If you are really honest to yourself, how much do you really know about men’s dress shirts? Be really honest. To some extent, we all know that dress shirts should have a proper fit to your body type in order for you yo look great in it. That’s quite basic knowledge. However, if you’re asking yourself what the different parts of a dress shirts are, how much could you really tell about? And why is it important to know you think?
This weeks article will touch on the origins and different parts to include, such as the collars, the cuffs, the front style, back style, buttons and the pockets. The article also covers the fabrics and colors, and all in all, it gives you an overall knowledge of everything there is to know about the dress shirt.
An introduction to dress shirts
What is a dress shirt? Simply put, a dress shirt for men is one that can be buttoned up with a collar and long sleeves. It is one that is cut differently than the sport shirt, which is made to be worn open-necked and looks awkward with a tie.
The dress shirt is designed to carry a jacket and necktie, but it can also be worn without one, or the other, or with neither.
Various dress shirts with different sorts of collars and cuffs are considered as appropriate for different ranges of attire, and many of them can be worn perfectly for formal occasions.
This article won’t discuss the short-sleeve shirts, as their lack of sleeves prevents them from being worn with a jacket, which is a prerequisite for a real dress shirt.
Over the past half-century, the dress shirt has gone from being an undergarment to holding a prominent place in many outfits. If you think about it, could you imagine formal look where dress shirts are not a part of it? This is one reason why it is available in so many more colors and patterns today than just the plain white option that men had in the past.
Additionally, when most working men’s jobs involved getting their hands dirty, clean white cuffs were a status symbol, a symbol that the man wearing them was above the dirty work.
Today, whether a men’s style is chinos or suit and tie, dress shirts are an essential means of expanding men’s wardrobe. Why? They both offer more variety and cost less compared to suits, shoes, and most other items in men’s dress.
Most men wear dress shirts that do not fit them properly. Many of them without knowing. By wearing a dress shirt that fits you properly in the neck, on the sleeves, the chest, and stomach, you will not only stand out, but you will also improve your appearance dramatically. The fact that most men end up wearing dress shirts that are too large, has to do with the basic problem with off-the-rack clothing; you only have so many choices.
With every man having a different physical profile, it’s almost impossible for large scale shirt manufactures to build garments that fit everyone; they try to get around this problem by building shirts for the mythical average men – but it just won’t work properly.
Perhaps you’ve met them out there when shopping for shirts: The Small, The Medium, and The Large. The result is most often that you end up finding a shirt with just the right sleeve length, but then the shoulders, the neck, and chest are just too large.
When you find something that fits in the chest however, you will probably find that you need another inch in the sleeves. What do you do? You make do with what you can get.
We highly recommend men to consider custom dress shirts instead, if they wants a proper fit. Unless you are truly lucky of course, or you find a brand that used your profile as one of its mythical men – your time is actually better spent focusing on what fabrics or styles to choose for yourself.
There are many companies out there that can build a much better dress shirt for the same price you’ll pay for a name brand off the rack one. We are a great example of just that, if we may suggest you an example of just that.
Whatever it is worn with, a shirt should fit properly without restricting your movement. Just as the dress shirt protects the suit jacket’s lining from absorbing too much grease and sweat from the skin beneath, an undershirt can take the brunt of perspiration to keep a dress shirt looking fresh all day and extend its life.
If the dress shirt is to be worn open-necked, a crew-neck T-shirt will peek out below the throat, an adolescent look most men do well to avoid. V-neck T-shirts are a much safer option. Some men prefer to feel the dress shirt’s finer fabric against their skin, and forgo an undershirt altogether.
Dress Shirt Fabrics
A dress shirt’s color is the first thing people notice. It can be determined a hundred feet away and may send a message that the gentleman wearing it, is outgoing, or that he knows how to fit in.
Neither message is better than the other though, but a gent who understands the role of color and its effect, has control over what is being said.
White is still the most common dress shirt color, and for a good reason. Historically speaking, it has dominated the scene, and initially was the only choice for a gentleman. The lack of color and stains on a gentleman’s collar and cuffs signified that he was above working with his hands and sweating to earn a living.
It wasn’t until the English people began to introduce colors from their weekends and country wear that colors and patterns became a fashionable “thing”.
Still, white holds it’s place as the most formal color today; a gentleman can safely assume that a white shirt will never be out of place.
Blue came on to the dress shirt scene a bit latervon, but it’s dominance of second has more to do with it’s looks than with its heritage. Blue, and colors with similar hues, are especially flattering to most gentlemen; thus the popularity of blue exploded in the United States as more and more off-the-rack manufactures looked for colors and patterns that would sell. Today, the color firmly holds a place as the second most popular color.
