The Essential Guide to Men’s Dress Shirts

IT DOESN’T MATTER IF YOU ONLY SPORT A SHIRT FOR SPECIAL OCCASIONS OR DON ONE DAILY, THE ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO MEN’S DRESS SHIRTS IS FOR YOU. WE’VE COMPILED OUR KNOWLEDGE SO YOU CAN UNDERSTAND EVERYTHING THERE IS TO KNOW ABOUT SHIRTS.

You may see shirts as being simple garments that sit inside your wardrobe gathering dust until your next event or day in the office, but they are so much more. There are a plethora of different styles and details that go into designing a shirt. Yes, you can have a number of white shirts without them being all the same! This guide to men’s dress shirts will break down everything shirt-based and aid you next time you have to choose between slim or tapered fits.

Like with all clothing, shirts do follow in fashion and can be adapted to match the current trends. Not one shirt will be exactly the same as another and not everyone will like the same shirt. Many men will opt for a simple white work shirt but when socialising they choose a quirky patterned shirt.

So what shirt should I buy? Well, that’s up to you. There is not one straight answer and it’s important to have variety in your wardrobe. Just having one style of shirt is incredibly boring and won’t benefit your style. In fact, if you wear shirts for work, it’s been suggested that you have around 10-15 work shirts so you can have a good rotation. If that sounds like too many then keep reading this men’s guide to shirts as it will help instil confidence when purchasing your new wardrobe.


QUICK ACCESS GUIDE


KNOW YOUR FIT

When it comes to buying shirts it can be a bit daunting, from contemporary fits to super slim fits, it’s a minefield of cotton out there! Knowing your fit is incredibly important, there is nothing worse than wearing an ill-fitting shirt. Just having an idea of your fit can make or break an outfit, so make sure you carefully consider what fits are right for you.

Playing it safe by always choosing a regular fit shirt is not always the right idea. If you want to look good, making sure your shirt fits properly is vital. After your face, your torso is the next most viewed part of your body so it deserves to have a well-fitted shirt. We are going to say ‘well-fitted’ as finding the ‘perfect’ fit is borderline impossible unless you have all the time and money in the world.

A good deal of high street stores will be shirts which aren’t particularly flattering on your figure. This is because these stores are designings shirts that will fit a wide range of figures to keep their costs down. It may seem easier to pop to your local store for a shirt but it most likely will not be tailored to your shape (even if it says it’s the right fit). Hence why the phrase ‘quality over quantity’ is so valid. Just because you could buy three shirts for the price of two, doesn’t mean that those shirts will flatter you.

SHIRT FIT RAIL
CAN’T A TAILOR JUST FIX IT? 

Not really. Tailors are clever but they are not magicians. While there is a lot they could do to an oversized shirt, they can’t make a shirt that’s too small gain material. They’ll also charge a pretty penny so we’d advise spending your time and money more wisely and just do your research.

HOW DO I KNOW A SHIRT FITS?

This is a question that many people ask and so we had to make sure we addressed it in our guide to men’s dress shirts. While there are many different styles of shirt, there are a few generic tips to know if they fit.

We’ve put together a small guide to help you out when checking if a shirt fits you properly.

SHIRT FIT CHEATSHEET

  1. SHOULDER SEAM – The seam should rest directly where your shoulder meets your arm. If it’s higher, then the shirt is too small. If it falls lower, it’s far too big – Arguably this is the most important test because if the seam sits in the wrong place, the whole shirt will be wrong!
  2. THE COLLAR TEST – You’ve probably heard of this tip before as it’s a quick indicator of size. If you can’t fit two fingers (index and middle fingers) between your collar and neck when the shirt is done up, then it’s too small. Likewise, if you can fit more than two fingers, the shirt is too big.
  3. BUTTONS & CHEST – It may seem self-explanatory but when trying on a shirt you want the fabric to appear flush against your chest. No pulling or creasing. Similarly, with the buttons, you do not want them to be strained. A good test for this is moving your arms back and forth, as the buttons may not gape when standing still but could when you start moving.
  4. CUFFS – To check your sleeve length is right you can use this hack: stretch out your arm straight in front of you and the cuff should sit at the bottom of your thumb bone.
  5. HEMLINE – A good shirt should always have a curved drop back hem. This means that the hem should be longer at the back than the front. This is so it stays tucked in when you sit down. A good way to test this theory is to touch your toes and see if the hem becomes untucked.

THE FITS

THE FITS

Now you know how a shirt should fit, it’s time to look at the different types of fits on offer. Like we previously mentioned, not every shirt fit will suit you and that’s okay.

A shirt is a staple in every man’s wardrobe so it should be able to frame your body in the best light. Certain fits are suitable for certain body types and occasions. It’s helpful to know which fits are best as you don’t want to make a style blunder.

