Recommending a made-to-measure shirtmaker comes with a lot of caveats, which makes them tough to review. Fit is, of course, paramount, but once you’ve got a well-fitting shirt in your wardrobe, you can take your measurements from the shirt nearly anywhere.
Provided you’ve got a shirt you’re happy with in terms of fit, then you can look for a shirtmaker who has the fabrics and options you want in a shirt. CottonWork has these in spades and the shirt they allowed me to make for a review has the characteristics I’d encourage anyone to look for in their MTM shirting.
Let’s start at the beginning. If you have a well-fitting shirt, then you can simple take measurements off that shirt and input them at CottonWork. This is my recommended method. And if you don’t have a tape measure, CottonWork will give you a free starter kit that has a tape measure and several fabric swatches.
From that point forward, it’s a fairly standard process that those of you who’ve done MTM shirting online will recognize. You pick you fabric and use a shirt builder that gives you a live preview of your order’s details.
On the topic of fabric, CottonWork offers a wide variety, starting at $45 for cotton-blends to fabrics from renowned mills Thomas Mason and Tessitura Monti that range north of $200. For those wondering if there’s a discernible difference for a high end fabric, I’d argue that there is after receiving my shirt made from a Thomas Mason oxford cloth. There’s a refinement to the fabric and a softness that’s unlike what I’ve seen elsewhere.
While I kept it fairly predictable in terms of fabric choice — as many of you know, solid blue is often my preference — I decided to make some slight straying choices from what I typically prefer. Instead of my preference for a placket front, I went with a French front and also pocket-less, too, as I intended for this to be worn with suits in a slightly more formal look.
For the shirt’s collar, I went with a spread collar and I really love how soft the collar is around the neck. It’s not stiff and doesn’t feel like cardboard’s inside like some shirt collars. You’ll also notice the buttons on the shirt are mother-of-pearl, which is a nice touch that’s often an option you have to pay extra for at most MTM shirting places, but not CottonWork.
The collar has a decent roll when worn with a necktie. I will admit that while I like that it has removable collar stays, I prefer to not wear collar stays to make the collar a bit more soft in appearance. Well-made collars and a necktie should work just fine most of the time to keep things upright. This collar might very well be the most comfortable shirt collar I’ve had outside of my Brooks Brothers OCBDs.
In terms of construction, it’s worth pointing out that all CottonWork shirts are single-needle stitched with 22 stitches per inch. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to count stitches in an inch, but it’s a pain in the ass. And, yes, I did count them on my shirt and their claim holds up, in case you were wondering.
CottonWork also offers an optional split-back yoke. Several other MTM operations require you pay extra for this, but it’s a free option at CottonWork. If you’re not familiar with split-back yokes, the reason for this preference is one of better fit across the shoulder. With the fabric at a diagonal in a split yoke, it stretches better when you move your arms out, but it’s also more expensive for the shirtmaker to produce. (You can read more about split-back yokes here.)
For cuffs, I went with what CottonWorks described as a Neapolitan cuff. I wasn’t sure if I’d like the style as it’s a bit flashy, but worn under a jacket it’s less obvious. Cuff construction is a bit more substantial than the collar and the sleeve features a gauntlet button, too.
Of course, monogramming is available. I opted for the collar, so it would be hidden, but you can opt for the chest, cuffs or placket, too. I don’t typically wear monogrammed items, but I figured it’d be worth showing those reading this review what it looks like. If you don’t like scripted fonts, you should know they have two other scripted fonts and a sans-serif block font available.
In terms of fit, I’m pleased with it after a wash and iron. I wore the shirt out on Friday evening and didn’t find any issues in regards to fit with it. My latest MTM shirts have been slightly fuller in the upper torso to allow for movement, but I’ve had them aggressively taper at the waist. While I don’t typically like to wear a dress shirt sans a jacket, this does help balance comfort against “puffy shirt waist” syndrome.
Because I used measurements off another MTM shirt I’d gotten after visiting a tailor in person, a lot of the finer measurement problems had been worked out after a few trials and adjustments. CottonWork did a good job of replicating the shirts I had already in my wardrobe.
