Caveat Emptor: The Shirt Tail Tale

Caveat Emptor Comparison Series: SHIRT TAILS

The "Bell" Tail vs. The Proper Tail

by Alexander S. Kabbaz, Bespoke Shirtmaker
Most consider it extremely important that their shirt's collar is attractive & appropriate, that the shirt fit reasonably well, and that the darn thing stay tucked in! There is almost nothing more irritating than having one's shirt come out of trouser or skirt. Fumbling around trying to tuck the offending parts back in is not only awkward ... but can get you some rather unwelcome stares as well!

There are three overarching items which keep a shirt tucked in:

  • Proper Length
  • Button Placement
  • Tail Shape

Though this article deals with the shape of the tail, really quickly:

If the shirt is too short fuggedaboudit. You've lost the battle. If the last front button is more than 5" or 6" from the end of the shirt, the center can splay apart towards your sides inviting the shirt hem to peek out.

Proper Shirt Tail

A Proper Shirt Tail

The tail shape is most important.

The vast majority of shirts, both ready made and bespoke, use what is termed a "Bell shape" tail. I'll get into why in a minute. Better shirts use what I have only heard referred to as a "Proper" tail. The difference lies in the width of the tail opening. Though hard to describe verbally, the photos are clear.

In a Bell tail, the curvature is quite shallow and leaves little material at the side of the hips.

A Proper tail has much less space between the front and back leaving only enough room to keep the possibly irritating side seam off your hips. The additional material going around to your sides is a key element to keeping the shirt tucked in.

An Egregously Bell-Shaped Tail

An Egregiously Bell-shaped Shirt Tail

So why is the Bell tail used by the majority of makers? Just like most methods in the world of clothing the reason is 100% Pure Unadulterated Profit. Why? There are two important reasons - fabric savings and labor savings.

Labor: Easiest to understand are the labor savings. The sewing of a Proper tail hem is extremely difficult due to the very tight curvature. It requires years for a seamster to master this art and, even then, takes about twice as long as sewing a Bell tail. Consider this: Sewing the hem of a Bell tail can be accomplished in about 4-5 minutes by even a lower-paid rookie seamstress. The fastest I've ever seen one of my most experienced people accomplish the same operation with a proper tail is 10 minutes. Assuming for a moment that the rookie is earning $25,000 and the more experienced seamster $50,000. The rookie cost $1.04 and the master cost $4.16. Multiply that difference by a thousand shirts-per-week and you've got an additional weekly profit of $3,120.00. And that's only part of the savings.

A Less Radical Bell-shaped Shirt Tail

A Less Radical Bell-shaped Shirt Tail

Fabric: In making a shirt with a Proper tail, the length of the sleeve is directly added to the length of the front and back to arrive at the necessary yardage for the shirt. By contrast, the front and back of a Bell-tailed shirt are cunningly designed to allow the top part of the sleeve to fit in between the tails, thus cutting roughly 4"-6" off the required yardage. You can see how in the photo. Using our 1000 weekly shirts, let's turn that into dollars. Assuming that the fabric for a good shirt costs $15 per yard, a 6" savings amounts to $2.50. There's another $2,500.00 added to the week's bottom line.

Fitting the Sleeve Cap Between the Fronts and Back

Fitting the Sleeve Cap Between the Fronts and Back

As an aside, very few shirt factories produce 1,000 shirts weekly. Most are closer to 6,000 shirts yielding the average factory an additional $33,720 per week or $1,753,440.00 annually.
And the only downside? You ... fumbling around trying to re-tuck and getting awkward stares.
Thank you for reading. Questions or comments? Contact the author.
Copyright © 2018 Alexander S. Kabbaz. All rights reserved.