Tailors and made-to-measure shirt in Singapore

Mathieu Bouville

This is drawn from my own experience (so this is worth what my opinion is worth). When I say that I had a problem with a tailor (lateness, alterations done wrong, etc.), I do not mean to imply that it is a common problem with this tailor, only that I once had such a problem.

1) Typologies

a) Made-to-measure? Special order? Bespoke?

Made-to-measure (MTM)

Special order

Special order is the opposite of the MTM program described above. In special order you choose the details but the size will be a standard one. If you see something you like and wish it existed in blue you can get it in blue through special order (when this is offered). This is more common for shoes than for shirts.


Bespoke is the best. You choose the style and fabric and all the details as in special orders. The garment is made to your size as in MTM. In fact better than in MTM because in MTM programs of suit makers for instance the suit is made using a standard pattern altered to match your measurements and then sent to you as is. If you order a made-to-measure suit from Zegna your measurements will be taken in Singapore but the suit will be made in Switzerland and then shipped to Singapore, so all the Swiss people (or computers) know about you is a bunch of numbers, anybody with the same measurements will get the same suit. If you have a bespoke suit made, the tailor will measure you, will make a basted suit for you to try, you and the tailor will see how the fitting can be improved, you may try a new basted suit and then the suit is made. So in bespoke the garment matches your measurements but also fits your body. If the shape of your body is odd, bespoke will fit much better than MTM.

Are shirts made-to-measure or bespoke?

As far as shirts are concerned, what you get at higher-end tailors is bespoke. If the shirt does not fit they will make modifications, if it takes three or four fittings so be it, if a shirt cannot be altered and a brand new one must be made for the next fitting so be it. Some tailors will be more reluctant because their philosophy is that they make you an MTM shirt for cheap so you should not ask for too much. If your body does not have a usual shape and if you are not naturally very picky this may be just fine.

Should the title have referred to bespoke instead of made-to-measure? Perhaps. But "made-to-measure" may be better known, so people reading the title have a better idea of what the document is about.

 ready-to-wearmade-to-measurespecial orderbespoke
your measurementsnoyesnoyes
your body shapenononoyes
details you choosenomaybeyesyes

b) Two kinds of tailors

The most expensive ones

They tend to have roomy stores with a desk and chairs to sit down, look at swatches (samples of fabric) and discuss. Their swatches are presented on paper pages in binders, sometimes the binders are provided by the companies making the fabrics. Fabrics are well labeled (material, threadcount, origin, etc.) Joe's and Raffles tailors do not have any "simple" 100 % cotton, they only have the expensive stuff, others have a wider range. Their delivery time tends to be around two weeks. They focus on quality of fabric and of workmanship; they want to satisfy you and will have several fittings with alterations inbetween if needed. In this category I have been to CYC, Joe's, Oxford, Personality and Raffles tailors.

The majority

They have simpler, less roomy (even crowded) stores. The pages of the binders are "made of" swatches, the fabrics are not/barely labeled. In Maharaja's stores there are no binders, you look directly at the bolts of fabric. They do not carry the most expensive fabrics. Their delivery time tends to be shorter (one week or less); some boast they can have a shirt made within 8 or 12 hours (I did not get such a rush service so I cannot comment on a possible drop of quality). They focus on price and speed; they sometimes advise against making changes because they say there is no problem or the problem cannot be fixed. In this category I have been to D'zendiq, Maharaja's, Next Exchange and Silken Treasure.

2) Criteria for comparing tailors

a) Fabric

A great part of the price difference between two shirts comes from the fabric. What is good is that you can see the fabric before you buy (you cannot judge workmanship or fit until the shirt is made).

The best shirt in the world looks bad if it is wrinkled. Some fabrics wrinkle easily (e.g., linen) some are hard to iron: after you iron them they look like they have just dried and need to be ironed. So one thing which turns out to be important is: how easy is it to iron the shirt. I still do not know how to determine whether a fabric will iron well or not without actually ironing it.

b) Fit

You are getting a shirt made to your measures, so you should expect it to fit your body. The sleeves should be long enough to cover your wrists but they should not be long enough to cover your hands (even if the cuffs are unbuttoned). The collar should be neither too loose (sloppy) nor too tight (uncomfortable). The shirt should be long enough to be tucked into your pants and remain there even if you move or bend.

c) Workmanship

This is more problematic because you need to see the shirt to find out. Several things are found on better shirts:

d) Which of the three is more important?

