Review: Spier & Mackay Custom Shirts

Shirt tucked in, worn with a knit tie -- a bit of a homage to Sir Sean Connery's 007.

A while back, I reached out to Spier & Mackay and asked if they'd like to collaborate on something for my blog. Rick Khanna, Creative Director and President, responded and suggested that I try their custom shirt program first. He explained that they can create almost anything, given that they have a completely custom operation. "Rikky" only asked that I review one their newer fine shirtings. I ended up picking the Medium Blue Hairline Stripe by Tessitura Monti in Egyptian Cotton, 2 Ply 140's. This poplin fabric was only available through their Custom Shirts programme, but it seems to be out at the moment. The Navy Hairline Stripe is the only equivalent available now. 140's is the same standard as Sea Island cotton -- as used on the Dr No shirts I was attempting to replicate -- but far more affordable. I like the look of hairline, since it appears solid at a distance but reveals itself as made up of tiny stripes up close.

Fresh out of the box. Note the curved collar points.
To that end, I asked for a few design options that weren't on the books. I specified a spread collar based on the Turnbull & Asser "Regent", but with a higher stand and longer points for my face shape. This included sloped corners to the front of the stand so it will not show behind a tie knot. I also wanted the Jermyn Street style placket which is 1 3/16" wide and stitched approximately 3/8" from the edge. The turnback (or cocktail) cuffs were the final touch. I did not think it worth asking for the same style of gussets as Turnbull & Asser uses, as this will never be seen when the shirt is being worn properly. The triangular gussets they sew on top of the corners work just fine for me. However, I did ask for sewn interlinings in the collar and cuffs for a more English touch. Mother of pearl buttons were also a natural complement.

The fit chosen was "Contemporary". I'd only loosen the sleeves a bit, though this is personal preference. One should consider getting "Classic" if they want something more semi-fitted. "Slim" will likely be very close to the body and not that comfortable for wearing all day at work. I'd only choose that if the shirting had stretch to it. Of course, there is also the option of submitting measurements from a shirt that fits well. As with their off the rack shirts, the sleeves are attached at a downward angle from the armhole. This is not as extreme as I've seen on some low priced, off the rack shirts though. According to Proper Cloth, this is to present a cleaner look when your arms are resting, but I cannot be certain if this is Spier & Mackay's reasoning as well. At a certain degree of position, I feel some brands are just doing it to save money on fabric! I would prefer the option to have classic cut sleeves and hope they'll someday offer that. The watch space option is nice to have and any online shirtmaker worth their salt should have it, though their instructions somewhat conflict with each other. The written instructions say to measure around the wristwatch that will be worn, whereas the YouTube video simply says to add half an inch. I went with the latter, as having my left cuff snug around it works out better -- sometimes I don't feel like wearing one. Of course, they add a bit of allowance for comfort either way. The only noticeable fit issue is that the shoulders tend to crinkle a bit in back. I'm not sure if this is a matter of my shoulder slope, which I did indicate in my measurement profile, or something else.

The turnback cuff.
Spier & Mackay typically does not add back darts, even on Slim Fit shirts. Rikky believes that they are a shortcut and curving the side seams is all that is needed. This is where he and I will respectfully disagree. The side seams can only shape so much and cannot reduce blousing at the small of the back. Darts allow the shirt to have more shape there as well as the waist, while still having a reasonable amount of comfort. Obviously, there's nothing wrong with shirts without darts. They are a personal preference for both customers and shirtmakers. For instance, Turnbull & Asser only added them to Sir Sean Connery's shirts back in the 1960s due to his large drop from chest to waist. Now, they are more liberal in their use given the current trend for closer fitting shirts.

