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Jan 18, 2011

Inspecting the Thomas Pink shirt

What kind of shirt do you get for $185?  That's about what a standard-issue RTW Thomas Pink shirt costs here in New York.  I'll be honest: I always associated Thomas Pink shirts with Wall Street big spenders who wanted to cultivate a bespoke look with a little flash.   

I didn't buy my Thomas Pink shirt and it wasn't a gift.  I found it on the street last year while walking the dogs; someone had simply draped it over the gate of their brownstone (townhouse), presumably so that some poor shlub like me could take it.  It's not my size -- much too large -- but, since I make shirts myself, it's nice to have.  Pink shirts are (were? -- see comments) made in Ireland, presumably by Irish people.

Thomas Pink pushes their Jermyn Street London identity hard -- as well they should: Jermyn Street is associated with the finest men's custom tailoring.  But while Thomas Pink -- which was founded in 1984 by three Irish brothers, James, Peter, and John Mullen and is currently owned by prestige brand conglomerate LVMH -- offers custom shirtmaking, their trade is largely in Ready-to-Wear.  You can purchase their shirts online or in one of their 75 retail stores throughout the world.

To quote their website:  "Their idea was to reinvent the traditional Jermyn Street shirt, taking it to a wider, aspirational audience."  That word aspirational speaks tons.   It makes me think Wants the best, can't afford it along with Fancy on the outside...  

Last week we took a close look at a shirt from the Gap.  Today we're going to look at a Thomas Pink shirt.  The first difference I notice between the two is the fabric.  The Gap shirt feels soft but is made from coarsely woven Oxford cloth.  It does not iron smooth. The Pink shirt is made from luxurious tightly woven Egyptian cotton poplin: creamy and rich feeling.  Cuffs, button placket, and collar are stiffly interfaced for a crisp look.

There are more stitches per inch than the Gap shirt, but the difference isn't vast.

These are the armhole seams on the Pink shirt. A little off.

And on the Gap shirt.

Pink collar band:  thread messiness above the (plastic) button.

Gap collar band:

Gusset on the Pink shirt:

Gusset on the Gap shirt:

There are special touches on the Pink shirt the Gap shirt lacks:

Split yoke.

Collar stays.  The collar is also shaped with multiple seams and reinforced along the collar/collar stand seam.

French cuffs.

The under placket is turned in before the cuff is attached, creating a slightly snugger cuff. 

The outside yoke is cut on the bias while the inside yoke is cut horizontal, I'm guessing to provide greater stability to the yoke.

The seams look identical.  Both shirts are professionally constructed and made to last.

More pictures of the Pink shirt here.  And the Gap shirt here.

So are you getting more with the Thomas Pink shirt?  In some ways, yes.  As far as cut goes, they're vastly different styles and the quality of fabric is superior in the Pink shirt.   Gap shirts retail at less than 1/3 the price and often sell at deep discounts.  Gap shirts are sized S, M, L, XL, and Pink shirts are sized by neck measurement, giving you more choices.

Would you pay $185 for a Thomas Pink shirt assuming you were in a position to?  Are you turned off by the term "aspirational"?  Do you think Made in Ireland is a valuable selling point?  Does the fact that they're owned by a LVMH matter to you?   A lot to think about.

We're going to be inspecting a custom-made shirt next so stay tuned.

Happy Tuesday, everybody!


  1. Ok, I confess I have a lady's Thomas Pink shirt in my closet. I haven't worn it in about 8 years! But, it's not worn out and you never know...

    The lady's shirt does not have a split yoke, it does have dart shaping through the bodice.

    My husband used to buy Thomas Pink shirts but has switched to Charles Tyrwhitt.||||||||||||||| They are hugely cheaper. Charles Tyrwhitt was only started in the 90s, but hey Thomas Pink was only started in the 80s. It seems in London, all shirt makers have to rent a little frontage on Jermyn Street and play up to faux ancient pretensions.

  2. I know I asked this question before when you compared plaid shirts, but are the Irish workers getting paid more than the Sri Lanka workers? I would guess yes, because you don't hear of Irish children working for pennies an hour, but I have no proof of that. However, if I knew for sure someone was getting paid decent money to make the shirt, then yes, I'd be more willing to pay the $185.

  3. Peter wrote:

    Would you pay $185 for a Thomas Pink shirt assuming you were in a position to? Are you turned off by the term "aspirational"? Do you think Made in Ireland is a valuable selling point? Does the fact that they're owned by a LVMH matter to you?


    $185 -- well, no, I wouldn't. Those little failures (messy stitching, etc.) are deal-breakers for me. Also, it's possible to get "bespoke" shirts from Hong Kong tailors in NYC for $40 per. I'd do that before I'd buy a Pink shirt. But, really, I'd make my own. Then I could have both the stitching I want AND the quality fabric. Quality fabric without quality construction just doesn't cut it in my book.

