Modern Fellows visited Alton Lane’s Dupont Circle showroom to pick out a summer shirt and review the experience. This review, the first in a series on the pursuit of the perfect dress shirt, is based on a May 2012 appointment.
Why Alton Lane?
Alton Lane has been on the radar for a while now. The company was founded in 2009 by entrepreneurs and University of Virginia classmates Colin Hunter and Peyton Jenkins, who have quickly established themselves in the men’s custom clothing business. They offer a range of professional clothing, including suits, dress shirts, tuxedos and outwear, along with Made in America ties, from locations in New York and Washington DC and online. They have attracted some positive (and a few not so glowing) reviews, and are indicative of the new generation of affordable custom clothing that is emerging in America today.
Overall, the process was straightforward and pleasant. You begin online by creating an account, logging into the website and selecting an appointment slot through Alton Lane’s online scheduling tool. About a week later, I walked over to their office at the arranged time where I met TJ, Alton’s DC Showroom Manager. Their Dupont Circle space, pictured above, feels like a modern take on the Metropolitan Club, yet does not feel overdone.
TJ asked me what I was looking for and then took me over to their “3-D state of the art body scanner” to get measured. The body scanner turned out to be the part of the process that I liked the least. You are pretty exposed stepping into that cramped box; it feels gimmicky; and, whatever its merits, tailors have managed to get the measurements right by hand for centuries. (This is actually a minor point. You do not have to use the body scanner, or live in New York or Washington for that matter, to order from Alton Lane. The company offers the option of going to your local tailor, sending in your best-fitting clothes, or taking measurements yourself via this guide. Also, having been through the body scanner once, which I did voluntarily in the name of research, there is no need for me to go again for future orders.)
We walked back over to the desk, where TJ offered me a scotch and began showing me some shirt fabrics. I already had an idea in mind of what I wanted — a large lavender gingham check pattern I found on their website — and, though he had a large variety of shirting fabrics in the store, did not have that one on hand. Good thing I checked the website. He pulled the design up on the website and went through customizations with me: Montague (slim fit) or Capulet (classic fit); side, center, or no darts in the back; collar type; one-button, two-button or french cuffs; front pocket or plain front; pick-stitching, contrast collar, and so on.
Alton Lane does not offer the same breadth of options as some other tailors though, for the most part, the ones that they offer are sufficient and make for a less overwhelming experience. (You can waste a surprising amount of time pondering whether you like two-button rounded cuffs or mitered cuffs better.) The one exception for me is collars. Alton Lane offers only four: button-down, straight-point, medium-spread, or English-spread. My preferred collar is somewhere in between the straight-point and their medium-spread, so I opted for the medium spread with two-button cuffs. TJ finalized the order, I paid my bill and left.
The shirt arrived four weeks after placing the order. After wearing and laundering it several times so it could settle down, I found the shirt to fit well generally, though there is some bunching around the torso, and the sleeves remain long, as seen in the picture below. The material is soft, and it fits snug but not too tight around. One noticeable feature of the shirts is their stiff collar and cuffs. TJ highlighted those as selling points, and the collar sure stands up straight, but personally I prefer a somewhat softer collar and cuffs. I also prefer a slightly narrower angle to my collar. (Without a jacket on, the medium-spread collar spreads wide out away from the neck.)
Customer service, alterations policy, and reorders
From start to finish, my experience with Alton Lane’s customer service was excellent. Scheduling an appointment was effortless. At the appointment itself, TJ was engaging, approachable and knowledgeable of Alton Lane’s product line and policies. I received emails to confirm the purchase the day of the order, on the day that my order shipped, and several days after the order shipped suggesting I call or write to tell them how it fits.
As for their alterations policy, they do not offer a money-back guarantee or perform alterations on the premises. While the company will alter or remake garments to fix a manufacturing error, for most alterations, you will need to have them performed by a local tailor. Alton Lane will then credit your account 120% of the value of the alterations for use on a future order. This is decidedly less generous than a company like Proper Cloth or Black Lapel, which offer several options to make the garment right, including the option of returning your first purchase for a refund if you are not satisfied. On its website, the company explains that, “Many custom tailors include the cost of multiple rounds of potential alterations into their base-pricing model…we strip out the cost of potential alterations from the price of our garments. This allows for greater transparency into our business, better pricing for our customers, and more flexibility, while still allowing us to offer the best alterations policy in the industry.”
On the other hand, they sure do make it easy to reorder. Your measurements are saved in the system, and you can order straight from the website or by consulting with the Alton Lane team.
Lavender large gingham shirt $110. Dress shirts range from $89-165. Suits from $525. Shipping for the one shirt was $15.
Alton Lane hits a sweet spot between affordability and quality, and their operation feels classy and refined without being overwhelming or pretentious. While I personally would prefer softer collars and cuffs, and a collar spread that falls in-between the point and the medium spread options, I enjoyed my visit and wear the shirt that I ordered regularly.
Update, 10/5/2012: After wearing the shirt a few more times, the rigid collar and cuffs are bordering on annoying. It shouldn’t be a challenge to button your shirt in the morning. This would weigh heavy on my decision to purchase additional shirts in the future.
How to order
Online at http://www.altonlane.com
in Washington DC: 1506 19th St NW, Washington, DC 20036, Tel: (646) 896-1212
In New York: 11 West 25th Street (between Broadway & 5th Ave), 5th Floor, New York, NY 10010, Tel: (646) 896-1212
Coming soon to Boston
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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