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When a custom shirt is worth the cash

By Jessica Dickler, staff writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Many men struggle to find a suit shirt that fits.

Either the collar is too tight or the sleeves are too long. Often the shirt is too bulky in the body. Still, the world of custom clothing is a luxury few afford themselves. Except it turns out that it isn't much of an indulgence after all.

Hamilton Shirt Co. specializes in custom tailoring, but a single shirt can cost up to $800.

More boutiques and even major men's retailers like Brooks Brothers are adding made-to-measure and bespoke shirts to their offerings, and they aren't that much more expensive.

While an off-the-rack suit shirt generally falls in the range of $50 to $150, a custom shirt can start at around $100, and for that the fit, style and fabric are left up to you.

But with custom comes so many choices it's hard to know where to start. Collars can be button down, spread, wide spread or English. Cuffs are barrel or French, round or square -- even sometimes at an angle. And should a shirt have side pleats in the back, a pocket in the front, long tails or monogramming? That's not to mention color, pattern or even stitching style.

According to David Hamilton, co-owner of Hamilton Shirt Co., one of the oldest custom shirt purveyors in the country, a good tailor should not only fit you, but guide you through the process as well. They should make recommendations like forgoing a front pocket for a formal shirt and choosing a collar style that suits your face and physique. One would expect that kind of service when paying $295 and up at his Houston-based store.

Before starting the process, the only important thing customers need to know is whether to opt for a custom shirt at all, he says.

"Custom-made anything is a lot better than something off the shelf but it's not for everyone," says Alex Yoo, owner of men's clothier Alexander West in New York. At Alexander West, custom shirts range from $105 to $195.

If you can find an off the rack offering that fits well, that's the best case scenario, Yoo says. "Fit is the most important thing about a shirt. The workmanship and fabric is secondary."

If you don't find a shirt that fits well off the rack, custom isn't the only alternative. Made-to-measure, which entails tweaking a standard shirt as opposed to starting from scratch, or tailoring one you already own can be much more affordable -- and still attractive -- options. Some simple tailoring runs between $10 and $30, while made-to-measure shirts can cost $50 and up.

If you do opt for custom, you will likely end up with a sharp looking shirt that's also flattering and comfortable (no too-snug collars or bunchy tails).

"It's not always the most affordable route, but the reality is when you spend more money on custom, it looks it," says Amanda Sanders, image consultant.

Remember, "you are going to take off that jacket at some point," Sanders says. "Don't miss the importance of the shirt." To top of page

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