The Battle Royale of the American Made Shirt: Vol. 3 (Finale)
Posted on February 19, 2013
Welcome to Volume 3 of the Battle Royale of the American-Made Shirt. The idea behind this article started with a simple purchasing conundrum; there are plenty of great brands out there and with a few parameters set forth, how can we really narrow down what shirt is the best for our needs as a consumer? Our rules were simple:
- We wanted a shirt that would appeal to the masses, though showcased each company’s best effort, that fit the average cut guy very well.
- The shirt had to be made in the United States of America.
- If it could be helped, the shirt had to be under $200.00
After doing research, this proved to be far more difficult than we had anticipated. When it comes down to it, many brands aren’t familiar with the origins of their fabric or didn’t make the shirts themselves. Most of our favorites – the really distinctive patterns – were typically beyond the allotted price point. You will see that we did make a few exceptions along the way but stayed true to these rules for the most part. Most of the brands were quick to point out that in differentiating between most labels with the exception of a very select few American makers, all shirts are essentially the same. The variables are in the fabric and the cut with only slight variation in construction seen across the board. Once you’ve seen one shirt, you’ve seen most of them; or so it seemed.
We have taken the approach to looking at these shirts as someone who puts average wear on clothing with occasional days working in the field on creative projects and more frequent days sitting behind a desk. We tested all of these shirts and combined our opinions with those of the fit models who wore them for the photo shoots. The brands we will review in this volume are New England Shirt Co. (based in Fall River, MA.), Hamilton Shirts (based in Houston, TX.), and the unannounced newcomer Ratio Clothing. This is the final volume of this series of articles; the winner will be announced at the end. Click below to read the full article.
New England Shirt Co.
Fall River, MA. and select retailers
Our mission from the time that we acquired the factory was to build a collection of hand crafted men’s clothing that owed it’s aesthetic to a traditional american fashion sensibility. We orient our collection firstly by choosing a direction for sport shirts and dress shirts. We then complement the shirts with over shirts, vests, pants, ties, scarves and pocket squares. The shirt is a fine yarn Japanese chambray styled with a smaller button down collar and patch and flap pocket. It is made in a trim fit with a higher armhole and a slightly shorter length. The shirt is garment washed for a softer, relaxed look and feel.
New England Shirt Co. is extraordinarily proud of their heritage, as is evident in speaking with Wallace Palmer, one of the heads at the company. Their company is run truly in the old school with local craftsmen and union laborers running their operations and fabrics such as chambray, broadcloth, and linen utilized in their final products. These guys don’t have the whiz/bam attributes that other companies we featured in this segment rely on for marketing materials (persnickety graphic design, collaborations, campaigns, etc.) but they’ve got the bonafide gusto and know-how that many companies that look great on paper can’t execute in the market (none of the ones we’ve featured here).
Fabric: The fabric is a super soft blue Japanese chambray that has plenty of character. The thing almost seems to take on a luminescent quality in magic-hour lighting (not to be confused with trashy-sheen that we see on lots of suits). The blue is nearly perfect and pops anyone’s complexion beautifully (never thought I’d say that but it’s true). Take a look at some of these closeups and you’ll get a feel for how beautiful this thing is up-close.
Fit: After much deliberation, I think this is the best universally fitting shirt we’ve seen. It’s cut generously enough to accommodate dudes that are slightly more rotund but still trim enough to tuck into your pants/jeans/whatever and not parachute like crazy. The arm holes are cut high and slim which means it doesn’t bag up around your upper torso or in the upper arm area of the shirt. The collar and cuffs are perfectly fit for someone of average build, though if you’ve got twenty chins, you shouldn’t be wearing this shirt.
Construction: It’s well built. I loved some of the details like the extra stitching at the bottom hem where the front panel meets the rear and the contrasting brown stitching throughout the shirt. I also really liked the brown wood-like buttons.
Overall, literally zero complaints. The level of detail prevalent in this shirt along with the high quality nature of the fabric really makes me like this shirt. A lot.
Hamilton Shirt Co.
Houston, TX., select retailers, and online
Hamilton is a family owned company based in Houston, TX. They’ve been around for years and are starting to get a better feel for what the modern guy wants. Many of their more recent shirts have sharp looking prints or solid basic designs that fit great. For the uniqueness of the particular print we were sent, this was my favorite shirt hands down. This shirt was called the Walker Printed Oxford.
Fabric: This is pretty standard oxford cloth, however it’s got a very cool print with purple/red squares on the blue fabric. It’s lightweight compared to the typical oxford cloth and quite soft.
Fit: This is without a doubt the best fitting shirt out of the box we had. It fit all of us perfectly, though it ran a bit on the small side. It tapers in all the right places, has great lines across the shoulders and doesn’t leave any extra fabric where there shouldn’t be any. Take a look at the photos, two differently built guys, fits them both well. The versatility of this shirt is amazing. I can wear it under a blazer or a sweater or really anything at all and this thing adds nice color to jeans or whatever pants you wear when you dress it up. I also really like that this looks equally amazing untucked as it does tucked in.
