier J.Hilburn takes six measurements when fitting a dress shirt. Ten measurements are taken.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, February 12, 2012 Home Edition Image Part P Page 2 Features Desk 1 inches; 31 words Type of Material: Correction
Custom shirts: In the Jan. 29 Image section, an article about custom-made men's dress shirts said that clothier J.Hilburn takes six measurements when fitting a dress shirt. Ten measurements are taken.

J.Hilburn isn't the only crafter of custom shirts to report growth. Peter Crawfurd, the co-founder and chief executive of 3-year-old website ShirtsMyWay.com, declined to provide specific figures, but he said 2011 sales were up 91% over 2010. A similar online purveyor, Indochino (which also sells custom men's suits and outerwear), has seen sales triple over the last three years, according to its co-founder and chief executive, Kyle Vucko.

Even some in the old-school bricks-and-mortar custom shirt business -- such as Anto Distinctive Shirtmaker in Beverly Hills, where the shirts cost $325 each, require at least two fittings and are made no further afield than Sherman Oaks -- report a bump in business.

"Knock on wood, we've seen sales increasing every year," said Jack Sepetjian, a partner with his brother Ken in the family business named for their father. "The last five or six years we've noticed more of the younger guys -- in their 30s and 40s -- coming in. That's a good sign for us."

Although it doesn't track custom dress shirts specifically, market research firm NPD Group reports that sales in the men's dress shirt category jumped 13.49% to $2.78 billion in the 12-month period ending Nov. 30 (compared with a 2.26% increase in the overall men's shirt and sweater business in the same period).

Paulo Goncalves, a partner and co-designer of New York City-based ready-to-wear label Bespoken Clothiers, which rolled out a Web-based made-to-measure program in October, explained why the brand decided to enter an increasingly crowded arena.

"We're living in a world where people are customizing everything from their cars to their computers to their phones and the skins on their phones," Goncalves said. "But it's been really slow to translate to clothing. We figured that if we could do it -- in the proper manner -- it'd be a good opportunity."

Bespoken's idea of the "proper manner" helps illustrate how the custom shirt business has changed since the days when the words "custom shirt" meant one thing: a truly handmade garment, cut from a pattern made specifically for a single individual (the way Anto's still does today) for which the customer could specify any number of details.

At Bespoken's website, for $245 a customer can specify fabric, collar and cuff style, enter four measurements (collar, chest, waist and sleeve) and three weeks later receive a shirt featuring Thomas Mason fabric that's been handmade in the same U.K. factory that makes shirts for venerable British clothier Turnbull & Asser.

"There's storytelling that goes along with it as well," Goncalves said. "It takes 16 people to construct a single shirt, we use only mother-of-pearl buttons, and the shirts are all made in the same factory that made the famous James Bond shirts. Someone who wants made-to-measure wants a story to go along with it, something they can sit in a bar and talk to their mates about."

If you're working with a clothing budget that's more "savings" than "story," websites like the aforementioned ShirtsMyWay (starting at $75) or Indochino ($79 and up) exchange pedigree for price tag, offering shirts in less expensive fabrics and made in Asia instead of England.

But in reality, none of these options is truly "custom" in the strictest sense of the word. A custom garment is based on an individual pattern made from scratch, while these newer options are made-to-measure -- based on a standard, existing shirt pattern which is then sized up or down to fit.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|