If you’re concerned about getting an ill-fitting shirt, then let me recommend you go with one of their $45 fabrics first to see how it fits as a test shirt. I’ve often found it takes several trials before dialing in your fit on a MTM shirt — especially if you’re basing measurements off your body instead of a well-fitting shirt. Alternatively, you can send in your best fitting shirt for CottonWork to replicate, too.
So, if you’re looking for a MTM shirtmaker that does quality construction, can easily replicate the fit of your best shirt and give you a wide breadth of optional details, then check out CottonWork. To date, they’ve been the most impressive online-only MTM experience I’ve had and have matched the in-person MTM shirtmakers I’ve used in the past with their quality of work.
My experience with Proper Suit taught me one important thing: Not all made-to-measure suiting is made equal. It’s not just about the amount of fabrics available or what details you can have, but it’s largely also about the skill and expertise of those fitting you.
The guys behind Proper Suit, McGregor and Richard, have a great deal of experience and familiarity with their product and service. When they offered me the opportunity to review a suit from them, I was admittedly a bit nervous when they managed to just eyeball measurements and adjustments without a tailor’s measuring tape.
But that comes from having spent an incredible amount of time fitting guys in eleven different cities, starting right here in Chicago. Unlike some lesser made-to-measure operations that let you simply enter in a few measurements online, Proper Suit insists upon an in-person appointment to fit you to a few base-model suits and make the necessary adjustments.
And these adjustments aren’t just for things like sleeve length or tapering the chest. They took into account my posture and where the best buttoning point would be on my torso so the lapels would lay correctly.
The armhole size was raised a bit to accommodate the fit I wanted, but it wasn’t too extreme as I intended for this suit to be more for business dress. The height of the chest pocket was adjusted to be more in proportion with my torso length.
When it comes to shoulders, they really stressed over every aspect, from the slopes of my shoulders, to what kind of padding to go with (I went with a natural shoulder), to how the sleeve ought to be rotated to make it drape properly.
"Our fit specialists are not only just really cool guys," McGregor said. "But they are very technical and take fit very seriously."
My experience on the fitting definitely reflected that. While it was casual and relaxed, I felt that the two of them definitely “got it” in terms of knowing what to care about and how to manipulate the pattern being made to flatter your body the best.
There are 300 different fit check points that goes into consideration when the pattern is entered into AutoCAD. Because of all the different adjustments needed to account for your body’s shape, Proper Suit flatly rejects the idea of just having guys enter in a few self-taken measurements and shipping a box to their door, like some competitors do.
I think McGregor’s reasoning why Proper Suit avoids online MTM made a lot of sense:
"Two people may have very similar measurements but they have completely different postures, different tastes and different reasons for wearing the suit. How do I know which fit will be correct? I don’t. You are also relying on someone else measuring you. That is just flimsy. I hear a lot about remakes that other companies need to do to dial down the fit. Remakes for my business are toxic to our bottom line. That is why we take upmost care in getting it perfect the first time and we can offer this kind of quality at this price point."
This is what leads me to my sentiment that not all made-to-measure suiting is created equal. Before even getting into fabrics, construction and details, the fit has to be perfect.
And when it came to fabrics and details, the sky’s very much the limit. There are about 250 fabrics available with 80 different linings.
Details on the suit (or sport coat) can include all the usual things like a throat latch, sueded lining under the collar, monogramming, surgeon cuffs, ticket pockets, etc.
But I found the details on the trousers to be actually surprising. The hem of the trousers have an extra strip of fabric sewn on the inside edge to give them extra weight to keep them down. The waistband has a strip of grippy fabric on the inside to help keep your shirt tucked in. This isn’t something you’ll find on most off-the-rack trousers, for sure — and they weren’t included with another MTM suiting operation I tried. In fact, the only time I’d seen these details were from my tailor’s bespoke trousers he did for his customers.
As for the suit itself, I went with fairly standard details. Flapped jetted pockets, two-button, notched lapels, flat fronted trousers with jetted slanted pockets and no cuffs, kissing buttons (non-functional), boutonniere hole and loop, suede under-collar lining with monogrammed initials.
The fabric is a navy blue sharkskin texture from Loro Piana’s All-Season line with a silver Bemberg lining and a light-blue printed piping.
The construction is full canvas and the lapels roll amazingly well. They suggested I wear it several times to help break-in the jacket a bit and I did find the suggestion made it decidedly less stiff than when I first put it on. And it really felt great after an evening of dancing at Double Door — so, yes, you can move in this suit.
