unrefinery
There's a grand tradition dating back decades of gents traveling to Hong Kong for custom tailoring. Great work can be had at low cost, if you can afford to get yourself over there in the first place. Joe Hemrajani set out to make the experience more accessible to the western world by creating MyTailor.com, where you can select from hundreds of fabrics and order up a custom-made shirt exactly how you want it. You can provide them your measurements, or you can send them your best fitting shirt for duplication, or (at no cost) you can meet one of their representatives when he comes to your town. The latter seemed like the way to go, yielding the most accurate measurements, expert opinion, and an opportunity to see and touch the fabrics in person.

We met Mr. Rusty in his downtown hotel, where he was camped out with a few thousand shirt and suit fabrics. Thorough measurements were taken, and Mr. Rusty carefully examined a sample shirt we brought along to replicate the shape and dimensions of the collar. Nearly every option can be specified; we chose a classic 1/4 stitch, a placket front, no pockets, and two button cuffs with mitered corners. There was apparently no point in selecting fabric online before the meeting, because item numbers from the website don't seem to mean anything to the traveling representatives. The best he could do was look at our crappy inkjet printout and try to find a visual match. Similarly, there was a bit of negotiation needed on details of the desired order. We asked for darts, which MyTailor won't do (we lost that one) and had to argue in favour of thicker buttons (Mr. Rusty insisted they would just break in the laundry; we asked him to humour us and do it anyway). The final bill was $89 for the shirt, $5 for shipping from Hong Kong, and $6 for duty charges. Mr. Rusty told us to expect it in eight weeks, but said it might come in as few as five.

Ten weeks later the shirt arrived. The quality was immediately apparent, from the heavy-duty stitching to the careful pattern matching across the shoulders and sleeves. Conventional wisdom says you should launder your shirt before evaluating the fit, to account for cotton shrinkage, so into the wash it went. Dried and ironed, at last the moment of truth: they nailed it. The fit was perfect, vindicating the MyTailor policy against darts. We even got the thick buttons, and as a nice added touch, bronze collar stays.

The bottom line? Clearly, you need to plan ahead, because this process can take some time. You'll want to order your spring shirts in December or January. But is it ever worth the wait: the end result is a perfectly fit, beautifully made shirt, with exactly the options you want, for less than you'd pay for a good ready-to-wear garment. We might never buy dress shirts off the rack again.

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