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Made to Measure Shirts vs. Bespoke Shirts: A Definitive Guide

Hamza Khan

shirt-measurement

Made to Measure Shirts and Bespoke Shirts. What are the differences and why does it matter?

When it comes to a cus­tom dress shirts, you have two options: bespoke and made to mea­sure (MTM). They dif­fer depend­ing on cost, time and con­struc­tion but either can deliv­er an excep­tion­al shirt depend­ing on your needs.

Also, bespoke or made to mea­sure shirts allow for an enor­mous amount of per­son­al­iza­tion and cus­tomiza­tion. At the end of day, what you want is a well-made, well-fit­ting shirt that express­es your per­son­al style. Both bespoke and made to mea­sure can deliv­er on that promise.

It is impor­tant, how­ev­er, to under­stand the process and what you want (in detail) out of your shirt. Here are the dif­fer­ences between bespoke and made to mea­sure shirts as you move through the shirt-mak­ing process:

1. Initial consultation — measurement & styling.

Bespoke:

A true bespoke expe­ri­ence starts with an ini­tial con­sul­ta­tion with a mas­ter tai­lor. His main objec­tive is to find out as much as he can about your lifestyle and needs so he can craft a shirt that aligns with your expec­ta­tions.

He (or his team) will ask a series of ques­tions that will define your cus­tomer pro­file, which will be refined over the life­time of your rela­tion­ship.

Once the intro­duc­tions are out of the way, the tai­lor or a trained appren­tice will mea­sure you at pre­cise points and note them down — either against a body dia­gram or into a pre­cise list. He will also note down your pos­ture, shoul­der shape (square, slop­ing, or unbal­anced), neck pitch, and oth­er fac­tors that could affect fit.

The mea­sure­ments pro­vid­ed will pro­vide the nec­es­sary data to cre­ate a pat­tern cut specif­i­cal­ly to your body.

Fol­low­ing their full fit assess­ment, the tai­lor will then ini­ti­ate the dis­cus­sion around fab­ric, typ­i­cal­ly via a series of fab­ric swatch books, in a vari­ety of pat­terns and weaves.

Depen­dent large­ly on bud­get / price point, the tai­lor may show­case fab­rics from more exclu­sive, well known shirt­ing mills such as Tes­si­tu­ra Mon­ti, Thomas Mason, Sok­tas, or Alu­mo.

Fabric swatches from Thomas Mason

Fab­ric swatch­es from Thomas Mason

Most folks that are new to the process will need care­ful guid­ance on what to ini­tial­ly choose.  Some fab­rics drape bet­ter than oth­ers (i.e. Jacquards and Twills), and have qual­i­ties that could affect the fit.

The staff at the bespoke shop will (read: should) have the expe­ri­ence to rec­om­mend suit­able fab­rics, based on the occa­sion, your lifestyle, and which are best for a first com­mis­sion.

After the fab­ric is cho­sen, you will have to decide on spe­cif­ic shirt attrib­ut­es; like col­lar / cuff style, plack­ets, pleats, and so on.

Once again, the tai­lor can help guide you through this process by ref­er­enc­ing how you wear your shirts and your lifestyle (for exam­ple, casu­al vs dressy).

Bespoke and made to measure shirts: Master tailor

Cus­tomer get­ting mea­sured for a bespoke shirt at Turn­bull & Ass­er in Lon­don. Image cour­tesy of The New York Times.

Made to Measure:

The made to mea­sure shirt process shares a lot of com­mon process­es with bespoke, but there are some aspects which are dif­fer­ent that should be not­ed.

First, the ini­tial con­sul­ta­tion only exists if you are walk­ing into a local shop and speak­ing to some­one first-hand. If you’re order­ing online, you are in fact receiv­ing a made to mea­sure shirt — bespoke is unheard of and in fact — impos­si­ble online.

If you are order­ing a made to mea­sure shirt online, ensure that there are a num­ber of qual­i­ty reviews behind the shirt mak­er and that they have a clear, easy to fol­low mea­sure­ment process — as it’s like­ly you’ll be doing the mea­sure­ments your­self.

Bespoke and made to measure shirts: Getting measured

Get­ting mea­sured in-store for a made to mea­sure shirt. Image cour­tesy of Brooks Broth­ers.

Buy­ers should note that made to mea­sure shirts are almost always sub-con­tract­ed out to a cut-make-trim (CMT) facil­i­ty over­seas.

Made to mea­sure shirts are NOT actu­al­ly made in house. To many first time cus­tom shirt pur­chasers this is a bit of a shock­er. It’s not some­thing the com­pa­ny will typ­i­cal­ly adver­tise as the ‘illu­sion’ of bespoke affords the shop the abil­i­ty to charge a sig­nif­i­cant­ly high­er price.

