The Super Detailed Review of the Apollo 3 Shirt by Ministry of Supply
How many shirt companies are featured in an article on the NASA.GOV website? I would bet the answer to that WAS zero. That's before Ministry of Supply's MIT founders came along and created their award winning "Apollo 3" dress shirt (I assume there's no need to explain that name). Now they have their very own feature from NASA.
I had been keeping my eye on this company for a bunch of years, since I saw an article about their Kickstarter campaign where, after setting out to raise $3,000 on Kickstarter, they received more than $400,000. But, to be honest, I am a natural skeptic and couldn't quite bring myself to believe in all the “tech merges into shirtwear” hype, plus their prices were a bit too high for my budget. However, a couple of weeks ago, I subscribed to their email list, and lo and behold they sent me an email allowing me to get *$30* off my first order if I referred one friend — whether or not that friend actually bought something! As you know, most companies require that your referral actually make a purchase before you get your discount; not Ministry of Supply. That was an offer I couldn't refuse, and for $85 I was willing to take the plunge down NASA's nerd-created shirtville and I bought the "Apollo 3" white dress shirt.
Packaging, Delivery, Presentation
As you will see below, I have a lot of very positive things to say about this shirt, but their packaging and presentation is not one of them. For those paying the full retail price of $115 for this shirt, and even for the thrifty ones like me paying $85, that's a lot of money to spend on a shirt. Thus, I was expecting some pomp and circumstance in the un-packaging experience. I was very disappointed.
As you can see in the picture, it's literally just a shirt in a box. Nothing more. No welcome message, no cool shirt bag, just a shirt in some cheap bag material in a cardboard box. Honestly, my first feeling was that I was somehow being cheated by some bullshit techy company making believe they had created something new-age and pretending to care about the customer, while not giving a damn once you have made your purchase. Now, as you will see below, that is certainly not the case here, BUT COME ON! That first interaction with a brand new product is SO important, and after 5 years of being in business they should know better than this. Maybe I'm overreacting, but I expect better from MIT dudes. Get your head out of space and back to earth!! This was especially surprising given that their website design and copy is really solid. They do a great job of explaining why they are different than other shirt-makers, and their product descriptions and pictorial presentations are all A+.
In terms of delivery, I ordered the shirt on a Thursday and it was delivered the next Tuesday, so decent turnaround for a non-Amazon Prime delivery, especially since delivery was free. Also, all domestic returns and exchanges are free. Lots of upstarts will burn you on the shipping or return fees (like WatchGang), so nice value from Ministry here.
Quality, Style & Value
Quality: I have one word to explain the quality of the Apollo 3 shirt: unfu--ingbelievable. More than any other aspect of this shirt, the quality of the materials that they make it with is where they stand out from 90% of the shirts that I have in my closet. It's not just "better" quality; it's also a completely different and next level quality. Now, before I get into the details on this, I should mention that this shirt is "made in China" (or, as they say on their website, "Made in BlueWave Factory" in Fuzhou, China, which sounds like a kind of cool factory). As sophisticated shoppers know, the country of origin never tells the whole story in terms of quality and, at this point, China is just as capable as any other country at producing high quality clothing. Yes, "made in China" still has "this is crap" connotations. But that's truly not the case anymore. And it's definitely not the case here.
Now, on to the details. This shirt is made with "never-iron" fabric, which is made with (and I'll quote for those in disbelief) "the same Phase Change Materials NASA invented to control an astronaut’s body temperature in spaceflight." They claim that this "hyper-breathable knit is 14x more breathable than traditional cotton shirting and it regulates your core temperature in real-time." Honestly, that's a claim I can't really opine on. We would need to do some scientific testing to back that claim up, which we aren't capable of here (yet!). But I will say that I don't have that restricted feeling of wearing the traditional dress shirt when I wear this shirt, and after running a block and a half to the train the other day, I didn't break a sweat. Take that for what it's worth. Also, the fabric is only 57% made from the Phase Change Materials, and 43% polyester.
Other added benefits of this shirt is that it is moisture wicking, wrinkle resistant, can be machine washed and is safe to dry on tumble dry. I also really like it that they have permanent collar stays. They do a great job with these, similar to the Suit Supply shirts I have in my closet (4 of them to be exact, I'm a big fan). But I know many people that hate permanent collar stays, especially since the collars on many shirts will often spread and splay, so I won't put this in the "Pros" column for everyone. I will say, though, that the company claims that this shirt is made with a "new 3D collar design" which prevents spread and splay. Time will tell if that's true for my shirt.
One weird criticism is that this shirt, for whatever reason, is much more see-through than most of my other dress shirts. To those who like to wear their dress shirts with no undershirt, this may be an issue. I sometimes like to wear a fairly thin mesh-like undershirt underneath my dress shirt, but my nipples were showing through the shirt at times. So, if you care about this, then I would recommend going with a more traditional, thicker undershirt beneath this shirt.
Style: This shirt is definitely not a typical dress shirt, and it doesn't look that way either. By the company's own admission, their shirts are made to be "performance dress clothes." In terms of the "performance" aspect of it, they nail it. It's an extremely comfortable shirt. It has the thin fabric feel of a t-shirt and it truly stretches with your bodily movements. I can literally feel the fabric moving in sync with my every move and stretch. It's a really cool feeling. However, in terms of the "dressy" look of the shirt, although the shirt certainly passes as a decent-looking dress shirt, it does not quite look how you would expect a typical dress shirt to appear. It's hard for me to explain this, and the pictures don't quite capture it, but if you saw it in-person you would see that it just does not look as dressy as a typical dress shirt from, say, Charles Tyrwhitt. This non-dress look is likely the result of the texture of the knit fabric plus the drape (which I will discuss a bit more in the "Fit" section), which results in a lack of stiffness making the shirt fall.
