The answer to shirts that don’t fit

A while back I was talking about shirts and how hard it was to find a shirt that fit the two most important criteria of shirts, that it was a shirt I liked and that it fit me. The first part of this is pretty open, there are almost infinite amounts of shirts available, in any number of fabrics, styles and details. The second factor though narrows it down to a screeching halt, if I may mix metaphors a bit for dramatic effect. Typically standard shirts are made in 5 sizes, from extra small through small, medium and large, to extra large. For many, this reads as “5 variants of doesn’t fit”. You may find some going even larger, but we’re talking about a basic standard sizing, where if you’re a certain scaled version of the makers optimal human, you’re golden and can bond with a crisp new shirt. If not, a custom shirt may be the answer.

This shirt is “my size”, if you go by chest and neck size. In all other respects, like arm and length, it clearly fits a much taller man. I look like a little boy wearing his dads shirt. In fact, I think this one would fit my dad, so I’ll give it to him.

Standard sizing is the problem

The problem as we know is that humans aren’t scaled Ken dolls, we’re all sorts of combinations of height, width, skinny, fat, muscular, saggy, bulbous and varying postures, so if you’re super tall and skinny, you’ll be wearing billowing shirts if you want the arms the right length or shirts with arms too short if you want the body right. And similar if you’re below average height, with a solid build. For me, shirts and jackets always have arms that are on the long side. And that’s before we even consider the other measurements that go into a shirt. Like the circumference of the neck, which to me means that in 9 of 10 cases, I can’t do up the top button.

Naturally, each maker also has their own idea of sizing, and fit, so it’s not as if you’re going to be a reliable medium in all brands either, which clearly adds another level of infuriating annoyance to the process. And if you’re wondering whether the idea of buying shirts is within the scope of sustainability and buying less? Arguably yes, as clothes that fit well will be used more, providing a greater ratio of usage/impact. Of course, if it was possible to find a stash of already made, nice shirts in the right size, that would be even better.

And yes, I know I have griped about this before and asked what others do. The general consensus was to skip standard sizing and go custom.

Is a custom shirt the solution?

If you remember the failure of the dot-suit, a device I had huge expectations of delivering the perfect fit (and an article that included an image that has returned to haunt me. Note to self: The dot-suit is not a good look, do not post to social medias).

The most direct solution to the problem is to bypass the idea of ready-made shirts totally and have them made especially for you. Now, I don’t know about you, but to me, this sounds kind of like what people with lots and lots of money do. Then again, there is a big difference between a Savile Row suit and a shirt, so maybe it’s not too bad? And what value does a shirt that fits you really have? I was left pondering this deeply existential question though and other pressing matters took precedence.

So imagine my delight when custom shirt maker Apposta asked me if I’d like to try their service! Apposta is a long established Italian made-to-measure shirtmaker, with a wide selection of fabrics and styles. Just the ticket really!

The process of ordering a custom shirt

Once down to the nitty-gritty though, the process of ordering a custom shirt can be either quite easy or incredibly involved. As mentioned at the start of this article, a shirt consists of fabric and details, and measurements. The measurements are the easiest of the two and can either be done using an assistant or by measuring an existing shirt that fits well (I see the irony here). I enlisted my wife to hold the measuring tape, as it’s really quite impossible to do so on your own, at least with any sort of accuracy.

The second part is even harder though. When I went to create my shirts, there were 4002 different fabrics available. It’s an established fact that humans have a hard time making choices, so trying to objectively evaluate 4002 fabrics is clearly not possibly. Thankfully there are shortcuts set up, so if you’re after a denim shirt (I was), you can whittle it right now to a more manageable number. And then it comes down to simply selecting cuffs (8 types), pockets (9 choices) and collar (29 types). I say “simply”, but the process quickly becomes an exercise in not going aboard. It’s very easy to forget that simple may be elegant, selecting the most complex or fancy option at each stage. I’d recommend taking a good look at a few shirts you like the design of and using them as a reference.

