I battle to get shirts that fit my dainty frame, longish arms and regular length torso. When I do find them I usually end up paying premium price. This was true of the two Anne Fontaine shirts I bought in Paris earlier this year. It would be a wardrobe dream come true if I could replicate the fit of my Anne Fontaine shirts in different colours and fabrications. Unfortunately, my experiment with a custom made shirt from Sam’s Tailor in Hong Kong didn’t work out this way.

The problem began at the very beginning of the process. I adore fancy fabric and have had my heart set on a luxurious, iridescent stretch silk pewter shirt. It would be a timeless piece in my clothing mix. Within minutes of arriving at Sam’s I was thrilled to find a swatch of exactly the fabric I had in mind. I briefly thought about going with a more conservative black stretch silk, but ultimately decided to follow my first instinct.

The next day I returned for the fitting and knew the shirt wasn’t right the moment I saw it. My heart sank as the fitting confirmed my fears. It was cut too wide on the shoulder, torso and upper arm, resulting in a matronly look that wasn’t at all the sleek profile of the Anne Fontaine original. The shirt was also about an inch too short on the center front. The only way to solve all of these problems would be a clean start. A shoulder line can’t be narrowed because the armhole is already cut, and it is impossible to lengthen the front. We had a big problem.

Shirt Fitting

Manu Melwani (the “Sam” of “Sam’s Tailor”) was very polite, but argued that the change in fit was unavoidable given the new (stretch) fabric. He insisted that the fit was still fab. I became the nightmare client.

After much discussion and many alterations, my pewter shirt is still not perfect. The changes they did manage to make (narrowing the fit around my torso) threw the look off balance because of the things they couldn’t change (wide shoulder line and upper sleeve). The center front was correct, but by the time we got back to our hotel it had contracted back to the original shorter length. And while even my $69 Club Monaco shirt has French seams, Sam’s tailor used plain overlocked seams. Disappointed, I agreed to pay only the cost of the fabric and that was that.

What did I learn? First, changing the fabric from a soft non-stretch cotton organza to a rigid stretch silk was not the best idea. I’m pretty fabric savvy and should have known better. On the other hand I would also expect an experienced tailor to give me guidance on the choice of fabric. Second, it is important to find a tailor that specializes in ladies garments. Swirl’s conclusion based on her own experience (see yesterday’s comments) was that Sam’s is a good option for men’s suits, but not for ladies garments. Maybe I should have taken more notice of the fact that there were very few ladies on Sam’s wall of fame.

Having shirts custom made is not cheap (at Sam’s you should expect to pay something between Banana Republic and Anne Fontaine, depending on the fabric you choose for your shirt), but nothing ventured, nothing gained. It was an interesting experience and, unlike the shirt, the new jacket Sam’s made for me is fabulous. As for the pewter shirt, the fabric is absolutely gorgeous so I’m taking it to my alteration lady down the road to see if anything can be salvaged. I’ll keep you posted on how it turns out.