However…after the third wash (and mind you I’m very careful with my clothes in the washing process), the sleeves shrunk a solid inch and a half. That’s a lot of wrist to be showing off. The rest of the shirt still fits great, but those sleeves are too short to wear under anything at all anymore. I can really only wear this thing if I’m not wearing anything on top and can roll the sleeves. Otherwise, it doesn’t work.
Construction: Well built, the armholes are the right height and the collar and cuffs have enough reinforcements to make this thing last for quite a while. There isn’t much to say in this department other than, it feels solid. I wish, given the above statement, that whatever they could do to prevent the arms from shrinking had been done on this shirt. We had literally no problem with any other shirt tested.
Denver, CO. and online
Eric, the owner of Ratio, got in touch with us after our first in this series was released and we were so compelled by the company that we had to include it. He sent us two shirts, one called the Franklin Drafting shirt and the other Ogden Plaid. I’ll let him speak for himself:
Franklin Drafting: This is a charcoal 100’s two-ply end-on-end. We did this in a utility shirt style, because the end-on-end weave has similarities to the chambray weave and we felt like this was a slightly more refined take on it. The added pencil pocket is a nice, functional detail.Ogden Plaid: This is Japanese-milled 50’s single-ply poplin in a really unique pattern. It’s nothing like the typical plaid, and the colors are great for fall. It’s one of our top-sellers.Fit: Both of the shirts I sent are in our Ratio Slim Fit. The Ratio Slim fit has slimmer sleeves and is more tailored through the torso, with shallow-cut shirttails so that it transitions well from tucked-in to untucked. And, because all of our shirts are custom-made, our customers have a lot of control over how their shirt fits.Ratio started for a number of reasons, but like most entrepreneurs, I was trying to fix a problem that I had personally. I’m tall (6’4″) and fairly thin and consistently have problems finding something that fits off-the-rack. I’m always between sizes and “neck and sleeve” sizing in dress shirts rarely ends up in a decent fit for me. Secondarily, my issues finding clothes that fit weren’t limited to things I’d wear to the office – the kind of clothing that was traditionally available in a made-to-measure environment. I cared just as much about having a great-fitting OCBD or casual plaid shirt as I did about the dress shirts I wore to the office. I found it increasingly frustrating to go to a place like J.Crew, find something I really like, and have fit issues on every size. There’s no point buying a piece of clothing if it doesn’t fit and you’re not going to be comfortable in it.
Ratio’s got a good thing going on. They’ve sort of cornered the market of gents wanting their stuff to be a little more customized but still having the mass appeal and affordability that more accessible brands provide while pretty much guaranteeing that you will not be wearing the same shirt as your bartender/barista/mailman/cable guy. That’s a good feeling. Somehow, Ratio has also incorporated a Frank and Oak feel which makes you think that you’re part of the club, even though they’re certainly not invitation-only. The fit and the attention to detail on these shirts were pretty incredible. Let’s take a look.
Fabric: Both shirts are quite soft. The Drafting shirt has fine white threads through the gray base color which gives it quite a bit of character when seen up close. The Ogden Plaid’s got a lot going on with blues, yellows, browns, blacks, and whites. I don’t wear a lot of plaid but I know a lot of guys who would have mugged me just for the shirt. There’s tons of customizable details with Ratio’s goods which is a pretty neat thing. Just about any type of fabric you’d like, they’ve got it.
Fit: These shirts are customized to fit you. You enter your measurements and they make it to fit. What does that mean for you? Literally the best fitting shirt you could ever have. If you end up with something you don’t like, fit-wise, you probably screwed up your measurements. I can see why this might throw you; it takes thought and active participation which is more than just hitting Small, Medium, or Large. That’s good. You should like that. It means you’re getting a higher quality product and a bargain as services like this are typically quite expensive.
Construction: This is where things get really interesting. You can customize the collar, cuffs, back of the shirt, pocket, and the placket (where the buttons are). Spread collar, semi-spread, button down, french cuffs, barrel cuffs, pleats, pocketed or not, seamless or not, up to you. That’s pretty awesome. These shirts are well made and they’re made just for you.
This is tough because today we decide the winner of the Battle Royale of the American Made shirt. They’re all amazing shirts. That’s the tough part here, everything is seriously top-notch quality and you can’t go wrong with a single shirt we’ve shown you during this series. The point of the series was not, in actuality, to crown a champion of the American-shirting manufacturers; we didn’t survey nearly enough companies to be able to call this the definitive answer. We did this to bring awareness to the incredible offering that’s out there as an alternative to your usual selection. Given the diversity of their offering, the heritage which we like a lot, and the general accessibility of the brand to any guy, we’re giving top awards to Hamilton Shirt Co. The shirt they sent us was seriously the most beautiful, best-best fitting shirt I’ve ever seen in my life and despite the sleeve shrinkage is totally worth every penny. I can only imagine that all of their shirts are made with the same level of detail and craftsmanship and I am proud to call them the winner of this series. Hamilton was closely followed by New England Shirt Co. who makes a damn fine shirt as well.
Thanks so much to all of the brands for participating; we’ve really enjoyed producing this series and getting to know all of the brands we hadn’t been acquainted with before. We certainly hope to do more features like this in the future.