Growing up in the Midwest, button down collars in classic blue and white was the uniform of choice. It almost didn't matter your profession, everyone seemed to dress more or less the same. My first time in New York I was surprised when I saw bow ties, ankle length pants, and three layers of the same shade of black.
During college, I studied abroad in Hong Kong, and again I was surprised. Overall, it's not that different. Somethings are really different, some things are the same (bottomless brunch anyone?). One thing I wasn't expecting but was pleasantly surprised by, was the men's fashion. Everyone (really talking about men here, sorry ladies) wore custom dress shirts. Now, I knew this existed, like old tailors in the UK or in Brooklyn for the Wall St elite, but I had never known anyone in my life with a custom shirt. Yet here was an entire city of people with great fitting shirts. It really made a world of difference.
So I spent some time on Google and quickly found what I missed in my preliminary Hong Kong research: HK is actually famous for this. There's a long lineage of tailors, some pretty famous (in the tailoring world), that operate here and travel around the world to visit their clients. On business trips, it's popular for the gents to stop by a shop or two and get some new shirts and suits. Who knew?
Being in college, naturally, I was poor, but also graduating soon and knew I needed a professional wardrobe for, well, basically the rest of my life. I immediately knew this was an opportunity I needed to take advantage of and so set out to find the best deal. In the end, I left Hong Kong with ten custom shirts for just over $20 a piece. Significantly less than the Brooks Brothers I had been eyeing a few months before my departure.
Fast forward five years to today, I'm back in Hong Kong. I spent two years working in the US before returning almost three years ago. I still get my shirts made at the same tailor, although my size is a little closer to "I sit a desk for ten hours a day and enjoy happy hour" than it was five years ago, and this still stands out to me. Why does everyone in Hong Kong, but no one in the US, wear custom dress shirts?
I've spent a lot of time thinking about this because it doesn't make sense to me. They aren't expensive and are usually better quality than what you would purchase at the store. The fit makes a world of difference in comfort and appearance. Lastly, it seemed like by not buying, Americans were and are actively downgrading their wardrobes. Why?
I've only come up with a few reasons, maybe one or more of these applies to you?
First, you don't know what you don't know. Maybe you're like me and you didn't know this was an option. If you aren't searching for it, you'll never find it. Most Americans will never look for custom shirts because they assume what's on the shelf is what's available.
Secondly, cost and this drives the first point as well. Everyone knows custom dress shirts exist, but we also know they aren't for us. Looking at the price of the shirts in the US, would I or could I pay over $100 for a shirt? Nope, that isn't for me. If I did, I certainly wouldn't have a custom wardrobe. This price point is so off-putting, the moment you see it, you shake your head and close the browser window. I say browser because I would never end up in a shop with prices that high.
Third, custom seems... complex. Like where do you start and how do you do it? We buy dress shirts with two sizes: collar and sleeve. Everything is figured into the measurements for us. Most of us don't even know the different collar types or other options that come with custom. So how do you even start? Hong Kong handles this well, where a tailor explains everything and takes care of the complicated parts without you even noticing. Without a tailor, you have to navigate this yourself.
Now, this is pretty unscientific, but I bet these three stop 98% of people from getting dress shirts.
So, unscientifically, I started a company to help you guys out. It's pretty simple, we make it simple and affordable to buy custom dress shirts. Why? It's the right thing to do. It's easy and affordable to improve your wardrobe, so check out the options at Williamson and let me know if you have any questions.