The advan­tage of an online made to mea­sure shirt mak­er is obvi­ous; they don’t have the admin­is­tra­tive costs asso­ci­at­ed with down­town rent or employ­ees that come up with a tra­di­tion­al store­front.

Those oper­a­tional cost sav­ings are typ­i­cal­ly passed on to the cus­tomer result­ing in a 20–30% low­er retail price.

Bespoke and made to measure shirts: Measuring an existing shirt

Mea­sur­ing an exist­ing shirt is one option when order­ing online.

The actu­al mea­sure­ment process with­in a store­front should (more or less) be sim­i­lar to what you’d find with a bespoke shop — albeit in a much quick­er fash­ion. The job of a made to mea­sure shop is vol­ume vs. indi­vid­ual atten­tion.

Made to mea­sure shirt shops will typ­i­cal­ly see upwards of 20 cus­tomers a day where­as a bespoke shop may attend to no more than 5.

Online made to mea­sure dress shirt mak­ers have a dif­fer­ent mea­sure­ment process alto­geth­er as the onus is on the cus­tomer to cap­ture accu­rate val­ues for each of the request­ed areas.

Gen­er­al­ly you have three options:

A. Mea­sure your­self via tra­di­tion­al body mea­sure­ment instruc­tions (helps to have a friend assist);

B. Mea­sure an exist­ing shirt.  Some com­pa­nies will also allow you to send them an exist­ing shirt that they mea­sure for you;

C. Algo­rithm / pre­dic­tive siz­ing sys­tems.  The new­er online mak­ers even offer fit based on col­lec­tive user data they’ve col­lat­ed. The way it works is you pro­vide the site with a hand­ful of answers to com­mon fit ques­tions — such as Height, Weight, Fit Pref­er­ence, Tuck Pref­er­ence, Col­lar Size, etc… These sys­tems are cer­tain­ly the sim­plest in that they do not require a mea­sur­ing tape but have the most risk as you’re rely­ing on pre­dic­tive esti­mates vs. actu­al mea­sure­ments. Try Deo Ver­i­tas’ QSiz­ing method as an exam­ple of a sys­tem that comes with a per­fect fit guar­an­tee.

Most made to mea­sure shirt shops are very busy, so their pre­rog­a­tive is to get a quick deci­sion out of you — mean­ing the choic­es they present are typ­i­cal­ly dri­ven towards vol­ume (sales) — which may / may not be in your best inter­est.

Online, you have all the time to research fab­ric and fea­tures before final­iz­ing your deci­sion. The draw­back how­ev­er, is not being able to see and feel the fab­ric. If this is a con­cern, look for brand­ed fab­rics (e.g. Sok­tas, Thomas Mason) as these mate­ri­als will almost assured­ly be excep­tion­al.

Cus­tomiz­ing col­lars, cuffs, plack­ets can be a bet­ter, more visu­al expe­ri­ence online as many web shirt mak­ers offer you a live pre­view of what the com­plet­ed shirt will look like.

2. Dress shirt pattern.

Bespoke:

After your mea­sure­ments have been tak­en and shirt style select­ed, a pat­tern must be cre­at­ed from which your shirt will be first cut out of fab­ric, and then con­struct­ed.

In true bespoke, the pat­tern mak­er will cre­ate this pat­tern (by hand) on light, semi-trans­par­ent paper. In some cas­es (depend­ing on the skill of the pat­tern mak­er) the pat­tern is actu­al­ly drawn free­hand (called rock-of-eye).

The pat­tern is then placed on top of the shirt­ing fab­ric you chose and will guide the cut­ter as they hand cut the indi­vid­ual pieces need­ed to con­struct your shirt.

This pat­tern will remain on file, as long as you keep get­ting shirts made from them, and will be updat­ed as you and your tai­lor per­fect the fit of your shirt.

Once you and your tai­lor are hap­py with the fit of the shirt, the pat­tern can be “locked-in” and sub­se­quent shirts can be made with­out addi­tion­al changes.

deo-veritas-shirt-panel-cut2

A bespoke shirt pan­el cut out from a paper pat­tern.

 

Made to Measure:

Mod­ern made to mea­sure shirt mak­ers trans­late pro­vid­ed mea­sure­ments (e.g. chest, shoul­ders, sleeve length, etc…) into pat­terns quick­ly using com­put­er-aid­ed-design pro­grams (CAD).

The CAD sys­tem then prints the pat­tern spe­cif­ic to your mea­sure­ment.

