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The Sock Hop: Bespoke Shirtmakers In an Off-the-Rack World

All photos by <a href="http://peladopelado.com/">Driely S.</a> for Racked
All photos by Driely S. for Racked

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Opening the door to The Sock Hop—New York City's only custom-shirt-shop-slash-fancy-sock-emporium—is like stepping through a portal, back to a time that maybe never existed but definitely should have.

A time when businesses were family-owned (this one by a trio of brothers and their master tailor father), socks were cotton or cashmere (not nylon), all music was on vinyl (the dudes boast a serious in-store record collection), and men wore shirts that never tugged at their shoulders, nor gapped at the buttons—even when they stretched. (Trust us. We made them demonstrate.)

The Nasserbakht brothers—Vincent, Luke, and Theodore —and their father, Reza, have done something pretty rare with their Soho shop. They've set up a bespoke business that's actually on the affordable side, a heritage brand with real history behind it (The Sock Hop was established in 2010, but the family has been hand-making shirts for over 100 years), and a bait-and-switch storefront that doesn't lead to an underground speakeasy with mustachioed mixologists.

We sat down with Vince Nasserbakht (above, right) to chat about how to up your sock game, the process behind getting a button-down to lay just right, and what it's like to be a slow fashion establishment in these fast fashion times.

Socks and custom shirts! Can you tell us a little about the concept for the store? How did you get your start?

We started the store in 2010. It's kind of two stores in one—a sock store in the front and a custom shirt store in the back. All of the custom shirts are made by hand. Custom shirt-making has been in the family for 100 years. My brothers do it, my dad does it, and my dad's dad did it before him.

Do all of you sew?

I don't, but my brothers do. They're twins.

Tell us more about your shirts? How custom are they?

We do the whole spectrum, from super casual to super formal. A lot of guys we work with are hard to fit. With custom, the fit is perfect. Stylistically, it can be whatever the customer wants, but the fit will be perfect to their measurements. It's not something where we're using the three measurements you know off the top of your head to buy a shirt. We take the slope of your shoulders into account, how your neck comes out of your body—it's about twelve measurements, total. We start with raw fabric. It's not a shirt made to fit somebody. It's a shirt cut from scratch for that person.

We can see a guy getting addicted to custom shirts pretty easily.

The appeal is that we make a custom shirt that fits you, and then we keep that pattern on file. Then all of the custom shirts you get after that will be to those measurements. You can get a casual shirt or a formal shirt if we already have those basic measurements and patterns for you. We have a lot of clients who don't even live in New York, who've been here one time. We take their measurements and start them on a program. Every time we send them shirts we send out swatches that fit their style.

What's the most important measurement?

A shirt will lay based on how it fits through the shoulders. It needs to be really clean, and the shoulders are where guys have trouble. They can be peaked, like on an athletic guy, or guys with really flat shoulders will have some bunching and pull. When guys get stuff off the rack, one thing fits. The collar will fit, but the sleeves will be too long.

Do you have a signature shirt that you do?

Yes, it's the one I'm wearing. It's enough room for us to work in the shirt for a whole day, not just to take pictures for ten minutes. It's a comfortable fit, tapered to the body. There's not excess room, but there's room to move.

What's your best-selling shirt?

They're on both ends of the continuum. We do a really great short-sleeved summer shirt in a lot of fun patterns. You want a fun, cool shirt to wear to a cookout. It's one of those things that guys will get more expression out of.

Then we do a really nice formal dress shirt. We have a lot of clients who are executive types. They live in the shirts for whole days, so they want really nice materials. That's when the measurements really have to fit your body perfectly, because you're in it so long.

How did you decide on socks for your storefront?

It seemed to fit with what we're doing on the back end, as far as style. A lot of the socks we carry have really high fiber content, as opposed to nylon. They come by size, so it's that tailored fit. We get guys with huge feet and small feet.

We rotate the inventory—it's not like one sock fits your life. During the winter we have really nice wools and cashmere, alpaca. During the summer we have really nice cottons and linens. We have different socks for different shoes.

So guys come here for a sock wardrobe?

Yeah, there are a lot of crazy patterns, too. It's become more commonplace in every work environment. It's the only place a lot of guys in conservative environments can get away with it. Especially since guys don't wear as many ties anymore.

And you have women's socks, too!

Yes, we have women's socks and hosiery. Most are really high quality, they're not socks and tights you wear for a season and throw away. It's better wear and higher quality. You're not getting ten for the price of one, you're getting one that will last you as long as those ten junky pairs.