Clearly, the timing for my experiment was not optimal, as the pandemic saw the factory in Italy having to close down as my order went in. Still, in the greater scheme of things, a couple of shirts was the least of anyone worries in troubling times.

The verdict?

Still, as the factory was allowed to open again, my shirts were promptly made and shipped. Was it worth the wait? Oh yes. For starters, it’s always lovely to receive something that is really well presented and this was superb. Not only were the shirts immaculately packaged, but there was also a timely and useful extra: Face masks, in the same fabrics as the shirts! That almost floored me, and this was well before everyone was making face masks. Top marks for caring about your customers.

The proof though is in the pudding and the main pudding, in this case, is whether the shirts fit or not. I’m very pleased to report that they certainly do. This is kind of a two-step process, where the customer must ensure the measurements are accurate and that the right fit is ordered (there are 4 variants, from regular to very slim), at which point the factory cuts and sews the correct size. The only problem I found is that (and I take full responsibility for this) I should have taken into consideration that I wear an Apple Watch, which is pretty bulky, so a little more room in the left-hand cuff would have been great. No issue at all if wearing a more regular, flatter watch though.

This shirt feels the right size for me. I can button up the top button if I like, the chest fits, the arms are a good length and the body length suits my body.

This shirt feels the right size for me. I can button up the top button if I like, the chest fits, the arms are a good length and the body length suits my body.

I’m a stickler for proper sewing and really appreciated the tidy work done on the shirts. Felled seams all round, no loose threads and well-fastened buttons.

Would I use Apposta again, and on my own coin? I reckon so. It costs no more to order a custom made shirt than it costs to buy a brand-name shirt from a menswear shop in town where I live. The difference there is likely to be that the brand-name shirt is going to be a poorer fit and made in a low-cost country. The details can be in most cases be replicated by Apposta, and with 4000 fabrics to choose between, it’s unlikely that the fabric isn’ available! There is a lot to be said for having clothes that actually fit, with no modifications (mental or tailoring-wise) straight out of the box.

Thanks to Apposta for giving me this opportunity, it was most appreciated. If you’d like to try a custom shirt yourself, the code AP2864 should give a 20% discount at Apposta.com

Made to the exact same measurements as above. The only real change I'd make to this custom shirt is a little more room in the cuffs. And yes, I know I should have ironed this before taking the photos!

Made to the exact same measurements as above. The only real change I’d make to this custom shirt is a little more room in the cuffs. And yes, I know I should have ironed this before taking the photos!

4 Comments

  • Wobbly Jelly 19/07/2020 at 14:04

    Standard sizes seem a way for things to fit no-one especially trousers – the “slim” fit often won’t go over my calves, never mind my thighs and I don’t think I’m that big. I have tried a few times going up waist sizes thinking I’ll get them taken in, but have got in to trousers that looked spray on, but could have got a friend in the waist band – who are these cut for? Fat lads with stick legs?

    I foolishly tried on some Armani trousers I did get into my wait size, but looking down at my legs you could see which direction each hair on my leg was going – again who are these standards made for?

    Reply
  • Rob 19/07/2020 at 15:13

    Thanks for this post. As a ‘lower than average height but reasonably well built’ bloke I constantly struggle with medium shirts that are too long. Might be tempted to try these out, but will do a bit of sustainability research as well…

    Reply
  • Richard 20/07/2020 at 19:14

    i have had a few things made by Luxire.com. They have a good selection and are good value, especially if one waits for a sale. They rather cleverly do trial trousers and shirts at a lower price – there are invariably corrections to be made to the first garment, so that allows one to get a good fit at a reasonable price. You can get them to do pretty much anything, so there is a high degree of customisation. There is a good range of fabric but not as many as Apposta. I don’t know how they compare cost wise.

    Reply
  • Donald Fager 17/08/2020 at 07:58

    Great post!! These are beautiful shirts. Apposta is one of my favorites.

    Reply

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