17 October 2014

Tailor4Less, a review of their made-to-measure shirts

I've long been curious about the concept of online made-to-measure (MTM) services, so when I was presented with the opportunity to try an MTM shirt from Tailor4Less I had no problems accepting. The reason I haven't tried it before is basically because there is generally a significant discrepancy between the claims of the different online MTM companies and different reviews of the services available online. The experiences seems to be quite varied with many people being very pleased with their garments and online MTM experience, while many others have quite the opposite experiences. The reason I have been wanting to try a service like this, however, is that I've been thinking it could be a good alternative to off-the-rack garments and I would also like to see for myself what these services are all about.

Before I go on, I would like to clarify a few things. Firstly, no matter what you are made to believe, online MTM services do not produce bespoke clothing. Secondly, there are two types of MTM services. You've got services like the ones Tailor4Less represents which I call online MTM services. These are services where you do everything yourself online. You take all the measurements yourself and you design your garment yourself online according to specifications preset by the company. You can find a list of such services here. The other form of MTM is represented by tailors who are offering a proper bespoke service but want to offer their customers a cheaper alternative. With these MTM services your measurements are taken by professionals and you are generally guided through the design of your new garment but as with the online MTM services, you will have to work within design standards preset by the company. With online MTM services you generally get the least amount of personal service and it is also the cheapest option. With this in mind, I think the best starting point when reviewing an online MTM service is to see how it compares with what you can buy off-the-rack in a normal clothes store.

As stated above, I was given the opportunity to try a Tailor4Less shirt and here are my thoughts about the ordering process, the quality and the fit of the finished product.

The ordering and design process is very straightforward. You've got most of the design options you could want and all you have to do is to tick the appropriate boxes and your shirt design shows up on the side of the screen. After you've specified all the design details like sleeves, collar, pockets, cuffs etc., you move on to the fabric. Here you'll specify the fabric for the body of the shirt and you can also decide to use a separate fabric for the collar and cuffs, both inside and outside. The selection of fabrics is reasonably good. With 135 fabrics to choose from, you'll probably find something you like. Most of the fabrics are 100% cotton, but there are some synthetics available and some cotton blends. Needless to say, I only considered the pure cotton fabrics for my shirt.

The fabric I chose was the one called Magnooth, a white and pink striped fabric weighing 112gr and being described as being appropriate for year round wear. Although, there's nothing wrong with the fabric itself, I wouldn't call it appropriate for year round wear. The fabric is quite thin and I would consider this a shirt for the warmer months. This will, of course, depend on where you live and if you spend your time in Shanghai, where these shirts are made, it may be the perfect year round fabric.

Moving on from the fabric, I decided to go for a button down white collar, rounded French cuffs and no pockets. Keeping the cuffs in the same fabric as the body of the shirt, rather than matching the collar, which I think can be a nice touch.

But does this shirt fit me perfectly, or, at least, better than off-the-rack shirts? The short answer is no.

I'll give the tailor of this shirt the benefit of the doubt and blame it on the measurements. This is, however, one of problems with these services. Since the measurements aren't taken by professionals, there is always the likelihood of some of the measurements being slightly off. I took all the measurements, with good help from my wife, to the best of my ability and still the shirt is some way away from a perfect fit. Let me start with the cuffs. There is nothing terribly wrong with the cuffs but I would have expected a better fit for an MTM shirt. This could very easily be rectified by Tailor4Less if they would ask for the wrist measurements to be taken, but for some reason they don't. The sleeve length, on the other hand, was quite satisfactory and an improvement on most off-the-rack shirts. The fit around the waist, chest and shoulders were also reasonably good. The main problem, however, was across the top of my back, the shirt was quite tight over the shoulder blades which I found slightly uncomfortable.

After two or three attempts, making slight changes to the measurements, I think I would get a much better fitting shirt. But I also think that that is what it takes and that you'll be lucky to make a really good fit at the first attempt. It is, however, stated in the FAQ section of the Tailor4Less website that "if your garment does not fit, Tailor4Less will cover your product alterations up to 45€ per product. If your local tailors cannot fix it, we will produce another garment from scratch with your new measurements." This can, of course, help improving the fit of the shirt, but I still think you will need a couple of attempts to make these online MTM garments to fit really well.

Thus, this is not the perfect shirt but I wouldn't expect that either for the very low price of these shirts. But is it significantly better than off-the-rack shirts in the same price range? At this point I don't think it is, but if you persevere with the measurements, I'm pretty sure you would get a better fitting shirt. The fabric is pretty much of the quality one would expect at the price, nothing spectacular but it works.

I wouldn't like to write off online MTM services and I also don't want to put you off trying one of these services, but be aware that everything probably won't be as straight forward as is generally claimed by these companies.

Below you can see several photos of me wearing the shirt and you can judge for yourself what you think about how it fits. 
The collar is fine and the shirt fits reasonably well across the chest.
Photo: AGL
The cuffs look nice but could have been
tighter for a more tailored feel.
Photo: AGL
As you can see, the shirt is way too tight across the back.
Photo: AGL
The overall fit of this shirt is not bad but could be
(the shirt was ironed 5 minutes before the photo
was taken, so if you look at the sleeves you can see
that this fabric wrinkles very easily)
Photo: AGL

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