    The term "aspirational" seems just right in this case. I take it to mean "more money than brains"!

    "Made in Ireland" might be a selling point politically speaking, since the Irish economy is struggling badly. As a measure of tailoring quality, no, I wouldn't take it seriously.

    An LVHM group? Hee,hee. "Left Ventricular Heart Mass"?? No, wait, you mean Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy . . . LVHM means "over-priced, suspect quality", to me, and it's no motivation to buy anything members produce. But I'm cranky that way.

  4. This is an interesting series.

    I noticed a few weeks ago that my dental floss was made in Ireland. I think it was Oral B. It makes me want to support Oral B. It's interesting that Oral B can pay workers a living wage in Ireland (presumably) to produce its goods, with a price comparable to the other brands.

  5. I would say no, IMHO I would not pay $185 for a Thomas Pink shirt but I would love an online Canadian source for cotton shirting!!

    The office got together and bought a Robert Graham shirt for our (wonderful) boss, the shirt patterns are woven (not printed) with contrasting cuffs and collar band as well as embroidery. I find their shirts very inspirational, I love them!

  6. Well, this would be the reason that we sew. We can buy luxury fabrics at bargain prices online, adjust the fit of patterns, and take pride in our skills and quality of workmanship. It is a crime that RTW charges the prices they do, and still fails to turn out a quality product. I can't think of a better reason to proudly tell someone "I made it myself" when you get a compliment on your clothing. Aspire to be your own "brand"!

  7. I couldn't sell a nice shirt I made for $185. IF I was lucky enough to buy two metres of good fabric for say $30/metre (which would be a STEAL here), then around $20 for notions, proper interfacing, thread, stays, etc. Then if I put in... 10 or so hours of work, I'd be paid about $10 an hour, which is what I'd make waiting tables. Nope.

    Very interesting series, I appreciate the depth of your inquiry.

  8. And that's without considering the time to fit a shirt nicely. Which would be about another hour or so of measurements and alterations. Nope.

  9. They're not all Johnny Come Latelies on Jermyn Street. Ede and Ravenscroft date from 1689 which is pretty good going - and much the same price as Thomas Pink. It's the price of custom made shirts that make one's eyes water -£175 ($280) - £275 ($440) at Turnbull and Asser.

    How the other half live....sigh.

  10. Hi, great blog :)

    I agree with Steph. The cost isn't high if a decent wage for the production staff is factored in, even allowing for materials costs being far cheaper in bulk. I think we've all become so used to cheap clothing due to cheap labour that we balk at fair rates.

    So the 'made in Ireland' would be a selling point for me. As any company who keeps their production on home turf and supports their own economy deserves the business.

  11. I have a shirt from Gieves & Hawkes ( was my fathers from the 1970's. It is a classically cut shirt (no pointy collars here) with a lot of french seams inside and is made of the most lovely cotton fabric which presses beautifully. He wore this shirt a lot and I have too. It still looks brand new (no collar wear or at the cuffs). I don't know what this would have cost then. The nearest equivalent I could find to it was £95(£152 dollars or so) but on a cost per wear basis I am sure that this would work out cheaper than a High Street brand.

  12. Online research tells me that at least some Pink shirts are currently manufactured in Morocco and Thailand. On the website the labels are either hidden or do not show where they were made. Listed as "imported."

  13. Peter,
    Have you thought of having a MPB label made to sew into the garments you make?

  14. And pay for the extra labor? Fuggitaboutit!

  15. My husband buys his work shirts from TM Lewin (est. 1899, Jermyn St) and Charles Tyrwhitt (also Jermyn St). They always seem to have sales or deals on, so you would rarely pay full price. With such deals, for approx. $35 you'd get a nice, well cut, well stitched (!)shirt in a high-thread count poplin. Where these shirts are made though, I've never checked...

    I fail to see what's aspirational about a work shirt these days. Maybe in the 80s, but not anymore. On occasion my husband has spent what a Thomas Pink shirt would cost, but never on a work shirt. Liberty shirts cost that much and he has a few, but that's also why I'm desperate to make him the next one for a fraction of the cost.

  16. coming out of lurking... :) first of all, i love this blog. next, wow!! even if i had the $185 to spend on that TP shirt, i wouldn't. the few mistakes you caught were enough to say no. i'm questioning if it's a real TP shirt or a knock off. also, speaking from a garment manufacturing/production background - i worked with domestic & intrn'l factories and often, i was so disappointed in the state of the domestic ones that i would place orders w/ maufacturers overseas which had MUCH better facilities for their workers. so, no, just because it says ireland, it doesn't mean anything (to me). lastly, i used to watch my production orders go down two lines - one for a mass discounter and one for a high end retailer... yes, the cuts were different, but the fabrics & manufacturers were the same.

