Sartorial Excellence News
Caveat Emptor: A Treatise on Buying Custom or Bespoke Clothing
Vol.5 No.2
Copyright 2008 Kabbaz-Kelly
. . .
September 20, 2008

Fall/Winter Season's
Best Coordinates
New Color Palette
For 2008/2009 Season

Caveat Emptor
A Treatise on Custom-Made Clothing

A Quick Look:
The New Cashmere & Silk Windowpane!


What Colors For

A Few Samples
Of Shirt & Sock
Color Matching

On the valet you'll see many colors of Sea Island cotton socks. I have annotated a few of the more popular colors with sample shirt color/pattern swatches to give you a few ideas upon which to build.

A Word About
Luxury Gift Selection

We know how difficult and time-consuming it can be to select the right gifts from our vast range of fine luxury clothing and accessories. It doesn't have to be such. We know our wares from top to bottom. Let us help ...

How? On every page of CustomShirt1.com, you'll see a link to our Gift Center where you'll find a very short questionnaire to fill out for each intended gift recipient. We'll take it from there, assembling unique treasure boxes for your loved ones and sending them to you by email for your approval or revision.

Zimmerli's ExtraFine Merino Sweater
in Six Styles, Eight Colors!

We'll even take care of the wrapping! When you remove your presents from their outer package, they'll be all ready to hand out. Well ... almost. You'll have to sign the gift card.

Zimmerli for Women MicroLyocell
"Zen Dreams" Wrap-Top Pajamas

Click here and put us to work on your list!

In The Next issue ...

Caveat Emptor Cheap High-Count Shirtings

Part II of the Custom Clothing Article

100% Organic Cotton Naturally Dyed Socks!


After more than 30 years as a custom clothier and haberdasher, I've grown ever-increasingly annoyed at the meritless bandying about of the age-old terms "custom-made" and "bespoke". These terms, synonymous really, have specific meanings.

As so many of you have sought definition from Joelle or I over the years, I've penned A Treatise on Custom-Made Clothing from my point-of-view as a traditionalist and supposed expert in the field. Part I appears below; Part II is set for our next issue. Take me to task: Write back to me with your thoughts, positive or not. I'll answer them (anonymously, of course) in our upcoming issues.

By the way, the first wave of our new 2008/2009 Fall/Winter items have arrived. A bit of a look-see at the new color palette is over there on the left.

Best regards,
Alex Kabbaz

  • Caveat Emptor
    A Treatise on Custom-Made Clothing
  • by Alexander S. Kabbaz, Master Shirtmaker
    Copyright 2003-2008 Alexander S. Kabbaz, All Rights Reserved

    Take a piece of fabric six feet long and three feet wide. Cut a one foot circle from the center. Place this hole over your head. Take a stapler and staple the sides together below your arms. Voila! You've made a shirt! Now that you are a qualified shirtmaker, realize that anything beyond those simple basics involves more than just a knowledge of patternmaking, cutting, and sewing. It requires a philosophy, some modicum of pride in one's work, a widely varying degree of knowledge of the art and the craft, and the intangible ability to translate clients' verbal descriptions into visually pleasing realities.

    As you learned in the first paragraph, making a shirt can be extremely simple. Making a shirt that fits, not only as well as it can but especially the way the client wants it to, can be extremely difficult.

    The Philosophies of Bespoke Clothing

    A bespoke maker can adhere to one of two goals with every new client: Most have a simple goal which I term the First Philosophy:
    a] Establish a minimum order which guarantees that you will make a profit.
    b] Make a shirt pattern which does not deviate too far from the norms: stay within 'acceptable' parameters of fit, styling, quality and price.
    c] That way, if the client doesn't like the results of your work, you can claim you 'followed the traditional bespoke methods' and, especially, you haven't lost any money.
    The First Philosophy is wonderful. It opens you to no accusations, leaves no possibility of grave error, and guarantees your bottom line. Seems ideal, and that is why it is the Majority Philosophy.

    Others adhere to a riskier concept, the Second Philosophy:
    a] Establish a hefty minimum order to determine whether the client is serious or not. Once that is out of the way, forget about money and begin the fitting process ... and continue it until you, the maker, are satisfied with the fit.
    b] Have a serious initial interview with the potential client. Are they interested in getting their shirts quickly? Bad.
    Do they "not really have time for fittings"? Worse. .
    Is 'the wife in charge' of the fit and styling? Awful!

    1. Why should it be the maker and not the client who determines if the fit is correct? Well, hell!
      • a] Who knows more about shirts? You, the shirtmaker ... or the client? The client should have been satisfied at least one fitting sample before the shirtmaker.
      • b] Who is being advertised when other potential clients view a shirtmakers product?
      • c] A modicum of pride...