In terms of pricing, Proper Suit lists their prices on their website and Loro Piana fabrics start at $1,250 (for comparison, if you were to head to the Loro Piana retail store to do their MTM program, their suits start at $5,500 and it takes three months turnaround). Proper Suit’s base model fabrics start at $750.
The one question I almost always seem to be asked, especially on higher-priced items, is, “Is it worth the money?” I can imagine some people will browse over to Indochino and see they could get two suits for the price of Proper Suit’s base model — assuming quantity is a better deal, or that paying half the price would be a steal in comparison.
The difference is that I don’t believe there’s a legitimate comparison. For one, the fit I received from Proper Suit absolutely blew away the fit I received with Indochino (and I even received an in-person fitting with them during their Traveling Tailor program). The attention Proper Suit just pays to their suit’s shoulders is more attention than what Indochino paid to the fit of my entire suit. Proper Suit even hand-stitches the shoulders of their suits to make sure it fits you better.
And once you get into construction, Proper Suit also wins out. For an additional $250, you can have your suit entirely handmade. And while the suits are manufactured in China, McGregor — who happens to also be fluent in Mandarin — stressed to me that not all factories are the same and they’ve spent years finding the best manufacturer for their suits, which also makes suits for some other really big-name labels, and they work with them to ensure they’re producing the best-fitting suits the first time for each new customer.
Admittedly, made-to-measure isn’t for everybody or everyone’s budget, but when you consider the prices of some ready-to-wear suiting brands, it’s worth considering the alternative, too. The price is a good deal considering the fit, fabric and construction.
Wearing this suit made me wish I had a reason to wear a suit more often — or at least find more excuses to wear one. These guys care immensely about the finest individual details while providing a good value. Consider this review a recommendation for Proper Suit.
I’m a very skeptical person. When a men’s footwear brand contacts me about reviewing one of their pieces of footwear from a new heritage line they’re producing, I’m often cautiously interested. But Johnston & Murphy’s new “J&M 1850” line has a surprising gem in it that I feel is worth talking about.
Plus, Johnston & Murphy is letting me run a contest to giveaway a pair of their shoes or boots to one lucky Chicago-area reader (details at the end of the review).
The "Gannett" boot caught my eye for several reasons. First, the boots have a Goodyear welt, which I feel is a necessary minimum for shoe construction if you’re going to be paying decent money and expecting the shoes to present a decent value in the long term. Shoes with a Goodyear welt are able to be resoled more easily, which means you can wear them for a whole lot longer.
Secondly, this pair got my attention because they’re made from Horween leather. This leather, of course, comes from the Horween Tannery in Chicago and has a well-regarded reputation.
Finally, what surprised me is that the boots are priced at $275, which places them well under the price of other Horween leather boots from other competitors by at least $100, if not more.
Johnston & Murphy’s representatives sent me a pair as a review unit and I must say I’m rather impressed. If you’ve been hanging around places like StyleForum for a while, then you know that many of the posters there have a less-than-favorable opinion of the brand’s products from the past decade or so, despite having at one time been regarded as one of the premiere made-in-the U.S.A. men’s footwear brands.
Indeed, these boots were made in India, which may account for the ability to hit a lower pricepoint. Regardless, the quality of materials and construction is — as far as I can tell so far — still there and they’re quite comfortable to wear.
The leather seems about as good as pairs of Allen Edmonds that I own, although time will really only tell how it develops a patina. The suede portion of the boot feels durable and a bit waxy, so I wouldn’t worry about wearing these in bad weather. The interior of the boot is lined with leather as well.
One thing I liked about the boots is that the sole is a bit of a hybrid between a leather sole and a lug sole. Outright lug soles can be a bit clunky looking and in my mind limits them to being worn only with denim. These have a slimmer profile with a semi-lug sole and it’s hidden from view, making them wearable with chinos. Still, I wouldn’t wear them with dress trousers, as they’re definitely a more casual piece of footwear. And I do think they go best with denim.
Naturally, I do have criticisms. I wished the stitching was a darker brown or black colored thread instead of being contrasting — and the stitching could’ve been cleaner, too. This would’ve given the boot a cleaner look, in my opinion. Also, the laces felt kind of cheap and given the extreme amount of tension you’re probably going to put on these, I’d recommend getting thicker laces with better durability.