  17. My boyfriend only wears the shirts I made for him. He's used to the custom-made fit ;)
    Of course, he only tried much cheaper RTW ones before. I would like to get my hands on some great quality men's shirting fabric though, and make him something great.

    About the 'made in Ireland' thing... I agree we have all gotten used to the cheap fashion. The results of big brands outsourcing labour to low-wage countries. Ireland is an interesting one though. For most of the 20th century, Ireland was western Europe's in-house low wage country (I live in the Netherlands, the large scale fruit ochards here used to employ Irish workers in the picking season) but they had an economic boom starting, as far as I know, about in the mid 1990's. And apperently, they've been hit pretty hard by the current crisis. Those developments must have influenced the cost of labour.

    There is another, maybe more important point to be made about 'made in western country' labels. Which is that 'where' doesn't say 'by whom'. A lot of 'made in Italy' luxurary goods are made in Italy by (sometimes illegal) temporary immigrants from eastern Asia. And I know of a company selling affordable custom-made suits here in the Netherlands, which they make possible by employing Turkish tailors on a temporary basis against Turkish wages (I don't know the legal construction behind it, but the bottom line is that the people making the suits are not paid the Dutch minimum wage)
    My point being that there are many tricks companies may use to obtain a sympathic 'made in' label.

  18. If they're owned by LVHM, I'd guess the 'made in Ireland' label is about as accurate as most 'made in Italy' ones these days, that is the boat may have come close to Irish territorial waters.. It does seem like the construction is a bit better on the Gap than the Pink, very interesting, but good fabric is good fabric, and priceless in the long term.
    Note that you can sew just as well, at last if you'd bring yourself to buy good fabric :-).

  19. Centuries ago my other half's ancestors owned Jermyn and Brook Street all thats left now are 2 serving spoons with the families names (JB) on them.

    I make some of his shirts some good some not so good :)

  20. Well besides the cut of the garment and perhaps the quality of the cloth (though the stitching looks positively atrocious) I don't see why you would pay that. Unless I knew for sure that these were shirts actually made in Ireland, by refined stitchers who were paid a decent wage for their work. Even then, all the mishaps with this stitching makes me wonder if the thing won't fall apart after a few washes. I love the comparison here and can't wait to see what the custom made shirt brings to the table.

  21. Thomas Pink also does womenswear. I used to work in finance, and I even worked in finance in London for a year, so I used to be the Thomas Pink customer and have leftovers from those days. I have one TP shirt that is made from the most complicated plaid weave I have ever seen. I have spent hours looking at this weave (mostly when I'm wearing the shirt and am bored, so I just look at my arm). I have never seen this kind of plaid available as yardage, and I have been looking for at least 10 years. Was it worth what I paid for it? Yes, because the fabric is not widely available and I still wear it fairly often, even as I have gotten rid of almost all of my RTW clothing. I'm certain that I used to own shirts from the Gap, but I gave them to charity years ago.

  22. It's just my size. I'd be happy to take it off your hands. ;)

    I have one Pink shirt in my closet that I bought years ago when I was a much bigger (and richer) man. Now it fits me like a sack, though the arms are the correct length.

  23. Email me your address, Dan. It's yours.

  24. I have a ladies Thomas Pink shirt (a gift). It is at least 8 years old and still looks great. The fabric is beautiful. I'm not sure I've ever had anything GAP last that long or feel so good on.

    Now, I would not pay $185 for a shirt, but I definitely apply what I learned from this shirt to my fabric shopping: really great quality fabric is worth some extra money.

  25. I agree with vintagegal - aspire to be your own brand!

  26. I have three Thomas Pink women's shirts that I bought in London in 1995. I don't wear them a lot - mainly because my body shape demands that my tops are not tucked in, and Pink shirts need to be tucked in - but every time I wear them, I'm glad I forked out. The fabric on all three feels fabulous, and after 15 years, still looks fresh. The workmanship on my three is absolutely spot on, so they haven't fallen apart.

  27. Interesting. For what it's worth, LVMH purchased Pink in 1999. I wonder if the quality is the same today.

  28. No, I wouldn't. However, if I ever manage to get my online store up and running, I will be catering to people who *would* spend that kind of money on a single shirt. IE--more money than sense. I know they say that expensive clothing is better than inexpensive, but having examined both, there really isn't much of a difference, is there?

  29. Peter - Please forgive me if this has been posted already, but have you ever visited the Ask Andy web site?
    It's wonderful.