What is the biggest sock crime?

When men wear white socks with dress shoes. But you see it all the time! That's a no-no you should learn pretty young.

What are your sock best sellers?

Henrik Vibskov socks do well, that's a really heavy pattern. We get these German socks—and we buy them small enough to fit women, too—that's the most padded sock around. It feels like wearing an extra insole. Guys and girls who are on their feet a lot, like restaurant workers, come in for that sock and it becomes their sock.

Are you from New York originally?

No, we're from Chicago. I've been living here for a while. There are four of us, we still have another brother in Chicago. But yeah, we all kind of relocated gradually.

What is it like working with your family? (And working for yourselves?)

It allows you to do short and long-term projects. You get to decide and prioritize. For us, we don't have a daily routine. There's always something going on, whether it's long-term, short-term, medium-term. You try to manage that.

How was your family's business different in Chicago?

In Chicago we had a lot of business guys. Here we get that too, but it's mostly creative types—rock 'n roll guys. The style of shirt is different.

Is it a skinnier shirt?

The shirts are definitely skinnier now. When my dad was making them in the '80s and '90s, that was a different style. But he's made every style.

What was it like growing up with a shirt-maker for a father? Were you always the best-dressed kids in class?

My shirts from when I was a kid are hanging up around the shop. There are shirts from when I was four, you can see my initials on the sleeve. I think we kind of took it for granted. When you grow up in it you don't think it's different or unique. That's just what your dad does. My dad would make me shirts for events, but I wasn't wearing button-downs daily. I was a rambunctious kid.

What are you price points?

They start at $200 for long sleeve and $150 for short sleeve if you're going shirt by shirt, but it's obviously lower if you're buying in bulk.


What's the typical turnaround time for a shirt?

About a week to ten days.

Wow! Soon! You and your brother occasionally have help in the front of the shop—what do you look for when you're hiring a salesperson?

We try to cultivate a more relaxed environment here. They're not paid on commission. We don't want someone to come in, spend five bucks, and run out. We want someone to relax here, take their time. The front of the shop can be quite overwhelming with how many options there are. It can take a while to digest it.

We want to make this an environment where people can hang out for a while, listen to music. We want them to feel comfortable, not like they're being rushed or sold something. We're happy to provide insight if they need help stylistically, but we generally allow people to do their own thing.

Do you have any new cuts or fabrics that you're really excited about for spring?

I live in linen during the summer. It's really breathable and it breaks into your body really well. We're doing a lot of linens and super-fine cottons. We have a great linen polka dot.

We do a lot of really short collars on the casual shirts. And then I took a style from this shirt I inherited from my grandfather—it's this pullover, country club, short-sleeve casual shirt. I wear it a lot and have a lot of fun in it.

As much authentic heritage as there is out there, there's twice as much bandwagon bullshit. Even at the places where they're really doing it, they all carry lines that are made in China.

How would you describe the mood in menswear right now?

You see a lot of guys dressing in a very similar fashion. There's that slicked-back haircut that's sort of shaved on the sides, the moderate beard. Boots. The idea of a blue-collar, workman aesthetic.

There are so many menswear brands that use the "heritage" claim, but you guys are the real deal. What do you think of this renewed interest in heritage fashion?

As much authentic heritage as there is out there, there's twice as much bandwagon bullshit. Even at the places where they're really doing it, they all carry lines that are made in China. They'll make a product that's done in that fashion so they can hold their claim to heritage. I think that exists much more than actual heritage does at this point.

For us it's about the process. For us, we don't separate the process from the product. Taking the measurements, meeting the person, knowing what they want to get out of the shirt—it's really important. We're not trying to put people into our shirt, we want them to come in and take away something that they feel confident in.

If they want more room, less room, if they want something that we don't traditionally offer, we want to try and do that for them because that's going to make them happy with their product. It's about the relationship going forward, not just selling them a shirt.

Time for the lightning round! 8am or 8pm?

8pm.

Beer or wine?

Wine.

Whiskey or tequila?

Tequila.

Beach or mountains?

I'll take both.

Cats or dogs?

Dogs.

Favorite vacation destination?

Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.

Favorite neighborhood lunch spot?

Tacombi.

Favorite happy hour spot?

Jack's Wife Freda.

(Ed note: At this point, Vince's dad Reza walked in and yelled out, "Whiskey Tavern!")
· The Sock Hop [Official Site]
· All Better Know a Store Owner Posts [Racked NY]

The Sock Hop

248 Elizabeth Street New York NY