Indochino, J. Hilburn, Blank Label: Great custom shirts you can buy online.

How to be the best consumer you can be.
Sept. 13 2011 5:11 PM

Hot Collars

I got three custom shirts online. I'll never buy off the rack again.

I feel bad about my chest. It's too small, and it has all the definition of a bag of chips. My arms, too, aren't so great. They'd probably be pretty good arms on someone else's body, but on me, they're too long, out of proportion to my small torso. For much of my life, my stomach was OK, but it started to give way after I entered my 30s. Now when I relax it sticks out a bit; if I were a woman, the paparazzi would mistake it for a baby bump.

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All of which is to say, I have trouble finding shirts that fit me well. Most men's shirts seem to have been designed for people with more pleasing arm-torso-chest proportionality. Most shirts' necks are too big for me, and when I do find one with a small enough neck, the arms are usually a bit short. This is true no matter where I shop—at discount places, at mall retailers, or even at expensive shirt-makers like Thomas Pink.

Naturally, then, I was intrigued by the new crop of Web companies that claim to make custom-fit men's shirts for not that much money. These companies are powered by the same world-is-flat economics that govern the electronics business—like your phone, the clothes are designed in America and made overseas (usually in China, but one pair of custom pants I purchased was constructed in Portugal). There are more than a half-dozen such companies online; over the last few months, I tried out three of them. And they were all amazing.

Choosing the best custom-fit shirt company is like choosing your favorite kitten. Each of these shirts was better than any shirt I've ever purchased off the rack. Any quibbles I had with any single company were trumped by the fact that they were making shirts exactly to my size, in luxurious fabrics, for about the same as I'd pay in a store. After experiencing this service, I don't see any point in buying off the rack again.

Here's what I thought of each site:

Indochinio.

Indochino Shirts range from $79 to $109. Mine—like most—was $99. Pants go from $129 to $159, and suits start at $379.

Indochino was founded in 2007 by Kyle Vucko and Heikal Gani, two college students who were having a hard time finding suits that fit. During their search, the pair stumbled onto one of the great secrets of the apparel world: Expert tailors in Shanghai will custom-make men's clothes for a fraction of what you'll pay in the West. (If you happen to be visiting China, don't forget to pack your best suit; you can get replicas made for about $100 each.) The firm has since expanded into shirts and pants, and it's raised a bundle of venture-capital money in the process.

Vucko and Gani have spent the money well. I found Indochino to be the best-designed of the sites I tried. It features better photos of the clothes and a more intuitive process to customize your selections. I was particularly fond of the site's measurement wizard. There are many measurements that go into making a shirt—not just neck and chest size, the main factors in off-the-rack shirts, but also your stomach, bicep, and wrist circumference, and the length of your shoulders, sleeves, and torso. For each of these steps, Indochino has a very helpful video showing you exactly how to take your size. (You should have someone else measure you.)

On the other hand, Indochino has a smaller selection of shirts than the other retailers I tried. There are about three dozen fabrics, and too many of them are in muted, middle-manager shades of blue and white. The site allows you to customize your shirt in a number of ways—there are eight different collar and cuff styles, and you can have the shirt monogrammed. The other sites, though, allow for even more customization, like different pocket styles and the option to add contrasting fabrics on the inside of your collar and cuff. (Indochino will only let you get a contrasting outer collar and cuff, and only in white fabric.) Indochino's return policy is also slightly less generous than other firms'. I did like its Perfect Fit Guarantee—the company will give you up to $75 to have your shirt, pants, or suit altered by any local tailor—but if you want a refund (say you hate the fabric you chose), you've got to send back your order unaltered within seven days of receipt, and you've got to pay for shipping.

All that said, the shirt I got from Indochino was beautiful. The fabric was soft, the tailoring expert, and the fit just perfect. It was fast, too: From start to finish, my shirt took two weeks to get to my door.

J Hilburn.

J. Hilburn
Shirts range from $79 to $159; some customization options cost extra. My final shirt price was $154. Made-to-fit trousers start at $125.

Like Indochino, J. Hilburn was founded in 2007 and has also attracted a ton of venture capital money. But J. Hilburn's founders were cut from a different cloth; they describe themselves as "a couple of Wall Street guys with a passion for custom-made dress shirts and for the way we felt wearing great-fitting clothes." As a result, their shop is a much more luxurious affair than the others.

For one thing, everything here is more expensive than at the other stores. For another, J. Hilburn features an unusual—but really kind of wonderful—hybrid online-offline buying process. Before you can get anything from the site, you must sign up for an in-person consultation with a "style adviser." The consultant comes over to your home or office, takes your measurements, and shows you a sheaf of fabric swatches and samples of J. Hilburn shirts and pants. You order your first item through your consultant, and you can order subsequent items through the website or by calling her up. (J. Hilburn has 600 advisers in 40 states and D.C. The advisers—most of whom are women—are independent affiliates of the company and take a cut of your purchases. If you're interested in selling luxury clothes to wealthy men, sign up here.)

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