Why I’m Making Shirts

My husband loves thrift shops. He will happily spend hours in the racks, and has amassed an amazing collection of vintage shirts. Many of them are inspired, some of them are appalling. That is why I started making men’s shirts.

What began as fashion self defense turned out to be a really good idea. There are beautiful fabrics that never make their way into the men’s department, and there are plenty of men who love color and surface and details, but just don’t get the option to indulge. I was surprised by how often people would compliment his shirts, vivid prints, deranged buttons, and all. I was also surprised by how many men came into the shop once we started putting his shirts in the window.

I am not the only one who thinks there are not a lot of good choices for men’s leisure wear. A T-shirt has limited style range, and is not good for an ambiguous waistline. Button down, oxford, plaid, and an untucked shirttail are just business casual gone bad. You can certainly find button front sport shirts, if a boxy fit and Hawaiian prints suit the mood, but there are lots of men with more specific needs and better ideas.

Mens fashion changes slowly, and if you are not inspired by what’s in stores at the moment, you will wait a long time for a different look. You can order custom shirts online, and get a fair range of choices on standard collars and traditional shirting cottons. If fit isn’t an issue, this works just fine. What this doesn’t address well is personal style. If you have an option to wear something you love and that truly provides pleasure, is there a reason to wear only things that are good enough?

Custom fit makes a big difference in comfort. A shirt that fits the body and a collar that fits the neck do not always go together. Likewise with sleeves, where the choice can be puddling around your wrists or pulling up on your forearms when you move.

All sorts of details make a shirt. Sleeve length, cuff style, collar shape, buttons (unless you want a hidden placket), tucked or untucked, fitted or loose. Soft and cozy fabric for winter, crisp cottons for summer. Swirling paisley with jeans, a geometric fantasia to distract from the vast expanse of cargo pants. I began to spend time on men’s style blogs and it became even clearer what a creative wasteland men’s sportswear has become, and how many men would make different choices if they could. The sheer delight that men display when they get to tell you how they want every little thing on a shirt (double needle topstitching in a contrast color) makes it clear there that their needs are not being met.

I know that many of us keep clothes long after they work for us, and wear them out of nostalgia or an absence of better choices. Perhaps the opportunity to make a shirt that is exactly what he wants will finally mean the end of that old T-shirt from the “Master Baiter’s Fishing & Tackle Shop.”

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