There are currently plenty of brands touting custom embroidered or printed garb. But for Dresshirt, the personalization factor has been part of the equation since founder Marieclaire St. John launched the line three years ago. The brand began with one signature silk dress shirt, made to order with the name or saying (or, say, zipcode, as pictured at left) of one’s choice embroidered in a thick scripted font on the back. The celeb-adored line has since expanded into a seasonless, very tightly edited collection of wardrobe staples that now includes chokers — the little '90s trend that could. St. John started her career in PR at Dior after graduating from USC; she then got a graduate degree in design at Parsons and subsequently worked as a designer at Marchesa and Ralph Lauren’s Polo line. (Her fashion background actually dates back even further: St. John’s father is in the fashion business; he started his career on London’s famed Savile Row and now runs an Italy-based consulting firm.) St. John started Dresshirt as a side project while working at Ralph Lauren, but it quickly became a full-time gig. “I couldn’t help feeling like there was massive overproduction,” St. John said of the impetus to start Dresshirt. “Ralph Lauren was a great workplace atmosphere, don’t get me wrong, but you’re sort of bled for your creativity.” “I could sense a change was going to happen," St. John said, "and I wanted to try building a clothing company like an accessories company," in the vein of Mansur Gavriel and its signature, perpetually sold-out bucket bag style. The objective with the brand’s first item, the DS1, was to create a “man’s shirt fitted to a woman’s body,” versus the inverse approach, which was taken by brands like Equipment (St. John’s go-to shirt before she created her own). She added: “If you’re going to come out of the door with one item, it’s crucial that that item be good and fit perfectly!”
St. John decided to leave Ralph Lauren to pursue Dresshirt full-time when an investor approached her. “I thought, no thanks, because it was too early on to have investors, but it did validate the idea and made me feel like I was onto something,” she explained.
Two years after launching, the brand hit its stride in 2015, with press in 22 countries and orders pouring in — all for just one item (and at the time, St. John was running the show solo). The popularity surge was, in part, because the shirts were spotted on Gigi Hadid and super-stylist Giovanna Battaglia. Hadid wore it while sitting courtside at a basketball game in April 2015. “My favorite advice my dad has given me, ‘This is your moment; don’t fuck it up,’ was the epitome of that time,” St. John said.
Lena Dunham is also a Dresshirt customer. "She’s just such a G!” St. John raved. Dunham found out about Dresshirt after spotting her Girls co-star, Allison Williams, wearing the shirt on set. Dunham then placed an order for 10 shirts on Dresshirt’s site, “all embroidered with different, hilarious things,” St. John said. Kourtney Kardashian, Kendall Jenner, and Bella Hadid have also been spotted in Dresshirt. And other than celebs, the brand has a slightly more unexpected fan base: sneakerheads, whom St. John thinks are drawn to the label because of Dresshirt's sportswear vibes.
And while there are now a plethora of brands doing customized everything (even leather jackets), Dresshirt has banked big on the personalized element from the start. “I know it seems crazy, but at the time, nobody else was really doing it,” said St. John. Dresshirt’s customization has been part of its DNA since launching, “instead of merely an add-on,” she explained. To wit: Dresshirt is the very first fashion brand with which top-notch Japanese embroidery-machine manufacturer Tajima has partnered. “Tajima is very much not in the fashion world,” St. John added. Prior to pairing up with Tajima, Dresshirt would send garments to an external embroiderer to customize, but it was a slow and expensive process. Tajima, on the other hand, has an embroidery machine at its New York HQ and brings one whenever Dresshirt does a pop-up shop — so customers can watch their names being scrawled in the brand’s thick, retro-y script. Yet plenty of orders are for unadorned, non-customized items. “The embroidery is key to loyalty with our customer: We get a lot of people who come for the gimmick and stay for the brand,” St. John explained. Beyond the DS1, the label has rolled out a variety of other shirt silhouettes, plus a blazer-style jacket, trousers, a baseball hat, and a couple scarves. Below, check out Dresshirt's first-ever short film, which the brand says is meant to depict millennial women's "desire to be heard; their need to say it, and even wear it, their way." It's directed by Brian Quist and showcases a number of pieces from the collection in action.
While much of the brand’s buzz has, understandably, been focused on the customization element, its evergreen, season-free approach also appeals. “Everything is aseasonal: We’re doing products that will live with you forever, season to season, year to year,” explained Dresshirt’s chief strategy officer, Vicky Land. “They are not trend items; they’re basically pieces that can declutter your closet, which is what consumers seem to want right now, but they’re not just ‘the basics,’ because everything is fully customizable.” Land underscores the brand's luxury take on the direct-to-consumer model: "Everything is made to order, so we don’t have excess inventory, but we're not priced like Everlane or Reformation, which have kind of been the only stores in the direct-to-consumer fashion market; we're offering luxury product," she explained. As for pricing, the classic DS1 shirt is $295, the cropped tee is $110, the choker is $95, and the scarf is also $95 — with embroidery (or, as the brand terms it, "my way") tacking on an additional $50. (We're hoping a silk bomber jacket is in the pipeline.) And while customization is having a moment of sorts, there's nothing faddish or toss-after-a-season-status about something that bears your name. Or, you know, whatever weird, oh-so-you phrase you've been dying to wear on the regular.