    2. Isn't this "best fit possible" idea an anathema to the concept of running a profitable business?

      Yes ... if you are running the New Millennium Corporation whose only measure of success is the quarterly report. Yes ... if your reputation isn't good enough to keep a steady stream of potential new clients coming to your door. No ... if you are trying to live up to your reputation and realize that somewhere down the line all satisfied clients return for more ... and that when they do the fitting process has already been finished. Not only do they return ... they are forced to return. You have their pattern ... and only you know how you assembled the parts.

    3. Do you take the first shirt apart and alter it for the second fitting?

      You really shouldn't. Ripping (as shirt disassembly is called) can alter (stretch, pucker, distort) the fabric in many ways. An adjusted first sample is not nearly the same as making a new second sample ... unless all future shirts are going to be made, ripped, re-sewn, and delivered. And if that's the case, perhaps you should become a Sanitation Engineer so that your title truly relates to your product.
    So what do you do with the first, second, third, etc. fitting samples? Every January 1, you buy a very large, empty box. Every December 1, you telephone the Salvation Army for a pickup.

    In this treatise, I propose various conceptual themes and procedures. At times I'll interject as examples my own parameters which apply to those themes and procedures. Here is the first of such.

    As regards Philosophy, the First or the Second: I am partial to the Second Philosophy.
    1. My minimum first order is $6000 of which half is deposited at our initial meeting - that equates to roughly six shirts.
    2. Don't cause me to have to do "collections". I want my mental faculties - such as they may be - concentrating upon styling and fit, not worrying about whether I am going to get paid.
    3. Offer me at least half of the respect I'll offer you.
    4. Treat my shirts - and me - with the dignity we earn.
    5. That finishes Philosophy. So where does the Pride enter into it? Same as it does in any other arena. Here are a few telltale signs:
      • Is the shirtmaker or tailor trying to make the "process" seem too mysterious and complicated for even the most astute client to understand? Or is he willing to spend as much time as necessary to make sure that you understand as much about what he is doing as you want to?
      • Alternatively, is he being pushy in some areas ... such as insisting that you learn the difference between 100's 2x2 and 170's 2x2? The differences among broadcloths, voiles, twills, and oxfords? The advantages and disadvantages of placket vs. plain centers? ...even if you don't want to? If so, that's a good thing!
      • What is his definition of "custom" or "bespoke"? If he gives you two definitions, you've been had. Ask to see the "house style". If it is shown to you, then you are not in the hands of a true custom maker. True bespoke artisans do not have a "house style". The only acceptable definition of a custom garment is that "It Is What The Client Wants It To Be". And the only reason there is a difference between the words custom and bespoke is because somebody, somewhere, wanted to cut corners and needed to have a name for his product.
      • Finally, how many fittings should there be? The answer is the similar to the number of buttons on the shirt front - as many as necessary until the shirt front ends. If you take me as an example, I've done it in two fittings ... with the second being perfect. I've done it in 21 - and I still wasn't totally happy. My average is three. If you get one fitting and then an alteration of that first fitting ... move on. You are not in a custom house.

    Manifestation of the Second Philosophy:

    Attire speaks before you utter a single word. Your appearance is the window through which your are first viewed. The most important result of our initial consultation lies not in the extensive series of measures we place in your file, but in what we garner about your personality, your profession, your taste, and your station in life. Important is not that particular fabric which offers us the greatest profit. Important is the suitability of your wardrobe. This can be considered only if we gain a comprehensive understanding of who you are. Important lies not only in our complimenting your wiser selections and in offering you others from which to choose, but also in having the temerity to suggest that something you might want would be entirely inappropriate for you.

    In short, the image you should portray is the responsibility we wish to accept.

    The Process, simplified, as I see it ... and written as if you were my client ...

    On your first visit, we'll chat for a while in order that I might gain a proper sense of your needs and who you are. Then we'll discuss styling and fit while I take some 35 measures and notes.
    Later, I'll design, strike, and cut your individual basic pattern. This will incorporate the styling details we discussed and is the springboard from which we'll develop your wardrobe during ensuing years. I'll use this pattern to cut, stitch, and launder your first sample which tests my ideas and measures. We use 2x2 120's or 2x2 170's, based on our discussion of your preferences. (Others begin with muslin which is acceptable for the first try-on).

