A man’s shirt is the primary staple of his wardrobe. Whether worn under a jacket or without one, a shirt is often the first piece of clothing people notice or the piece that ties an outfit all together. Not only that, it is also the garment that a man feels the most on his body. For these reasons, your shirts should be comfortable, well-fitted, versatile, and stylish.
In this article, we’ll be talking of men’s dress shirts, not casual weekend shirts or polos. Dress shirts are long-sleeve shirts with buttons and a collar. They are worn every day in business, for formal events, or for a date night or night on the town. They can be worn with a suit jacket and tie, just a tie, or neither. There are many elements of a dress shirt and we’ll cover each of them.
Colors and Patterns
For a long, long time, shirts were pretty much always white and almost exclusively used as an undergarment for your jacket. White shirts were for the higher-class workers, and a clean white shirt was a status symbol that you were above dirty work. They are the origin of the term “white collar.”
As time went along and daily and business styles became more casual, light blue shirts became a staple of businessmen. Then stripes and patterns came into the norm and now almost any color shirt is considered acceptable for daily business attire. Formal attire still usually requires a white shirt.
Though many colors and patterns are acceptable today, you can never go wrong with simple or classic shirt styles. Often a shirt that is too busy takes too much attention from the rest of your carefully tuned outfit, especially if wearing with a jacket and tie.
Every man should have a few plain white and blue shirts in their wardrobe, along with a couple striped or checked or textured shirts of some combo of white and blue. They are by far the most versatile and go with any suit and tie. If you are just beginning to build your wardrobe, these simple and timeless shirts are where you should undoubtedly start. Other simple and versatile shirt colors are cream, pink, lavender, and gold.
Shirt patterns are also very popular and stylish today. Single colored shirts still look great with any outfit, but patterns can add even more individuality to your style choices. Stripes are the next most professional style, with slimmer stripes being less bold and easy on the eyes. Checked shirts are less formal and can often be too busy if they include many different colors as well. Another way to add depth and uniqueness to a shirt is textures. Different shirts styles sometimes have textured fabrics that make the shirts stand out just enough.
The two most common shirt fabrics are cotton and blends. There are also silk shirts but these are much more expensive, less common, and not for most men. Cotton is the classic fabric. They are soft, breath very well, but are more expensive and harder to maintain, often requiring frequent ironing or dry cleaning. Some men will never compromise and always go with cotton, but it isn’t necessary for all instances.
Blended shirts made with cotton and polyester or other synthetic fibers are generally cheaper and often more easily found. They are also typically cheaper thus more accessible to the average man. Blended shirts are a great place to start your wardrobe and you can move up to pure cotton unless your budget allows cotton from the start.
How a Shirt Should Fit
You can have a perfectly colored or patterned shirt, with a properly pressed suit and wonderful bow tie, but if the shirt doesn’t fit your body properly, your entire outfit will still look sloppy. On the contrary, you can have the most boring white shirt and tie combination, but if your shirt fits your body perfectly, you will look undeniably sharp and style-conscious. Basically, a shirt’s proper fit is the best way to ensure you will always look great.
The difficulty in finding a properly fitting shirt is no small matter. That is due to most men shopping for shirts off the rack and all shirts on the rack being made for average body types. Small, medium, and large or certain collar widths that correlate to chest widths and sleeve lengths. There are also classic, fitted, and slim shirt styles that offer a little more variation to help fit you properly.
But these still generally aren’t enough to have your shirt fit how it should. The best way is to measure your body and get a shirt made custom for these measurements. It actually isn’t as expensive as it sounds these days, but it is definitely more pricey than standard shirts off the rack. If you have the money, always go with custom shirts, it’s worth it.
If you must go with standardized shirts, sleeve and collar measurements are often consistent between brands, but the differences between classic, fitted, and slim are where difficulties can arise. We recommend to always try your shirt on before buying it and then be careful not to shrink the shirt when washing it before wearing it. In the following sections, we’ll describe how a shirt should fit properly in each area of the shirt for you to be looking sharp.
The shirt collar is the top of the shirt that goes around the neck. That was probably understood without stating, but what isn’t always obvious is that the collar is always visible. With a jacket or tie or neither, the collar is often the first thing a person looks at on your shirt. Its purpose is to frame the face and bring the viewer’s attention to your eyes. It is therefore important to never overlook the collar style and make sure it’s always crisp and positioned or worn correctly.
Collar measurements are from the buttonhole around the length of the collar back to the button. A typical shirt has collar ranges of 14-18 inches. The general rule for a collar fitting correctly is that two fingers should comfortably fit between your neck and the collar when the top button of the collar is fastened. If your shirt will never be worn buttoned, then the correct collar size isn’t as important.