These are somewhat independent, e.g. you can get a cheap fabric from a good tailor. The fit depends mostly on the skills of the tailor whereas the quality of the stitching depends on the seamstresses. It is similar to the quality of a building: if the bed room is located between the kitchen and the dining room the architect is to blame, whereas the painter is the culprit if the paint does not look good. A bad tailor or a tailor whose seamstresses are bad will not get much return business selling expensive shirts made of a good fabric (what is the point of paying so much for a bad shirt). So the qualities of the tailor, the seamstresses and the fabrics tend to even out since it is the weaker link which determines the value of a shirt. Therefore you need to ask yourself about the quality of the fit and craftsmanship and whether paying more for a better fabric is worth it. If you want a shirt in a basic cotton fabric, get it made at a decent tailor that will give you a good value. If you want a shirt in 2-ply Egyptian cotton, get it made at a good tailor (a great fabric would be wasted by sub-par fit or workmanship and the better craftsmanship will not result in a dramatic increase of the price.)

3) Tailors I know of in Singapore


Raffles hotel shopping arcade -- 6336-3556

Tailor: Akira GOH; saleswoman (?): Marie LIM

100% cotton: S$100; wrinkle-resistant cotton: S$130-140 (I do not remember exactly); 2-ply: S$170

The oldest and most famous. Unlike most tailors in Singapore they are pure shirtmakers (they do not make suits). They do both men and women but I have no experience with the female garments. They have a rather wide range of cotton fabrics (both 100 % cotton and 2-ply).

Point of view of a friend of mine: "probably the most famous shirtmaker in Singapore because of their long history as well as their list of VIP customers. I really don't care if VIPs use them because in my opinion, many VIPs dress poorly. Makes a decent shirt (though mine had double-needle stitching) but prices run a little higher than Joe's for almost equivalent fabrics. Over-rated I think."

Joe's tailoring

Fuji Xerox Tower (ex-IBM tower) -- 6225-0686

Tailors: Joseph (Joe) KOH (owner), ......; saleswomen: KOH Wai Wan, ???? Wai Meng

2-ply: S$150

Delivery time: two weeks.

They have very nice fabrics but the choice is more limited than with the cheaper fabrics. Many of their fabrics are also available at Raffles tailor or at Personality (there is only so many makes).

Point of view of a friend of mine: "Fabrics wise, I feel Joe's beats the rest hands down."


Peninsula SC #03-35 -- 6337-2459

Tailor (?): Eric CHIA

100% cotton: S$60-85; 2-ply: S$130-160

Delivery time: two weeks.

They have a large range of fabrics. Some at S$70-85 look good and seem to be a good value. At the fitting, a few things were wrong (nothing unusual). But the salesman (tailor?) was rather aggressive. He said that if he did what I asked for the shirt would become asymmetric; to me a tailored shirt should fit the body, even if it means that the shirt is asymmetric. Also a cuff was a bit looser than the other (probably because my hands are sligthly different) and one cuff ends further on the hand than the other cuff. He did not want to make such a small alteration. If the shirt is worn under a jacket this small difference of 1/2 or 1 cm would be obvious. He did not seem to accept that a customer paying up to S$160 wants a good fit. He offered to refund me if I would not do without these alterations, but I do not think this is a proper solution. I would not recommend Peronality to people who want a shirt to fit really well.

Raffles tailor

Delphi Orchard #02-18 -- 6733-1336

Tailor: Mac HO

2-ply: S$160; linen: over S$200

Delivery time: two weeks.

They have nice fabrics, but the cheapest one will cost you S$160 for a shirt. They also have some Loro Piana fabrics at more than S$200. About half of their fabrics are also available at Joe's (there is only so many makes). Very cautious when taking my measurements (it took like a minute to measure my collar).