The break-in period isn’t terribly long and they don’t feel extremely too-stiff to walk in on the first wear. You can even wear them with thinner socks and not feel like your ankles have been rubbed raw. Still, there seems to be enough room for slightly thicker socks for the cold-weather months.
These boots have changed my perception of Johnston & Murphy (much how the Veblens changed my perception of Florsheim) and I think it’s worth taking a look over the future shoes in the J&M 1850 line to see what could be a good value from them — especially if better materials and construction are being used.
And about that contest: I’ve got a voucher for one pair of J&M 1850 shoes or boots at Hanig’s Slipperbox, 2754 N. Clark Street, Chicago. The winner will be mailed this voucher and has to redeem it in-store — so, I’m making this contest for Chicago-area folks only (because if you don’t live in the area it’d be really hard for you to pick up your pair of shoes).
How to enter:
- Tweet this review using the hashtag #jm1850 and the URL: http://bit.ly/TS30YP
- Shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with your tweet.
- Do both of these things by 12 noon CST, Friday, November 2nd.
- Actually live in the Chicagoland area.
I’ll take everyone’s names, do a random sort, assign a number and then use a random number generator to pick a winner. The winner will be contacted by email for their address so I can mail the voucher to them (or we can meetup in person).
Since leaving government work and not having to visit an office on a daily basis, my wardrobe has shifted toward the casual spectrum. My much-cherished navy wool blazers go rarely used, sitting in canvas garment bags.
A Suitable Wardrobe points out how the navy blazer sits in an odd “no-man’s land of formality” — and I suppose he’s mostly right, even if I tend to ignore his wisdom in my personal practice. Despite this, I think there’s an alternative to the traditional blazer that will probably be better suited for those of you in casual environments that don’t require a navy wool hopsack: the jersey knit cotton blazer.
Often unconstructed and lightweight, they exist as a hybrid, looking a bit more refined than a simple sweater, but not as formal as an odd jacket. They’re super comfortable to wear and most are extremely affordable, too.
I purchased mine from Brooks Brothers (please ignore the terrible styling shot they have) and have been quite pleased. I think it looks best with jeans, an OCBD and a silk knit tie.
There’s quite a few options available in a variety of price ranges. Depending on your lifestyle, you might end up wearing one of these more often than a regular navy blazer.
I was lucky enough to pick up this silk scarf from Barney’s. I’d been debating on getting it for a while, but it sold out online. On a whim, I decided to contact their customer service department, who managed to track the last one in their inventory down to their Beverly Hills store. A sales rep there was kind enough to find it in their store, ring it up and mail it to me.
Silk scarves have been on my mind for quite a while now. Admittedly, I first noticed them on Roger Sterling in the past season of “Mad Men” and thought it complimented the suit and overcoat look rather nicely. I don’t think it’d look coherent with more casual pieces, like waxed jackets, peacoats and duffle coats, but its smooth vibrancy contrasts quite well against heavy wool and cashmere coats while mimicking the sheen on your necktie.
Unsurprisingly, they can be quite expensive, especially so if you want one that’s backed with wool or cashmere as well. I also preferred to find one around 65” to 70” in length and around 12” wide. You can go shorter, but you’d have to wear it mainly as a muffler, which restricts how you can tie it around your neck.
As for where to buy, you best bet would be stopping in at a “trad” retail store. I recall Cable Car Clothiers in San Francisco having a great selection in stock when I visited in a paisley and medallion prints.
Drake’s London seems to have the widest variety of prints and types, ranging from silk in a tubular construction to an ancient madder and cashmere reversible scarf that looks phenomenal. Different stores stock different items, so you’ll want to poke around if that’s in your budget (or even if you want to drool over .JPEG files).
Should you get a silk scarf instead of one made of cashmere or wool? Probably not. Your run-of-the-mill wool and cashmere scarves will be much more versatile and still work with tailored overcoats — and will be quite warm. But if you’re looking for something a bit more luxurious and you find yourself wearing suits daily, it’s hard to argue against having a silk scarf as part of your wardrobe.
I’ve compiled a roundup of silk scarves below, but I didn’t show all the colors an variations the different brands and retailers have available. The prices vary quite wildly and I suppose it’s just a matter of what your tastes and budget happens to be.
