Review: VM Clothiers’ Custom Dress Shirts

VM-Clothiers-Dress-Shirt-GinghamDown the street from the White House, Vishal Mirpuri is building a solid reputation in the District of Colombia for affordable custom suits and shirts.  Over the past several months, Modern Fellows tried out and tested two of VM Clothiers’ custom dress shirts and, in the process, got a feel for Vishal’s approach to men’s clothing and customer service.

Why VM Clothiers?

Inspired by family members already in the business, Vishal — the VM in VM Clothiers — set up shop in 2007 in an office building on 16th Street NW near K Street in downtown DC.  His business has grown mainly organically since then through word of mouth and mostly positive online buzz from posts on Yelp.com and Chris Hogan of Off the Cuff DC, who calls Vishal a “talented young man.” (More on Vishal’s background and take on style in Washington, DC is available via this interview.) VM Clothiers has participated in a limited number of online promotions, including one in 2011 from Gilt City DC, which is how they came to the attention of Modern Fellows.

I first visited VM Clothiers in January 2012 and purchased a white dress shirt from their luxury fabric collection. Subsequently, after tweaking my measurements, Vishal provided another shirt to me from their standard fabric collection at no cost for the purposes of a review.  This article is based on both experiences.  (While it is possible to order shirts online via VM Clothiers’ website, since most initial orders are taken in person at the showroom, this review emphasizes the in-person adventure.)

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[Get $25 off a custom suit from this amazing NYC online tailor.]

The Experience

While companies such as Black Lapel and Indochino could not exist without the internet, VM Clothiers could have hung a shingle close to the White House decades ago.  Walking into the small showroom is an unplugged adventure.  There are no digital body scanners in the corner, HDTVs lining the wall, or associates with iPads running around.  Instead, there are stacks of fabric swatches for suits and shirts, examples of the different shirt collars that VM Clothiers offers, and several suits and shirts in the corner, waiting to be picked up, which offer a glimpse of the company’s finished products.

The experience is low-key, and mostly refreshingly so.  Vishal is soft-spoken and carries himself and his business with a left-coast casualness and calm that is pleasant and unexpected of someone selling power suits to the K Street crowd.  You sit down, discuss your experience with custom clothing in the past and what you’re looking for.  From there, Vishal carefully takes your measurements by hand and walks you through his fabric collection.

[From Black Lapel to Ledbury to Proper Cloth, check out our recommendations for dressing sharp in the digital age.]

Vishal does not skimp on selection.  VM Clothiers boasts more than 2,000 shirting fabrics, mostly 2-ply cottons somewhere between 100-160 thread counts. (Suits, which are full bespoke, are available in entry-level wools up through premium mills including Dormeuil, Scabal, and Zegna.) Sitting in the shop, trying to decide between a dozen similar white fabrics, you are liable to get the same glazed look in your eyes as when you stare at the cereal aisle in the supermarket. (One of the inherent limitations of offering reams of fabrics is that it is difficult to appreciate fully its feel or look from a small swatch. It’s a particular limitation in a small shop like VM Clothiers, where Vishal doesn’t maintain a robust  selection of sample stock on hand that would enable a customer to come in and get a better feel for the quality and look of fabrics.)

Wherever you shop for custom clothing, it is critical to go in knowing what is important to you.  Vishal will run down a list of questions with regard to cuff, collar, pocket, pleat, placket and fit preferences, and you need to be knowledgable enough to answer those questions and to emphasize details that may not be brought up.  It was important in my experience to emphasize a preference for removable, rather than permanent, collar stays, and for a 2.75″collar length, since most of VM Clothiers’ standard-length collars are 3 inches.

Delivery times varied: The first shirt took six weeks to materialize.  The second shirt was available in three weeks.

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The shirts

The shirts are well tailored, and you get what you pay for.