Forward curve to the collar points, barely noticeable head on.
My custom options came out decently well. There was some miscommunication from me about what style of turnback cuff I wanted, so I ended up getting something reminiscent of 1970s Frank Foster (as worn by Roger Moore) rather than 1960s Turnbull & Asser (as worn by Sean Connery) by showing them a link to both. The patterns were sourced from The Suits of James Bond -- free to use by anyone who wants to. I like both styles of turnback, but wanted to try the earlier style due to how rare it is to see reproduced now. Turnbull & Asser has changed their Two-Button Turnback Cuff in the intervening decades and the original style can no longer be ordered, even bespoke. One other mistake was in sewing the gauntlet like a double (French) cuff, with the bottom edge turned in instead of flat with the sleeve. This should have been done like on any buttoned single cuff. The collar interlining could use just a bit more stiffness too, particularly around the stand. Now, fused collars and single cuffs are perfectly fine, but any kind of double and turnback cuff is best made with sewn interlinings. This will allow them to fold or roll back more naturally and they are easier to clean, but even some shirts priced at $570 fuse their double cuffs! (I'm looking at you, Tom Ford.) I should have been more clear about what I meant by gathers around the cuff rather than pleats, which is another Jermyn Street detail. They placed a small section of gathers where two pleats would normally be. This is similar to Brooks Brothers' signature cuff shirring. The gathers should be smaller and all the way around the entire cuff attachment for maximum benefit. It gives the shirt a slight Victorian feel but is, more importantly, an attractive alternate way to ease fabric into the cuff. The shirt is very wearable despite the design issues and hopefully we can nail these down on the next order.

Plenty of space for a metal banded wristwatch.
The fabric breathes nicely, is soft as heck, and light as a feather. It had better be for two-ply 140's! The downside is, of course, the same as any shirting with a high thread count: Pressing is more of a chore. Even when the shirt came to me in its packaging, I noticed a few wrinkles straight from the factory. This is just the nature of fine shirtings. Going down to a lower count poplin (they have 80's, but I'd like to see some 100's) may be more your speed if you want a good balance between crisp appearance and comfort. On the opposite end of the lofty, 140's and 160's fabrics are non-iron fine twills, but I'd feel dreadful going through all the trouble of made-to-measure for something meant to go in the dryer. Priced at $111 with the fabric and button choice, I think my shirt is easily worth that or more. You also save money by bundling with an additional shirt, in this case $20 off, so while there's no minimum order as with bespoke shirtmakers there is definitely an advantage to getting two or more at once. The mother of pearl buttons, which are a good medium thickness, are worth the upcharge in my experience. They fasten beautifully and have a much better depth of colour next to the standard shell buttons. Spier & Mackay adds mother of pearl to their off the rack shirts made with high end fabrics, such as Thomas Mason. The collar stays are the same plastic ones from the standard sized offerings I got before. I think longer stays work better in this collar than what is provided, but luckily I own some that do the trick.

Spier & Mackay is a great value for online made to measure shirts. Going with their defaults, if you have less picky tastes than me, will not disappoint either. If you're lucky enough to live near one of their showrooms in Toronto or Mississauga, you can get measured in person for a made to measure shirt or suit. As demonstrated here, they are capable of many more things than the website options suggest. The shirts are made in India, as seen on the care tags. I'd like to know more about the factory they use and if they are audited for quality assurance and fair working conditions.

Shirt untucked, collar open.
Right now, Spier & Mackay are testing a made to order suit programme which should debut sometime this fall. It will give more flexibility to those who have some fit issues off the rack or need something a little different from what they offer standard.

This shirt is pictured with a silk knitted tie from Polo Ralph Lauren, dress belt from J. Crew, and twill suit trousers from Hart Schaffner Marx.

Nouveau Vintage received material compensation for this review, but every effort has been made to remain objective and provide constructive feedback.

Comments

  1. Thanks for the review! As discussed, this was the first go. We can pretty much execute whatever it is you like. Just need clear communication and not leave anything to interpretation. This was a fun challenge for us as well and we very much enjoyed being a part of it!

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  2. Your sleeves don't look too slim to me, in fact they look too big as does the rest of the shirt. A guy in your shape shouldn't be wearing shirts that big.

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    Replies
    1. Well, thank you for thinking I'm in good shape! I suppose one person's "slim" is another person's "loose". If you want something closer fitting, the Slim Fit is probably your speed. However, I'd rather have a good balance between comfort and closeness than something that will restrict my movement. As mentioned in the review, I would at least get a stretch fabric if you want something closer fitting than my shirt. Stretch fabrics can be okay, but they never seem as high quality as a 100% cotton shirting. Keep in mind that I didn't take full length photos either, so you might think differently if you saw the shirt in proportion with the rest of my body. (Maybe that's something I should do next time!)

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