Friday, August 20, 2010

Commonwealth Proper: Product Review

The dress shirt. It's a staple in every guy's closet and finding a great shirt is definitely easier said than done. I have to admit, I'm not a button-up shirt kind of guy even though I sport one Monday through Friday for work. Finding a great dress shirt is always tricky for me and I always get frustrated during the process.

Commonwealth Proper ("CP") offers superior fitting shirts which are available online. Shirts are available in several varieties which are released on a monthly basis to keep the brand and merchandise fresh. CP also does made to measure suits (modified based off of an existing template) and bespoke (created from scratch without pre-existing patterns) suits and shirts so if you're looking for something that really fits you and only you, that's the way to go.

All CP shirts are handmade by local tailors in the USA and are edge stitched using single needle sewing, which provides great durability, functionality and draping. Also, each shirt is named after a relative of the brand's proprietor, C.A. von Schroeder, which I thought was pretty neat and added a personal touch.

What sets apart CP from the rest?
When I first was introduced to the line - I was a bit skeptical. A lot of retailers have introduced slim fit shirts over the years so I had to ask what differentiates a CP shirt from every other shirt out there. Here's what I found out:

CP did their homework. Two years of research to be exact. After learning what worked and what didn't in a shirt, problematic areas were identified and corrected when creating their shirts. Below are some of the innovations embodied in every CP shirt:

The Issue: Many shirts (including slim fit shirts) on the market still bunch up at the waist when tucked in
The Fix: CP uses a proprietary cut and length that's appropriate for both the office and after hours. As a result, their shirts don't drape haphazardly at the waist.

The Issue: Regular dress shirts are often times shapeless and too large. Slim fit shirts are sometimes too tight.
The Fix: CP follows the silhouette of their target audience and are cut slim enough to be flattering, but relaxed enough to let you move and be comfortable in just about any situation.

The Issue: Many shirts today have limp-looking collars that only get worse with time. Even if a shirt has a decent looking collar, many of them lose shape after a couple of washes.
The Fix: CP's collars and cuffs are "fused." Fusing is a layer of fabric that sits in between the two pieces of shirt fabric that you see on either side of the collar and cuff. By doing this, CP's collars and cuffs look crisp and sharp even after several wears without laundering. The spread cut of the collar is perfect for a tie or casually open - not too dandy, but just hip enough.

The Issue: Shirts often lack shape/structure and look like they were meant to fix a box. Even with the slim fit varieties, a lot of shirts are simply narrow from top to bottom (i.e. they look like they were meant to fit a thinner box).
The Fix: CP's dress shirts allow for the natural shape of a man – wide at the shoulders and slimmer at the waist.

Personal Review:
I was fortunate enough to test out a shirt first hand and I have to say - it's a great shirt. The cuffs and collar definitely give a polished and crisp look which is nice and the shirt is slimming in a non-binding way. Rounded corners on the cuffs soften the overall look of the shirt without compromising sharpness. All in all, the shirt set out what it was designed to do and addresses all of the issues mentioned above.
My absolute favorite part of the shirt is actually the two pleats found on the back just below the yoke of the shirt (horizontal strip of fabric that spans from shoulder to shoulder).
Typically, dress shirts have a center box pleat which provides some extra room for movement. While this is definitely a practical element for a shirt - I'm not a fan of this aesthetically. Some varieties of shirts also have darts that run down the back of the shirt which I think is an improvement over the traditional box pleat as they provide more structure and shape to the garment.

The reason why I'm such a fan of CP's pleats is that they serves two purposes. The first is that they provide additional range of motion (similar to the box pleat) while maintaining a more polished look. Secondly, the placement of the pleats draws your attention outwards from the center of the shirt towards your shoulders thereby accentuating the broadness of your upper frame which is a great feature.

Final Thoughts:
At $150 a pop, CP shirts are not the most affordable pieces on the market but overall you get what you pay for. Shirts are a versatile item in your wardrobe and can dressed up or down to suit whatever occasion or look you're going. They're great investment pieces so it's definitely worth paying a premium for items that you love and that fit.
When you have a great product that you believe in, you stand by it - and that's exactly what CP is doing with their shirts. CP offers free shipping and free returns and includes return slips with each order just in case you decide not to keep the items you buy. As if that weren't enough, CP also offers free home try-ons! If you e-mail, they'll ship out the sizes you want for you to try in the comfort of your own home. After 5 days, just send them back with the prepaid slip that comes enclosed with the shirts.

In all my years of online shopping, I've never seen a free home try-on service, which by the way, I think is awesome! It takes the risk out of online shopping since you don't have to commit to anything unless you want to. So, if you're looking for a great shirt to add to you're wardrobe - consider trying a CP shirt - seriously, what have you got to lose?
On a side note, here are some of my own thoughts on things to consider when you're in the market for a shirt:
  • Arms: Sleeves are often times too tight or too loose. You want avoid looking like you're sporting parachutes on your arms but still want to have free range of motion.
  • The Torso: Like the sleeves - this is often too tight or too loose. Your shirt should fit you and not one and a half of you. Likewise, you want to be able to move comfortably without feeling constricted. A good way to test whether a shirt is too tight is to sit down. If the shirt pulls at the buttons - consider sizing up.
  • Pockets: Pockets were functional back in the day and would house pens or a calculator. If you don't use those pockets - ditch them for a more polished and streamlined look.
  • Fabric: I'm more of a lightweight fabric kind of guy but go with whatever feels good to you. You definitely want a breathable fabric that's comfortable.
  • Tailoring: Don't be discouraged if you can't find a shirt that fits you perfectly - we all have different body types so don't expect the same shirt to fit everyone the same way. Tailoring an already finished product is an easy way to mod your shirt and customize it to your liking. While you tack on extra cost, you end up with something that fits better on you. If you're going to alter a piece of clothing - just make sure that your shirt fits the widest part of your body (the shoulders) - you can always take away but never add!

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