Mainpoint – clothingmadeinusablog searches for the very best dress shirts made in the USA and compares them to the best shirtmakers in the world. We will also investigate what goes into a good quality shirt.
The United States has had no shortage of great shirtmakers over the years. However, great U.S. shirtmakers like Arrow, Gant, Hathaway, Ike Behar, J.C. Penney, Kenneth Gordon and F.A. McClure no longer make any shirts in the United States anymore. There have been a couple of holdovers such as Brooks Brothers(est 1850) and J. Press(est. 1902) still alive and kicking. The rest are relative new comers.We shall see how the newcomers stack up against the rest of the world.
What Makes a Good Quality Shirt
Before we investigate the U.S. shirtmakers and who makes the best dress shirt, we should first learn what goes into a very nice shirt. To do this, I think we should investigate the features that go into those $200 to $1,000 shirts by the world’s best shirtmakers.
Most fashion people would agree that number one – the most important quality is the fabric or material. A quality fabric has a higher thread count and it is from a known reliable source. For instance, one of the most used fabrics is cotton, not just ordinary cotton, but cotton that has an extra long staple (ESL) making it more durable. There are three commonly used variants of ESL cotton: 1) Pima (named after the Pima Indians that first helped raise the first Pima cotton in the US, Pima Cotton is 5% of all cotton produced in the U.S.) was first found in South America and it is grown in abundant qualities in Peru and Ecuador; 2) Egyptian cotton – named for obvious reasons; and 3) Sea Island cotton – grown on the Sea Islands off South Carolina and Georgia, USA. (For a great article on Sea Island Cotton see the article by A Continuous Lean). Some of the best cotton is bought and then sent to Italy or England or Switzerland for very high quality and expensive processing. The one problem with evaluating a shirt with a fine quality and high thread count is that you can’t see it with the naked eye. Maybe you can feel it once you try it on, but you can not be entirely sure. This is when you have to trust the salesperson and the store that you are shopping in. Internet shopping? Good luck.
Cotton is the number one fabric but there are many other fine fabrics which include Irish linen, Swiss voile, Italian twill and other materials with exotic names like Batiste and Marcella. Poplin used to describe a material made of a weave of silk, cotton, wool or rayon. However, lately the term now means 100% cotton of high quality.
Processing and Designing
For the world’s best shirtmakers, they acquire the finest raw materials available. And they deliver them to their own manufacturing plant where they have total control. They are not mass producing, they are not making a millions of shirts and flooding the market. No, they are only making quality shirts. At the plant they have their own designers.The designs are original and you will not find these designs in other stores by other shirtmakers. The dyes used are expensive and do not fade. In Italy and France, at the top places the material is pre-washed before being sewn, therefore, they are ready to wear. In England, at the top places, expensive dyes are used, but they are not pre-washed, therefore, British cloth has to be washed two to three times in order to allow for shrinkage. In mass produced factories, cheap cloth, cheap thread, cheap dyes and extremely cheap labor are used that is why they shrink, fade and fall apart after a couple of washings. No top shirt maker would dare have their shirts manufactured in East Asia, Central Mexico or Mexico, they do not want to tarnish their reputation. If you do find shirts from those areas, then the shirt manufacturer can be definitely considered second or third tier (or lower).
Sewing and Tailoring
Some of the very top shirtmakers hand sew everything. Kiton, Luigi Borelli, Barba Napoli do everything 100% hand sewn. Brioni is 68% hand sewn, the rest hand-directed. When talking about high quality tailoring, there will be a couple of terms that one will eventually run into. One is “sartorial”, which basically means tailored. The other is “bespoke”, which means made to measure. First, one has their dimensions measured and recorded and then a shirt or suit based on your proportions is individually tailored. “Cut” means a type of tailoring. An Italian or European cut is one that is more tapered and careful fit, showing off the figure a bit more. An American or full cut gives a more square appearance and is a little more roomy. Each has its proponents.
With the very top shirtmakers, if the shirt has a pattern like stripes, extra effort is made so that the design goes unbroken at the front button flaps or at the collar if possible. The top back of the shoulders pattern should run contiguously down the arms, and at the cuffs, if possible. The very top shirtmakers will always have mother of pearl buttons, some more deeply cut than other less expensive shirts. Collars are of particular importance in top shirtmakers. They usually will have embedded stays or the collars may be fused to keep the collars stiff over time.
