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.