They use plastic buttons, which can seem cheap of them as they charge S$160+.


Mandarin hotel #03-15 (Orchard Road) -- 6737-6474

100% cotton: S$45-65

Delivery time: a week.

A happy mess, lots of bolts of fabrics all over the place. So you do your shopping looking directly at the bolts of cotton instead of samples (better be thin to access everything). A few fabrics are better than others and can make better value shirts.

I have had with them the oddest problem ever: they forgot to cut open the buttonholes of the French cuff on one sleeve. Also the fabric seemed stained (bleach?) at the waist. These problems were fixed but they do not seem to be French cuff champions: many tailors make my cuffs 3 inches wide to balance my long arms and hands but Maharaja's made them the usual 2.5, which looks too small. Also the size of the cuffs was wrong and the cuffs naturally rested on my wrists without reaching the hands. The sleeves are also way too long. Some yellow marks used by the cutter are still visible (they will hopefully disappear after I wash the shirt a few times).

Next Exchange

Peninsula SC #03-24 -- 6339-3020

Tailor (?): Abdullah Yusuf

100% cotton: S$60-95

Does not accept credit cards.

Delivery time: one week.

Fabrics are not very appealing: a lot of cotton-polyester blends, low-end 100 % cotton (many gaudy and/or ugly prints). The tailor had to go to Personality to borrow fabric swatches (otherwise I would have left without buying anything); he charged me more for the said fabric than Personality (I went to Personality afterwards so I learnt this only after I had left Next Exchange). They accepted to make me a shirt with French cuffs but didi not have any cufflinks a for the fitting; they had to borrow them from another tailor.

Oxford Tailor

OUB centre #04-12 (right next to Raffles place MRT) -- 6533-7131

Tailors: Alex LEE, Diana ???????

100% cotton: S$75 (at least this is what mine cost)

Delivery time: I got my shirt in less than a week and once had alterations done in 24 hours.

I went there some day (the shirt was supposed to be ready two days earlier) and it was still at the workshop. So I had to go back there once more (they offered to deliver it but I wanted to check it out first).

Point of view of a friend of mine: "has a good selection of cheaper fabrics (a shirt will cost about S$60 to $70 with these fabrics). On more than a few occasions, got my dimensions totally wrong - the shirts turned out to be excessively wide (looks like a tent). I don't understand it since they are supposed to be tailored shirts! They of course fixed the problem eventually but this error was repeated. My dimensions which they had on record were correct, but the shirts turn out way too baggy."

The Silken Treasure

Mandarin hotel #03-26/33 (Orchard Road) -- 6734-2653

Salesman (?): Raj B.

100% cotton: ???; silk: S$70

Delivery time: a week.

I entered this store to get a silk shirt, so I did not look much at other fabrics. The man I have seen was nice (and glib). He has quite an eye and could tell my collar size without measuring (of course he then took a precise measurement but his first guess was accurate).

The shirt was not so well fitted at the chest (due to the oddity of my chest); this problem has been fixed. Althiough the shirt is red, black thread was used for stitches not visible from the outside. Some marks used by the cutter are still visible (will hopefully disappear after washing).


Far east shopping center #03-15 -- 6734-4632

Tailor: ONG

cotton: S$50; linen: S$120; silk: S$120

Delivery time: a week.

All cotton is very basic, but what do you expect for S$50? The fit of my shirt is quite slim (not something I explicitly asked for) but not tight. The seams are not straight. The buttons are cheap-looking plastic buttons, not very appealing. The fabric has several pulled threads. The workmanship is poor but you get a shirt made to your measures for S$50 or less if you order several (Maharaja's and others have better workmanship for not much more, though). Linen and silk are way too expensive given the poor quality of the craftsmanship.

4) What is best?

a) Who is the best tailor?

The first question you should ask yourself is why you want a made-to-measure (MTM) shirt. Do you have trouble finding a shirt that fits off-the-rack (OTR)? Or do you want to choose the fabric and all the details?

