Ever since getting my first Made-To-Measure shirt last spring, I've been hooked. There's just something about wearing a shirt that was made just for you that feels above and beyond even the nicest off-the-rack shirting (in my humble opinion), and with the surge in online MTM options, going custom isn't quite the exclusive club it used to be.
That said, going the MTM route can be kind of intimidating, understandably. While most MTM clothiers offer pre-styled options, I personally think half the fun of ordering custom is getting to pick out all the little details. However, you really need to know where to start, and what each of those custom decisions is going to say. Made-to-measure clothier Proper Cloth has been kind enough to provide a shirt for a future review, and I'm going to walk you through my customizations (all screen shots are taken directly from the Proper Cloth website):
First up is your choice of fabrics, and this will probably be the one you are already the most comfortable with, as you make similar decisions when you buy OTR. Some MTM brands offer a crazy number of fabrics (see Modern Tailor), others offer very few, and I think Proper Cloth falls pretty comfortably in the middle. As you'll notice as we get farther along, the biggest difference your choices will make lie in the formality of your shirt - certain fabrics and patterns are inherently much more casual, while others are dressier. In general, heavier fabrics tend to be more casual, although there are some nice twills that dress up very well. For the most part, fabric and pattern will be based on personal taste, but I recommend focusing on finding a versatile option that you will be able to wear with everything - if this is your first venture into MTM shirting, I can safely bet that this will quickly become your favorite shirt and you'll want to wear it as much as possible.
Even for myself, after having a few custom shirts in my wardrobe, I'm choosing a solid oxford cloth, and the only limiting factor in it's wearability is the fact that it's a heavier fabric and might be warm in the summer.
Next up is collar style, and like I mentioned before, your choice here will say a lot about the formality of your shirt. Proper Cloth offers 23 collar options, many of which differ only very slightly, so it helps to know what you are looking for:
Going for a casual shirt? Button-down collars are traditionally reserved for more casual shirts, like OCBD's - some guys will even go as far as saying that a button-down collar should never be worn with a suit. I'm not that strict with my rules, but I agree with the general mentality. Within the button-down category are a few options, mostly different in collar height and width of spread. From proper cloth, their Colorado Button Down is probably the most modern with a wider spread and shorter height, but I'm partial to the coveted collar-roll of the Soft Ivy option. The longer the point and narrower the spread, the more conservative the look, and I think the Soft Ivy cuts a nice balance.
On the dressier side of things, you have your point and spread collars. Proper Cloth, like most MTM retailers, offers one standard point collar (which offers a more conservative, office-friendly style), but several spread collar options. For the most part, the spread collars will differ in the width of the spread and the height of the points, and the difference speaks largely to the modernity and 'fashion-forward-ness' (for lack of a real word) of the style. The wider the spread, the more flair - maybe not necessarily more dressy (a point collar with a narrow spread can be just as formal), but definitely bolder and more rakish.
It's not 100% personal taste, though, as your body type will dictate, to some extent, the proportions that will work for you (which is what custom is all about, anyway). A shorter collar will look proportionate on a smaller guy, whereas it might look childishly small on a tall or large man. Likewise, a very wide spread (which usually calls for a wider tie), can swallow a skinny guy's neck. There's definitely some room in either direction, but it's something to be aware of.
Beyond button-down, spread, and point collars, there are a few more unique collar choices:
For example, do you like the functionality of a button-down, but want a dressier look? Try the hidden button-down, which is exactly what it sounds like. the button-holes don't go the whole way through the collar, so they are invisible when fastened (but still hold the collar to your shirt).
Other options include the wingtip, which should be reserved for tuxedo shirts, the band collar, which is seeing some popularity as a casual, summery option, and the club collar which has a cool, rockabilly, 50's vibe. These can make cool choices, but again, I recommend aiming for versatility, which these tend to lack.