Pink, Gold or Lavender are colors where the popularity continues to grow day by day. These colors make great accents, but can stand as solids themselves on the right gent. And that’s a point that is often overlooked; every gent has an unique look based off his complexion, hair color, eye color, and their amount of contrast.
Using these cues, a man is better served to find the color and combinations that compliment his unique style compared to chasing the popular colors of the season.
The simplest pattern is actually no pattern at all.
However, solid shirts are anything but simple, especially if you play with the weave. A solid white twill fabric has a very different look and feel compared to a solid white poplin.
In addition, by choice to go solid allows a man the option to highlight other aspects of the dress shirt such as a unique collar style, or to focus the attention of what really matters, his face.
Stripes are less formal that a solid. Striped dress shirts are a gent’s opportunity to add some WOW to his outfit. Most gents can’t go wrong with a classic white on blue, but those who really know how to dress seek to add certain accent colors such as red or pink to liven up the hues in the face.
Many people are confused about wearing striped dress shirts with striped ties (or pin-striped suits for that matter). The rule here is that the distance between the stripes should be different; otherwise you end up having the optical illusion of movement.
Checks are the most casual pattern of them all. It also is the busiest of patterns, and the one that is least seen on ready made dress shirts. Historically speaking, the purpose of the check was to identify and signify a wearer’s background.
Today however, most men are intimidated to wear such a pattern paired with a suit, as that it appears overpowering; it doesn’t need to be though. Just remember not to mix like patterns; a checked shirt with a solid suit and a striped tie makes for a great combination. Just don’t wear it when you’re planning to meet the Queen of England.
Cotton vs Blends
The battle has been raging for some time now. On one side you have those who say that cotton is the true king, and you should never make any compromise. Others on the other hand argue that there are times and places for blends, and that many of the properties man made fibers bestow upon a blended dress shirt, are well worth the compromise. We however rather believe that it depends on your own needs and wants.
If you happen to work in an air conditioned building, a bit price sensitive, and new to quality shirting, then blends are a viable option for you. If you are a traveler, have plenty of money, and spend time in hot weather, then cotton is perhaps a better choice for you.
Dress Shirt Styles
Men’s dress shirt collars come in all different colors, sizes, shapes and styles. The purpose of a dress shirt collar is to frame the face; it’s goal is to draw an observers eyes to yours so that you can get your message across.
Regardless of the type of jacket or necktie, ones dress shirt collar is always visible, and plays a major role in determining how the wearer’s face will appear to observers. Choosing the right dress shirt collar will ensure that you enhance your facial strengths while downplaying any irregularities.
Turndown collars are the one staple that is found on gentleman’s dress shirts, and offer the most opportunity for individual taste. This collar style, as the name suggests, is turned down, forming a sort of triangle, whose angles vary with the particular look one is aiming for.
Although there are countless variations to choose from, the turndown collar comes in two main categories: the point and the spread (or cutaway).
The point collar is the most common of collar styles out there, where the collar is cut so that the “points” are reasonably close together, sometimes even to the extent, that they almost hide the top portion of a necktie.
Longer, more closely set points instead tend to draw the eye down towards the necktie and away from the face, while a more moderate cut frames the necktie, and completes the arrow effect pointing at the face. The second most popular style is the cutaway, or spread collar. These collar types have the points “cut away” or spread – thus the name – revealing more of the upper shirt area and leaving additional room for larger knots such as the Windsor.
Like the point, the spread collars comes in a variety of widths, with more moderate ones resembling slightly flared point collars, while more extreme versions can be nearly horizontal.
The cuffs on a dress shirt are a small but very important part of a gentleman’s ensemble; besides the collar, they are one of the only visible parts of a shirt when a jacket is worn. Shirt cuffs should extend one half to one full inch past the suit jacket sleeves; properly worn they provide a polished look to ones ensemble.
Button cuffs are the same as single cuffs, which wrap around the arm, and are buttoned into place. These are the cuffs most commonly found on ready made dress shirts out there. Button cuffs may have a single button or may be adjustable, with two buttons side-by-side.
Some have two buttonholes and two vertical buttons, a more formal option often called the barrel cuff. Button cuffs may also have a small button on the sleeve, between the cuff and the end of the cuff opening, intended to prevent the area from opening and exposing the gentleman’s wrist.
French cuffs are the most formal option of them all, yet are perfectly appropriate for daily wear in many industries such as finance. The French cuff is a double cuff, folded back and fastened with cufflinks to create a distinctive and distinguished appearance.
