A common misconception about bespoke is that you can get whatever you want in a whatever style you want. While that, in theory, is true, the “whatever” should fall inside the so called “house style” of a said bespoke house. There are certain houses that claim that they don’t have a specific style, but that is simply not true. Not even with largest of houses. You’ll do yourself a favor by studying the styles of different houses beforehand, knowing your taste and being well versed in buying ready to wear or made to measure. That shall give you an understanding about what to look for and, more importantly, what to avoid. Own style is often a rather fluid concept, defined more by our unlikes than likes.
I could say that I am both a hard and an easy customer. Hard, because I know my measurements exactly, having had my shirts done to myself – and for countless customers – for almost a decade. I know a couple of rather optimal cuts that suit me, the measurements and the range of movement I want. I have moved from the skintight-fit to my current fit, which is looser but still follows my form. As I said, though, I’m also an easy one. I know that houses have their own opinions about fit. I also know that it often takes several iterations before the measurements are set for the customer. I’m also very curious by my nature, willing to see different approaches and ways of doing things.
The measuring and fitting
During my earlier visit, I had noticed that Mr. Luca Rubinacci, head of the Rubinacci Milano and a head designer of Rubinacci, had an absolutely beautiful vintage fabric – poplin with yellow stripes – available. It’s a rare style that I hadn’t come across earlier. So, naturally, I wanted a shirt made for me from that fabric. Taking all the aforementioned things into account, I still was curiously excited when I stepped into Rubinacci Milano to have a bespoke shirt done for me.
A first surprise came in measuring process. While I personally prefer to take the measurements solely by using a measurement tape and a couple of self-designed tools, Rubinacci uses fitting shirts. They have a vast array of different styles, chosen to match the customers of different bodytypes. Although a fitting garment approach is frowned upon by some bespoke enthusiasts, that merely shows their ignorance – or, perhaps, a love towards some kind of mental image about a bespoke process. After all, the aim is to make a garment that fits well. The professional chooses his preferred tools to produce such a garment. A fitting garment certainly has its benefits, making some things – such as sleeve pitch, collar pitch, irregularities in posture etc. – a lot easier to notice and define. Thus, despite my surprise, I was not worried nor felt that I would not be having my shirt “as bespoke” as with other makers. (The “as bespoke” is an uneducated statement I’ve seen occasionally pop up at Internet fora).
The fitting shirt got several alterations on it. My rather extremely erect posture was one thing that was noticed, as were my long arms. There was a lot of discussion about my preferred fit. I wanted my shirt looser fitting than my usual garments, as it would be used during the warm summertime, especially when traveling abroad in warmer climates than Finland. I also am particularly picky about my tie space – space between the inner ends of collar, just above the button – and, with a smirk (that I well deserved), the measurement was marked down. All in all, the process was, as always, as much talking as actual taking of measurements. I also wanted to see the house style as well as possible, so I didn’t want to flat out tell Rubinacci to copy my current shirt. That would have been both disrespectful and uneducative.
Aside the measurements, I picked the other options during the fitting process. I ended up choosing a moderately spread collar with a relatively soft interlining. On cuffs I prefer simple, rounded-edged, single button ones. I always wish to have the back taken in a bit by darts, incorporating a slight bit of three-dimensionality to it. We passed shirring of shirtback, shoulders and cuffs briefly, but noted it to be a too feminine, blousy detail for a gentleman’s shirt.
Funnily enough, the longest discussion was about my monogram. I have, ages ago, chosen a rather personal monogram for myself – essentially an image constructed of a couple of letters. However, since the shirt had one of my childhood favourite colours, yellow, in it, and this would be the year of my 40th birthday, I wanted to have the monogram done in my other favourite childhood colour. Turquoise green, to be exact. It took a long while to find the correct shade, but we got it finally down.
After the measurement appointment I headed to Florence for a week to attend the Pitti Uomo. I had arranged a fitting of the shirt, in muslin state, for the next Saturday, so within one week the fitting shirt, with its markings, was sent to Naples, made into a fitting muslin – a kind of a “proto-shirt” – with my measurements, and sent back to Milan again.
Muslin was made with one sleeve and “stand-in” cuffs & collar. Initially, the fit was OK – something I see often with made to measure makers – but I wished some aspects to be touched a bit. Waist was to be taken in even so slightly, still keeping it loose. Shoulder seam was taken up, sleeve was lengthened slightly. I made a remark about making the armhole smaller, as, rather commonly for the first shirt, it was cut rather generously. All in all, every aspect was how I expected it to be. After muslin state, I was confident that the shirt I’d receive would be a great one. We stayed at Rubinacci Milano for a while, shopping accessories and chatting about the details of fine Italian tailoring, and finally headed to airport. The muslin made a journey back to Naples to be studied, ripped open and converted into my personal pattern. A month-long wait for a shirt had begun.
