Paris Custom Shirts: The Original Article
Have you ever caught a glimpse of something desirable but didn’t quite have the nerve to ask the owner where they got it from? Then, it goes forgotten until the next time you see it and realize that your first sighting wasn’t a fluke? That there exists something you recognize as superior that is, as yet, unknown to you? A series of chance sightings is how I came to become a client of Paris Custom Shirts.
I would see these shirts also at some clothiers from time to time, stacked in nice paper boxes. The collars all had that same resonating beauty. Not perfect but beautiful, desirable. The shirts themselves were always made to some savant customer’s whim, with horizontally striped bib or Italian fly front. The collars had that “important look” which was the term I used for shirts that impressed me on others before I had more of a clothes vocabulary to express myself with. These collars were substantial without being thick, they were higher on the neck but always just the right height and they were artistically smooth without being fragile. Buttons had a princely richness to them and the stitching was the finest I have ever seen.
Whenever these shirts appeared, they would stop my heart and I would go dry at the mouth, in much the way when you’ve missed an opportunity to ask out a pretty girl and then catch a sudden break with a second opportunity. Who made these shirts, I wondered? They seemed to come from nowhere and be everywhere on everyone well dressed…except me! Somehow, again as when you try to make a quick introduction with that attractive girl in public, I would always lose my voice and the opportunity would slip away.
I finally got my opportunity from someone who took pity on me and in a moment of weakness as to the source of their shirts. I had been admiring several laid out for another customer in their store and had just done the owner a personal favor. He felt obliged to give me information it was obvious I hungered for. The name of his shirt maker was Paris… or something. Due to my shock at getting at what I’d desired for so long, I became hard of hearing and weak kneed. I must have had the poor guy repeat the name 5 times. I hastily called the directory from my cell phone and made a nervous call, sort of the when you hit that moment of truth as to whether you’ve received the right number from someone sexy the night before.
The phone picked up and a soft voice with an accent said “Hello, Paris” (I would later find out this was the Father of the two man team that runs the shop). With thin breath I asked if it was a place that made custom shirts for men, real custom shirts… it was! Nervously eager I blurted out the obvious that I wanted some shirts. Although I deserved a sarcastic response, the very polite voice on the other end told me to come down any time I wished and they would happily assist me in my quest (oh yes, quest). Gripped by a sartorial frenzy, I made an appointment for the next day and showed up.
As I entered their building in New York’s little Korea and got off on the 6th floor, I wondered if I hadn’t made a mistake. However, I soon found the door which although aesthetically unimpressive did have a certain daunting effect. For a fleeting moment I felt teleported to Acheron’s front gate. A feeling of the unknown welled up inside of me as I stood in front of this portal to imagined shirting paradise. I conjured the apparition of a gargoyle’s head above it, which suddenly animated, saying to me “Abandon every rag, all ye who enter here.” I took a deep breath, opened the door, and entered.
I remember how initially disappointed I was at the surroundings. There was no boutique; quite frankly the place looked like it had been hit by a smart bomb. I had reservations. Could this actually be the correct path to my sartorial shirting chi that I had dreamed about? Was it the place that housed the one shirt every dandy strove for? The legendary Holy Grail of shirting; the perfect white shirt? I was soon to find out.
Paris Custom Shirt’s front door. A portal to chemise Nirvana.
I met Adam standing there and on the phone behind his desk. I introduced myself and told him why I had come. The transition was smooth and we hit it off immediately. He has a distinctly human charm to his approach with customers. One doesn’t feel so much like one is in a shop so much as one feels at home with a friend.
After we got the preliminaries out of the way, I had to decide on a fabric for my test shirt. There were so many fabrics that caught my eye, that it was difficult to settle on something for that one and only first shirt they insist on making you to ensure a perfect fit before allowing you to embark on the inevitable shirt spree that will follow. After two hours of deliberating over countless colors and patterns from the top cloth merchants, I settled on the white I had originally intended to select anyway.
It seemed an eternity, waiting for that solitary shirt, that single white shirt. It came and it was pinned and refitted. The second time it came back; I took it home, wore it, washed it, wore it and washed it again. I was surely in love! I can’t ever remember the last time I had longed this much to wear a shirt again. One shirt became 5, and 5 became 20, 20 became an addiction. I chose solids, and stripes and checks… and then, more solids in varying qualities and weaves. Eventually, I made up shirts of my own design with horizontal stripes or colored bodies with collars in matching material but a few shades lighter. French cuffs in just the width I had dreamed of, buttons that made me feel prosperous and collars that made me feel the sartorial equal of both the Duke of Windsor and Fred Astaire.