In any case you may want to try several tailors. Have one shirt made by each tailor and after a while see how the shirts age and fit. Then get your shirts made by the winning tailor. You can also decide to get some of your shirts made by one tailor and some by another. You can have you business shirts made of 2-ply cotton at a more expensive tailor and your casual shirts made of cheaper material at a different tailor. You can also get your silk/linen shirts from a different tailor than your cotton shirts. This way you can say "One of my tailors was telling me..."

b) Ready-to-wear or made-to-measure?

5) The visit to the tailor

a) Before you go

I recommend that you go to one tailor and order one shirt. If you go to several tailors (as I did) you will face the same problems repeatedly, all the shirts will be ill-fitting the same way (due to the shape of your body) and you will need to have these things fixed repeatedly (and waste a lot of time in fittings). So you should go to a good enough tailor but not use an expensive fabric (at Oxford or Personality you can get a shirt for about S$75). This first shirt will be your "practice" shirt, you will use it to learn about the process, the fitting problems, etc. When this shirt is OK, you can wear it for a while and probably see more details that could be improved (that is why I recommend against getting the most expensive fabrics). Then you can go to different tailors knowing of the potential problems.

So you have decided to which tailor you want to go, now what? It may be good to have an idea of the kind of question you will be asked, so you can prepare. In some cases (D'zendiq, Next Exchange, Personality, Silken Treasure) there will be only one person in the store, sometimes there are several tailors but you will talk to only one (Oxford). Most of the time it is not the tailor who will show you the fabrics and so on, the tailor is only called at the end when measurements have to be taken (Joe's, Maharaja's, Raffles tailors).

You should wear a ready-to-wear shirt which fits well (collar, sleeves and chest OK). Tailors tend to use the clothes you are wearing as a reference, so they tend to copy (to some extent) what you were wearing that day. As a result your shirt could have some of the flaws of the shirt you are wearing. Also the tailor may (should) ask you about fit; if you wear a loose-fitting shirt and want a better fit, you will have to explain by how much. If your shirt fits well you can just say you want the same kind of fit; the tailor will know more precisely what you want this way.

Here is basically what happens.

b) You choose the fabric

If you know you want a solid color or stripes or checks, they will show you the relevant fabrics, otherwise you can look at everything. By default they will show you cottons, if you are interested in linen or silk just ask. Since different kinds of fabric can have different prices, at this stage you will have to decide about both the fabric and the price of the shirt (the price is determined by the fabric and nothing else, except that they may charge some extra if they need tons of fabric).

c) You choose the details

Who should you trust?

Sometimes you want something but the tailor tries to make you change your mind. Should you stick with your initial idea or trust the tailor?

When I do not have any clue or do not feel strongly about something I ask the tailor what he would propose and why. Then if it seems to make sense I accept this proposal. Another possibility is to ask the tailor about the alternatives and their strengths/weaknesses. Then you make an educated choice.

If I really want something and they seem to disagree with my choice, I ask why they would do otherwise, and possibly let them know why I feel the way I do. On stylistic matters you should make your choice based on your tastes (which you know better) and based on how the alternatives are perceived (which the tailors probably know better). For instance, some collar styles are seen as more casual, some more dressy. If you want to get a 2-ply white shirt with French cuffs to wear with a suit, a button-down collar would seem out of place (too casual). You should learn from the tailor how such a collar will be perceived and make your choice accordingly. If you do not want to get a collar which is too casual choose another one, if you really want this collar and do not care about what others may think then go for it.

Sometimes things can be more technical (more often the case for suits than shirts), then you will have to trust the tailor to a greater extent. It may happen that at a fitting you find that something could be improved but the tailor says it would be hard to get it to fit much better. In such a case you pretty much have to follow the tailor's advice (unless you know better than the tailor, but then would you be reading this?)