Dress shirts have several different commonly used patterns such as: broadcloth, poplin, pinpoint, oxford, end on end, twill, Sea Island and King Twill. Click on the link:WEAVES to see the various patterns.
The Very Top Shirtmakers of the World
We will highlight a few of the very finest shirtmakers. One may note that big name designers, although they make great high quality shirts, have been disqualified from being at the very top, because they do not own their own manufacturing plants but rather ship them to a contracted clothing manufacturing plant. These would include: Prada, Armani, Versace, Dior, Dolce and Gabbana, and Gucci.
It seems that no discussion about the best shirts is complete without the inclusion of the name Charvet. Charvet has been the gold standard for so long. It is like Mercedes Benz in the automobile sector. There may be a few better than the gold standard but may be they are a little over the top. One of the reasons that Charvet is the gold standard is because it is the oldest shirtmaker. Charvet started in France in 1838. They are known for their precisely matched patterns and special tailoring to create a “one-piece feel.” All shirts have mother of pearl buttons. And there is no place in the world that has a larger selection of different and superior fabrics – over 6,000 fabrics. Their headquarters are in Paris, France, in a place named the Place Vendome, where these fabrics are on display. Here at the Place Vendome, on the second floor, one can be measured for a shirt and one can select the fabric and pattern. But realize, this may be a task, there are 200 distinct whites and 200 blues to choose from. There is one interesting note, many Charvet shirts will have a left sleeve that is 1/4 inch longer in order to accommodate a watch. Charvet shirts typically sell for over $400 per shirt – the ready to wear ones, the bespoke shirts will cost more, naturally.See the video link of the director of Charvet, Jean-Claude Colban, about how Charvet shirts and ties are made.
Brioni was founded in 1945 in Milan, Italy. Brioni makes shirts the old fashioned way, handmade. Most shirt and suits are handmade (estimated 68%). They choose quality raw fabrics and manufacture the cloth in their own Brioni plants. They add mother of pearl buttons and tailor the garments with the preferred Italian cut. Brioni has their own tailoring school, four years and an internship. The best are hired at Brioni, if they want the job.Brioni has three stores in the United States, located in Beverly Hills, Las Vegas and Miami (Bal Harbour). The cost of a Brioni shirt is around $500 or more.
Kiton was established in 1968 in Naples, Italy. All shirts and suits are hand crafted. Kiton is also known as the company that makes the most expensive suits. A bespoken suit with a special great fabric may run about $50,000. Kiton has its own manufacturing plant as well. Top quality raw fabrics, dyes, designs, mother of pearl buttons and great tailoring. Kiton says each shirt goes through 19 steps, all handmade (Charvet goes through 18). Kiton only makes a total of 20,000 suits for the entire world each year. They, also, have their own tailoring school, like Brioni. Kiton has three stores in the United States: New York City, Las Vegas and Miami. The typical price for a Kiton shirt is over $500 to $1,000.
Turnball and Asser
Turnball and Asser was established in 1885. In London there are two magnets of English clothing making. For classic business shirts, there is Jermyn Street, named after Henry Jermyn (1604-84), first Earl of St. Albans, who was responsible for the development of London’s West End as a business and retail Mecca. For suits, there is London’s Savile Row.Turnball and Asser are located on Jermyn Street. T & A obtain quality fabrics and the fabrics are woven in Italy and assembled in their Gloucester factory.Turnball and Asser has two stores in the United States, one in Beverly Hills and one in New York City.
This little known company is my favorite. Breuer started in 1892 as a tie maker, moving the business to France in the 1930’s. They have been making clothes since 2000. So, Breuer is a French designer and the clothing is made in Italy. These high quality gems are about half the price of Charvet and Brioni, without any loss of quality. The problem is trying to find them. Last time, I checked they were in the New York City Saks Fifth Avenue.
