Can online ordered custom shirts be successful? ProperCloth thinks so

Can online ordered custom shirts be successful? ProperCloth thinks so
Den Howlett
Thu, 05/30/2019 – 13:24

Custom shirtmaking is a business begging for bringing into the modern age. ProperCloth is setting the standard.

This is kinda personal so if that offends then I get it. When I was a school kid I had a Saturday job at a men’s clothing store. Long since gone, the shop stocked high-end clothes and had a bustling business in bespoke suits. I’m an odd shape so have always needed clothing alterations. Over the years, the bespoke men’s clothing market changed and was soon out of financial reach. Then there’s the influence of fashion which defines the kind of clothes on offer and their preferred marketing ‘shape.’ 

As time when on, finding the right clothes that looked OK became a challenge but while in the US, I discovered ProperCloth, then a specialist in custom shirtmaking. Let’s be clear – there’s a difference between bespoke and custom. Custom is where a variety of size measurements are taken and you get what those measurements say. Bespoke is similar but with the added benefit of ‘nip and tuck’ alteration that has to be done in person. In short, custom gets you close, bespoke gets you (near) perfect. But there is a high price premium for the latter which is still out of reach and which, I suspect, is where Thomas Pink, referenced by Stuart Lauchlan, is going. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve owned and still own Thomas Pink shirts. The off the peg versions are fine if you can make an off the peg shape work for you. Also, Thomas Pink’s cloth choices have consistently been outstanding in terms of quality and style. If you know anything about shirts then you know when someone is wearing a Thomas Pink.  

On the other hand, ProperCloth is almost 100% online, although they have a single showroom in NYC which I have visited. I found the ProperCloth online experience insanely easy and helpful, in part because the online system walks you through the process of taking different measurements. Here is an example. ProperCloth promises to make initial adjustments for the first shirt you buy if the fit isn’t as you expected it. Here is what they say:

Getting a perfect fitting custom dress shirt on the first try is not always possible.  For many people this will require a round of alterations.  Some aspects of a shirt fit are hard to predict in advance and it’s only after a first shirt has been made and worn that the finer aspects of the fit can be tuned.  With Proper Cloth, your first round of alterations are completely complimentary, though getting them done right will require a little effort on your part. 

To that extent, they are taking responsibility for when you screw up. That’s a huge bonus and is well worth the premium they charge for their products when compared to what you’d likely pay at a national store or mass market online outlet. Why? Because once you’ve got your first well-fitting shirt, you’re going to buy more. 

ProperCloth pocket detail – note the perfect alignment

But to be successful online requires much more. It requires a service mindset. Here, ProperCloth works well. I once ran into a confusing problem. The online help was fast, courteous and removed the pain. What’s more, they did something that’s very hard to replicate at an in-person store. They sent a follow-up message asking that if the service was good enough, would I care to choose a reward for the person helping me out. Those rewards are not trivial. They are meaningful.

In addition, once you’ve received your goods, (which are always beautifully wrapped), ProperCloth asks you to rate the purchase and rewards the buyer with store credit. Again, those rewards are meaningful. I suspect that because the buyer rewards are something of genuine value, ProperCloth tends to get more nuanced views about their service than the unrewarded but always demanded Amazon ‘version.’ 

Getting a shirt that fits is only a part of the story. You want fabrics that look and feel great. Here, ProperCloth has improved in leaps and bounds. In the beginning, I felt the fabrics were average to OK. Now, they offer a truly great set of fabrics in styles to suit every palette. Most recently, they’ve offered Merino Wool shirts. They’re among the best I’ve ever had but at nose bleed (to me) prices. 

And in their most recent expansion, ProperCloth has moved into custom suits, jackets, and pants. Buying custom shirts online is one thing but jackets and pants is a whole different ball of wax. I’ve tried this service and I’d say that it is much better than I expected but could be improved. I’m OK with that and those who have seen the results think the fit I got is fine. Was it worth the premium? I’m leaning towards yes in the knowledge that they will improve. 

Can ProperCloth become a genuine world leader in much the same way that Thomas Pink is recognized as a brand that travels well? Who can know? But on their website they say:

Technology is what enables us to streamline operations, reduce errors and deliver a better value. Technology helps power new and delightful customer experiences. We’re pioneers in 3D visualization, statistical size regression and personalized ecommerce. We look at the future of retail and see massive opportunities.

I can get behind that because what they’ve done is pull off an interesting trick. Sure, the tech plays a significant role but they’ve found a way of making it easy to get the service a demanding buyer wants – and keep them coming back. My one gripe is they have no plans to open a store in the UK where I currently live. I get that the US market is big enough for them to operate a contained growth model. A presence in the UK would, in my opinion, catalyze competition that’s sadly lacking and open up opportunities to discover a market willing to pay for what they can deliver. 

I’ve tried other similar services and found them wanting. In one case, the build quality just didn’t cut it, Another service uses 3D-visualization to assess measurement, but the finished product ended up way too tight. I have a store credit for that which I will reluctantly use. 

Image credit – via ProperCloth and the author

Disclosure – I am a regular ProperCloth customer

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