by Karen Alberg Grossman

The first female master shirtmaker in menswear got her start in 1965 at The Custom Shop, founded by the late Mortimer Levitt (who hired her for her firm handshake but told her he’d like her to lose ten pounds). A self-taught business pioneer from an era when few women ventured into the menswear arena, Nancy Gold is a wonderful example of all that faith, optimism and resilience can accomplish. For not only did she create a successful custom shirt business (several times over, and against all odds, while raising and supporting five children), but this amazing woman with the sparkling personality has done so much for underserved communities in and around Philadelphia. She is a bundle of energy and enthusiasm, a social activist who continues to mentor others: about selling, about entrepreneurship, about life.

“I plan to be the longest-working shirt designer in history,” she vows, now a very young 82 and having rebounded from numerous personal and financial tragedies. In recent years, after opening (and closing) several locations for The King’s Collar company she founded in 1978, Nancy works out of a charming home studio in Ardmore Pa., by appointment only, and collaborates with NJ-based Individualized Shirts for her totally domestic production. She loves every minute of visiting with her clients (VIP celebrities and ordinary people), some of whom have benefited from her design/measuring/patternmaking/ fabric-cutting skills for many decades. “I just worked with a guy who, when he called to make the appointment, told me I’d first made a shirt for him 50 years ago. I expected this wrinkled, bent-over octogenarian to walk through the door when in strolls a handsome, fit, 65-year-old guy who bought a lot of shirts!” (Her prices range from $165 to $475 for 240s two-ply fabric, MOP buttons, and full custom details.)

Nancy’s advice on measuring: “I spend a good amount of time talking to my clients, getting to know them before I measure and design for them. I always ask if they prefer an easy fit or if they like to ‘feel’ the collar. I let them guide me, but generally suggest ¾ inch above the neck measurement for the collar, five inches above for the chest measurement and three inches for the waist. It’s still amazing to me how many ‘experts’ in this business don’t know how to measure…”

Acknowledging how the business is changing, Nancy believes that the casualization of the workplace is good for custom shirt business. “If they’re not wearing a suit or sportcoat, the entire shirt is visible, so the fit becomes even more important. I also believe in patterns for spring/summer, particularly florals. Guys might be hesitant at first but once they wear one and get compliments, they buy more! I’ll often offer a casual shirt promotion with a dress shirt order, just to get guys to try it.”

Asked how young guys can be inspired to dress up more often (magazines? movie stars? social media?), Nancy insists that it’s up to the women in their lives. “Unless women suggest it, men are unlikely to upgrade their wardrobes on their own. Like many things in life, it’s up to the women.”

Nancy (center): mother, grandmother, role model.

On what she wishes she’d done differently in her precarious career, Nancy thinks long and hard. “Not much,” she finally confides. “Maybe I should have worked by appointment only earlier on; how I’d love to get back all those hours waiting for customers to walk into the store! And probably I should have learned to pay myself first over the years, creating a higher base for Social Security. But as I always remind my children and grandchildren, no mistake or obstacle is really bad news; view it instead as a gift or a lesson.”

Editor’s note: Nancy can be reached at Her invaluable memoir/business manual, Shirt Tales: The Stories Behind a Successful Start-up, is available on Amazon and is as relevant today as ever. I’ve read it twice and continue to learn from it.


  1. Yay Nancy! Rocking it well everyday! Individualized Shirts so appreciates you collaborating with us these past 38 years. You, me, and all our sewing partners for as long as you desire!! 🇺🇸 ✂️ 🪡 🧵 👔 💛 👕 🎉

  2. David Dumont.. My heartfelt thanks for your presence in my life. You’re more than a colleague, you’re a very warm and wonderful friend. <3

    1. Nice story Nancy, you obviously love what you do, even after all of these years. What an amazing partnership you two have! I love hearing the stories from David.

      1. Thanks so much. This business has up and down days and when I’m down, it’s David who gets me back up with a kind word.

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