Dress shirts aren't this single, amorphous category, there are little nuances that make one shirt perfectly acceptable for a regular day at the office and others better suited for that blue moon occasion--the white tie wedding, the black-tie gala, the odd funeral.
Now, here we'll dive into style, color, and the details that make the shirt.
Body type, on the other hand... well that's another story for another day.
A men's dress shirt, for the uninitiated, is a men's shirt with a button-down collar and long sleeves. It's cut differently than a sports shirt and is designed to work with a jacket and tie, or on its own for a more casual look.
That said, any one button-up is not necessarily appropriate for all occasions. There are all types of cuffs and collars and varying degrees of quality that come into play--from the hyper-formal to the kick around oxford cloth.
It’s All in the Pockets
If you’re not quite sure what makes a shirt formal or not, start by looking at the pockets. Speaking from a historical standpoint, formal shorts do not have pockets. Pockets are associated with the working man, not the gentleman—and thus he did not have a use for such thing.
A one-pocket shirt on the other had was long used to house pens and paper clips, and more labor-intensive occupations saw men adding other things into the pocket as they were getting their hands dirty.
And the Cuffs and Collars
One thing that remains a constant in menswear is, it's all about sweating the small stuff. We don't expect the average Joe to gain the knowledge of a Savile Row tailor overnight, but, anybody can memorize these key elements that make or break a shirt. Here are some
For example, high quality shirts have more stitches per inch, keeping things nice and tight for long-lasting wear. Beyond that, Proper Cloth has a nice guide that goes into more depth about the small stuff like stitches, collars, and more.
Look, high-quality shorts come with quality buttons. Mother of pearl is considered the height of button quality, but the concern here is avoiding flimsy, plastic buttons. Beyond that, check out the threading, are the buttons secured tight?
Whether or not you're an undershirt man, you don't want to waste money on a thin shirt. Hold white shirts up to the light to test whether or not they are see-through. The more opacity the better.
The Wrinkle Factor
Another key performance indicator is--figuring out whether your shirt can stand up to the demands of your day. Do the scrunch test--and ball up the fabric, hold it for a few seconds, and then, let it go.
If the fabric stays wrinkled, that's the sign of a bad shirt. If the shirt can't stand up to little roughhousing, it's unlikely it will stay with
you for the years to come.
Let’s Talk Color
Pastels--Channel your inner Easter egg. If you’re worried that wearing pale yellow and baby pink will make you look like an 80’s WASP, that’s fair. But, you’re missing an opportunity to wear a range of colors that work with just about everything your white shirts do. Take a risk, man.
Stripes--Stripes, especially the classic blue and white stripe, function almost as a neutral. Pair these with jeans for a more casual look, cuffing up the sleeves all nonchalant. Or, for the office, pair with a navy suit or sports coat.
Black, grey, and other non-white neutrals-- There's something off-putting about dark or bright dress shirts--so keep things light--light grey, light blue, off-white, the aforementioned pastels. Black can sometimes work, but tread carefully, or you'll look like you're the help.
If you’re color averse—and honestly a lot of us are—try mixing things up by selecting white shirts with subtle patterns or weaves. White with cotton broadcloth will get boring. Basketweaves like oxford broadcloth or diagonal or herringbone twills add interest to shirts while staying relatively subtle.
While you should always wear a white shirt to interviews or special occasions, a regular workday permits a little change here and there.
Dress shirts are so much more than a humdrum closet staple you drag out for work. With varying degrees of formal and so many ways to personalize, the dress short can really be the secret weapon in any man's closet.