You will generally make the decision (I think few tailors would refuse to make the garment just because they think you made a wrong decision) but you are the only one harmed if you are too stubborn. When you are not quite sure of what you want ask. If you know that you want a regular fit, a spread collar, French cuffs 3 inches wide, side vents in the back, no pocket, a placket, etc. then say so. If all you know is that you want a business shirt that would go well with that navy suit you have, ask the tailor for advice. The more you know before going the better off you are (in particular you are more able to communicate) but chances are there are still things that you do not know or understand, ask for advice when you reach the limit of your knowledge.

d) The tailor measures you up

This may sometimes happen before you decide on the details or simultaneously. You do not do anything here (just remember to empty your pockets so the measurements are accurate). This should be done by a tailor, not a salesperson. The better the tailor, the more reliable the measurements. In stores where there are several tailors, you may not be measured by the big boss (unless you are a good customer or have good recommendations). The typical measurements are collar, sleeves (make sure both arms are measured if your arms are not of the same length), shoulders, chest, waist, hips, length, wrists. You will also see the tailor look at your shoulders and arms funny, this is to determine if the shoulders are slope, etc. these things are not measured per se. If your wrists are not measured you will probably get barrel cuffs with two buttons (like in RTW) or, if you asked for French cuffs, you will get cuffs that are too tight or too loose.

If you know of something peculiar with your body, it may be good to tell the tailor. E.g. my shoulders are asymmetric and all shirts are made symmetric so they have to be altered. This is why I recommend getting one shirt done as a practice; for subsequent ones you will be able to tell the tailor that yours shoulders have some oddities which typically results in blah blah so the shirt they make for you may be as good as possible right from the beginning. You should go to the tailor wearing a ready-to-wear shirt which fits well. The problems you typically have with shirts will be visible (if you show up with a MTM shirt these problems are not visible) and the tailor will have a good enough idea of what should be done. Since if the shirt does not fit well anywhere you should ask them to alter it and you need to come once more. Sometimes it can also happen that the shirt is not ready as promised, so you show up at the store for nothing. Unless you live or work close by this can be a lot of time wasted, so call to make sure the shirt is ready before you go.

e) They will ask for your name and contact number

Just give them your business card, so you do not have to bother spelling your name and knowing your phone number. Get their card so you can call to check if the shirt is ready. It is also time to ask when you get the shirt and to pay. They typically ask for a deposit of 50 %, however in the case of the less expensive shirts I generally paid the whole price up front (at Oxford on the other hand I paid no deposit at all).

f) Some time later: fitting

After one or two weeks, you come back to pick up your shirt. You try it on and if everything is to your liking you pay and take it back home (if there is no label, ask how you should care for the shirt). Otherwise you let the tailor know about the problem(s) and agree upon the kind of alteration which is required. You will have to come again (ask when it will be done) and repeat f). What to check:

Call before you go to the store to check that the shirt is indeed ready. If you typically wear a suit and/or a tie, you may want to try the shirt on in its "natural environment", in particular to check that the length of the sleeves of the shirt is consistent with the sleeves of the jacket and that the armholes of the suit do not pull the shirt sleeves up.

Always try the shirt on after it has been altered (even tiny alterations). First the alteration may not be enough or the shirt was aletred too much and you have the opposite problem (what was too long is now too short, etc.) or the alteration may reveal another problem (you notice that sleeves are too long after the cuffs have been loosened.)

g) You wear the shirt

You wear the shirt three times a week because if it is your first MTM shirt that is probably your better fitting (if not best overall) shirt. After a while you will see how much you like it and whether you want to go back to RTW. This again is your decision. If you like your MTM shirts stack up before you leave Singapore (if you plan to ever leave Singapore) since MTM shirts in Europe or North America would be a lot more expensive. Also if you go to Honk Kong you may consider Jantzen there. From the same friend: "to get really great workmanship at an even cheaper price (with good though slightly inferior fabrics on the whole to Joe's), one will be hard pressed to find one better than Jantzen in Hong Kong. The shirts cost HK$280 each."

h) You bring the shirt back

Tailors often tell to take the shirt, try it on for a few days, wash it several times, etc. If the shirt is a bit too big (collar a bit loose, sleeves a bit long) washing the shirt may make the fabric shrink and the shirt fit better. If the shirt does not fit better or if you notice problems you did not notice before, bring the shirt back asking them to fix these problems.

© Mathieu Bouville, 2005

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