How do I buy affordable, quality dress shirts for my slim frame?
September 7, 2005 3:41 PM   Subscribe

How do I buy affordable, quality dress shirts for my slim frame? I'm tired of buying clothes that make me look baggy / dissheveled / wrinkled -- I want neat, clean, trim, and CLOSE-FITTING (not tight).

I'm 5'9, 150lbs, and wear dress shirts every day (I work at a crusty old law firm). I have narrow shoulders, and a narrow frame (neck is 15.5", sleeves 32", waist 30", inseam 31"), and even "slim fit" Brooks Brothers shirts billow out, making me look like the Stay-Puft Marshmellow Man. I want to buy 3 or 4 dress shirts that FIT me -- that look good on my frame, and don't puff out at the waist.

Here's the problem -- or, rather, problems:
- I live in Birmingham, Alabama
- I can't justify spending $80+ per shirt right now
- I have had bad luck buying clothes on the Internet. Not saying that I wouldn't, just that, so far, I've not had success.

What do I do?
- Take my existing, puffy, Brooks Bros. shirts to a tailor and have them cut to fit?
- Buy "custom shirts" online? If so, how?

Failing that, do you have any recommendations on specific stores that might sell what I need at a reasonable (again, less than $80 per shirt) price?

Finally, if the only solution for me is to purchase expensive, custom shirts, how do I make sure I get the most bang for the buck?
posted by fearless_yakov to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (25 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I haven't tried this myself, but perhaps you could try Target Custom Clothing?
posted by gyc at 3:47 PM on September 7, 2005

Have you been buying off-the-rack brooks brothers stuff, or have you looked online for their slim fit stuff? I'm your sames shape and size and the slim fit stuff works pretty well for me.
posted by SpecialK at 4:00 PM on September 7, 2005

I know you said you're not a fan of buying online, but head on over to Good quality Georgenti custom tailored shirts for about 50-60 bucks. You need to take measurements yourself, which may be a bit of work, but you can build literally any kind of shirt you want by selecting the collar, cuff, button, and pocket type. No minimum order and a 30-day guarantee if it doesn't fit just right. I have a bit of a weird shape myself (broad chest, thinner stomach) and have been very pleased with the quality and service.
posted by lazywhinerkid at 4:05 PM on September 7, 2005

Friend, I’m right there with you and am all too familiar with the clothing-related perils of having a tall/thin frame.

Spending mega-bucks for custom shirts became tiresome in a hurry. Ordering custom sizes online was a roll of the dice at best, although I enjoyed some success with Geoffrey Beene athletic cut shirts via Amazon.

I ended up asking around and finally found someone that does custom tailoring in her home. She takes a regular Large, Extra Tall shirt and cuts the “puffyness” out for me with good results. Affordable too!
posted by peewee at 4:07 PM on September 7, 2005

The Brooks Brothers style is blousy like that--even their slimmer cut shirts. It's just their "thing"...Lance Arthur wrote an article about shirts here that might be useful.
posted by bcwinters at 4:39 PM on September 7, 2005

As a Tall Skinny Dude myself, and as an ex-military person, I'm going to hook you up with some insider information. The reason you're looking all Stay Puffed is because your shirts won't stay tucked in.
In the military they had something called "shirt garters". Think of suspenders for keeping your shirts tucked in.
Two 'suspenders', one for each side.
Each suspender shaped in a Y shape.
One tab in the front of your shirt, one tab on the back of your shirt and one tab on the top of your sock.
Shirt stays down, socks stay up. Bonus!

Link to the first google result. Hope this helps.
posted by willmize at 4:49 PM on September 7, 2005 [1 favorite]

I have the same issue with dress shirts (slim torso + long arms), although luckily I don't wear them much. The best solution I've found is to buy a regular fit shirt that I like, making sure that it's a good fit in the collar and sleeves, then take it to a tailor and have them rework the sides so it fits nicely. In my experience the alteration costs very little (NZ$10), and the total outlay is much less than having a shirt custom made. And the resulting garment is a joy to wear!
posted by nomis at 5:09 PM on September 7, 2005

Most towns have a tailor, or at least an "alternations" shop, usually next to a laundry. I've had shirts altered to great success, back when I weighed 150lbs (and less). Many higher-end department stores will alter shirts, too, like Marshall Fields, for example.
posted by Merdryn at 5:48 PM on September 7, 2005

