Custom Dress Shirts vs. Bespoke Dress Shirts

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

Also, bespoke or custom dress shirts allow for enormous personalization and customization. At the end of the day, you want a well-made, well-fitting shirt that expresses your personal style. Both bespoke and custom dress shirts 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 custom dress shirts as you move through the shirt-making process:

Initial Consultation — Measurement & Styling

Bespoke Dress Shirts:

A truly 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 for 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.

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).

Custom Dress Shirts

The custom dress shirt process shares a lot of common processes with bespoke, but there are some aspects that 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 custom dress shirt — bespoke is unheard of and in fact — impossible online.

If you are ordering a custom dress 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.

Dress Shirt Pattern

Bespoke Dress Shirts

After your measurements have been taken and shirt style selected, a pattern must be created from which your shirt will be the 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.

A Guide To Fittings For Dress Shirts

Bespoke Dress Shirts

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 ensure 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 ensure 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.

Custom Dress Shirts

The custom dress shirt process does not involve ANY intermediate fittings.  However, many custom dress shirt 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 these performed by a local tailor or mailed back to the shirt maker’s headquarters.

Shirt Fabric Guide

If you think choosing a color is the only concern with regards to your choice of shirt, then you’ve probably never gone shirt shopping before.

Style, fit, collars, and even buttons are aspects we must consider each time we choose a new dress shirt. But perhaps the most important aspect, and one you must get right from the off, is your choice of fabric.

We now live in a world where consumers demand a variety of options for every purchase they make. And thankfully when it comes to shirt fabrics and materials, we’re quite spoiled for choice.


Cotton is the most common fabric in clothing and with good reason. It’s the one fabric that works for year-round wear, and it’s easy to see why it’s so popular. It’s breathable, comfortable, and extremely easy to take care of. It’s also one of those fabrics that holds dye very well making it the obvious choice for dress shirts with its wide range of shades and hues.

Cotton is also a durable fabric that is easy to repair and one that when pressed, usually stays smooth and crease-free.


One of the most breathable fabrics around, linen is quite common for hot weather climates. Think linen beach suits, and you’ll understand why. Most consider it a casual fabric, and this is undoubtedly due to the fact that it creases like tissue paper under the slightest bit of stress.

Linen is sheerer than cotton and depending on the weave; this may be one of the reasons it feels cooler on the body. But aside from the breathability factor pure linen isn’t the most ideal of fabric choices for the office or any formal or even semi-formal occasion. This is why cloth makers quite often blend it with cotton.


While there are certain schools of thought that maintain that they are quite the stylish option, we’re not sure we can handle so much silk in an outfit. Honestly, we’re not knocking them, but we will say we’re not fans.


Now, this is where it gets interesting. While cotton and linen (but definitely not silk) are common enough fabrics in the world of shirts, it’s not always just a simple matter of picking up one or the other from your local men’s department store. You’ll also have to decide on a weave.

There are many weaves in shirting fabrics, and if being asked if you prefer Poplin or Twill means nothing to you, then your trip to the shops might get a little confusing. So let’s take a look at each of the most popular weaves in turn.


This is the coarsest shirt fabric but nonetheless is still quite a soft and comfortable option. Considered a more casual fabric, you’ll find that many button-down collar shirts are Oxford weave.

When choosing a color other than white, you’ll notice the shirt has a very textured appearance. This is because threads that are running in one direction are dyed while the other is left white. It’s a clever trick that gives this fabric its characteristic textured appearance.

Variations of Oxford weave include Pinpoint, which uses a finer yarn, and Royal which is finer still. Both of these weaves are considerably smoother and give a more formal business-like appearance.


This weave has a smoother texture than Oxford but is of similar weight. This is due to the use of a fine yarn running in one direction and a thicker one interweaving it. The use of fine yarn makes it a more comfortable option than Oxford.

It’s just as durable as Oxford though and is quite often the first choice for casual shirts. It takes colors very well, and so is a great choice for shirts that use multi-colored patterns.


This richly textured weave is shimmery in appearance, and the diagonal direction of the intertwining threads offers a subtle yet significant difference to both Poplin and Oxford. The subtlety of this weave is key as it allows the wearer to use it in formal or business shirts without drawing too much attention to the change in fabric.

The diagonal weave will switch back and forth every quarter of an inch or thereabouts, and while this may sound like a car crash weave, it actually works incredibly well.


Named for the distinctive v-shape weave running throughout the fabric that resembles the bones of a herring, this fabric is sometimes confused with twill. Some stores and tailors believe that both belong in the same family, which is true in a way, but they are most definitely different weaves.

This weave, while common enough in shirts, is actually more popular in wool suits and a variety of other outerwear.


Although its name might suggest otherwise, this fabric is one of the finest weaves in shirting. It’s one of the most formal choices of shirt fabric for everyday wear because it often seems to gleam and shine.

Like Oxford, this weave makes use of threads of two colors running against each other. However, because the threads are so fine and the weave so tight, from a short distance, it looks like one solid color. This intertwining of different color threads in an incredibly tight weave is what gives it a shimmery appearance.

Now that you know your Poplins from your Twills, you’ll find that shirt shopping is a more pleasant experience. In fact, incorporating a variety of weaves into your everyday wear can add subtle changes to your appearance that will have your colleagues wondering just what it is that’s different about you today.