Manufactured in Hong Kong, both shirts look great and feel well-made.  Stitching is clean and intact.  The deep plastic buttons fasten easily and don’t feel cheap.  The semi-spread standard business collar (featured on the blue gingham check shirt) and wide-spread collar (on the white dress shirt) stand up well but are not overly rigid.  Those collars feel particularly well-designed and are angled to hide the little tab of fabric behind the top button that can peak out from some other dress shirts.

There is a noticeable difference between the two shirting fabrics. The more expensive shirt feels silky and smooth.  The basic shirt is more rustic.  That’s not meant to be pejorative — the fabric isn’t scratchy or uncomfortable — but there is a clear difference in the feel of the two shirts, and I would choose the marginally more expensive one every time.

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The first shirt fit nearly perfectly the first time out, with the exception of the sleeves, which were about a quarter of an inch too long. After adjusting my measurements, the fit of the second shirt is nearly flawless. The sleeves aren’t too tight or too loose; there is no extra fabric swimming around my torso or tightness around my chest and stomach.  That perfect fit requires not only taking measurements correctly, but cutting shirts to reflect a fit that is not too skinny or roomy.  A tailor might get the measurements right and still cut a shirt in the style of an original Brooks Brothers classic fit with fabric billowing out from the sides. Vishal produced two shirts that are form-fitting, clean looking and very comfortable.

Both shirts have worn well over time.  This is particularly true of the white dress shirt, which is in my heavy wardrobe rotation. While the collars of several other dress shirts seem to shrink a little more with each wash, making it uncomfortable to fasten the top button over time, VM Clothiers’ have remained steady and comfortable.

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Customer service, alterations policy and reorders

While VM Clothiers doesn’t appear to have a written customer service or perfect fit guarantee a la Black Lapel, Indochino or Proper Cloth, Vishal wrote in an email that, “our policy is to make the necessary alterations…In cases where the changes are drastic…we will re-make the piece.  The only case in which we won’t…is if the customer changes their mind about something [after the initial order is placed] i.e. wants a different type of collar, change the pant style, etc.”

Because VM Clothiers has its own tailor, who can perform the necessary alterations, customers do not have to worry about identifying their own tailor, paying up front for alterations, and then asking the company to reimburse those out-of-pocket costs, as is the case with a number of the online tailors.

Customer service is in keeping with the casual vibe: Emails get answered, phone calls get returned, and problems get fixed, but it may take a day or so for those return phone calls and emails.  Vishal lived up to his alterations promise, shortening the sleeves on the white dress shirt, which hung too long, turning around the alterations in about 10 days. In a world marked by rapid communication and instant gratification, those turnaround times may seem slow to some, but don’t bother me.

Reordering suits and shirts is straightforward.  VM Clothiers will store your measurements in their system, and can make note of shirt or suit fabrics and styles that you wish to bookmark for the future. It takes just a few minutes to place subsequent orders over the phone or via email, or you can return to the shop to peruse the swatch books.

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Cost

Blue gingham $60; white luxury-collection dress shirt, $80 (plus $7.50 shipping plus $4.80 DC tax for this DC resident, bringing the cost to $92.30).  Generally, shirts run $60-90; Suits from $595 for entry-level 120’s-130’s; premium-fabrics from $795 to $1800+

Verdict

In an age of whiskey bars, body scanners, and out-sized storefronts, founder  Vishal’s relatively low-key style is mostly refreshing. There is a reason he boasts an impressive client list, from lobbyists to DC trend-setters to recent college grads. For me, the ultimate test is whether I would be confident enough in the shirt to wear it on an important day.  Once altered properly, VM Clothiers’ white dress shirt passed that test.  It makes me hold my head a little higher whenever I wear it.  That is the promise of well-fitting, well-made tailored clothing, and the best reason I can think of to give VM Clothiers a try.  If you do, think about upgrading to the noticeably higher-quality shirting fabrics, which are only marginally more expensive.

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How to order

Call (202) 480-2210 to make an appointment at VM Clothiers’ showroom at 1020 16th St NW #101  Washington, DC 20036, or visit www.vmclothiers.com

Photo notes

White dress shirt worn with Indochino Premium Italian Grey Suit and Suit Supply silk tie

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