It’s also important to remember that while shirts are a formal garment and appearance is important, you need to keep your comfort in mind. You will want to make a good impression and people will be able to tell if you are feeling uncomfortable.

We’ve rounded up the five main men’s dress shirt fits for this guide. There are a lot of variations of these fits but once you know these five, you’re pretty much there.

1/5
REGULAR FIT
REGULAR FIT

The regular fit shirt is the shirt that most men will gravitate to just because of the name. Regular sounds safe and easy hence why so many people choose it. However, be aware that a regular fit is not quite the same as the classic fit. It’s a common misconception that they are the same when actually the classic fit is a slightly more generous cut!

Regular fit is basically the shirt version of straight leg jeans. They aren’t as intimidating as the super skinny and slim fits as they allow movement and don’t cling to every muscle. It’s a very up and down style with extra fabric around the key areas which can be helpful if you feel self-conscious about your midriff or arms.

If the other fits don’t seem right for you, or you have a ‘regular’ to fuller figure then this fit is going to be more suited to you. Whilst it isn’t as airy as the classic fit, the regular fit provides you with movability and comfort.

Specific regular fit shirts will still include some tapering which will slim the torso down. Although, even without tapering, this fit will always appear traditional in styling and offer plenty of breathing room. Some men even choose to buy a regular fit shirt and have the back professionally tailored around their own body type.

PROS: A traditional and versatile fit which offers extra fabric for men with broader torsos.

CONS: It can conceal certain elements but also drown leaners figures.


2/5
SUPER SKINNY FIT
SUPER SKINNY FIT

Super skinny shirt is probably the most intimidating shirt fit in this guide. A super-slim silhouette is more popular these days within fashion and is often seen on younger men who are savvy with current trends.

In all honesty, if you want to follow the above cheatsheet, you need to be very slender to wear this fit. This fit is not flattering on certain figures but is perfect for the guy who feels swamped in their regular fit shirts. The super skinny fit will not take any prisoners and will cling to your torso like a second skin, so beware.

Similarly to the traditional slim fit, super skinny still has two darts on the back that help mould to your frame. It also offers more times than not, a slightly more generous percentage of elastane. If you have a small waist but broad shoulders, slim and super skinny fits will benefit you more. They will frame your shoulders and arms in the best way but not leave you with gaping fabric around your middle.

PROS: Ideal if you are smaller around the waist and want a flattering fit around your biceps and shoulders.

CONS: Not so flattering on everybody else!

PLEASE NOTE: DUE TO THE NATURE OF THE FIT YOU NEED TO CHECK THE ARMHOLES AREN’T TOO LOW. THIS CAN CAUSE RESTRICTION OF MOVEMENT WHEN TUCKED IN. TEST THIS BY RAISING YOUR ARMS STRAIGHT IN THE AIR.

3/5
SLIM FIT
SLIM FIT

That leads us nicely onto slim fit shirts. This fit is very popular for workwear as it doesn’t have any extra material loitering on your mid-section. Extra material can crease and look baggy around your waistline – not so smart.

Slim fit shirts have been crafted for the lean men among us and once again doesn’t flatter all body shapes. The benefit of a slim fit is that the style can accentuate your top half, therefore moving eyes away from other body parts you may wish to distract from.

As we’ve just said slim fits have two darts on the reverse. These darts keep the fabric from gathering unflatteringly around your waistline. The design has been crafted to sit flush on your shoulders and arms so if you’re wearing a jacket it will slip on with ease.

The other great thing about slim fit shirts is that they can be worn confidently with or without a tie. You’ve probably heard the phrase “you’ve got to dress the part” and slim fit shirts will help you appear professional confident.

PROS: Perfect for lean figures who want to look confident at work or social events.

CONS: The downside, again is that you have to have a lean figure to be able to pull this fit off.

PLEASE NOTE: DUE TO THE NATURE OF THE FIT YOU NEED TO CHECK THE ARMHOLES AREN’T TOO LOW. THIS CAN CAUSE RESTRICTION OF MOVEMENT WHEN TUCKED IN. TEST THIS BY RAISING YOUR ARMS STRAIGHT IN THE AIR.

4/5
TAPERED FIT
TAPERED FIT

Tapered fit, the lovechild of regular and slim fit. This fit appears more tailored and cuts the closest to the body. It’s almost like getting the best of both worlds, comfort and shape.

This shirt fit is about the waist being pulled in to give the torso a cinched appearance. It’s one of the most popular styles of shirts because you have freedom of movement whilst still flattering your shape.

The nature of the tapered fit is narrowing the body of the shirt so it follows your natural decrease in size from the chest to the waistline. It’s the most natural shirt fit and will mimic your own figure whilst still slimming down your waistline.

As the name suggests, tapered fits are the closest version to off the rack tailored shaping. It’s all about quality and refining the fabric that sits around the waist by darting. By only darting the reverse this will not restrict your movement.