  30. Peter, thank you for these detailed pictures. If you have the opportunity, can you compare (or show pictures of) the buttonholes and plackets of the Pink shirt and the Gap shirt? I think that these details really help determine the shirt's quality.


    Rose in SV

  31. THis was a really great and informative post - thank you. The term aspirational turns me off but I do like that it was made in Ireland.

  32. "Aspirational" - ugh! In marketing terms, that's part of the brief, not what you actually say to the customers.
    Thanks for the tour-des-chemises (that's probably wrong), very enlightening.
    My husband is picking up on my obsession with clothing detail these days. He went to look at some decent brand suits on sale (some London brand I think but can't remember what) but came away really disappointed with the finish of them. He then went to the local tailor and ordered a custom-made silk-lined three-piece suit with two custom shirts for a very reasonable price. I'm so proud! (And so glad he didn't ask me if I could make them.)

  33. Oy! this makes me so glad I live in Maine, where we don't have to aspire to such trappings. The pieced back yoke gives me pause. In Coffin's book he actually suggests that this detail may in fact be a cost cutting measure. The manufacturer can cut it out of smaller scraps thereby saving on material costs. A luxurious touch? Perhaps not.

  34. Jane, that's exactly what I was thinking about that term.

    Duane, you're right. But it is interesting looking.

  35. From what I can gather Thomas Pink shirts used to be produced in Derry and Armagh in Northern Ireland. But not since approx 2003

  36. THANK YOU, Fifa! That's the information we were seeking.

  37. The GAP dress shirt in the above comparison looks really dated.

    I highly recommend you purchase a new dress shirt from the GAP.

    I purchased one last night. The fit of their men's dress shirts have changed drastically. They're more fitted than they've ever been.

  38. It's so funny you should say that because I did that last week and their shirts (I tried a Small) didn't fit me. Shoulders too wide and armholes too low. I did notice that the shirt was quite fitted however -- good point!

  39. As an Englishman living in London for fifty five years all my shirts have come from jermyn street
    and for me Charles Tyrwhitt for its range and quality are unbeatable the superfine 170 is outstanding value the online service is the best ever and for ironing a dodle even for me a man!!

  40. The Pink shirt doesn't fit. I have many custom make shirts that are beautiful. They just weren't custom made for me. The shirts were found in thrift stores and many were not my size. I altered them to fit.

  41. Just in relation to the above comments on A) Ireland B) Branding C) Bespoke.

    A) Textile trade in Ireland

    I'm from Ireland myself and ten years ago 40,000 people in this country were employed in the textile industry here. Now it is 4,000.

    Most of the RTW for the big names on Jermyn St., etc such as Coles, WH Taylor Tyrwhitt, Pink etc were made in Northern Ireland by Glenaden and labelled as made in UK or made in Ireland as both labels are appropriate. The workers were paid minimum or above and there were no foreign workers from Turkey or anywhere else imported, and if they were they would have to be paid the local rate anyway.

    There are still some weavers and factories that make the made-to-measure and high-end ready-to-wear for the English names. And you can get a RTW shirt from Italian cotton made in the UK/Ireland at Union wages for £50 or less even. I know as I've bought them.

    B) Branding

    With the lowering of tariffs on clothing in the EU in c.2002 brands started as they say to 'leverage' their product. And this means cutting all value out of a product without lowering the price. I am certain that Pink shirts are the same price now despite being made by workers in the third world.

    This is not to say that everything locally made is the best, but when you compare it to brands that maintain high prices and cut local production to make super-normal profits then it certainly is better in my view to support the local.

    C) Bespoke & co.

    Some commenters above remark that you can supposedly get a decent shirt for $40 even bespoke for the price. $40 might just buy you an Italian or European two-fold cloth. Thats it.

    As you can see there is a huge amount of smoke and mirrors in the clothing trade (as in any other). The influence of branding on the public imagination and the rise of 'fast fashion' is an extremely destructive trend that has destroyed a lot of manufacturing in the EU.

    One of the saddest facts is that it is quite economical to make and sell locally made clothing provide you're not brand obsessed.

    Its the same story in the US, Roundhouse in Shawnee Oklahoma make dungarees/overalls for $40 a pop and everybody gets paid. Levi/Wrangler sell them for anything between $40-100 or even $200 through the power of marketing and rentseeking on the production chain.

  42. Bonaparte, where can you get a RTW shirt from Italian cotton made in the UK/Ireland for £50.00?

    I would love to buy some rather than made in China shirts from M&S or Lewins...

  43. Ncm1970,

    Well here are two examples i can think of

    Where are you based and I could mail you a more comprehensive list? You can buy at the factory or keep an eye on the London sales in particular.

    Let me know if that helps.


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