Eton is a Swedish company started in 1928. Eton is different in several respects besides being from Sweden. The long fiber cotton (which is exclusive to Eton) is put through a state-of-the-art closed weaving process (instead of pressing) in Zurich, Switzerland which results in a crease-free and smooth feeling garment. The button holes have 125 stitches each. The buttons have only two holes each (patented) for easier removal with just one hand. The shirt collars are top fused to keep their shape stiff. The average cost of an Eton shirt is about $250. However, it is more and more difficult to find shirts made in Sweden, more are being made in Romania and Estonia. But since 2013, Eton has developed a new premium brand of Eton shirts called DNA, these are all made in Sweden.
Other Top Shirtmakers by Country
France – Hermes, Lanvin
Germany – Haupt, Jacque Britt, Van Laack
Italy – Luigi Borrelli, Isaia, Luciano Barbera, Canali, Lorenzini, Loro Piana, Finamore, Barba Napoli, Brunello Cucinelli, Tom Ford, Davide Cenci, Stefano Ricci, Emenegildo Zegna, Etro, Fray.
United Kingdom -Duchamp, Gieves and Hawkes, Hilditch and Key, Ede and Ravenscroft, Budd, New and Lingwood, Hawes and Curtis, Crombie.
Dress Shirts Made in USA
Dress shirts made in the United States over the years have been very good, maybe not competing for the top spot with the very best of the world, but still more than adequate. In choosing of the 19 listed shirt manufacturers made in the USA – first , I might eliminate Hamilton, because they are often bespoken (tailored to to your measurements and not ready to wear. Out of the rest, five may be the vying for the top spot: Robert Talbott, Oxxford, Black Fleece, Thom Browne, and Simon Spurr (link to Esquire Magazine article). Robert Talbott shirts are nice but 95% of the shirts are not made in the U.S., Oxxford, better known for bespoken suits, are extremely difficult to come by, having just one store in New York City and all. That leaves three. The newcomer is Simon Spurr who is an English designer. Spurr worked for Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren before starting on his own. Dress shirts by Simon Spurr are relatively new and few, most are Italian made, but some are American made (Simon Spurr no longer makes shirts). Thom Browne is an American, born in Pennsylvania. He worked with Ralph Lauren before starting out on his own. He collaborated with Brooks Brothers to develop the Black Fleece brand – a finer dress shirt, and made in the USA. So, the choice for the finest dress shirt made in the USA is really between Thom Browne and Brooks Brothers’ Black Fleece. And the winner is Thom Browne. 2nd is Black Fleece. Thom Browne can be found at Barney’s. The price of a Thom Browne shirt is between $225 and $350. Thom Browne shirts are the best dress shirts made in the USA, but fall a little behind Charvet, Brioni and Kiton in regards to the fabric. Still, they are a great shirt and with care the shirts should last for years. If you want a great price for a high quality Black Fleece shirt, get on the Brooks Brothers e-mail list. They are always having sales and at times one can find up to 70% of Black Fleece.
Update: Brooks Brothers and Thom Browne ended their contact in the summer of 2015. The Black Fleece line has ended. There are just a few clearance items left on the Brooks Brothers’ website as of October, 2016. Thom Browne still makes a few items in The USA, but makes a majority of his clothing in other countries. With the elimination of Black Fleece, Thom Browne and Simon Spurr, this would leave Hamilton as the best maker of American shirts.
Bespoken in the USA
There are still some clothing stores that specialize in made to measure suits and shirts.Click on the link to United States Custom Shirtmakers List. In a bespoken shop, one first chooses the fabric and pattern, while the tailor takes the measurements. Then, after a couple of weeks, the customer returns to the shop for a final fitting. Some places will mail them to you. Prior to 1900, this was the only way to get a dress shirt. Some people swear by bespoken shirts. Remember to avoid clothing made by slave labor: by buying slave labor clothing, one is condoning slave labor practices.
Listing of Dress Shirts – Made in USA
- American Apparel
- Band of Outsiders
- Black Fleece (Brooks Brothers)
- Blues Jean Bar
- Brooks Brothers
- Frank & Eileen
- Gitman Brothers
- Hlaska (no longer making shirts)
- Hickey Freeman (rare)
- Ike Behar (no longer making shirts in U.S.)
- J. Press
- James Perse
- Rag and Bone
- Robert Talbott
- Simon Spurr
- Thom Browne
“Nothing earth-shattering has happened in men’s fashion. How much can you do with men’s clothes?” -Calvin Klein