Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Proper Cloth Made-To-Measure Shirting Reviewed

The Brand:
As per the usual, I'm going to let Proper Cloth do the talking here, rather than just regurgitating their history back at you. From their website:

"The original idea was simple: make it easy for men to buy dress shirts that fit perfectly. 

In October 2008 we launched the first version of propercloth.com and sold our first shirt. We were not an instant success. The first couple years were particularly humble. We didn't come from fashion. We didn't have any contacts. We had a lot to learn. We made a lot of mistakes. We were bootstrapping with credit cards and small loans from friends and family. Our manufacturing was antiquated and slow. Our selection was limited. Our website was confusing. Then there was the financial crisis... 

But we stuck with it. Listened to our customers. Networked in the industry. Solved problems. Improved our systems. Became experts on patterning and construction. Fabric and styling. Photography and user interface. Supply chain and logistics. Our growth has been strong and steady, but we've kept our team relatively small. Five people. Really. Seph, Yura, Brittany, Harrison and Chris. We’re based in New York. We do all of our design and customer service at our space in SOHO. We’re profitable and growing. We’re not in a rush to expand and we won't use near sighted tactics to get results. We're focused on the long term. We're committed to building a lasting brand and business. We have thousands of clients. We love what we do."

The description goes on in more detail, but the takeaway is that they came here to make damn good shirts, that are damn easy to buy, and to build a continually evolving company that understands that style is about more than just clothing. They wrap it up with a line I especially dug:

"The right clothing can help someone realize who they are. Stories are how we understand the world around us. Clothing can help tell those stories. "

For more information regarding the history and values of Proper Cloth, as well as the variety of fabrics, customizations, etc. that they offer, head over to their 'About Us' and read up.

The Order:
I went into great detail about the process of customizing a made-to-measure shirt in this recent post featuring the Proper Cloth website, so I won't re-hash too much of that here, but I will provide the details of my order once more:

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

I chose a very expensive fabric (mainly because I wanted to feel the difference it made), which clocks in at a starting price of $140, but their standard options - which aren't shabby at all themselves - start at $85 and include both basic fabrics and more on-trend picks like denim and chambray.

A few more notes regarding the ordering process: I have to say that the Proper Cloth website is one of the prettiest MTM systems I've seen - most are clunky and unattractive, but Proper Cloth managed to squeeze a custom ordering system into a sleek and modern website. On top of that, they've provided some great additional resources, especially their 'Reference' page, which includes information like 'How a Dress Shirt Should Fit' and 'Dress Shirt Construction.'

As far as sizing goes, the folks at Proper Cloth suggest I try out their new smart-sizing algorithm. I was a bit hesitant, as I like to use the self-measuring option (just feels more custom that way, and can be a better judge of the quality of customization that you get), but I took their advice and am damn glad I did (I'll expand on this in a moment). The system itself was a breeze, with just a few questions about your body and your preferred fit. After the survey, measurements are generated, and then you are given the opportunity to tweak them as you like. I slimmed down the cuffs, and maybe adjusted a few things by very minimal amounts, but for the most part I decided to test their algorithm, and...

The Fit:
...and hot damn, this shirt fits incredibly. I have had some really good results with other made-to-measure companies, but this shirt is by far the best-fitting in my closet. Shoulders, chest, and body are all spot-on, and I usually expect those to be, even on a first order. 

Seams end right at the shoulder. Minimal excess fabric in the chest.

No billowing at the waist, slim through the torso.
What impressed me most was the perfect fit through the sleeves and cuffs, both in width and length. This has always been an area I struggled with, whether it's OTR shirting or MTM shirting - somehow I always end up with something off just enough for it to bug me. 

Sleeves stay slim through the forearm and bicep, with high armholes.

Length falls perfectly on the hand, and cuff width is appropriate.

I was also impressed with the length. I think some made-to-measure brands cut their shirts overly long to avoid having to re-make something cut short. This doesn't usually bother me, as it's never crazy long, and I usually go tucked anyway. However, it can be a bit of a nuisance on more casual shirts that you may want to wear untucked from time to time. Again, Proper Cloth hit the sweet spot, as this shirt is just long enough to stay tucked when I want it to, but the perfect length to wear untucked as well.

Tucked, un-tucked, the choice is mine.
When it comes down to it, I go into my first MTM experience with any company expecting to have to make at least a few tweaks to my pattern in order to get the perfect fit, but Proper Cloth dialed me in on the first try, and like I said, I'm impressed.

