Custom shirts as value and the alternative to “ironic T-shirts”
I’ve gotten to the point, and to the age, where expensive, ultra washed and “ironic” printed tees, are not only unappealing, they feel ridiculous. Sure, in this city and industry, I’m a bit anachronistic wearing a suit and tie most days. I don’t expect others to do the same, I just like it, and it’s kind of become my thing.
While many find adventure and in discovering the perfect pair of distressed Japanese denim, I’m doing the same in finding craftsmen who are still making clothing the old fashioned way—one piece at a time and with great care.
That doesn’t mean that value doesn’t matter. Custom shirts at the same price, or less than store bought, just makes good sense. This really is a story about value.
If slow living means doing one thing at a time and doing it well, then LA-based shirt maker Freddy Vandecasteele has the concept nailed.
Freddy is a Belgian-born, French-trained master who in his humble San Fernando Valley-based studio, builds some of the finest domestically sourced dress shirts that challenge some of the best coming out of London’s Jermyn Street. In my search for vintage Saville Row bespoke clothing, I lucked into a cache of Frank Foster, deadstock Sea Island cotton dress shirts that fit as if they were made to measure for me. Or so I thought… I had read about Freddy on some of the esoteric clothing fora, and his humble and thoughtful posts as well as customer testimonials got me interested. I showed up at Freddy’s space with one of the Foster shirts in hand, and while Freddy appreciated the workmanship, he felt he could do much better on fit.
We kept what we liked best — the straight collar, French cuff, clean placket, short yoke and button less sleeve placket — while refining fit. I wanted the shirt to fit, and while I’m still a sucker for Kiton and Borelli fabric and handwork, these Neapolitan examples are enormous and blousy.
Freddy does all of the work himself, from measurements to first fittings, to final product. He doesn’t require a minimum order like many shirtmakers do, so the sticker shock induced paralysis that usually accompanies bespoke clothing purchases, is happily avoided.
Amazingly quick turnaround meant that within 10 days I was back at Freddy’s with my first shirt. The fit and finish were exceptional. Being a bit crazy, I supplied Freddy with my own extra thick mother of pearl buttons, but took Freddy’s recommendation on fabric choice. I’m pretty much a white shirt guy, and the Freddy recommended lightweight broadcloth was perfect. He suggested I take the shirt with me, wear it, launder it—I have a shirt laundering ritual*, and report back on any thoughts re: fit.
I was stoked with the prototype and after wearing it twice, phoned Freddy to place a proper order. Pricing is incredible, appreciably, read less than half, than most high end off the rack shirts, and I love Freddy’s passion, easy way, and excellent product. We’ve been doing stuff together for over a year, and I’m still wearing the original prototype as I write this today in London.
Ordering bespoke shirts when I’m a pretty easy fit, a true Medium either 15 or 15.5/35, may seem at a minimum like and extravagance, and at worst as an unnecessary indulgence, but the build quality, fit and finish mean that these shirts are true value. All of the shirts that Freddy has made for me are still in rotation, showing no signs of wear. I’ve recently had Freddy replace some “old friends,” shirts that I’ve owned for 12+ years.
* Notes on Dress Shirt Care:
If excessive dry cleaning kills tailored clothing, a rough washing routine kills dress shirts. You’ve probably guessed that I’m a bit picky when it comes to the details, and I’ve gotten dress shirt care down to somewhat of a science that definitely extends the life of my shirts. Detergent is step one. I’m particularly impressed with Mrs. Meyers liquid detergent that, while originally only locally available at Whole Foods, is now available at Ralph’s supermarket and through my local dry cleaner, Manhattan Beach-based Door-to-Door Cleaners.
I’m partial to the lavender scent. I wash my shirts separately from the other laundry on a white cycle, that includes a pre-wash and gentle spin. The shirts are hung to dry. They then are taken to Door-to-Door Cleaners in Manhattan Beach to be hand pressed, no machine pressing, and folded. I really like that Door to Door offers the press only service by hand. Also, I can opt out of having cardboard in the shirts when I get them back—seems wasteful.