A custom-fit shirt is the key to looking sharp while still feeling like yourself.
Diana Kelly 1 / 9
We’re pretty sure you’ve got at least one favorite shirt. It’s the one you pull on the morning of a big presentation or slide into before the second date, when you already know you like her and want to look even sharper than your first meeting.
But shouldn’t every shirt you put on feel amazing and amass compliments?
It could if it's custom: “With a custom shirt, you have the opportunity to personalize it and make it your own, not just to custom-fit your body, but also to custom-fit your personality,” says Jon Patrick, vice president of product at custom menswear company J.Hilburn.
Here, Patrick walks us through everything you'll need to consider when getting a custom shirt made.
“Fit is king, and if the shirt doesn’t fit you, you’re not going to look good or feel comfortable in it,” says Patrick. His company’s personal stylists take 11 measurements when they meet with you to ensure they nail the correct fit every time. Whether your traps are larger than the average Joe’s, or your pecs are your best body part, you can get a shirt that fits you perfectly and shows off the results of your hardcore workouts. Good luck finding that off the rack.
What your shirt is made of is the second most important factor when creating a custom shirt. Since you’ll be taking shirts to the cleaners often, it’s important to invest in quality fabrics that withstand all the wear and tear you’ll be putting them through. Aim for Italian fabrics (the country is known for producing the best men’s shirt fabrics in the world and it’s where most of J.Hilburn’s shirting mills are located) made of at least 80s 2-ply. If you travel a lot for work and rely on non-iron fabrics so you look fresh when you get off the plane or train, J.Hilburn has higher-quality fabrics than you’d find in typical wrinkle-free shirts you’d buy in a store, says Patrick.
“Remember that a custom shirt doesn’t always mean a dress shirt," says Patrick. "It can be casual if you want—linens, seasonal plaids, seersucker—and it can fit every aspect of your life, whether it’s work or weekend." Prints are really hot in menswear right now—especially Liberty of London prints, he adds. For a clean look, skip the front placket in a custom design if you’re choosing printed fabric.
Your shirt collar says a lot about your style, and with a custom shirt, you have a ton of options. A button-down collar is best for a casual shirt and looks great with a sport coat, says Patrick. A spread collar works well for a suit. “Cool collars are on-trend in menswear, especially scaled-down proportions, like you’d see in the J.Crew Ludlow suits,” he says. That being said, if you have a large frame and a big neck, choose a collar size that’s proportionate to your frame. A smaller collar can actually make a large neck look even bigger.
While you’ve got plenty of options on cuff designs (J.Hilburn has 13 to choose from), getting a shirt custom made can accommodate large wrists—or make wearing a large watch more comfortable. Athletes who use a dominant arm might have one wrist that’s larger than the other, which can easily be taken care of with a custom shirt.
“I consider a dress shirt with a pocket a sport shirt,” says Patrick. If you want a pocket on your shirt, the designer should look at the cuff you’re doing as well. If it’s a rounded cuff, do a pocket with rounded corners on the bottom. Or, if it’s a mitered cuff (angled corners), have a pocket with mitered corners on the bottom. “Everything should look like there’s design intent and symmetry throughout all of the elements of the shirt.”
While you’ll have a bunch of button options with a custom-made shirt (including the classic Mother-of-Pearl), you might want to personalize your shirt with contrast stitching to add interest, suggests Patrick. When a white Oxford button-down is paired with navy contrast stitching around button holes, the classic shirt pops. “Since Americana has been big in menswear for the past few years, we’re seeing clients request vintage-looking buttons, like the fish-eye button, on their custom-made sport shirts,” says Patrick.
When you’re debating shirt length, consider whether you’ll wear the shirt tucked or untucked and what you’ll be doing in it. Do you want a square bottom or a scalloped bottom? If you’re constantly reaching, bending over, and stretching, you want your shirt to stay put in your pants. Tell the designer to make your shirt extra long so you won’t have to worry about tucking it back in. If you never wear your shirts tucked, then have them designed to your preferred length.
To provide structure, shirts typically have a placket running down the front. If you want something like a linen camp shirt, you might create that without a placket so it’s a flowy, more casual look, says Patrick.
A guy knows right away if he wants monogramming on his shirt, says Patrick. “Typically, it’s a type-A personality, and if he doesn’t suggest it, I don’t push it.” The designers at J.Hilburn leave annoying scratchy labels out of the shirt, but will automatically monogram your initials on the collar so you know it’s your shirt every time you pick it up from the cleaners.
For your first fitting, bring your favorite shirts and be prepared to talk to the stylist about what you like about them, whether it’s the fabric, details, cuffs, collar, fold-over placket, and so on. The stylist will ask you about what you want the shirt to do, your preferences, and will guide you to the best fabrics and design elements that will work for you.
The most surprising element? Custom shirts are more affordable than you’d think! Most of J. Hilburn’s custom-made shirts cost between $99 and $169. (To compare, an off-the-rack Italian shirt will probably set you back at least $165 and upward of $400 for certain famous Italian designers, Patrick says.) Your stylist will bring your first shirt to you and have you try it on to make sure you’re happy with the shirt and experience. Want more custom shirts? Simply call up your stylist and order them, changing details for different looks. While we think the cost is pretty great, never having to shop at the mall again is pretty priceless.