The Perfect Fit: Custom Shoes and Shirts

Dressing as sharp as James Bond requires effort but is actually quite attainable
BY Bill Lindsey TIMESeptember 1, 2022 PRINT

Proper-fitting clothing and shoes are imperative for the well-dressed individual. While many people are able to buy clothes off the rack that fit very well, others may have to enlist the services of a trusted tailor for alterations. Bespoke and made-to-order are additional options. When discussing bespoke or made-to-order, the topic is often a suit or jacket, but the focus here will be on the foundations of any wardrobe: shoes and shirts.

The terms “bespoke” and “custom, made-to-order,” have very different meanings. Bespoke items require extensive in-person measurements with customer input regarding the materials to be used, style, color, preferred fit, and all other aspects of the finished footwear or garment. That’s followed by hours of effort by skilled artisans to transform the customer’s desires into reality.

Conversely, consumers of made-to-order items supply their own measurements and select from a list of materials, styles, and features. Being a much more streamlined process, these items are then ordered from online merchants.

One of the first steps in the creation of a bespoke shirt is the selection of the fabric type and color. (Dragon Images/Shutterstock)

Because the measurements are nowhere as exacting as those required for bespoke items, made-to-order items are a good choice for consumers who typically find that ready-to-wear items fit them well. That being said, there is absolutely nothing wrong with ready-to-wear shirts and shoes. Personalized items simply ensure a precise fit and/or a wider array of materials, styles, and unique touches for the ultimate professional appearance.

Bespoke and made-to-order items are more expensive than ready-to-wear items, but the difference is clear.

Made-to-order custom shoes start with the consumer selecting the style desired. Then, the size and options (color, liner material, outer material, tassels, monograms, etc.) are provided. The shoes are assembled and sent directly to the consumer. For many, this represents an ideal way to obtain truly one-of-a-kind footwear.

Courtesy of John Lobb
Bespoke footwear is the ultimate option, but for those who can wear regular sizes, made-to-order shoes are an attractive, more affordable option. (Courtesy of John Lobb)

On the other hand, the process of ordering bespoke shoes is very time-consuming—which isn’t unreasonable, considering the finished product will be wearable art. It requires a conversation about preferred materials, finishes, and the shoe style to be created. Next, comes a discussion of fit preferences and the conditions under which the shoes will be worn.

Precise measurements and drawings of all aspects of the feet are made—some shoemakers actually make a mold of the feet. Bespoke shoes are a good way to address scenarios such as one foot being larger or wider than the other; some studies suggest that up to 60 percent of the population have slightly mismatched feet.

Whether having shoes or shirts crafted to fit, the success of the endeavor is 100% reliant upon accurate measurements. (goir/Shutterstock)

For comparison purposes, a bespoke classic Oxford-style dress shoe from London-based John Lobb costs approximately $1,630, while a similar style made-to-order shoe from Idrese costs about $335. Of the two, the made-to-order shoe is actually quite competitively priced when compared to ready-to-wear footwear.

When considering the price, it’s important to note that, while made-to-order shoes tend to be of very high quality and construction, bespoke shoes will be exactly what you want. They will fit like a second skin, and, with reasonable care, will still look great even after decades of use.

Once the shoes have been created, the customer is brought in for another fitting to evaluate the overall fit and appearance. And after the initial order, the process for ordering subsequent shoes can be greatly streamlined, especially if molds of the customer’s feet were created.

A bespoke tailor can convert the customer’s vision of the ideal shirt into reality, taking into consideration tiny details such as thread preferences. (Dmytro Zinkevych/Shutterstock)

Just as is the case with shoes, the three factors that determine the quality of a shirt are materials, craftsmanship, and precise measurements. Here, too, the most discerning consumers have two options: made-to-order or bespoke.

As expected, the investment of time and money is higher with bespoke, begging the question of why anyone would choose this route. The answer is that the bespoke process ensures a fit that lies perfectly across the body, making it clear that the shirt was crafted for the wearer. This is important to consumers with physiques that don’t comply with the norm, such as athletic individuals who may have broad shoulders paired with a narrow waist.

Taking and then using precise measurements is the key to perfectly-fitting clothing and shoes. They are crucially important for the tailor or shoemaker to be able to create custom items. (Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock)

An additional consideration is fabric; a good, quality ready-to-wear garment will be made in high quantities, using materials and methods that result in the highest profit for the shirtmaker. Factors such as the climate in which it will be worn are likely never contemplated, meaning that the same shirt could be worn in Miami or Moscow.

Fabric for a bespoke shirt, however, and some made-to-order shirts, can be specified to take local weather conditions into account to ensure the wearer’s comfort.

One of the charms of bespoke shirts is the ability to specify absolutely every aspect of the item, from buttons, to fabric, and much more. (Luca Querzoli/Shutterstock)

After Turnbull & Asser takes 18 measurements and considers the customer’s posture, the customer can choose from more than 1,000 fabrics, as well as numerous collar, cuff, button, pocket, and thread options (all of which impact the price). The firm also offers made-to-measure shirts and ready-to-wear shirts. A typical ready-to-wear business shirt from the firm costs about $365, while a similar style made-to-measure shirt costs about $425, making it well worth considering.

Regardless of which avenue you choose, dress sharp!

Bill Lindsey
Bill Lindsey is an award-winning writer based in South Florida. He covers real estate, automobiles, timepieces, boats, and travel topics.
You May Also Like