In any case, my shirt buying adventures began to multiply. I could tell you tales of cream silk dinner shirts with pleated fronts, of Zendaline whites and Grassmere blues, of double fronted voiles, buttery royal oxfords and zephyr like cotton/linen blends. I could croon about true tab collars; the Charvet spread collar, the Duke of Kent spread, the Windsor spread, and several types of straight point and rounded club collars with or without eyelets for collar bars. My thirst to acquire these Grand Cru chemises by the case remained unquenched until Adam told me one day, “You don’t need anymore shirts.” Cut off from the shirt bar, I staggered back to my wardrobe to quaff from what I had already bought and hoarded. To this day, I have shirts Paris has made me that I haven’t worn simply because they are too beautiful to soil!
Surely this is shirt Nirvana, and I am fortunate to have achieved it. Even now after so many purchases; I still look forward to my every batch of Paris shirts with anticipation. They are so precious to me that I will not allow them to be mailed to me, lest they be irreplaceably lost, and prefer to pick them up in person.
Paris Custom Shirts, located at 38 W. 32nd Street in NYC (212-695-3563) make, to my eyes, the supreme article in the USA with which to swathe the torso, neck and wrist. The stitching is as fine as it can be (stitch counts vary according to fabric worked on) and distinctive enough in its excellence and appeal that I can now recognize their shirts on anyone else wearing one.
Adam has come a long way since he mis-cut his first shirt at the age of 15. According to Adam, attention to pattern balance and proper cutting (which involves many different measurements and calculations) are crucial. Like snowflakes, no two patrons with the same measurements are ever actually the same. I think this explains why I know when I wear a Paris shirt, or rather if I were to put one on blindfolded, I would know. There is something comfortable about wearing a Paris shirt, every time. I wondered why this was, in spite of my weight fluctuations, that the shirts would still always fit me well. Apparently, that’s all about certain proprietary measurements which Adam and his Father, Mark, take.
A Paris shirt will work with both your body and your jacket. A Paris shirt will not work against you. I put on a shirt from Paris I had only worn once five years ago and the shirt fit me perfectly. Bear in mind that my weight fluctuates (as does my lifting regimen) and who knows at what level the shirt was fitted on me at. The point here is that the design excellence at Paris is accomplished for you alone to a degree that potential nuances in one’s physique are taken into account.
Adam and his dad make any kind of shirt you want. Although they are thoroughly knowledgeable about collars and cuffs, if you are a first time customer, there is nothing wrong with bringing in or emailing a photo of some style you want to inquire about. However, it is ill advised too fixate on replicating the dimensions of your sample and trust that Paris can make the collar look better. Further, in my opinion, asking for an exact copy of another maker’s shirt only reveals a customer’s uncertainty about what he is getting at Paris. It also insults the artist. And remember, no matter what you bring to be copied, Paris shirts are always better.
Paris shirts are experts at designing collars for their clients, mostly from scratch to what the client wants. If you bring a collar for taste reference, that is fine. However, bear in mind Paris’ collars are superior; some of the nicest I have ever seen. They’re skillfully tacked on by hand, as are the cuffs, and they follow the contour of the individual’s neck and wrists for assured comfort all day long. This ensures a soothing, therapeutic comfort all day long.
Although they will make a “painted on” fitted shirt if you request it, or a blousy one, the typical approach to fit will be trim but with a bit of room for movement and comfort. Again it is about design, a cuff fitted tightly about the wrist to prevent arm movement is considered a design failure, a moderately fitted cuff on an arm cut to a well designed pattern that flows with the wearer’s movements a design triumph.
Fabrics are imported from Europe where the quality is better. Italy is the current preferred source. Although even the English shirting is often finished in Italy because the river water is less polluted than in England. Apparently, finishing the fabric makes all the difference between luxurious comfort against the skin and the ordinary. One cannot use distilled water as it does not have the nutrients good cotton needs to be brought to life. A good shirt fabric should be finished on both sides, which is becoming rarer. A lot of the smaller, high quality mills from other countries have moved to Italy and/or been bought out by larger conglomerates. Quality is under the gun, but for the moment is still available.
The buttons used are a beautiful mother of pearl from a variety of sources. Thicker pearl buttons are available for special requests but they are add $50 to the cost of the shirt and are not recommended by Paris because they make the shirt look heavier and ruin the buttery balance of the overall garment. One exception might be on a pleated front dinner shirt where thicker buttons replace studs as the focus of attention. Personally, I believe that thicker pearl buttons are outré. However, lightly tinted buttons to match the color of darker shirts are also available and can look lovely on say grape colored broadcloth.
