THERE are a shocking number of styling options for men’s dress shirts. Even though that means it should enable every man to find a great fit and style that works for their needs, it can be daunting to wade through all the details.
It’s now time to focus more closely on the style options of a dress shirt. We will take a deep dive into the options, including achieving the proper fit and selecting each from buttons to plackets.
How to find the proper fit of a shirt
Arguably fit is the most striking and important feature of a shirt; if your shirt is ill-fitting, none of the details will matter.
Before getting started, it is important to note that unlike other garments like jackets and pants, achieving a good fit with a dress shirt is best accomplished by purchasing the right shirt from the outset.
Alterations are pricey relative to the cost of a shirt, so if you have fit challenges, it’s best to have your shirts produced made-to-measure (MTM) or bespoke.
These options are far less expensive for shirts, so even men with modest budgets will find an MTM or bespoke shirt manufacturer in their budget range.
No matter what option you chose, the fit and the style options will have a huge impact on the overall look. People often talk about the “perfect fit” as if it was one objective standard, but in fact, it contains many subjective elements.
The first step is to determine what fit and look you like. Though it varies by manufacturer, the most typical choices are: Classic fit, Slim fit, Modern/Contemporary fit, and Skinny fit.
Dress shirt fit option #1: The classic fit
The classic fit is likely what your father and grandfather wore. It is characterised by a traditional tailoring silhouette, allowing a comfortable fit with a boxier shape, with plenty of fabric in the sleeves and the body.
It provides great mobility and features two pleats on the back, usually located near the yoke.
Since men in the mid-20th century would never wear a shirt without a jacket (or even a vest), the main priority was comfort. This is the go-to choice for those with a more classic style who favour comfort over fashion.
If you regularly wear shirts with a jacket, this is probably the best fit for you because it is the most comfortable. It can be overwhelming on thinner frames, but if you have a rounder stomach, this is the most comfortable and most flattering style for your body shape.
Dress shirt fit option #2: Slim fit
Throughout history, young men have often tried to differentiate their look from their parent’s generation. At the same time, it has become socially acceptable to wear a dress shirt without a jacket, and therefore the look and fit of the shirt itself has become more important.
While a slim fit shirt is less comfortable and often more constricting in your movement, it is a lot more fashionable because it eliminates excess fabric. A slim fit shirt typically has an accentuated back with darts and a high armhole stance allowing for a shaped look that sits closer to the body, without being skin tight.
As the name implies, this shirt fit is intended for slim people. If you’re not a marathon runner, you might want to consider one of the other fits for a more flattering look.
Dress shirt fit option #3: Modern fit
The modern fit falls in between the classic and the slim fit, providing the best of both worlds when it comes to comfort and style. A slightly tapered silhouette with the waist sometimes in combination with small back darts create a trimmer look than the classic fit that looks good even without a jacket without sacrificing comfort.
The armholes are high, the sleeves have some room but are not too wide, and the yoke extends to or just past the shoulder bone.
This is my preferred shirt fit because I do not have to limit my range of movement, but I look slimmer than in a classic shirt. Even though I wear a jacket most of the time, I could even wear a shirt without a jacket. If you are not the slimmest guy but you don’t have a huge belly, this fit suits you best.
Dress shirt fit option #4: Super slim/skinny fit
This super slim or skinny fit is mostly popular with young men who think that tighter is better. In practice, this fit is usually characterised by lots of wrinkles, and unless you have a very skinny body that justifies it, you should avoid it altogether. Skin-tight shirts are not a flattering alternative for anyone, and they restrict your range of movement considerably.
If you are interested in classic men’s style, stay clear of this fit.
Shirt style details explained
Style is very personal and subjective — even the details on a shirt. As such, this guide is meant to help you find the style elements that are best for you while highlighting the purpose or the traditions behind it.
Regardless of if you’re looking at an RTW, MTM or bespoke shirt, these guidelines apply to all of them.
Shirt Front: Pockets or no pockets?
Aside from the shirt placket, most shirts feature a plain front without any additional elements other than chest pockets. Modern shirts sometimes feature darts or decorative stitching, but that’s not classic.
Some men like to have a shirt pocket; others don’t. Historically, a shirt with a pocket was always less formal than one without, because a gentleman wore jackets and would have had no use for a shirt pocket.
No Pockets = formal
Pocket = informal
Pockets = very informal
On the other hand, someone engaged in physical labour use the pocket to store things while working. Today, it looks odd to have items or a pen clip to a chest pocket, as such it is more of a stylistic choice. As a rule of thumb, I never add them to formal shirts but sometimes to more casual shirts.
A chest pocket on both sides is very casual and usually reserved for very informal shirts such as safari, military or Western-style shirts.