If you've got the time and the patience, vintage stores and thrift stores carry clothing that harks back to a day when fit was a good deal more snug than it is nowadays. The downside is that there's a lot of work to seperate the good shirts from the bad and selection is generally pretty iffy.
posted by stet at 6:00 PM on September 7, 2005

My boyfriend has this problem and tries to buy shirts on sale at Benetton. They are a much slimmer "European" style cut - their shirts can be a little expensive, but they almost always go on sale, especially if you're willing to be a little bit flexible with colours. He has the exact same problem with Brooks Brothers slim-fit shirts. They're not just untucked, they're blousy and billowy in the wrong places. The other suggestion is Zara - their mens shirts are also slim-fitting; I have no idea if you can buy online or if that sort of thing exists in your neck of the woods. I'm guessing not, but at least you can file it in you "if I ever see one I'll take a peek" because they really are tailored for slim, tallish guys.
posted by fionab at 6:15 PM on September 7, 2005

You definitely want European-cut shirts, my friend. I have the opposite problem, being short and broad-shouldered, and it's insanely difficult to find a good shirt in my size. We may need to swap shopping habits.

Banana Republic also tends toward slim cuts. Actually, almost everything in that store is designed for tall, skinny people.
posted by mkultra at 6:23 PM on September 7, 2005

I've always found Joseph Bank to have a nice selection of trim-fitted shirts. If there is a store near you, it's worth a look.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:48 PM on September 7, 2005

american apparel?
posted by at 7:55 PM on September 7, 2005

I like Charles Tyrwhitt shirts in general, and they have a "fitted" cut that's slimmer (look under styles in my link). I can vouch for their shirts in general, but being a fat-ass, I don't know if the fitted shirts will fit the bill. However, their service has been great and if you call their NYC store they will certainly tell you about the fitted shirts. Also, they have a good return policy. I see their fitted shirts are going for $75 now, but you can get them cheaper if you wait for a sale.
posted by mullacc at 8:24 PM on September 7, 2005

There are tailors in various asian countries that, due to the exchange rate working in your favour, can supply a tailored shirt at about the same cost as off-the-rack here, and is not only tailored, but made with better materials.

As with most/all tailors, once they have your measurements, they can make and mail you shirts (or whatever) whenever you care to order them. The thing is how to get them your measurements to begin with.

In one case, I've had a tailor here measure me (he didn't charge for it), then sent those measurements overseas, in another case, my father was doing the tourist thing, and was measured in person to have some shirts made, and is about the same size as me, so I rode his coat-tails :)

I don't have anyone on-hand to recommend, but 1) taylored is the way to go, and 2) if you want to save money, then overseas taylors are probably the way to go IF you can get them your measurements.

The price of one shirt isn't a big loss, so is probably a risk worth taking to just try a tailor that seems to be what you're looking for, and if it fits well, you've got an endless supply in whatever colour/style you want, which is something that is worth quite a bit to have available. If it doesn't fit so well, maybe try someone else. Once you have someone, ordering multiple shirts at once reduces the shipping cost, but it can pay to check customs - I got slapped with a $50 tarrif on a coat because the cost exceeded some value (on the wrong side of $300 from vague memory)

A really crude "litmus test" could be whether the tailor requests the full range of measurements. If they just want your arm length, shoulder width, and chest circumference, then while that may be enough, since the comparison is "off the rack" shirts, it's not what it could/should be.
posted by -harlequin- at 1:02 AM on September 8, 2005

Marshal Fields where I am actually has a custom shop. I had a couple of shirts made for interviews and it wasn't terribly pricey for what I was after. I will say I'd always hated dress shirts prior to that because I've never owned one that fit, though for different reasons. At the time I had a 56" chest, 36" waist and 20" neck. Shirts that fit my chest looked like a tent and even big tall shops rarely carry that neck or chest size.
posted by substrate at 5:59 AM on September 8, 2005

Quite a few stores (including Marshall Fields) will alter a garment you buy there for a fairly decent price. Find one that you like, and then have them take the sides in some before you bring it home.

I've also found that the shirts at Express seem to fit a little closer than the ones I've seen elsewhere...
posted by caution live frogs at 6:25 AM on September 8, 2005

Express Men is in malls all around the country and has $50 (often on sale for less) dress shirts that fit my skinny upper body quite nicely. I recommend them highly.
Okay. According to their website, there is one in the Riverchase Galleria in Hoover, Alabama. Turned up when I searched for one in Birmingham.
posted by PhatLobley at 7:05 AM on September 8, 2005

I'm not going to recommend a specific brand, instead I'm going to talk about dress shirts in general.