There are many different collar styles out there. Almost all of them are turndown collars. And more and more varieties are being considered acceptable in many situations these days. Turndown collars are divided into two main categories, the point, and the spread. The point is the most traditional and common collar type and the most versatile.
The spread collar is becoming increasingly popular is are wider than the point, accommodating more types of tie knots and often looking better when unbuttoned. Another popular type of collar is the buttoned collar. These have buttons that fasten the point of collar to the shirt. They are less formal than non-button types but are becoming more popular. There are many variations of all types of collars. For a more detailed breakdown of these, check out this link.
The chest of the shirt is the most noticeable area of how well a shirt fits you. Thus, it is vital to get it right. The shirt should fit comfortably around the chest and upper back and give you full range of motion, yet it should still taper your body and highlight its features. The shirt should be filled out by your chest so it is discernible, especially if you are in good shape. You also don’t want the buttons stretching when they are fastened as this means the shirt is too tight.
You definitely don’t want the shirt too loose. It looks sloppy no matter what. You don’t want the shirt ballooning out of your waist when it’s tucked in. It is a common misconception that a bigger shirt will hide a body that is out of shape. It will actually do the opposite. So no matter your body type, you want a shirt that contours your chest and torso, it’s always the best bet.
If you are buying a shirt off the rack, there are typically classic, fitted, and slim fit shirts. Classic is for huskier men. Fitted is for those in good shape with some muscular tone. Slim is for skinnier men without as much muscle. Try on the shirts and choose the one that’s right.
Placket, Pocket, and Buttons
The placket of the shirt is the style of fabric around the buttons running the length of the shirt. The standard and most common placket is a raised strip of fabric with stitches down each side. It gives the shirt some depth and looks proper in almost all circumstances. The French placket is cleaner and more formal. It has no fold back or raised fabric. This guide gives a more detailed breakdown of other, less common types of plackets.
Most shirts have one pocket on the left side, though it is rarely used. There are many shapes and sizes of pockets. They are present simply because of traditional design. A pocketless shirt is cleaner and more formal, just like the simpler placket, but it can also be a way to stand out a little if you wish.
The buttons of the shirt fasten it together. Now that we’ve shared that secret knowledge, another tidbit is that they are also a unique and subtle way for your shirt to stand out. Most buttons are made of plastic and this serves fine, but buttons made of Mother of Pearl or that have some sort of engraving or other detail are a cool way to express your sense of style to the keen observer.
Waist and Length
The waist of your shirt should taper nicely from the chest down. And the bottom of the shirt usually tapers back out a little bit to make a more comfortable tuck, unless the shirt is designed to be untucked. When tucked in, there should be none if hardly any fabric hanging outside of your belt.
The length of the shirt should allow for your hands to be stretched over your head and the tail doesn’t come untucked. This allows for a comfortable tuck without being comically long. A simple trick that usually works to determine this without testing it is the tail should hang just past the top of your back pocket of your pants.
Shoulders and Armholes
Shoulder fit of a shirt is often a good indicator of if the shirt properly fits your body. The seam that connects the chest of the shirt to the sleeves should hit right at or close to the top of your shoulders. Too low and the shirt is too big, too high the shirt is too tight.
The armholes of the shirt are a good indicator of how the shirt will fit in the chest. You want a comfortable amount of fabric underneath your arms without being too much. This means the shirt will be too loose around the chest. If you are feeling a squeeze in your armpits that generally means your shirt is too small.
Sleeves and Cuffs
Your shirt sleeves should fit around the circumference of your arms with just enough fabric to breath. If they balloon then you look like a child. If they are far too tight you look like you’re trying to show off a bit too much. You also want the cuffs to rest just at the base of the thumbs when buttoned. There is a little wiggle room for the length of the sleeve for your personal preference.
The cuffs are also an oft-overlooked style point of the shirt. They are always visible, just like the collar, whether wearing a jacket or not. Most cuffs have one or two buttons sewn into the cuffs, but there are also French cuffs. These are sometimes considered more formal but work in almost any situation. French cuffs allow you to add a little personal touch by adding cufflinks to your ensemble.
A man’s dress shirt is possibly the most essential piece of his wardrobe and absolutely the most versatile. You can make a statement with one or keep it simple and clean and fit and allow other parts of your outfit to shine. You can wear them every day to work or for a night out. There are endless styles and colors to fit your individual style, so choose shirts that you like. But always have a couple of white and blue shirts that never go out of style.
The other thing to always remember is to make sure your shirt fits you correctly in all areas of your upper body. The fit of your shirt will make every shirt you own look better and give the appeal of proper confidence and style sense. So choose your shirts that fit your personality, make sure they fit properly, and wear each of them with confidence that you know what looks good and why.