Shirts are a very important piece to your wardrobe: Not only are they an essential piece to your suiting, but when the occasion calls for it, they hold their own, that is, if you’re wearing the right fit and fabric for the occasion. Many men don’t realize the power of the right fitting and sartorially solid shirt and because it’s worn mostly under the suit, not as much care, consideration, or tailoring go into this staple.
Consider your shirt as a bulletproof vest, as GQ so elegantly states, adding that, “It’s the first thing you put on and your last line of defense. When you button it up in the morning, you should feel confident, in control, even invincible.” You don’t have to spend a lot of money to get the perfect fitting shirt either. These are five important things to look for when buying this timeless item of clothing.
1. Know your measurements and body type
Many men buy their shirts in small, medium, or large, and it’s no wonder that they tend to not fit that well. Men’s bodies come in all different shapes and sizes so don’t be surprised if standard sizes don’t fit you that well, it’s not your fault. That being said, it’s good to walk into a store and have a general sense of your body type, and also know your measurements, such as your neck size and arm length, and even chest and waist size.
Generally speaking, the right dress shirt will be nicely fitted to your body with little excess material. The goal of the fit is to see clean lines that are appealing to the eye and flattering to the body, with no excess fabric that billows or bunches up to make you look like you’re wearing a parachute. Alternatively, you don’t want the shirt so tight that you can’t move and your buttons look like they’re about to pop open any minute. Your shirt should fit comfortably between these two extremes. If you’re sporting a larger figure, do not look for shirts that are oversized in the torso area because if they billow, they can make your midsection appear even heavier.
In terms of specific fit, know that the shoulder seams should hug your shoulders and stop just at the end of your shoulder. Also, make sure your sleeves aren’t too long or too short; the sleeve should extend comfortably to your wrist. Another trick of proper fit is to unbutton the cuffs, and if they reach too far past your wrists, the sleeves are too long.
2. Subtle features
There are your standard, run of the mill dress shirts, and then there are ones that have special, subtle features to them that you need to be aware of when it comes to proper fit. First, some shirts have pleats. You may be familiar with the fact that pants mostly have them but dress shirts do too, and these pleats are extra folds of fabric that are usually placed at the back of the shirt designed to give the wearer some extra room, especially if one is carrying a little extra meat around the middle. However, the excess fabric may billow out in the upper part of your back if you move the wrong way. While this style can benefit, it’s best to try it on for yourself to see if this feature works for you.
Second, as you’re probably well aware, because it’s been thoroughly hammered into you, is that today’s suit trends more toward a slimmer fit, with any larger fit looking dated. This means that your dress shirts need to follow trend as well: You can’t wear an oversized dress shirt under a fitted suit — it just doesn’t make any sense. So, keep an eye out for shirts that say “tailored,” “slim,” or “fitted,” for your best bet at a good fit. If you’ve done your research and gone through all the necessary steps and still find that your shirts don’t fit you quite right, find a tailor that you trust and have them work their magic for you.
3. Pay attention to the collar
While there are numerous collar styles on the market right now from spread collars, to cutaways, to English spread to the really pointy forward point, the choices can become overwhelming. That said, cut through all this overwhelm and go with the semispread. It’s not too trendy or conservative and will go well with any kind of suit and tie. You may not realize this but the collar can communicate your personal style more so than the color or pattern of your shirt, which is another reason why it’s best to choose one that goes with any suit style.
Another detail to pay attention to with the collar is how it fits on your neck, Gents, your collar should not fit so tight that it makes your face turn red or cuts off your air supply. Quick tip when you’re shopping for shirts: Make sure you can comfortably fit one finger between your neck and collar (aka the one-finger collar rule), however, if two fingers fit then it’s too big.
4. Fabrics (which one works best for you)
Depending upon your style, and even the time of year can and will have an impact on the type of fabric that you’ll opt for with your shirts. For instance, you’re not going to wear a heavier textile shirt like twill in the middle of summer, you’re going to want a lighter and smoother fabric shirt like poplin or pinpoint. While there are also many different types of fabrics/textiles, from twill to oxford (which is one of the most common dress shirt fabrics) to poplin, to pinpoint, and end-on-end, don’t get too caught up in “yarn numbers,” which refers to the thickness of the fabric threads not the thread count, or terms like “ply,” which more so refers to the number of threads woven together before the fabric is made. Most high-quality or pricier shirts tend to have a higher yarn number, or thread count and tend to be a smoother, softer fabric.
That being said, avoid synthetic fabrics like polyester, which can make a dress shirt look shiny, flimsy, and overall cheap-looking, and they tend to not be as breathable as cotton. Lastly, it’s important to consider steering clear of “non-iron” dress shirts, because though they are advertised as eliminating or reducing wrinkles, sometimes the treatment that’s used can make the shirt appear shiny and can also stifle airflow that can cause you to sweat when wearing them. It’s best to try the shirt on before you purchase it to gauge whether or not non-iron shirts are for you.
5. Don’t forget about color and print
The basic colors for dress shirts are solid white and light blue: They’re simple, starter colors, but once you have those down, it’s time to branch out and get creative because those two colors can get very boring very quickly. Sure, pastels like pink or lavender/light purple are spring and summer go-to’s, but start getting creative and play with patterns. GQ suggests going for plaid or gingham style shirts that are very of the moment and add an instant pick-me-up to your work wardrobe. As the temperature starts to rise, have some fun with your color palettes and reach for gingham patterns in lighter colors like green. For the fall and winter months, opt for more muted richer tones that match perfectly with a darker business suit.
Sites like Stantt promise bespoke custom fits — shirts that look like they were only designed with your body in mind.