Dress shirts, especially American dress shirts, are cut for "executives" who wear them. Which is to say, men with large bellies. You know the type. You are not one of them. When shirt-makers make shirts for men without large bellies, they use a designation like "athletic fit", "slim fit" or whatever - don't even consider shirts without that designation. Even fairly overweight people should buy Athletic Fit shirts - you have to be pretty obese to need the executive belly shirts. You probably also want "tall", even though you're not grossly tall, it's the ratio of size to sleeve length that counts.

So, you're looking for something like a 15.5/32/Athletic Fit/Tall. Write this down and stick it on a card in your wallet. This will be hard to find, but once you've found it, should be pretty good. They key thing to remember is just don't even look at shirts without the "Athletic Fit" designation. They won't work, don't waste any time looking at them. I second the European vice American recommendations - Europeans don't have as many fat executives. I also second the shirt stays/shirt garters recommendations - they do wonders at keeping away shirt puffiness around the waistline.

I would take one of your non-fitting shirts to a local tailor and describe the problem. They will take a shot at it for a small amount of money. At worst, you get back a shirt that still doesn't fit - you're no worse off than you were before. If they succeed though, you can alter all your non-fitting shirts and have a good start on your dress shirt collection.
posted by jellicle at 7:06 AM on September 8, 2005

Response by poster: Wow. I love Metafilter. Thanks for all the responses - great, great advice.

jellicle, you're right on.

bcwinter, you're right: Even the Brooks "Slim" shirts billow on me. They're better in the shoulder, but explode out of the pants (like Lance Arthur describes).

To all those recommending athletic cut - I think that may be a problem for me because, despite being narrow at the waist, I don't have broad shoulders. Thus, while an athletic cut helps in places, it often leaves the shirt looking puffy in the mid-back.

willmize, the shirt gators are an interesting tip. I find myself trying to keep the shirt tucked in all day long, so that would definitely help. Still doesn't fix the problem that, even when fully tucked, the shirt is bunched up -- it essentially has to be gathered in in 2 places to be fully tucked.

Phat and caution - I've been in that Express store, but haven't tried their shirts -- just didn't really think about them in terms of quality dress shirts. I will. Good suggestion.

Those who recommended Jos. Banks slim fits -- how do those shirts compare to the Brooks Bros (puffy executive) cut?

I think Euro-cut or Express / Banana Republic are probably my best non-altered options. I'm going to follow the advice of those who recommended seeing a tailor; if that can be done affordably, it may be the best option.

One thought: I have 2 BR shirts that I love. Do you think I could take these to a tailor and say -- make my other shirts fit like this? Is that possible?

Thanks again -- all of you -- for the fantastic responses. I've learned a lot. You people are great.
posted by fearless_yakov at 7:24 AM on September 8, 2005

OK, one last thing that I did:

Go to Men's Warehouse.

Buy a bagged shirt (I got a plain white one for $25)

Have them take in the sides. $10 in tailoring.

$35 total.
posted by sol at 8:03 AM on September 8, 2005

I have 2 BR shirts that I love. Do you think I could take these to a tailor and say -- make my other shirts fit like this? Is that possible?

You could, but if you're going to go the distance with a tailor, better to have him cut the shirt to you rather than to something close to you. It won't cost you any more.
posted by mkultra at 8:48 AM on September 8, 2005

n+1 tailoring.
They're cheap and worth it.

I also second mkultra's suggestion. Have the tailor work with you, not just another shirt you like. It'll fit better in the end -- maybe you'll even have a new favorite shirt.
posted by ThePants at 9:13 AM on September 8, 2005

I'm pretty much your exact build. The best fitting shirts I could find unaltered were Dolce & Gabanna, which are probably out of your price range. Armani, Prada and Paul Smith follow closely. I buy less shirts and higher prices to get that European fit (why are Europeans so different than the average American? Are we really that much skinnier?).

In the lower-end retail I've only found J. Crew to be decent.
posted by geoff. at 9:36 AM on September 8, 2005

Express is not quality. I have bought a few things from Express and I would recommend against it. Also they seem to want to be designer, but can't go the distance so things look dated rather quickly. Neiman Marcus is having a sale now, you might catch a few dress shirts (the less fancy kind) for under $100.
posted by geoff. at 9:38 AM on September 8, 2005

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