This post revisits Modern Fellows’ first review of Proper Cloth’s custom dress shirts for men, originally published in 2013, to explore whether the New York-based menswear startup’s shirts are worth it. This article provides more information about Proper Cloth, how much their shirts, suits and other menswear essentials cost, and an honest, unbiased and updated review of the Proper Cloth custom dress shirt.
Note: Modern Fellows readers can save $20 off your first shirt via this link.
This post was first published on August 13, 2013 and last updated on October 22, 2019.
About Proper Cloth
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 menswear e-commerce retailer stands out from the proliferating crowd of digital tailors for its high-quality fabric close-ups and crisp digital look-book campaigns.
Proper Cloth has been grinding since 2008, when Seph and his small team launched the first iteration of propercloth.com. As he admits,
“We were not an instant success. The first two years were particularly humble. We didn’t come from fashion. We didn’t have fancy investors. We made a lot of mistakes. Our manufacturing was slow. Our selection was limited. Our website was confusing. And then there was the financial crisis… But we stuck with it.”
Proper Cloth survived and then thrived because the company listened to its customers, established better manufacturing partnerships and continued on a path of iterative innovation.
Today, while Seph continues to focus on his core product — online, custom-tailored dress shirts and casual button downs — Proper Cloth has expanded its offerings over the years to include custom suits, blazers and trousers as well as luxury, Italian-made leather belts and neckties, outerwear and our absolute favorite v-neck cashmere sweaters.
(Side note: Their top-of-the-line cashmere sweaters are manufactured in Madagascar from Todd & Duncan Scottish Cashmere, a heritage mill founded in 1867. At $175 and up, these crewneck and v-neck cashmere sweaters aren’t cheap, but they resist pilling and are totally worth the splurge.)
This review is based on Modern Fellows’ experience over more than 5 years with Proper Cloth. I first reviewed a shirt from Proper Cloth in 2013, and have since acquired more than a dozen additional shirts. I have also spoken with Seph several times over the years about product presentation, website functionality and the company’s New York City showroom.
Why consider Proper Cloth for custom dress shirts?
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 told me that 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.” (Editor’s 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 their Montauk Escape shoot.)
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, Esquire, Inc. and David Colman in the New York Times.
Back in 2013, Proper Cloth provided a shirt at no cost to Modern Fellows for the purpose of a review.
How to order custom shirts from Proper Cloth
Customers may order via Proper Cloth’s website or by visiting its new showroom in New York City.
Visiting the Proper Cloth Showroom in New York
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.”
How to order shirts from Proper Cloth’s website
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 took a little while for me 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. (I once ordered a shirt from their shirt gallery without fully taking note of the details and wound up with a shirt that with a front pocket, which I wouldn’t have chosen on my own.)
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.
Exploring the details and qualities of Proper Cloth dress shirts
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 in Indonesia 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. (Seph noted that, as he was exploring manufacturing options earlier in Proper Cloth’s 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 first 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.
What are Proper Cloth’s policies on customer service, alterations, 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. For example, customers can save a dress shirt profile with a longer shirt length, and a casual profile for shorter, untucked occasions.
(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. Update: Proper Cloth now lets you save multiple profiles with memorable descriptions.)
How much do Proper Cloth shirts cost?
Proper Cloth’s custom shirts cost between $80 and $300 depending on the shirt fabric. The company offers a wide range of quality shirt fabrics for under $100. For $300, Proper Cloth offers Albini’s highest-end line, which it highlights as “the cashmere of cotton… ultra-premium certified West Indian Sea Island Cotton from Barbados.” Proper Cloth charges a flat-rate shipping fee of $15 and offers free shipping on all shirt orders over $200.
Proper Cloth also sells suits from $795, vests and jackets from $350, outerwear and overcoats from $850, sweaters from $125, leather belts from $150, and neckties from $100.
Where are Proper Cloth’s shirts made?
Proper Cloth’s shirts are manufactured in Indonesia.
How long does a Proper Cloth Shirt last?
Since reviewing that first shirt way back in 2013, I have ordered a number of other shirts from Proper Cloth. In full disclosure, I receive $20 in store credit each time a new customer orders a shirt via my personal link. I’ve amassed enough store credit to buy a number of Proper Cloth’s products.
As I write this update on September 2019, the front collar of that first blue striped shirt I received back 6 years ago is just starting to fray from repeated washing. It has lasted a good long time and I am very happy with the mileage I got out of it.
I write this wearing another Proper Cloth shirt, which I have had for about 3 years and which has become one of my favorites. I’ve worn it to present at SXSW, on important business trips and out to dinner with my wife. I’ve never once had an issue or complaint with the quality of any of my shirts (or sweaters).
Verdict: Are Proper Cloth’s shirts affordable? Are they a good value?
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.
All of this is why Modern Fellows named Proper Cloth one of its top websites to shop for menswear and why Proper Cloth sits atop its editor’s choice list of where to find the best dress shirts for men.
How to order Proper Cloth dress shirts, suits, sweaters and accessories
About JakeJake is passionate about exploring entrepreneurs' global journeys. He founded Modern Fellows in 2012 to get to know the entrepreneurs behind the innovative brands helping men dress sharp in the digital age. Jake has written about entrepreneurship, international business and/or fashion for outlets including Business Week, Forbes, Inc., Details Style Syndicate and Primer Magazine, and has provided analysis on international business for BBC Radio, NBC News, CNN and Time Magazine.
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