Cufflinks must always be worn – though there are more subtle options available, such as fabric knots – so the gentleman must be prepared to keep a reasonable selection on hand.
The front style of a dress shirt is determined by your choice of placket, which is the fabric edge of the left front panel with the button holes on it. The standard placket is that of a strip of fabric raised off the men’s dress shirt front with stitches down each side; this is what most casual shirts and many dress shirts have standard.
In the more modern plain (French) placket, the edge of the shirt front is folded over to create a creased edge and held together by the button holes.
This cleaner, plain front gives dress shirts a simple look. As that simplicity tends towards formality, this front style is considered dressier than the standard placket option. Another, but rarely seen front style is the covered placket. Here, the fold is designed to cover the shirts buttons entirely. Rarely seen on off the rack shirts, this front style is geared towards dandies and should not be worn by those looking to blend in.
Dress Shirt Buttons
A dress shirt’s buttons are perhaps its most underrated detail. Most gents don’t give buttons a second thought outside of their functionality; if they work and don’t draw attention to themselves, then that’s good enough. Take a close look at them however, and you may be lucky enough to find a world of intricate design – two holes, four holes, engravings, and a variety of materials used to craft these little wonders.
Most buttons today are made of plastic; a suitable material for the job, as that it is inexpensive and fairly strong.
If a quality resin is used, the plastic buttons will do an excellent job of holding up despite hundreds of rough washings. If a low quality resin is the base of your buttons you will find cracking and they may fail within a year.
An eloquent alternative to plastic is Mother of Pearl (which we use here at Louis Collections). These buttons are made from shell, and are so hard, that they can break needles, and were once the standard button used on clothing.
Unfortunately, the double blow of cheap plastic and modern harsh detergents (causes gradual disintegration) slowed demand to a trickle, all but wiping out the industry.
Today, you only find them on the highest quality dress shirts; a rather small detail, but as Tom Wolfe said in The Secret Vice, “All of these marginal differences are like that. They’re so small, they’re practically invisible. All right! That’s what’s so maniacal about it”.
The pockets of a dress shirt
Most dress shirts have a single pocket on the left breast; the vast majority of gents never use this pocket – so why is it even there, you may ask yourself.
It does give the appearance of depth, and with a wide variety of styles available it is a detail that many gents like on their dress shirts, but the fact of the matter is, that most gents would actually do better to have no pocket at all.
As mentioned above, there are many styles for shirt pockets, and on some very casual ones (especially those with a western theme) you do see a double pocket.
The difference usually lies in the overall shape and whether or not it has a flap.
Shapes range from the jagged diamond cut, to the common square cut, to the uncommon rounded edge cut.
Adding a flap to any pocket is possible, but the wearer should realise that this makes the dress shirt very informal and not suitable for wear together with a suit.
The back style of a dress shirt
There are three common dress shirt back types. The first two being defined by the type and positioning of their pleat, while the last one being defined by it’s absence of one. Perhaps the most common dress shirt back style is the single large double pleat found on the back center of most off the rack men’s dress shirts.
The design and purpose of this large pleat is simple; to help the dress shirt conform to as many gent’s figures as possible.
Despite it’s large size and dubious duty, it is a trait loved by many dress shirt enthusiasts, and is often asked for even on custom-made dress shirts (where the need for pleats is superfluous).
A less common pleat that serves the same purpose however, albeit more effectively, but is more expensive to manufacture, is the double pleat.
Located on the shoulder blades, this pleat set distribute the work of conforming the dress shirt shape and has a more aesthetic appeal.
The last back style, no pleat at all, is found on custom dress shirts. As that the dress shirt was made to the wearer’s measurements, usually complemented with a split yoke, there is no need for a pleat at all.
Monograms on dress shirts
Monograms originated as a form of dress shirt identification, when large amounts of clothing was washed by those not intimately familiar with the wearers (Imagine trying to sort the clothing for a family with 5 similar sized boys).
Eventually they became more of a status symbol, with Hollywood stars such as Fred Astaire wearing his on the forearm of his dress shirt to display its heritage. Today however, many gents enjoy using a subtle color instead, or placing it in a hard to notice location, reserving it as a secret for only the observant to find.
A bit of advice for beginners at the end. When building your dress shirt collection, seek versatility in your clothing. To maximise the value and to eliminate confusion, you’ll want to be able to wear any dress shirt with any suit you own.
Avoid extremes, and slowly build your range by experimenting with patterns, colors, and styles that compliment your features.
Once you have this mastered, you can with confidence move into the more complex world of multi-colored patterns and eccentric styles.
Buying a dress shirt today? Check out our style selection of dress shirts to give you a bit of an inspiration for your next order.