If a custom suit is a signifier of success, no business outfit is complete without its companion, a custom-made dress shirt.
While personalized products have appeared in nearly every retail category from eyeglasses to sneakers, the men’s dress shirt is one place where tech has revolutionized the marketplace, making luxury products available to the masses at ready-to-wear prices. It’s a thriving market, one that even traditional brands like Brooks Brothers attempted to enter, albeit with little success.
Most of the growth here has been driven by entrepreneurs, and their rejection of standard fashion industry practices and embrace of tech means more products available at a better price than ever before. The combination of artificial intelligence, data storage and analytics that drive better approaches to shipping, clearing international customs and obtaining high-end materials has created a flood of online retailers who—by often bypassing the expenses associated with traditional brick-and-mortar selling—can give even the entry-level professional a CEO-level look. As the field has grown, so too have some of these retailers moved into opening traditional showrooms or offering in-person consultations to help the executive build his work wardrobe.
Herewith, a quick selection of our five best online retailers for men’s custom dress shirts.
Ratio Clothing, founded by Eric Powell in 2009, offers a customer-driven approach as retail, and that focus sits at the core of the company philosophy as well. Powell’s owner statement on the website outlines his commitment for Ratio to be a different kind of clothing company, as he points out that 97% of the clothing sold in the United States is made as cheaply as possible, for the lowest wage possible, in the fewest sizes possible.
Ratio sprang from Powell’s desire to source ethically-made materials, and have those shirts often manufactured here in America, in factories that are a thriving part of a local community. They also run lean, with the CEO doing his own web design and photography. A white dress shirt here starts at $129, and unlike many other custom shirtmakers, they offer plenty of fabric choices more suited to the casual workplace as well. Like many companies that have taken a more entrepreneurial approach to fashion marketing, Powell’s interest in custom clothing stemmed from his own experience as a hard-to-fit customer; his tall and thin frame did not lend itself to traditional sizes. He began Ratio while still working as a management consultant in 2011, and his experience in that world led him to explore options for sourcing and manufacturing around the world. And Ratio offers more than just fabric choices for Monday through Friday; they offer an array of around-the-clock and weekend fabrics for offices ranging from conservative to casual, as well as for the weekend and after-work hours.
Hockerty, one of our choices for the discerning custom suit shopper, makes the list for its selection of custom dress shirts as well. Boasting over 200,000 satisfied customers, they also offer a range of fabrics with prices more targeted at the first-time buyer of custom products. With their interactive videos designed to help customers measure correctly, Hockerty keeps prices down by offering a well-curated selection of classic fabric styles. The selections for a white dress shirt start at $65, and even premium all-cotton options are available for around $100.
With over 40 choices of fabric in solid white alone, J. Hilburn offers choices ranging from entry-level to the C-suite in a wide range of weaves and fabrics. Unique among the companies on this list is Hilburn’s use of personal stylists available for one-on-one consultations at the customer’s convenience. Simply enter in your home ZIP code, and you can see an array of stylist partners to personalize your fabric choices. Hilburn offers a complete head-to-toe shopping experience for the wardrobe, seeming to offer everything except shoes.
Another top performer from our custom suit list, Black Lapel is well-known for their service, their fit guarantees and community-based partnerships, including charitable work that donates suits to nonprofit organizations like YearUp and the Salvation Army. Their selection of fabrics is perhaps narrower than some of the other retailers, but they offer a well-chosen selection of classic looks in a range that starts around $100 and includes formal shirt options for not much more. Co-founded by Warren Liao, Black Lapel offers a complete wardrobe approach, including outerwear.
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My pick for the best online retailer was easy, if only because I’ve got a closet full of shirts from Proper Cloth. The New York City-based company started in 2008, and has refined its approach to e-commerce to offer a first-in-class user experience, including their Perfect Fit guarantee, which means that Proper Cloth will remake a shirt free of charge. They also offer a “smart size” choice, which asks the customer a number of questions and generates a shirt from those data points; customers can also provide specific measurements, and choose varying levels of customization down to the number of darts that gather the excess fabric of the sleeve into its junction with the shirt cuff. Fabric choices come from such well-known menswear suppliers as Albini, Canclini, Reda and Thomas Mason, and at a price similar to ready-to-wear department store choices.
A classic white dress shirt, made to the customer’s specific measurements, can be had for as little as $70, while more luxurious choices like 150-count fabric or Sea Island Cotton can reach the $300 level. But no matter the fabric choice, Proper Cloth’s technology makes them among the speediest to create a shirt, where the time frame from order to delivery can sometimes be as little as 10 days. They also offer some pandemic-friendly shopping choices, including virtual fittings that you can schedule online. In such a session, typically lasting about 30 minutes, you can see fabrics, discuss style options, and create your size profile.
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