I'll take a minute here, too, to point out that Proper Cloth does offer a perfect fit guarantee, so if the fit hadn't been so great, I could have sent it back for a remake. It sounds like they offer a lot of assistance on this end - if you know exactly what you want changed, you just let them know, but if you just feel its 'off,' you have the option of sending in pictures or even calling and chatting so they can help you find the problem areas. Sounds like good stuff, and I kinda wish I could have given it a test drive, but I can't complain about perfection.

The Construction:
Again, everything here is pretty darn top notch. The stitching is straight and even, and I can't find any loose threads, snags in the fabric, or anything else to mar to finished product. Even the monogram is tastefully done, well centered on the collar, and shaped and stitched cleanly.

Monogram, collar stitching, and minimal branding on tag.

Clean side seam and reinforcing gusset.

Neatly stitched placket and buttonholes.
I'm definitely glad I went with the tall mother-of-pearl buttons. They look so much nicer than plastic, and are thick enough that I'm not worried about them breaking anytime soon.

Sturdy MOP buttons with clean crisscross-stitching.
The collar and cuffs are soft and un-fused, as I specified, and I think lend very well to the slightly-rumpled Ivy prep style. There is enough substance for them to hold shape, but not to look starched or too structured if I'm going sans jacket and tie.

Look at that gorgeous collar roll.
I'm also really loving the way the shape of the collar came out. The roll is very distinct, but it captures that ivy-league, vintage prep style perfectly and is exactly what I had in mind. I do think it makes things a bit more casual than even a standard button-down collar, but that's what I was aiming for when designing the shirt.

And that's really my only beef - and barely beef at that: the fabric is a bit dressier than I anticipated. I knew that Thomas Mason fabric would be higher quality (and should be, at that price), but was still expecting something heavier and rougher, as most oxford cloth tends to be. This fabric, instead, does have a little bit of sheen to it, and is lighter than I expected, but to be honest, these are both probably good things that will only increase the versatility of the shirt.

In all other regards, the fabric is very nice, which you would expect from Thomas Mason. The hand is soft and comfortable, but still holds a press well enough to look sharp of you're dressing it up. It does wrinkle a bit easily at the elbows, but it doesn't hold creases very strongly so all it takes is a quick iron at the end of the day and it's good as new. As I said, the weight is definitely a bit lighter than your standard oxford cloth, but is still thicker than a poplin or broadcloth alternative. Lastly, the pink color works out very well - I'm not opposed to pink at all, but I think the over saturated and bright shades are a bit too much for me. This color is more muted and works very well with the laid-back style, so I'm happy!

The Service:
When it comes to customer service, the entire process was a pleasure. While the fit guarantee is actually pretty common among MTM clothiers, their offers to really help you walk through adjustments seems like a step above and beyond, and one that I like to see. Proper Cloth makes other good moves throughout the order, like thorough e-mail updates as you shirt goes to the factory, gets packaged, and is shipped. The total turnaround was better than average as well, with the shirt arriving only seven days after I placed the order (Proper Cloth quotes a 10-16 day wait on their site, which is already well below most MTM companies). Since I didn't have any issues with the shirt, I can't speak too much for their customer service (and I gotta count that as a point for them), but all correspondence I had with them was prompt and polite, so no complaints here. 

In Conclusion:
When it comes down to it, I'd say that the only real downside to ordering from Proper Cloth is the pricing. They do have much more affordable fabrics to start with, but they lack some of the discount options you can find at brands like Modern Tailor. That said, my biggest complaint with Modern Tailor has been the quality of the fabrics, so this might just be worth it. The resulting fit and the quality of the construction definitely hold up to the expectations that come with a price point like that, so if you think your particular fabric is worth the price, Proper Cloth won't let you down. I even admittedly opted for a higher end cloth as I wanted to see the difference between a Thomas Mason OCBD and a Target OCBD, up close and personal, but could definitely have been happy with something closer to their starting rate of $85. 

To put it most simply:

Pros: Easy Measuring System; Customization Options; Fabric Selection; Turnaround Time; Fit; Quality; Construction; Perfect Fit Guarantee. Not much not to love.
Cons: Price. Really, I can't think of anything else here, and to be perfectly honest, you get what you pay for.

Editors Note: If you are interested in purchasing a shirt from Proper Cloth, use our referral link for a discount on your first order.

So there you have it. Have any of you tried Proper Cloth? What were your thoughts? Anyone with other MTM shirting companies to compare? Chime in using the comments or our social networks.

This was a sponsored review, and the products reviewed were provided to me free of charge. The article, however, remains objective and unbiased and is published without prior editing or review by Proper Cloth. While I love to be given products to review, don't worry, I will never endorse a product I wouldn't wear myself. 

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