Finding a shirt that’s jusssttt right

Finding a shirt that’s jusssttt right

Q. I recently lost a considerable amount of weight. I now wear 31×33 pants, and have a 14½- inch neck and a 35-inch sleeve. I have been checked for size by a fine store’s shirt department and several tailors. I find that fine stores do not carry shirt sizes that fit me. Sales people doubt you or assume that you really mean 15½ neck sizes. Stores’ online offerings can be identified as white, blue, and yellow – nothing stylish. Custom tailoring is an option, but not always stylish. 

From a clothing standpoint, it does not pay to be male and thin. I wish that next time, salespeople would spend less time questioning the shopper’s vanity, and more time on the issue he raised. 

A. The truth is that the size you are looking for (14½/35) is so rare that not one of the many stores I checked with has it. Some come close, but no one carries that combination of neck size and sleeve length. Certainly, there is no reason to add to the difficulty you and others face finding correctly-sized clothes by doubting your measurements.  

Despite the rarity, it does not mean you necessarily have to give up or have your shirts custom made. Far less expensive than custom made are “made-to-measure” shirts. These are a variation of shirts that can be special ordered at many stores for an additional expense of about 20% of the cost of ready-mades. Since they offer many customizing options, the shirts can be as stylish as you like. 

There are also other, even less expensive alternatives. I always believe it helps to know how shirts are sized and which stores are likely to carry the cuts/styles you’re looking for; but in situations with outliers, it is even more important. It also helps to be at least a little flexible. So let me explain further.     

SIZING — Sport shirts are manufactured with “average” sleeve lengths; sized small, medium, and large, each size usually comes with only one sleeve length. Dress shirts are marked in one of two ways: either exact neck and sleeve sizes (a 15-inch neck and a 33-inch sleeve, for example), or “adjustable” sleeve lengths (a 15-inch neck and a 32/33-inch sleeve; an additional button has been sewn on the cuff, allowing the wearer to tighten or loosen the cuff). Better shirt makers produce a full range of sizes, running from 14½/32 and 14½/33 on up through 17½/36. But some manufacturers cut corners with just two sleeve lengths – designated 32/33 and 34/35. So, instead of exact sleeve lengths, you are given a choice of only two in your neck size, neither of which is likely to be your precise size.

So, what you are looking for is a store that sells shirts made by fine manufacturers, offering a full range of sizes. This generally means a large mid-range department store or a men’s fine specialty shop. When you find a store and a salesperson you like, remain a loyal customer. It makes life easier.       

BEING FLEXIBLE — Here are a few suggestions. First (and I know this is a hard sell with men), be willing to actually try on a few shirts. Be aware that even the best makers’ sizes and cuts tend to vary, one from another. A size 15 shirt from one company might be looser or tighter than a size 15 from another. Online, many sites and companies provide information regarding whether items run small or large; these can be from the store, the manufacturer, or customer reviews, and should be considered, but not counted on. In those cases, you can either purchase one and follow up with more if they prove accurate, or purchase many if you are one who will take advantage of the quasi-easy return elements of online shopping. 

Most of the stores I spoke with said their size 14½-inch shirts only come in one sleeve size, 32/33. But Brooks Brothers stocks a 14½ shirt with an exact 34-inch sleeve (since a 32/33 sleeve is actually 32½ inches long, you are getting an additional inch and a half). Brooks Brothers also stocks 15-inch collar shirts with a 35-inch sleeve (most 15-inch collars only go up to a 34-inch sleeve length). Nordstrom’s and Tommy Hilfiger sell a size 15 shirt with a 34/35 sleeve; the style from Hilfiger is called the “Essential Slim-Fit.” 

Here is where “being flexible” comes in. If you are willing to try on a few nearly-correct-sized shirts (14½/34, 15/35, and 15 34/35) or whatever shirts you discover that come close, you’ll probably find one you can live with. If you’re unwilling to try on the shirts, my advice would be to select a size 15 neck with a slim fit and the longest sleeve you can find. And here is one more idea that a knowledgeable salesperson at Bloomingdale’s suggested: she said to have the shirt’s top button near the collar moved “a smidgeon,” thus customizing a slightly too-small or too-large shirt for a better fit. Moving a collar button is a very easy tailoring procedure that you may be able to do on your own, and certainly can be done even at a dry cleaner’s for much less than custom shirts or the cost of being uncomfortable.    

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