Despite this, I would be completely comfortable wearing this to the office (and I already have), but I would not wear it to an important business meeting nor to a wedding. Perhaps that is exactly what the current major compromise of "performance dress clothes" are: it's got a bit of the "performance" element to it, but you wouldn't play basketball in it, and it's got a bit of the "dress" element to it, but you wouldn't wear it to a wedding. It's in that interesting in-between zone. We should come up with a name for it, like "athleisure." Perhaps "Performadress?" Nah. Sounds like some sort of dress. "Performawear?" Any ideas?
(Okay, one more minor last point here. If you look a bit closely at the shirt its pores are noticeable and it looks jersey-like. This is another factor that takes it out of the “dress” category.)
Before we discuss the fit of this shirt in depth, please note that I am 6’1 tall and 190 lbs.
For all Ministry of Supply dress shirts, they have both a standard and a slim fit. The way they describe their slim fit is: "a tailored cut and added darts, this will fit close to the body while the fabric will allow for a more modern flow and drape." And their standard fit: "a modern style of a standard fit, this shirt will have more room to move in the waist and the fabric drape will be more noticeable than the slim." I've also included a table from Ministry’s website with all available sizes of their slim. I bought the slim fit, 16.5 neck, 36' sleeve and 42 chest, so I will keep my comments to that fit.
|CT Extra Slim Fit||Apollo 3 Slim Fit|
For ease of reference, I have created a chart and infographic comparing the Apollo 3 to the Extra Slim Fit Charles Tyrwhitt 16.5 shirt. Generally, I love 36' sleeves on my dress shirts since that gives me an effortless full half-inch to an inch of shirt cuff that shows below my jacket cuff. The 35' barely sneaks its way out of my suit sleeves without me pulling on it. I know that most people will say that the international standard for high-quality tailors is to go with 35' sleeves because that gives you the exact 1/2 inch extension. But, quite frankly, to get that 1/2 inch perfection you have to constantly pull on your sleeves when they inevitably bunch up. The 36' inch sleeves provides you the no-pull 1/2 inch. I prefer that, especially in a shirt that is made to make life easier. However, the sleeves on this Apollo 3 shirt are extremely bulky and there’s WAY too much room for a guy my size. I mean, look at that picture and explain to me who the hell would buy a slim fit shirt and need THAT much room in their sleeves. This completely ruins the shirt’s look for me, and is really disappointing. After reading some other customer reviews, it seems that a bunch of other people had the same problem. If you look at the chart and the pictures you will see that the full inch difference in the chest and armholes really makes the Apollo 3 shirt look large on me. At first I thought it was just a very creasy shirt, but then I realized that it is just way to big on me. Huge disappointment.
In terms of "slimness" this shirt is not quite how they described it. Yes, it does fit "close to the body" in comparison to a traditional fit, but for a slim fit it’s not snug at all, and although they say that it has a "modern flow and drape", I would call it a VERY "loose" drape. Like I mentioned above, this drape is noticeable and is likely due to the knit fabric, and this “drape” is a common complaint for those buying non-cotton shirts, so this wasn’t a surprise. What was a surprise was how MUCH it draped. I mean look at the picture. it’s pretty bad. I am not super skinny (like a certain 6'1, 160 lb. friend of mine here), but I do like at least a decently snug fit. This shirt does not provide it. Perhaps one day they will make a super slim fit like CT just did, but for now you will have to look elsewhere. For me, the fit of this shirt was off by a mile.
I should also mention that the semi-spread collar has a nice look to it (though it's bit more similar to a button-down collar just without the buttons), and, as of now, the permanent collar stays are really holding it up nicely.
Value is a really tough questions for this one. On the one hand, spending $85-115 on a non-made-to-measure shirt is a tough value spend. You can get a solid quality made-to-measure shirt for that price. But, on the other hand, you cannot quite get the versatility and comfort of this shirt anywhere else (that I've tried) for this price (and Mizzen and Main, widely viewed as Ministry’s competitor, costs around $125 a shirt). So, the value question is really about your wardrobe needs and your budget. If you are strictly looking for dressy dress shirts, or if you are trying to maximize a limited budget, then this will not be money well spent. Don't buy it. But if you have some cushion in your budget, and you are in need of a versatile, comfortable addition, then definitely spend the cash and buy this shirt.
If you are comfortable spending $85 on a shirt, and you are looking for a really versatile shirt to add to your collection, then definitely add this shirt. "Versatility" is the key word for this shirt. You will love it. It checks the box on quality, comfort, and ease of care. Plus, this shirt really doesn't need much maintenance given the ability to machine wash + the permanent collar stays. However, if you are the type of guy who loves style and fit above all else, and won't wear a non-crisp, non-fit looking shirt, then this is not the shirt for you. Honestly, as I detail above, even a $30 Charles Tyrwhitt shirt is more dressy and fits better than this shirt. Also, if you have a limited budget and need a dress shirt for work, this is not the right purchase to make.
So, there you have it, a really unique shirt that, overall, I'm glad I tried but I also understand if you won’t ever try. Truth be told, I'm sure Ministry of Supply or some other similar company will eventually develop a cheaper shirt that has a crisper fabric and better fit but retains the versatility of the current versions available. When that day comes, that shirt will be a must-have for everyone. Until then, I will have to return my shirt. Full stop. Cue the Hans Zimmer closing music!