Thursday, September 30, 2010

Commonwealth Proper: The Shirt Maketh the Man

Over the course of the last year, I’ve lost a lot of weight and gained a bit of muscle – and learned an awful lot along the way.

One astonishing tip was how to lose 20lbs instantly (or at least appear to) simply by wearing clothes that fit right.

But the problem with most men’s clothes in America is that they’re not designed like that.

Most American men tend to be pear or barrel-shaped and generally clothes are designed to suit that type of body instead of mine. This means that when I – more resembling a V than an O these days - buy an off-the-rack shirt it fits my shoulders fairly tightly, but turns into a veritable circus tent around my tummy.

Which is why I’d always feel a sense of vague disappointment when I saw a beautiful shirt on those mannequins in Macy's, only to find it never fit me the same stylish way when I brought it home.

It was my fashionable friend Chris who explained the problem. He’s one of the guys from Philadelphia-based shirt-makers Commonwealth Proper – a company that sprung up directly in response to dissatisfaction with off-the-rack outfits.

“Off-the-rack shirts typically don't fit well,” Chris explains. “Hence their popularity - they’re ‘fit’ to fit everybody.”

When you see a mannequin sporting a seemingly immaculate Macy’s shirt, the close fit is actually an illusion; not representative of how the shirt will actually wear on you.

Check it out yourself the next time you’re at a mall – the shirts on the mannequins are clipped up in the back. That way they appear to be fitting sveltely from the front, when it fact all that billowing excess cotton is just bunched up around the back.

Chris’s company offers an alternative.

Commonwealth Proper was started by a sartorially-inclined lawyer called Craig Von Schroeder," Chris continues. "He decided Philadelphia was in need of menswear with some sense, proportion, and vigor after seeing his fellow workers dressed like slobs every day - blousy shirts, disproportionately fitted garments and ill-sized pants.”

“Our shirts differ from regular off-the-rack in three specific departments: Fit, function and construction. They’re designed to be a superior fitting shirt for most trim, athletic men.”

“Prior to launch we spent over two years testing the product for fit, durability and sizing to correct the most common complaint about regular-cut shirts – that they bunch up at the waist. We use a proprietary cut and length to allow for the natural shape of a man: Wide at the shoulders and slimmer at the waist. As a result, our shirts never drape haphazardly.”

And I’ve seen them for myself – they do fit beautifully.

That being said, there are three things about Commonwealth Proper that really make them stand out as shirt makers – and justify their price, which is roughly equivalent to a true hand-tailored shirt.

The first is that they’re a true, made-in-America clothing company during a period in which we need those (and other made-in-America brands) more than ever.

Chris says: “All our shirts are hand-crafted in the USA which to some, like myself, is a big deal.”

While sweat-shop tots are forced to sew their fingers bloody so we can buy shitty $7 dress shirts in Wal-Mart, it’s awesome to find a company that doesn’t have ‘Made in China’ on the tag.

Secondly, these are really special shirts. Commonwealth Proper have a neat little system in place in which they release a limited run of a specific shirt style once a month – with as few as 20 individual shirts being tailored at a time. This effectively makes each one a collector’s item; but also allows the most gorgeous textiles and top quality tailoring.

“Our monthly release is to help us keep high standards in quality control and to give our customers a unique experience. Every one of our shirts is made locally and has distinct accents that the previous, and following, months won't have.”

Each of the shirts is named after one of Craig Von Schroeder’s ancestors (including a Peverell, which a couple of my readers will find interesting) and features design details unique to that release. Although new shirts are released monthly, you can buy any of the former shirts from their website – as long as stocks last.

But what’s really cool about Commonwealth Proper is exactly that – it’s cool.

It’s a cool idea and it totally resonates with my sartorial peculiarities. Currently, it's only the Fitzjohn shirt that I’ve really fallen in love with (I have a thing about single-color shirts) but I’m excited by the whole range, the philosophy behind it and what the company stands for.

I covet this shirt. I covet the hell out of it.

Commonwealth Proper satiates the needs of a man; combining the spirit of Saville Row with sensibilities of 2010,” Chris explains. “Moreover, I think there need to be more men in the world. And by men, I'm mean the Robert Redfords and Cary Grants - men who dressed well and were gentlemen. We need more men again.”

And even if we as individuals don’t measure up to this breed of man, at least with Commonwealth Proper, we can dress like we do.

Visit Commonwealth Proper on the web, here.

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