Is it really that hard to take a good picture? Seph Skerritt, founder of online made-to-measure shirting company Proper Cloth, doesn’t think so. His New York-based startup stands out from the proliferating crowd of digital tailors for its high-quality fabric close-ups and crisp digital look-book campaigns. Modern Fellows reviewed a shirt from Proper Cloth and spoke with Seph about product presentation, website functionality and the company’s recently-launched New York City showroom.
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Why Proper Cloth?
The photos lure you in. Proper Cloth’s multiple fabric close-ups, like the one below, along with images of how the finished shirt would look provides valuable context for their products. Their photos help potential customers understand what they are getting and remove some of the doubt that often accompanies purchasing clothes online.
Seph says he’s “constantly baffled that his competitors don’t have better pictures.” Proper Cloth isn’t doing anything magical, he observes. “We’re paying attention and putting work into it, but if your focus is on having a great online experience, your pictures ought to be perfect. It blows my mind when these other guys have a single shot of the product and you can’t tell what it is.” (Ed. note: Agreed.)
Proper Cloth also regularly develops themed collections to highlight unique pre-designed shirts, which complement their photos and help drive media coverage. “Over the last few years, we’ve evolved to develop our own sense of who we are as a brand and a sense of style and taste,” says Seph, and these photo-heavy campaigns help communicate their point of view. (Esquire took note of one of their latest, Montauk Escape.)
The company has amassed a number of glowing reviews from the likes of Broke and Bespoke, Style Girlfriend and Tall, Not Big, and mentions from Sean Hotchkiss in GQ and David Colman in the New York Times.
Proper Cloth provided a shirt at no cost for the purposes of a review to Modern Fellows.
Customers may order via Proper Cloth’s website or by visiting its new showroom in New York City. After working out of a shared space for four years, which is where Seph’s colleague Harrison Brunswick first measured me for a shirt, Seph decided to open a showroom in Soho as a way to improve his ability to develop the Proper Cloth brand.
“It was a natural thing to have a place where our local clients can come in and see the fabrics, hang out, and get a sense of our brand,” Seph told Modern Fellows. “There’s only so much you can communicate of your brand online. You try to make your pictures perfect and make your copy clear, but it is one thing to see some videos and look at some pictures, and another to go into a physical space and be surrounded by things that define your company.”
Still, most Proper Cloth customers will order online without ever meeting the company in person. Proper Cloth offers several options to find your fit, including measuring yourself, measuring your best-fitting shirt, answering a simple online questionnaire or mailing in a shirt to be copied.
Seph makes the most of the digital confines, turning out a site that is both functional and conveys a sense not only of the brand but, importantly, the fabrics and details.
Customers are able to view the shirts in fine detail, thanks to his photos. Written descriptions are also more detailed than many other online custom shirting sites and add more context. The online customer reviews provide additional background, and Proper Cloth does a great job of soliciting customer feedback following shirt purchases by offering $5 store credit for each purchased shirt a customer reviews. Seph suggests that, “it’s our overall system and community that enables customers to make better choices and get the most appropriate shirt for their case.”
The website offers a high-degree of functionality as well. Customers can sort Proper Cloth’s fabrics by color, pattern, and price as well as by weave, construction and thickness, so you can quickly drill down to, say, the company’s collection of blue striped, lightweight shirts. (Seph came at the business from a technology background, having graduated from MIT. One benefit of that is he can experiment and tweak the portal that he built himself and iterate design changes, rather than having to rely on expensive outside help.)
Customers can choose from 19 collar styles, 5 shirt sleeves, and pocket and placket styles. Mother of pearl buttons ($15) collar ($5) and cuff ($5) accents and monograms ($10) are all upcharges.
While the experience is largely straightforward, not everything is as intuitive as it could be. It takes a little while to understand that you can either design a shirt from scratch using the company’s designer tool or opt for one of their pre-designed models from their shirt gallery. It is also not entirely obvious that the company offers more than a dozen collar styles above and beyond the 4 most popular ones that display on the initial customization screen. And, as amazing as the photos are, accessing the full reel using the shirt designer can take a few minutes to figure out.
At the time of writing, Proper Cloth stocked 334 fabrics from Italy, Portugal, Japan and China. Shirts are manufactured in Malaysia and delivered with an impressive 1-2 week turnaround. Most shirts in the collection are two-ply, though Seph notes that several single-ply options are available at an affordable price point.
Proper Cloth’s manufacturing partner allows the company to offer a remarkable level of precision in terms of choices – like selecting different shoulder or arm-pit fits – and delivery times. (The company noted that, as they were exploring manufacturing options earlier in their journey, it was impossible to find a U.S. manufacturer that could deliver the same speed or precision at any price.)
“The preciseness of our manufacturing is really, really important,” says Seph. “Being able to order shirts a year later and have the exact same fit is critical,” and the level of sophistication in the manufacturing operations is essential to turning around highly-customized shirts quickly.
My shirt, a light blue fine stripe (code PCF376), features mother of pearl buttons, split yokes, removable collar stays, clean stitching and side-seam gussets. As the Silentist notes in its review of Proper Cloth:
gusseted seams…help[ ] keep the end of the shirt’s hem from coming apart while under stress. No other MTM shirtmaker I’ve used has done this for my shirts and it’s nice to see that Proper Cloth makes it standard operating procedure on theirs.
Pattern matching is also excellent. The patterns connect well across the front of the shirt and, as the photo below highlights, at the split yoke.
Overall, the shirt fit well out of the box. The semi-spread collar I chose is sturdy but not too rigid, and the fit is slim but not uncomfortably snug. Unfortunately, sleeves were too short, the result of a transcription error during my in-person measuring session, which provided a chance to test out Proper Cloth’s return policy.
Customer service, alterations policy, and reorders
Proper Cloth offers a “perfect fit guarantee,” which is worth reading and should further instill confidence in potential customers. Unlike many other online custom tailors, Proper Cloth performs alterations themselves, arguing that:
We won’t just give you some store credit and send you to a local tailor. Adjusting a shirt this way produces sub-optimal results and still leaves open the possibility that future shirts will not fit properly straight out of the box…we will alter or remake the shirt ourselves, guaranteeing perfectly replicable results.
My return experience was seamless, and I had a new shirt with properly-fitting sleeves at my door a couple of weeks after raising the issue with the company.
Proper Cloth’s profile system is one of the most flexible in the industry, permitting customers to save favorite fabrics and shirt designs as well as multiple fit profiles, making reorders particularly easy. (One note: it can be confusing to choose which fit profile to use, and the system does not appear to let you rename them to something more memorable than a string of letters and numbers). For example, customers can save a dress shirt profile with a longer shirt length, and a casual profile for shorter, untucked occasions.
Light-blue fine striped shirt, $125. Shirts from $75, though most run $95 or more. Shipping adds $15.
Proper Cloth’s photos pull you in, but the fabrics, customer service and enthusiasm and execution from Seph and his colleagues in New York and Malaysia ought to make you stay. The photos, descriptions, and community commentary (even if it is often anonymous) convey unparalleled information about Proper Cloth’s shirts and help diminish the uncertainty surrounding custom shirts. (That uncertainty is not limited to online transactions; visiting a custom tailoring shop in person ordinarily yields the chance to see and feel only small fabric swatches.) Proper Cloth offers an opportunity with its customer service guarantee to perfect your fit, while their amazing photos, quick turnaround times and quality shirting lure you back for more.
How to order