For first time customers Paris has a three (3) shirt minimum order. Basic shirt prices range from $235 to $650, and formal shirts from $375 to $800. It really depends on the fabric chosen because the workmanship does not change at all. Monograms are made by hand and prices range from $15 up depends on style. Maybe I will design an FNB monogram with a crown over it!
I would like to make it clear that the pricing of custom made shirts is a little bit of a moving target. Reasons? Custom means just that, every client wants something different. It is not as if you are getting an off the rack shirt in your choice of colors and materials. What you are getting is a shirt built for you, and you alone, from scratch. Adam maintains that just about any collar style can work with any man’s face as long as it is specifically built for him.
Examples of what additionally drives a shirt’s price up over the cost of basic fabric and workmanship include but are not limited to:
1. Spot price of a given fabric and even delivery costs
2. Stylistic details (Byron-esque ruffles, extremely eclectic collar style)
3. Additive details and upgrades (thicker buttons, extra chest panel on sheer fabrics, bib pleats, monograms)
4. Materials like silk which are harder to piece together.
5. Larger than average men, may require more material.
6. Horizontal stripes are a percentage premium for the extra, pattern matching cloth required.
7. Detachable collars
8. Extra collars
9. Three or more buttons on the neckband
10. Large numbers of pockets (Don’t ask…)
At $235, expect to select from basic 120s 2×2 Broadcloths which can include patterned cottons. Not necessarily from all Mills, some 120s will cost more. However, as an entry point, that is what you can expect.
140s 2×2 are generally $295-300. A lot of excellent 140s exist, maybe because they are a good balance between softness and durability.
The $300 price point will see many of the 160s 2×2 and even some 170s 2×2. Again, there are some 160s and super 170s that can knock the price up to as much as $425.
Zendaline 180s 2×2 are around $350. This is one of my favorite standard business shirting fabrics (Grassmere 160s 2×2 by Acorn is very similar and I have many of both). You need a decent laundry for these because they singe easily. Also, ask them to press them inside out to avoid a shine developing. They grant the wearer a very rich, refined look and relative resistance to wrinkles.
The cotton/linen super 170s 2×2 are $550-600. They are beautiful but I wouldn’t advise the solid white. Blue and blue stripes are both better looking and better value. Not that I’ve ever gotten one made but I have examined quite a few with envy and the white ones are not worth the cost, they always appear dingy.
Better to get white summer shirts in voile. The cost here is $300-325 for voile, with an extra front panel (which I do get) for another $50. In Europe, the single voile front is acceptable. In the USA it really isn’t, not for business anyway. For social occasions, knock yourself out and show your physique. A double front takes any unacceptable sheerness out of the shirt and yet retains the coolness of voile. Batiste is a bit tighter and opaque, but I prefer voile myself as a more refined choice.
240s 2×2 poplins are about $650. I never liked them but some men just want the softest and finest next to their skin. If you have money to burn and longevity isn’t a concern or you have either Paris Custom Shirts or someplace like Jeeves of Belgravia launder the shirts for you, plus you don’t mind a bit of wrinkle, then indulge thyself like a grandee of old.
Pleated front dinner shirts are about $350 and can quickly zip up to $500 if made from Zendaline. The narrower the pleats, the trimmer and slimmer you look but because of the hand work involved, but there is a premium.
A pique front dinner shirt with matching pique detachable turndown collar and cuffs is about the same, $350. But again, if you want a Zendaline body, it’s more.
I wish I had a photo of this one shirt. One of Paris’ customers needed to know the time in several zones always and had two button holes cut on each French cuff with monograms of the cities (NY, London, Tokyo, forget the last one) under each buttonhole. The customer had tiffany watch cufflinks for each buttonhole set to the proper time for that city. Practical and very unique if eclectic to the Nth degree. All that buttonholing and monogramming added up to a hefty $550-600 shirt. The shirts themselves were constructed of fairly basic cloth.
Viyella shirts are $425-500, depending on cloth (I only have one…but it’s a nice one!)
Cashmere shirtings are around $900! Not for the man who gets hot under the collar easily.
Some shirt tips and facts:
1. After 180s 2×2, the premature wrinkling starts to be a concern. Although Paris has one client who insists on that wrinkled look as part of his persona, most men do not look good like this and you should be aware of the finer cotton thread counts’ more fallible properties.
