Buying Ready-to-Wear Shirts in Japan: Beams
Here at Men’s Flair we frequently discuss that most essential item of men’s attire: the dress shirt. One aspect of it that we repeatedly mention, like Howard Hughes on a bad day, is the fit. Even a $300 shirt can make you look bad if it’s baggy and ill-proportioned, and with so many options available these days, men really don’t have an excuse for wearing something that looks like it once hosted the Cirque du Soleil.
Finding that perfectly-fitting shirt can be a long, difficult process. The best solution is, of course, to have shirts made to your body’s proportions. But even going custom won’t guarantee a good fit if you can’t try it on during the construction process, and it’s sometimes impractical for busy chaps to find a decent tailor and then make the time to visit him for sizings.
While traipsing around various parts of Tokyo I’ve looked through many a menswear shop in search of the ideal ready-to-wear shirt. As you would expect, most ready-to-wear shirts here are designed to fit the standard profile of Japanese men, who tend to be smaller in the chest and shoulders – and shorter in the arms – than westerners of similar height. Nevertheless, I’ve found that in terms of fit, as well as price and quality, Beams’s shirts are among the best of any country.
All of Beams’s own-brand shirts are (to my knowledge, at least) made in Japan. In general, their collars are a great deal softer than most English-made shirts, giving a more relaxed feel. The semi-spread is the most prevalent collar type (and arguably the most practical, as it looks good with ties of varying widths), but I’m quite partial to the button-down variety, especially during summer.
Flat, rather than placket, shirt fronts are the norm. I was a bit unsure about this at first, but have actually grown to prefer them. The yoke is sometimes (but not always) seamed in the middle, and the back panel is almost always darted. The darts serve to suppress the fabric around the chest and midriff, giving a more fitted look. I haven’t found my arm movement restricted in any way by the lack of pleating, but their absence might make the chest area a bit tight for the barrel-chested.
Beams’s shirts are made from a variety of cottons in different weights. Most of the ones I own are made from lightweight 2-ply cotton, but I do have the odd heavier-weight Oxford cloth that’s a bit more casual. I’ve found that, regardless of type, the fabric is of good quality and able to withstand the weekly wearing-and-washing routine without any special treatment. I’ve had the pink one (pictured top left) for at least four years and it still looks very respectable.
It’s traditionally been quite hard to find Beams gear outside Japan. Inventory magazine’s Vancouver shop sells quite a few Beams-branded items, but they tend to be more casual shirts and whatnot for “urban rambler” types. Zozotown – a vast online clothes shopping mall that caters to young Japanese and offers virtually the entire inventory of Beams, United Arrows, et al – might one day start an international shipping service, but right now you’ll have to go through a proxy shopping service like FromJapan.co.jp, or find someone in Japan who will buy and ship the goods on your behalf.