Mortimer Levitt, 98, who built a men's fashion empire of made-to-measure shirts, starting with one Custom Shop Shirtmakers store in New York and growing to include more than 60 other shops across the country, died July 12 at his summer home in Greens Farms, Conn., of complications from a stroke.
The self-made mogul was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., and dropped out of high school to help support his mother and brothers. At age 20, he started a business of custom-order men's shirts priced at $2.15 each. From then on, he kept the price far lower than the typical cost of a custom-made shirt.
He opened his first store on Broadway near 36th Street in Manhattan in 1937. Before he sold his business 60 years later, he had shops in upscale malls and shopping districts in many cities. His stores also carried other menswear, such as ties and suits.
After amassing his fortune as a businessman, Mr. Levitt used some of it to support the arts. Two years ago, he gave Pasadena, Calif., $250,000 to restore the band shell in the city's Memorial Park. The shell, built in the 1930s, is now named the Levitt Pavilion for the Performing Arts. He also promised $100,000 a year for five years in a matching-funds program to help launch a free summer concert series at the pavilion.
The Pasadena project is one of several like it that Levitt had sponsored in recent years. Others are in Harrisburg, Pa., and Westport, Conn., near his summer home.
He was a founder of the Manhattan Theatre Club in New York and for more than 25 years served as chairman of the board of Young Concert Artists, which fosters the careers of promising young classical musicians. Pianist Emanuel Ax and violinist Pinchas Zuckerman once were part of the program.
Levitt's passion for classical music began on a ski trip when he heard the overture to Richard Wagner's opera "Tristan and Isolde" on the radio. He returned to New York and bought a record player and dozens of albums. For some years, he held musicales at his Manhattan townhouse and, at age 47, started taking piano lessons.
A flamboyant dresser who knew the rules of good taste, Mr. Levitt wrote several how-to books about men's fashion. "The Executive Look and How to Get It" (1981) and "Class, What It Is and How to Acquire It" (1984) attracted attention in part because of Mr. Levitt's writing style.
"Fashion is an industry rip-off. Forget it! Stay with the classics," he wrote in the first book. He complained that the long-necked President Lyndon B. Johnson wore his shirt collars too low and scolded a prominent business executive he knew who boasted about buying "rejected" shirts on sale, even though he bought them in Mr. Levitt's store.
His marriage to Anne Fleisher ended in divorce.
Survivors include his second wife, the former Anne Marie "Mimi" Gratzinger, and their two children.