One of the most under-appreciated details on a necktie is the bar tack. I’ve had neckties that I’ve paid a hefty sum for that lacked a decent bar tack and came undone after a few wears, which is a moment of disappointment when you think back to how much the tie cost. It’s a tiny detail, unnoticed by so many — wearers and manufacturers alike — but I happen to enjoy the tactile feel of a well-sewn one.
Louis Walton's bar tacks are impressive, as you can see above. I consider it on par with those found on Vanda Fine Clothing's and Panta Clothing's neckties. It's better than the bar tacks found on Drake's London and Polo Ralph Lauren, in my opinion. It's the first thing I noticed when I received a review necktie, handmade by owner Gregory Walton (he named the company after his father) in San Francisco.
"I started making ties because I realized the things I liked were very expensive and I felt that with practice I could make something just as nice as the things in the shops I liked," Gregory said. "In my family it has been a practice to learn to make the things or do the services we like."
Gregory’s been sewing neckties since 2008 and initially gave them away as gifts until a friend asked him to design a line of ties and pocket squares for his shop.
The tie Gregory sent me is this navy Japanese cotton with white flowers in a six-fold design. The tie is lightly lined and untipped, two details I particularly enjoy. It also features a hand-sewn slip-stitch to allow the tie to recover after being worn.
I asked Gregory about some of the technical challenges of learning how to sew ties by hand, and unsurprisingly he said it’s not easy. One of his mentors taught him how to make patterns for shirts and trousers, which helped him develop his own patterns for neckties.
"There is still a measure of trial and error involved because I make each tie with the client in mind," Gregory said. "Therefore, the shape and length of each tie is different depending on the size and preferences of the client. I am constantly learning and trying different things."
Another challenge is sourcing fabric and thread, because they’re not available at just any fabric store, often needing to be sourced from mills directly. Finding good fabric is extremely important to him because it affects how the tie drapes and knots.
While the design and pattern of the fabric is originally what caught my eye (I’m always a sucker for navy ties), the light cotton actually goes nicely with a variety of summer and warm-weather jackets and the “neat” flower pattern gives just enough visual variety to break up an ensemble of solids. I liked it in particular against a light blue linen shirt and a white linen-cotton jacket.
If you’ve been following the Louis Walton tumblr, you’ll notice that Gregory’s also been expanding his skillset into leather goods, including belts and keyholders. If you took a look, you’ll see they look damn impressive.
"I am very excited to be branching into leather work and find it o be very rewarding," Gregory said. "I am starting with small pieces like keyholders and wallets, and I hope to offer larger items like briefcases and bags for men next year. I do everything by hand and it leads to pieces that are very strong and structured, while still being soft and pliable."
Gregory also mentioned he’s working on outerwear pieces with a local tailor to be offered as made-to-measure items.
It should also be noted that Gregory’s training under Beatrice Amblard of April In Paris fame. For those who don’t know, Amblard is a former Hermes artisan that now has her own label designing custom leather accessories in San Francisco.
A few weeks ago, a representative from Navali contacted me about reviewing their canvas bags. Now, I’ve already got a canvas briefcase I’m rather happy with, but it’s not perfect and could use some improvements. So, I figured it’d be interesting to see what Navali offered for a casual briefcase versus the one I already used.
The first thing I look for in a briefcase is if it can actually carry my stuff. And I do tend to carry quite a bit with me (although, thankfully, I don’t have to carry things like paper files or huge thick notebooks). I typically use my briefcase for carrying at minimum these things:
- My 13” Macbook Pro (in a custom-made leather slipcase)
- My power adaptor
- My short umbrella
- My BlackBerry
- Pens, notepad, business cards
- Fujifilm X10 camera (sometimes)
- Light jacket (sometimes)
The Navali “helmsman” briefcase actually carries these items way better than my Filson 256. The two side pouches work extremely well to carry the X10 camera in one pouch and the power adaptor in the other. They snap closed with magnetic snaps that make it really easy to get into them. As you can also see, there’s some small flat pouches sewn on the front. Perfect for a transit card, pens or even a cellphone.:
On the interior of the main pouch area, the briefcase has a lot of room for a laptop and then some. There’s a divided off area with snaps to place a laptop (inside a sleeve), however, it’s worth noting that this area is completely unpadded. You’ll want to make sure you place your laptop in a protective case of some sort. There’s also a zip compartment on the front interior of the bag that’d best for placing loose items like pens, coins and business cards. There’s also two slip pouches along the interior that are probably good for holding notepads or a checkbook.