2. At Paris, the most commonly ordered fabrics are 120s 2×2. I do not generally like under 140s 2×2 fabrics (Although I have many 100s 2×2 because I pin my collars and this weight and quality better weathers the piercing holes this technique entails) and I am a slave to the 160s and 180s 2×2s. Feel free to indulge yourself in the most delicate qualities available, I just thought that was an interesting statistic.
3. Paris makes an incredible Marcella dinner shirt. I have several. Pique chest, voile body (Zendaline or Grassmere works too) pique link or French cuffs and either an attached or detachable pique turndown collar. This alternative is a lot less sloppy than the pleated evening shirts generally. Although I also have a pleated front Zendaline dinner shirt too that Paris made for me and it is very nice. As mentioned before, get the narrow pleats.
4. Too many men feel they need to design their own shirts when they go custom. From a stylistic viewpoint this can be entirely correct to suit one’s personality. However from a color and pattern viewpoint, it is not always advisable to pick the most exotic colors and patterns just to signify you have a custom item. I am not saying you cannot do this but unless you are in a position to buy 50 shirts, maybe something a little more conservative will allow you to wear your first Paris shirts more frequently without being known as the guy who lives in the purple and yellow striped shirt and thus allow you to see what Paris’ quality is all about.
Sometimes, when I visit Paris, I will see shirts that look like the buyer is exercising his right to bad taste. It’s as if there was a mission to get as creative as possible. Consider that that bold, exciting shirt may be better bought off the rack and that you may become bored with it after a while. Whereas a custom white or blue or pinstripe shirt may look good for its entire life and never tire the eye as an item of luxury. This is just my opinion of course.
Paris provides a shirt laundry service that will leave your shirts looking like the first day you received them. Laundering isn’t cheap at $7 per shirt (extra collars and certain materials like silk may cost extra) but if you are in an occupation where looking more precise is an advantage, then it is hardly too much. They will mail the shirts to you or you can pick up the laundry yourself.
Sometimes a customer wants a gimmick like a two button collar, but the fact is, if someone’s neck isn’t suited for it, then the detail is a distraction and even a negative. A collar must be of a height to compliment the wearer’s neck and face, and work with the collar height of his jacket. Anything more or less is a violation of the bespoke canon. I tried to inquire as to what dapper muse inspired the shop when they designed their collar styles; in fact, I tried to bully Adam into admitting that the collars were Charvet-esque. Adam stood his ground intrepidly and told me that they make collars according to the customer’s whim. If a man wants to look more like the Duke of Windsor, then he makes a collar that looks similar AND suits the wearer’s neck and face. A Herculean task to be sure.
Up to this point, I have never gotten anything but day and formal shirts from Adam. He made the original Marcella black tie shirt for me with a white voile back, white pique cotton bib front (Two stud holes due to my particular chest size) with double pique cuffs (I like double pique cuffs for these as opposed to the single ones for white tie, which would also be right for black tie) and a detachable turn down pique collar and a spare detachable pique wing collar. He made a relatively tall wing collar for me which surprised me because of my 17.5 inch neck but looks terrific and works effortlessly with my neck movements. The secret lies with the artistic care taken in designing and cutting the collar so that it slopes with the curves of my neck and jaw. This is not simply a straight forward measurement but incorporates Adam’s observation of how I hold, turn and bend my neck. Much of the art of a Paris custom shirt falls under the category of intangibles such as these.
I have yet to get a short sleeved casual shirt made by him, but I will be doing that soon. Perhaps a short sleeved shirt in linen with a Johnny collar. Or perhaps Ill get a bowling shirt made from an old teenage ninja turtles cotton bed sheet. When I needed a dressier banded collar than the wimpy ones on the market, it was Adam who designed a collar with stature for me to wear like a proud officer from one of England’s old lancer regiments. I’ve never asked him, but I imagine they could make just about any shirt for you from history (If there are any lord Byron aficionados out there), but no knits please.
And yes, in answer to my quest, I found that Paris does indeed produce the perfect white shirt. When I wear a Paris custom shirt I feel like a veritable Templar of style; invincible. I am a debonair superhero that women smile at admiringly, “Dandy Man” a defender of the stylish faith. Further, I am sure that F. Scott Fitzgerald had he been a customer of Paris Shirts would have been smitten as well. Doubtless he would have rewritten his opus to read that if Daisy could have seen Gatsby’s Paris shirts, she would not have cried, instead she would have slipped one on.