PROS: The shirt for all men (well most of them). Incredibly wearable, the tapered fit is a winner pretty much all around as it can slim down larger figures.

CONS: The tailored fit can accentuate a paunch so choose carefully.


5/5
RELAXED FIT
RELAXED FIT

One style of shirt that seems to take a back seat is the relaxed fit, or also known as the loose fit. This fit is meant to appear the most worn-in and casual for your off-duty days.

Commonly, relaxed fit shirts are favoured as over-shirts. A lot of flannel shirts are designed in a relaxed cut and are very popular in the cooler months. Likewise, many lightweight linen shirts are also a relaxed fit as they are easy to wear and can let your body breathe.

When it comes down to body shapes, this style is quite difficult. Due to the shapeless design, it can make bigger-built men look larger than they naturally are.

In recent years, men’s fashion has been majorly influenced by oversized garments. You often see Justin Beiber and Kanye West donning large and shapeless tops!

PROS: Lightweight and simple to wear, this fit is perfect for layering or easy to wear in the heat.

CONS: The shapeless cut can be very ill-fitting and make figures appear much larger.


IT’S ALL IN THE DETAILS…

It’s very easy to get bogged down in the fits of shirts, and while that is important, this part of the guide will help you learn the details of shirts. Now you know what fits are the best suited for your body shape, you have to look at what elements suit the occasion you are dressing for.

WHAT IS A PLACKET?

A placket on a shirt is the part of the fabric that holds the fastenings, i.e. buttons. The majority of shirts feature a full-button placket on the front.

STANDARD PLACKET
STANDARD PLACKET
STANDARD PLACKET

This is a standard placket which is suitable for work and formal wear. The fabric has been folded over which has the appearance of a raised strip where the buttons sit.

Commonly, the stitching is tonal to the shirt but sometimes it can be embellished with contrasting coloured stitching. This will make the placket stand out further.

FRENCH PLACKET
FRENCH PLACKET
FRENCH PLACKET

The second most popular placket is the French placket.

Minimally designed, the French placket features no folded element. The design just continues from the body of the shirt.

This placket can be seen as a slightly more cosmopolitan vibe which is good for socialising and work.

CONCEALED PLACKET
CONCEALED PLACKET
CONCEALED PLACKET

While there are a number of other plackets which are suitable for formal occasions, the concealed placket is our favourite.

This placket is also known as the ‘fly front’ and has an extra piece of fabric layered over the buttons.

It’s frequently used as a tuxedo-style shirt and is suitable for formal occasions.


WHAT TYPES OF COLLARS ARE THERE?

After fits, collars are the next biggest feature of shirts and it’s worth your time to know the different styles. It may seem a bit daunting at first hearing all of the different names as they probably don’t mean a lot to you, I mean what’s a mao? Well if you don’t know what one is, then you better keep reading.

Of course, there are tens of different collars types in existence. Many brands create their own names for specific collars and they may only differ ever so slightly. It could be the difference between a couple of centimetres or even a stitch pattern. So as long as you know the basics, you’ll be in good stead.

Collars are also a great way to complement your own body shape. Certain shapes around your neck can accentuate your neckline and face shape, whereas others can soften out very angular features. It’s not all about finding just one collar that suits you though. You can have a couple which works for you and then incorporate them into your wardrobe, offering you variety and style.

Now, if we were to list all of the different types of collars on offer we would be here all day. So, we have just listed five of the most common collars you will come across.

CLASSIC COLLAR
CLASSIC COLLAR
CLASSIC COLLAR

As the name states, the classic collar is the most popular design of collar for everyday styling.

It sits in a natural spread which can accommodate a variety of tie knots.

The classic collar is a standard design which is best suited for workwear or smart-casual occasions.

SPREAD COLLAR
SPREAD COLLAR
SPREAD COLLAR

The spread collar has the basic structure of a classic collar however the points differ. This type of collar has wider spread points making it ideal for wider tie knots.

To balance out the face, spread collars are far more suited to men with thinner faces as it balances out their natural vertical lines.

MICRO COLLAR
MICRO COLLAR
MICRO COLLAR

We’ve coined the term micro collar for this style of collar. As you can see this style is very similar to the classic collar but the faces are slightly narrower.

The micro-style is ideal as a replacement of the classic collar. This is very well-suited for men with rounder faces and shorter necks. The minimal material will help lengthen the neck and narrow the face.

MANDARIN/MAO COLLAR
MANDARIN/MAO COLLAR
MANDARIN/MAO COLLAR

The mandarin collar also shares the name with the popular grandad collar and mao collar. This style is very minimal and was named after the mandarin bureaucrats in Qing-era, China. These bureaucrats wore this style as part of their uniform.