    One week later, faster if circumstances dictate, you return to try on this laundered sample. You criticize, we criticize and pin-fit. We alter your pattern, cut and launder a new shirt, and you return for a second fitting.
    Then we again revise your pattern and, a short while later, send you a third sample. This you wear for a day or two thusly insuring that you are completely aware of your likes and dislikes.
    These steps are repeated as often as necessary. Once your pattern has been finalized in this manner - to my satisfaction - we cut your first order which is both a minimum and maximum of six shirts. The styles need not all be the same; every fabric may be different. After this initial order, you may order in any quantity desired from one and up. This entire process can be collapsed into two intensive days. This is accomplished by your staying locally near our East Hampton studios for two days and one or two nights. Each day begins and ends with a fitting with beach or shopping in-between. At the end of the two day stint, your pattern is finalized ... and your tan is improved!
    Shirt Fact

    This is an oyster shell, about 50 years of age when harvested in New Zealand. Its actual size is about 10" across and, at its thickest point, the shell is about 3/8" thick.

    In Summation:
    Again as if you were my client ... What will a good custom shirtmaker do ... and how?
    As far as shirts, blouses, or furnishings, virtually anything. We will design originals (our preference), copy styling details of your old favorites, or work from photos or sketches of styling preferences you might like. We can, if necessary, work initially from your measurements and conference video of you. Delivery varies seasonally and depends (the first time only) on your availability for fittings. Quality should not be rushed. Monograms, if desired, are additional. They are done by hand and require extra time. All of our work is done here on the premises.
    Each shirt is slightly different. In a process where everything is hand-done and every shirt considered as a unique entity, this is as it must be. Our promise, therefore, is quite simple. If it is not perfect, we shall make it so ... without question.
    Our charges are set from a viewpoint which allows us to concentrate our efforts solely on the caliber of our work. Truthfully, pricing is the easy part and one we choose not to discuss. Difficult is when we sit down and carefully consider each one of the thousands of individual stitches we make in some 12 miles of Egyptian-grown, European-woven long staple cotton yarn, to which we hand-sew 14-20 New Zealand- grown Mother-of-Pearl buttons. Add eight to 12 hours of tailoring, a hefty dose of creativity, a lifetime of pride and you get...one shirt!

    I could go on for pages about the complete individual pattern, an entirely hand-cut garment, the magnifying loupe through which we inspect the fabric we shrink as necessary before cutting, and the many hundreds of other techniques we use to insure the perfection of our craft. However, we consider this not only proprietary but also firmly believe that this is our responsibility. Suffice it to say, thanks to our many loyal clients, we are happy to have the ability to direct our skill and attention solely toward the quality of our shirts.
    Before you place a subsequent order, I must see you in a few of the shirts you've found most pleasing. Fine woven cotton will, over time, shape and adapt itself to the wearer. It is only after that has been accomplished that I can make the final little nips and tucks to your permanent pattern. This, by the way, remains an ongoing process. Additionally, should more than four or five years pass between your actual visits to our shop, I'll most probably refuse to make any more shirts until I see you in a recent creation. After all, our only advertising is the answer you give to the question, "Where did you get that shirt?"

    Fitting new clients is our responsibility - solely our responsibility. Should your measurements change or should you desire any alteration in fit at a later date, it is solely your responsibility to so inform us! Otherwise, lack of this knowledge will obviously cause us to cut your order without alteration of your permanent pattern ... and cause you to pay for ill-fitting work! Should we for any reason make changes to your pattern, we shall normally cut one shirt from your order and send it for your approval. Once you approve the change, we'll then proceed with the remainder. Should you decide later on that you want further changes, such alterations will be charged at our prevailing rates.

    That is The Process as I see it.

    Next Issue: Coming in Part II
    Oft-Asked Shirtmaking Questions and (Opinionated) Answers including:
    • The "Correct Collar for Me" Rules
    • Split-Yoke vs. One-Piece Yoke
    • Hand Sewing vs. Machine Sewing
    • Hem Gussets - Pro or Con
    • Darts: Bespoke Hallmark or Shortcut?
    • Fused vs. Traditional Collar Construction
    • The Ethical Considerations of Pricing
    Thank you for reading.

  • A Quick Look:
    The New Cashmere & Silk Windowpane!

  • Marcoliani's Incomparable Cashmere & Silk socks, this season in a stunning, sophisticated windowpane. If you've never tried the cashmere and silk, you'll certainly not understand why I continually say, they are the finest socks we offer.

    FYI: Forward Sartorial Excellence News to a friend. Email us their name. When they order you'll receive a $100 Gift Certificate.
    Click to Forward.

    Telephone 866-267-7909
    Int'l Dial +01-631-267-7909
    Facsimile 631-267-0138

    Email Marketing by