The Choosy Beggar

To the uninitiated, the idea of custom shirting might seem lavish. CEGO customers — made up mostly of savvy New Yorkers and commuters — know better. To this well-informed bunch, CEGO shirts represent true value and bare style necessity — a testament to proprietor Carl Goldberg and his decades of service at the storied shop. In Part I of a two-part profile, contributor — and Eating Everywhere editor-in-chief — Sam Jacobs uncovers what goes into the making of a CEGO custom shirt.

You walk into an unassuming office space in a Fifth Ave building in the Flatiron district.  The showroom/office/fitting area/storage area is filled with samples, swatches, and spools upon spools of shirting fabric sourced from all over the world.  This is the office of Carl Goldberg of CEGO, shirt maker to the everyman.

Carl Goldberg is just a regular guy with a talent for sizing you up (in more ways than one), and helping you determine the right size, shape, and style shirt for you.  He began his career as a teenager working in his family’s Army/Navy store in Philadelphia.  After school he made his way to NYC — America’s garment capital.  There was a job at Barney’s and a brief stint in the garment center before he decided to go into business for himself.

CEGO – a derivative of his name – started as a custom suit shop, accompanied by his signature shirts, boxers, and pocket squares.  He quickly dropped the suits to do what he does best.  In the earliest days he would bring his swatches into people’s Manhattan offices – lots of financial institutions, “boiler rooms”, and real estate offices.  In fact, he even fit my father at his old 34th Street office in the mid/late 80s.  “Once you get a custom shirt from Carl, you’ll never want to buy off-the-rack again,” said my dad who still has a number of CEGO shirts in his closet even though he hasn’t purchased a new one in nearly two decades.

Over the years the business has evolved.  The cut of the garment has gotten trimmer, and the customers younger.  Carl prefers to sell his shirts at a 2-5 shirt minimum but will make exceptions for guys like Chris — a young, dapper gent who ordered a custom formal shirt for his Boston wedding.   “I hope he comes back for more,” says Carl.  Repeat customers, of course, are key to any successful business.  (My dad went back for years.)  Another guy who walked in, Nick, said he’d been coming to see Carl for about a year now, and had a handful of shirts to show for it.

If Carl is making you your first CEGO shirt, he asks that you bring in what you feel is your best fitting shirt.  In 2006 my future wife got me a gift card for a Liste Rouge custom shirt.  Same deal, fancier platform.  They were more glitz than substance.  I love the shirt, but Carl was quick to point out the imperfections; how the shoulders drooped; how they made the right arm longer than the left when in fact it’s my left arm that’s longer than the right. Looking in the mirror I realized I didn’t look as good in my shirt as Chris and Nick did in theirs.

I let him measure me, and then ordered my shirt – a simple white with French cuffs.  He showed me the small work shop they have on site.  Valentin, a man trained in Oaxaca, Mexico cuts the fabrics before they’re sent out to be assembled locally.  It’s all done by hand at this stage.  No detail overlooked.  Will I be hooked?  I’ll let you know in a few weeks.

Words and photography by Sam Jacobs

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