The final shirt – fit
After I received the shirt, I carefully inspected it – and washed it in 30°C as the first thing. I’m certain that the shirt had been washed in prior to sending it to me, but I warmly recommend everyone to wash their washable garments before using them. The garment shall be cleaned from possible debris and, also, shrink towards its final fit, making it easier to notice the problems. All in all, the shirt shrinks during the first 3-5 washes. Usually, though, the fit can be analysed after one wash & ironing cycle, since the first wash makes the most severe changes.
I noticed immediately that the fit was different from what I had used to. However, different doesn’t mean bad in all cases – and in this case it certainly did not. Fit was loose all over, collar did fit perfectly and, most importantly, the sleeve length was correct, although I think I’ll still have it added by 1cm in the future. Armholes were different from what I had used to. The looseness in that area makes the shirt very comfortable to wear during the warm summer months, but I’d prefer a slightly tighter fit with a higher set armhole. The setting of sleeves was the most noticeable difference, with their clear downward pitch, which, I think, reflects the house style. All in all, I would call the shirt as a great success for a first shirt fit-wise. There shall be some changes – more to bicep and forearm, more to length of sleeve, less to armhole circumference and, perhaps, slight addition to chest – but we’re talking about 0.5 – 1cm alterations here. On ready to wear shirts there would be unnoticeable and on made to measure they’d be addressed down the road. So, despite the changes in the future, the shirt is a beautiful, fitting garment.
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Fabric and details
As the fit is the most important thing, the details shall follow. The fabric is at least as beautiful in the finished garment as it was on the bolt when I first noticed it. I’m certain that this shirt shall gather lots of uses during the summertime – and I’d even think that I shall wear it mostly without a jacket over it. Collar is definitely like it should be, soft and perfectly shaped. Buttons were almost surprisingly substantial – “proper legos”, as I and my friends tend to call them. While I personally tend to favor a slightly thinner shape of mother of pearl buttons, the quality is unquestionable. Besides, on a summer garment that I mostly shall wear without a tie, substantial buttons shall help to set the shirt apart from the rest. The buttonholes are made by hand and are very neat. However, with the buttonholes comes the only bigger mistake on this shirt. I requested to have a seven button front with an even spacing, counting the collar button. I got an 8 button shirt. As I wear my shirts rather long, I’ve encountered this problem before – some makers just feel the need to add a button to the bottom of my buttoning placket – but I was a bit saddened to notice this happening again. When it comes to buttons, my philosophy is to have 1/4 of the shirt front button free to be easily tucked over the thighs. Of course, the shirt has to be a long one to accommodate this, but that’s not a problem with made to measure and bespoke. Naturally, the problem is solved just by leaving the lowest button open. However, I’d really prefer to have it where it should be.
Buttoning problem aside, the other details were perfect. Handstitching of appropriate places, including nice bar tacks where applicable, is very neat. My monogram was also handstitched and beautiful, located in my favourite place – the cuff placket. I was actually surprised how well the final iteration matched my preferred colour.
All in all, the shirt is an invaluable asset to my shirt wardrobe and shall see lots of uses during the summers. A few details aside it’s a success – and I am fully aware that Rubinacci shall accommodate my wishes in the future. As often is said, bespoke is a process.
Bespoke – is it worth it?
Some of the readers might questionize the rationality behind a bespoke shirt – and, perhaps, even a made to measure shirt. While people often can purchase a reasonably well fitting shirt off the rack, I recommend everyone to at least try a shirt that has been made for them. As the shirt is the closest fitting garment a man wears, the benefits are unquestionable. Armholes shall be smaller and, thus, the movement more free, the choices of style, fabric and other factors allow a wide variety to be bought and, certainly, it is nice to have something made for you. For me, the choice was clear – my long arms don’t allow me to enjoy from any ready to wear garment.
Bespoke, then, differs from made to measure in some aspects. Personally, I love the variety of styles, offered by different houses. The fabrics are also a strong point – houses, such as Rubinacci, often carry vintage stocks and other rarities that simply are not available from anywhere else. Measurement wise, if you have an irregular body or some personal quirks that you want addressed, a bespoke maker is definitely an asset.
Bespoke, however, offers a certain thing that isn’t commonly available even with the made to measure makers, save the selected few on top tier that, practically, are bespoke makers with another name – an experience. It is an intoxicating feeling to be listened, measured and positively pampered during the bespoke process. You shall realise that there isn’t a wrong approach or answer to your questions. By first selecting a house most closely fitting to you personal style, you get a rare opportunity to express yourself freely via your garment.
I encourage everyone to try and have a bespoke garment made for themselves even once. It shall open a new, interesting world to see.
Rubinacci bespoke shirts: from 450 € and up, vintage fabrics approx. 600 €