New England Shirt Company

Fall River, Mass. was once the epicenter of a thriving American cotton industry. For the better part of two generations, a sizeable percentage of the cotton milled in the United States flowed out of Fall River.

Those fortunes declined in the years between the world wars, as mills relocated to the American South in search of cheaper (and often non-unionized) labor. Manufacturers swooped in to take over the vacated mills, but, over time, most of those enterprises relocated overseas in the same headlong rush to cut costs at the expense of workers.

Still, a few shirtmaking holdouts remained in one of these mill buildings. But, like many U.S. manufacturers, the last fell victim to the Great Recession and shuttered its doors in 2009.

Bob Kidder, a textile-industry veteran, stepped in to resurrect that last enterprise, which reemerged as the New England Shirt Company. He started in 2009 with with nine workers. Today, the company’s unionized workforce numbers more than 70.

The New England Shirt Company specializes in shirts of an exceptional quality, often made on vintage sewing machines. I first took note of the company when I saw L.L. Bean offer a few of its shirts. I was intrigued, but at the time I was sourcing all my long sleeved sports wear from Hamilton Shirts on a custom basis.

Since then, I’ve  made a few excursions into off-the-peg sport shirts (Flint & Tinder, Criquet Shirts and Freeman Sporting Club). The New England Shirt Company has now been added to that list.

I purchased my shirt at Manready Mercantile during its second anniversary party. While there, savoring a cocktail, I noticed a few brightly colored shirts on one of the racks. Frankly, they were more prep than the urban woodsman aesthetic Manready usually favors. So I was intrigued.

I walked over, picked up the shirt and noticed both it New England provenance and its truly superlative construction. The fabric is a buttery soft pink, green and blue plaid cotton with a very subtle micro-herringbone weave. It’s one of those rare items–both classic and relentlessly unique.

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A subtle micro herringbone weave

The collar also bears mentioning. At first glance, it’s a standard camp collar, but upon closer inspection, I discovered that it was actually a hidden down collar, where the buttons anchor the collar down by button holes on the underside of the collar. A nice touch.

For a non-custom shirt, the fit is outstanding. The armholes are higher and the sleeves slimmer than I’ve come to expect from ready-to-wear shirts, and the back features a split yoke.

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The shirt on its first wearing

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