As you can see, I managed to fit a Barbour Liddesdale and a short umbrella in the main area. You could easily cram an overnight’s change of clothing in the main compartment. Maybe even a full weekend’s worth of clothing if you didn’t bring your laptop. There’s also a keyring on the inside, which is a nice place to put a spare set of keys in your bag.
I also appreciated that on the bottom of the bag that Navali placed a strip of leather along the base. This will give the bag’s canvas bottom protection as you constantly set it down. This is another feature that’s lacking on the Filson 256 that I wish they’d have included. The only improvement I’d make beyond this would be placing four brass studs — one in each corner — so you could set the bag upright on a flat surface. Regardless, leather on the base is a nice touch.
While we’re talking about leather, I have to say that the leather quality does feel rather nice. It’s smooth and doesn’t feel “rough” to handle. The bag handles are actually way more comfortable to use than the Filson 256’s bridle leather straps. The rounded construction feels much more nicer in the hand.
I also want to give Navali some points for very discrete branding. You’ll notice the strip of leather that’s between the handle’s sides in the photo above, shaped like a naval signaling flag: that’s it. On the interior is a blue label with their name on it, but the branding is done nicely and isn’t obvious. I’m a fan of that.
I do have criticisms, however, on this briefcase. The most noticeable one is the shoulder strap. The strap itself is actually super comfortable to wear and wide enough to stay on your shoulder. My gripe isn’t with the shoulder strap itself, but the fact that you cannot remove it. Also, because of the design of the top zipper closure of the briefcase, you cannot shove the strap inside the briefcase when not in use.
Now, the shoulder strap is attached really well and I don’t think anyone will have to worry about it failing on you. And if you’re the type of person who always wants the shoulder strap on your briefcase, then this is a non-issue for you. But it’s worth pointing out for those who want the option to remove it. I spoke with the Navali representative about this and was told that in future models they’re looking at having the shoulder strap removable. So, that’s something to look for in the future.
Another mild criticism I have about the briefcase is that the back has no “magazine” pocket — an open-ended pocket along the outside to shove a newspaper or magazine in and have easy access to while commuting. I use mine all the time on my Filson 256 and think it’d be a no-brainer addition to this briefcase. Then again, if you’re the kind of person who spends all your time on the iPhone on your commute, this is another non-issue.
In terms of construction, I found it to be very well made. The canvas is durable but lighter and has a softness to it — kind of a “washed” feeling. This is a complete contrast to the stiff canvas feel of the Filson 256. I know some people like the idea of “breaking in” their Filson, but it does make it tougher to get that “flexibility” from the canvas walls. If you’re looking to avoid that and want to be able to stuff your bag full immediately, then the Navali might be more up your alley.
I would also warn against using this bag in a downpour (hence why I always carry an umbrella), as the canvas isn’t exactly waterproof. Granted, most briefcases aren’t waterproof (unless you get a waxed canvas), but it’s something you should know.
So, what’s my final verdict? I think the Navali briefcase is a good value. It’s $104.99 on their site, which is less than half the cost of a Filson 256 and way cheaper than a lot of other designer canvas bags.
The bag’s probably best suited for those of you in a business-casual environment. While I wouldn’t recommend this bag if your job requires you wear a suit and tie to work each day, I would say that it’s probably going to fit in most work environments nowadays where the dress code tops out at a sport coat and jeans.
The bag’s plenty durable for trips and has enough room to carry most of what you’d really want to hang off your shoulder. Navali also has a weekender bag ($124.99) that I think is worth taking a look at and two types of messenger bags, a satchel and a rucksack. They’re aiming to sell directly to the consumer rather than sell wholesale to retailers, which means you can get their products without any of the markup.
If your budget is around $100, Navali ought to be a maker your look into for a bag.
And, look, a contest: Navali’s Facebook page is holding a trivia contest and giving away a free card-case wallet. All you have to do is “like” their page and answer the question correctly (seriously, not that hard). So, go check it out and enter to win a one.