Bespoke and made to measure dress shirts: made to measure shirt patterns

Mea­sure­ments being trans­lat­ed dig­i­tal­ly into shirt pat­tern pieces

 

Bespoke and made to measure shirts: Made to measure shirt patterns on screen

See­ing pat­terns on screen pri­or to print­ing

 

Bespoke and made to measure shirts: made to measure printed pattern

Pat­terns being print­ed (made to mea­sure) vs. hand drawn (bespoke)

There­after, the pat­terns are laid over the fab­ric and cut to shape as shown below.

Bespoke and made to measure shirts: Cutting out the pattern on fabric

Front shirt tor­so being cut from pat­tern

3. A guide to fittings for dress shirts.

Bespoke:

Between being mea­sured and receiv­ing your fin­ished shirt is the “try-on”, where you get to test out the shirt before it is com­plet­ed.

Some bespoke tai­lors will cre­ate a try-on shirt by cut­ting your pat­tern out of inex­pen­sive (muslin) cloth to insure the fit is cor­rect. Oth­ers will cre­ate a ‘try-on’ ver­sion of the actu­al shirt­ing to be used, only light­ly assem­bled by hand (instead of stitched by machine) so it can eas­i­ly be pulled apart and cor­rect­ed.

Keep in mind, though, that this fit­ting is most­ly for the tai­lor, to insure the pat­tern is dead on. How­ev­er, you will get a chance to see if the col­lar style, for instance, suits you and if gen­er­al­ly speak­ing the shirt is fit­ting as you like. After this, the tai­lor will adjust the pat­tern and cre­ate your final shirt(s).

There may or may not be a sec­ond fit­ting before the shirt is final­ized.

Checking collar fit on a bespoke shirt collar.

Check­ing col­lar fit on a bespoke shirt col­lar.

 

Made to Mea­sure:

The made to mea­sure shirt process does not involve ANY inter­me­di­ate fit­tings.  How­ev­er, many made to mea­sure mak­ers will offer no fault alter­ations on the com­plet­ed shirt to insure an accu­rate fit — most com­mon­ly sleeve length and tor­so adjust­ment.

Those who order online requir­ing alter­ations will have to these per­formed by a local tai­lor or mailed back to shirt maker’s head­quar­ters.

Bespoke and made to measure shirts: A custom dress shirt from Deo Veritas

MTM shirts are deliv­ered as a final prod­uct, with lim­it­ed alter­ations options. Image cour­tesy of Blue Loafers.

4. Construction of a dress shirt.

Bespoke:

The mak­ing of a bespoke shirt can involve a lot of hand­work but not always. In some cas­es, col­lars are made by hand or attached to the shirt by hand.

Sleeves may be attached by hand or but­ton holes craft­ed by hand. In rare cas­es, tai­lors will offer a ful­ly hand­made shirt while oth­ers will do most stitch­ing by machine, espe­cial­ly the long seams down the sides of the shirt and sleeves. It depends on the tai­lor and your pref­er­ences.

As men­tioned pre­vi­ous­ly, the pat­tern itself is like­ly hand drawn vs. elec­tron­i­cal­ly print­ed.

Made to Measure:

As most mak­ers offer a quick­er turn­around time, hand­work will be at a min­i­mum unless the mak­er has specif­i­cal­ly called it out in their offer­ing.

Keep in mind, how­ev­er, that hand­work is not nec­es­sar­i­ly supe­ri­or to machine stitch­ing — it comes down to per­son­al pref­er­ence and an appre­ci­a­tion for crafts­man­ship — but not qual­i­ty or dura­bil­i­ty. Almost all online mak­ers will pro­vide you with a spe­cial requests sec­tion to state your needs and wants, over and above their selec­tion cri­te­ria.

One thing to look for — ensure that the inner stitch­ing (affix­ing the tor­so pieces) is sin­gle nee­dle stitched vs. lock stitched. A lock stitch will have a zig-zag like pat­tern and is very loose­ly affixed — result­ing in a shirt that is like­ly to come undone over time.

Bespoke and made to measure shirts: Overlock versus single needle stitching

Over­lock ver­sus sin­gle-nee­dle stitch­ing

Bespoke and Made to Measure shirts: Does picking one over the other matter?

One of the biggest dif­fer­ences between bespoke and made to mea­sure shirts is cost — the for­mer being much more expen­sive than the lat­ter. While a supe­ri­or bespoke shirt is typ­i­cal­ly bet­ter than a made to mea­sure shirt, excel­lent made to mea­sureis far and away bet­ter than poor bespoke. What mat­ters is get­ting a well-made, great fit­ting shirt.

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