The mandarin collar is relatively informal and has recently become a popular trend amongst younger men.

BUTTON-DOWN COLLAR
BUTTON-DOWN COLLAR
BUTTON-DOWN COLLAR

A simple element that pushes a shirt into more casual attire is buttons. The button-down collar is a must for men who want to feel more relaxed yet still appear professional.

The button-down collar is not something to pair with suits or worn at formal occasions. It can, however, be worn to smart-casual events or work.

The buttoned-down points are a bit quirky and are frequently seen on more performance-based shirts. Polo Ralph Lauren Golf do favour this style of collar.


WHAT ARE THE DETAILS ON THE BACK OF A SHIRT?

One of the most common questions we are asked after queries on fits is what are the details on the back of a shirt. Obviously, we have previously mentioned darting. This is how shirts are finished off with specific structural stitching on the reverse to match your build. However, do you know what a yoke is?

PLAIN BACK YOKE
PLAIN BACK YOKE
PLAIN BACK YOKE

A plain back yoke is the standard panel which is featured on most shirts. It’s the stitch pattern that spans across the back to allow extra support for your movement.

A plain back yoke has been created from a single piece of fabric and has normally taken longer to craft.

SPLIT BACK YOKE
SPLIT BACK YOKE
SPLIT BACK YOKE

Arguably the ‘better fitting’ yoke, is the split back yoke.

As you can see the yoke has been made up of two panels and stitched down the middle. Since this process takes longer, some believe this allows for more movement on either shoulder and is elite to the plain yoke.

BOX PLEAT & LOCKER LOOP
BOX PLEAT & LOCKER LOOP
BOX PLEAT & LOCKER LOOP

The other details I’m sure you’ve noticed on the back of the shirts are box pleats and locker loops.

You can get many types of pleats, however, box pleats are the most common. The pleat itself is a stylised feature which is suitable for smart-casual events. They are made up of two parallel pressed creases that create a raised section.

Locker loops are normally found on the top of a box pleat. The idea originated from Gant as it is a way that you can hang a shirt without it getting creases.


WHAT ARE FABRIC WEAVES?

Many brands name their shirts after the fabric weave used to create that specific shirt. You could be looking at two shirts which are both crafted from pure cotton but appear completely different due to the weave used. Here is just a small number of popular fabric weaves you will come across.

BROADCLOTH/POPLIN
BROADCLOTH/POPLIN
BROADCLOTH/POPLIN

Broadcloth is the hallmark of fabric weaves. Frequently referred to as Poplin, this fabric is a smooth choice.

Broadcloth is tightly woven and is typically lightweight, making it a great choice for summer or being layered under a blazer.

OXFORD
OXFORD
OXFORD

There are a number of Oxford weaves, however, the Basketweave Oxford is the most common.

This weave is relatively heavy but has a luxurious and breathable feel to it. The texture is more prominent with an Oxford weave and it should be an essential weave in your casual wardrobe.

DENIM
DENIM
DENIM

Based on a twill weave, Denim shirts are a statement casual piece.

Unlike the denim used to craft jeans, Denim weaves are lighter for your comfort and wearability.

TWILL
TWILL
TWILL

Twill weave is probably the most recognisable weave because of the statement diagonal pattern.

The ribbed texture provides you with a weave suitable for a plethora of occasions. Twill weaves are softer than Broadcloth and though they will not look as crisp, they are easier to iron and less likely to crease.

CHAMBRAY
CHAMBRAY
CHAMBRAY

Similar to the Denim weave, Chambray is a lightweight and plain weave.

To give the appearance of denim, there are often white threads woven into the design. Due to the nature of Chambray, it is far more suited for casual occasions or certain work environments.

LINEN
LINEN
LINEN

Linen is known as the lightweight summer fabric and that is because of the lint-free design.

Being lint-free means that after every wash it will get softer. Linen is seen to be a very distinct texture that radiates luxury.

Be aware that the lightweight design is great for the heat but does encourage creasing.

DOBBY
DOBBY
DOBBY

Dobby weaves can appear very similar to Broadcloth and Twill depending on how exactly it has been woven.

They commonly have a tiny geometric pattern or subtle stripe woven into the design.

Due to the structure of the shirt Dobby weaves are difficult to crease making them a favourite for men on-the-move.


Hopefully, this men’s guide to shirts has educated you in knowing your fit and what details are appropriate for what occasion. Of course, there are other elements that go into crafting a shirt but these are the basics which will aid you in searching for a well-fitted shirt.

One of the biggest things to take away from this guide is that quality is everything. It’s easy to just buy off the rack from your local store, however, the quality will not be the same as spending that extra time and money on a shirt that fits.

If you are now wanting to get your hands on some new shirts, take a look at our shirting collection here. Or pop into one of our stores and have one of our Formal Hire Style Advisors help you out further.