April 25, 2013 by Ville Raivio
‘I’m 55 and a”Custom Shirtmaker.” BBA in marketing from George Washington University, presently single. Daughter, 19, freshman at U. of Vermont, studying Enviromental science. Loves to go shopping with me, but is happy buying at H&M, Urban Outfitters, Forever 21, and Uniqlo. I am often appalled at the quality of the purchased garments. Son, 22, will be going back to grad school to get an advanced degree in Econ/math. Has no interest in dressing well. He inherited that trait from his mother’s side. Hated having his Bar Mitzvah suit made by Mr. Ned.
My family owns an Army & Navy Surplus store in Philadelphia. I grew up in the clothing business. My father has passed, my sister now runs the business. It is a much smaller business than when I worked there as a kid. In the 60/70’s and early 80’s the business was amazing. I. Goldberg sold inexpensive Military surplus clothing, and durable and lower cost workwear (not the overpriced retro stuff sold today), Levi, Lee and Wranglers. Converse, Chuck Taylors, Frye boots. western shirts and sweatshirts, sailor bell bottom jeans. You could buy a used overcoat for $20. I have a coat that was pulled out of a container of several hundred coats. This coat was made in 1953 in France. The coat is very heavy and very warm, it needs relining, but is still serviceable.
Business was excellent. It allowed my father to buy custom made clothing that was his passion. He bought his first custom made suit when he was 16. Later in life, he had suits made by two French tailors, Smalto, and Feruch. Shirts came from Lanvin (the finest shirts I have ever seen!), shoes from John Lobb Paris. I do wear his suits and occasionally several pairs of shoes. I still use his beautiful Lanvin ties. My father was my sartorial influence. I have no true technical skills…I am really only a salesman who is good with a tape measure.I have learned by talking to other shirtmakers. I learned quite a bit from Markar Sahamian of Paris Shirt. He made shirts for me when I first started out. I have learned about fabrics, by talking with the people from the mills.
After working several jobs in the clothing trade, I realized I could start my business without a lot of capital. I sold custom made suits in addition to shirts. It was slow going at first. I made plenty of mistakes, but over time my business grew. The internet clothing forums were a big help to my business. By answering questions from the forum members, my reputation grew. Interestingly, my customer base became younger.
I am not shy to make somewhat obnoxious looking shirts. Bright colors, larger plaids, prints. I also have plenty of basic blue shirts. I do not wear white shirts that often. I use all types of fabrics. I am partial to older fabrics in slightly lower yarn counts. I have some fabric woven in England, that dates back to the 60s/70s. Great fabrics. I do not have a specific style. Customers have been requesting trimmer fitting shirts. Though I make many shirts for Broadway shows, I am more interested in Off-broadway and experimental theater. I go out to hear friends play in various bands in smaller clubs as well as newer Indie rock bands.
Notice how older well-dressed men put their outfits together. Don’t be afraid to try things on, and dont shop for anything important with your wife or girlfriend. Dont be afraid to take a few chances. Buy quality, not necessarily the most expensive. Buy fewer, better-fitting items than lots of clothing that may or may not fit. You need to figure it out by yourself, or find a guy friend whose style you admire and shop with them. A good clothing salesman will not push clothing on you that does not fit or look good. A good clothing saleman wants repeat customers. Dont be afraid to ask other guys where they have purchased something that looks good to you.’
Pictures: © CEGO and Kai D