After choosing your collar, you have a variety of cuff options to pick from as well. Again, your choice will mainly affect the formality of your shirt. French cuffs are the most formal option, and you should only wear these with a jacket (and remember that they will require cuff-links as well, if you don't already own a pair). The convertible cuff is a nice in-between option that gives you the best of both worlds - links when you want em, buttons when you don't. If you opt for buttoned (which I usually do, again for versatility), there are still a few options to pick from. I find the two-button cuffs to be more formal, with just a bit more structure - I actually caught on to Frank Underwood rocking the two-button cuff on House of Cards and think of his sleek, refined style whenever I see these. You'll also be able to pick the finishing of the corners - mitered, rounded, square - which make pretty negligible differences in my eyes. For your most casual shirts, a soft cuff will give you the most laid-back, easy-going style.
Pocket or no pocket? To some extent, like always, this is down to personal taste, but a pocket is traditionally seen as a more casual accouterments, and going pocket-less definitely lends to a sleeker, more formal profile.
At this point, if you're rocking Proper Cloth, click 'more style options' for, well, more style options:
I love that Proper Cloth is offering a popover option now, and I'm hoping to see that available at more and more retailers as the style gains popularity. That said, the popover style, as well as the tuxedo style, are pretty niche options, and you should know if that's what you want. Between the rest, as usual, it comes down to formality. Basically, the more stitching you see, the more casual - which makes sense, as you tend to look for more streamlined looks when going more formal or dressy. That said, a standard front placket is widely versatile, and will only be too casual in the most formal of settings (I wouldn't wear one with a tux or dinner jacket, per se). Other end of the spectrum, the hidden placket, is going to be far too formal for most occasions, unless you're going for some serious sartorial flair.
You will also see the option to pick a split yoke or solid yoke. Often, a split yoke comes at a higher price, because the two pieces across the shoulders (as opposed to one) require special attention in order to match patterns or textures. For the most part, a split yoke is preferred, as the construction method actually allows for a more freedom of movement and therefore a more comfortable wear. I would only avoid this option if I was not so confident in the skill of the people constructing the shirt.
A few other MTM retailers that I've used have offered a full range of button colors, but I think Proper Cloth offers all you need. For the most part, you just want to compliment the colors on your shirt - 9 times out of 10, Mother of Pearl is the way to go. I only opt for dark buttons with particularly dark shirts, as I don't like a lot of contrast between the shirt and buttons (personal preference). For lighter colors, MOP is a bit heartier, and a bit classier. It'll usually cost you a couple extra bucks, but I think it's worth it. If you're concerned about buttons breaking, or are picking a more casual shirt (like an OCBD), the tall mother of pearl option will be a bit more solid. I like that Proper Cloth includes a brown horn option, which I think would play very well with more patterned shirts (that aren't strictly light or dark).
Do it. Especially with Proper Cloth, who I don't believe charge any extra. This is your custom shirt, and having that little touch that marks it as such just feels good, even if you get one that no one else will see. If you put your monogram in a visible position, pick a thread that closely matches your shirt color in order to create a more subtle effect. However, if you are placing the monogram somewhere hidden (like inside the collar), feel free to go bold and bright. Regardless, it's something that should be there more for you than anyone else. I tend to opt for either a cuff, which looks very classy peeking out from a jacket sleeve, or the back of the collar if I want it to stay hidden.
And that pretty much wraps it up. There are a few minor adjustments you can still make, such as watch allowance, which will leave one sleeve slightly wider at the cuff to fit a timepiece underneath, pleats or darts which will affect the slimness of the shirt, and sometimes options as to the shape of the hemline (more curved to better stay tucked, or flatter to look better untucked).
If you're still unsure (which hopefully you are, at least, less so after reading this), play around with designs for a while, design a few shirts, and see what you end up with. I do this for fun all the time, picking out all the details without actually committing to a purchase. It's a good though exercise, to get you really thinking about the choices you make. It's not so much about making right vs. wrong choices (although there are some rules to follow and some to break), but more-so about making deliberate decisions and understanding why you are making them.
For kicks, I'm including my specs for my most recent order below:
Fabric: Thomas Mason Light Pink Oxford
Collar Style: Soft Ivy Button Down
Cuff Style: Soft One Button
Pocket: One Chest Pocket
Placket: Soft Front Placket (although I'm very tempted to try out the popover)
Yoke: Split Yoke
Buttons: Tall Mother of Pearl
Monogram: Back of Collar in Burgundy
As this is my first purchase from Proper Cloth, I'll be reviewing the shirt once it arrives, so keep your eyes open!