Dressing to impress takes more than keeping up with the latest fashion trends. Even the sharpest dressed man may overlook the importance of choosing the proper style dress shirt for a certain occasion. Or he may not quite understand how to pair a dress shirt with the right undershirt.
Our ultimate guide to buying men’s dress shirts and undershirts will help you select the ideal shirts for a perfectly polished look.
The Undershirt: A Critical Element of Any Wardrobe
Many men overlook the undershirt as a critical element of their wardrobe. Yet the humble undershirt serves many important roles.
- Warmth: The modern undershirt is breathable. It is adaptable to climate: it keeps you warm when it’s cold and cool when it’s warm.
- Coverage: Especially under white shirts, an undershirt adds a modest layer of coverage. A form-fitting undershirt supports the chest and nipple areas and hides chest hair.
- Anti-Chafing: Some shirt fabrics can be uncomfortable against nipples and can even cause chafing. A form-fitting undershirt provides a comfortable shield to keep skin and nipples protected.
- Protection: An undershirt blocks sweat from the fabric of your dress shirts and prevents stains caused by the chemicals in antiperspirants. Some men can wear their dress shirts a second time without washing thanks to this shielding effect, which will save on cleaning bills and prolong the life of the shirt.
- Prevent Sweat Marks: Undershirts are sweat absorbent. They can prevent unsightly wet marks in your underarms and on your back. The wicking nature of a modern undershirt keeps you cooler and minimizes sweat.
- Fight Odor: Many high-quality undershirts also contain silver to control unpleasant body odors.
Different Types of Undershirts
Choosing the right undershirt is as important as choosing the right dress shirt. Consider the three basic styles of undershirts.
- The Crew Neck Undershirt: When wearing a suit and tie, the crew neck is perfect because it goes to the top of the dress shirt, so you don’t see an undershirt line.
- The V-neck Undershirt: The v-neck style is ideal if you don’t wear ties to work. The V is deep enough to hide under your dress shirt with the top button undone.
- The Deep V-neck Undershirt: The deep v is deeper and wider than a standard v-neck. It’s ideal to wear in casual settings when you have two or more buttons undone.
Common Fit and Appearance Issues
The key to a perfect undershirt is invisibility: seamless, smooth, and comfortable. Here is how to use an undershirt to avoid common fit and appearance challenges of dress shirts.
- Tank Top: A tank top does not serve the same purpose as an undershirt. It is more visible under a dress shirt and looks worse than not wearing an undershirt at all. It does not protect your shirts from sweat.
- Snug as a Bug: An undershirt is meant to fit snug, otherwise it ruins the look of your dress shirt. Avoid excess fabric, especially under the arms, to avoid a bulky and awkward fit.
- T-shirt: A t-shirt is designed to be worn as an outer-shirt, not under a dress shirt. T-shirts are usually thicker than an undershirt and loose fitting, which will cause the fabric to cling to your dress shirt creating a bulky look.
- Full Length: The ideal undershirt is long enough to stay tucked in.
- Shirt Color vs. Undershirt Color: White undershirts are more obvious under a white shirt. Instead, choose a pale grey. When wearing a dark shirt, wear a black undershirt. For pastels, choose a white or grey undershirt.
- Match Your Skin Tone: Men often go for white undershirts, but that doesn’t work for darker skin tones. If your skin tone is darker, choose grey or black.
How to Pick a Dress Shirt for Any Occasion
Using common dress codes is the easiest way to decipher the type of dress shirt to wear. Here is a quick overview of what to wear and when:
- Business casual is where casual meets sophisticated professionalism. Shirt styles include a colored Oxford or checkered button-down.
- Business formal is a conservative style. Choose basic blue, white or subtly patterned dress shirts.
- Cocktail attire calls for a suit and tie. For a contemporary look, choose a shirt featuring a spread collar in crisp white, stripes or solid darks.
- Semi-formal is more formal than cocktail but does not call for a tuxedo. When in doubt, choose a dark suit and a crisp white shirt for a classic look.
- Black tie calls for a tuxedo, with a formal white or tux dress shirt.
- Black tie optional is formal with the option of a tuxedo. If you opt out of a tux rental, stick with a formal look such as a black suit and crisp white shirt.
- White tie is very formal. When attending a white tie event, rent a tuxedo with tails and a formal tux shirt with pleats or a bib front. Complete the look with a white vest and white bow tie.
The Parts of a Men's Dress Shirts
Each shirt features flourishes to set the tone for the style. Consider these common design elements when shopping for dress shirts.
Traditionally, the pocket was associated with a less formal look. Since a formally dressed man had pockets in his jacket, a shirt pocket served no purpose. Today, it is simply a design element. When in doubt, avoid pockets if you want to achieve a more formal look.
The placket refers to the buttonholes on the front of your dress shirt. There are three types of plackets:
- Traditional/American is the most common placket. Additional stitching defines and separates the fabric on the shirt front with an additional strip of fabric that accentuates the buttons.
- French is the preferred choice for evening dress shirts. It provides an elegant, seamless shirt front with a greater focus on the buttons.
- Fly Front or Covered is best suited for formal wear. It features a strip of fabric that covers the buttons completely for a smooth front.
Collars come in various styles, lengths, and shapes. We’ve outlined the most common variations.
- Cutaway: A wide spread collar meant to be worn with a tie with a wide knot. Popular in London, it provides a polished look for the office.
- English Spread: Wider than the traditional spread collar and works particularly well with a Windsor knot. It is considered a traditional English look.
- Spread: Favored among modern styles, this versatile collar has a shorter length and wider spread than a classic collar. It complements today's slim fitting dress shirts and suits, and looks nice with or without a tie.
- Classic: The most commonly used of all the collar styles. This timeless collar does not have any distinct features in length or angle. It’s worth investing in a high-quality classic collared shirt as it is unlikely to go out of style any time soon.
- Snap-Tab: This retro collar is formal and somewhat sporty look. The snap-tab collar has tabs that fasten under the tie’s knot to hold the collar’s points in place.
- Abbreviated Spread: Adapted from the spread collar, the abbreviated spread is a modern and sporty version that is designed to be worn with a sport coat or sweater and no tie.
- Club: The club collar features a shorter length and rounded corners for a vintage vibe. It is often white and paired with striped fabric for a distinct look.
- Button-Down: As the name implies, this collar buttons to the shirt front and is a common element of Oxford shirts. Although it is not traditionally worn with ties, many men choose to do so.
Shirt cuffs are another gentlemen’s choice with styles that come with or without buttons. Cuff choices include:
- Convertible Cuffs: These cuffs give you the option to use buttons or cufflinks. Their versatility allows you to transition from work to a formal occasion with ease.
- French Cuffs: Buttonless cuffs appeal to the well-dressed man who has a collection of cufflinks to show off. They allow you to personalize or accessorize your wardrobe.
- Two-Button Barrel Cuffs: These cuffs come with two buttons. For a more contemporary look, opt for a shorter barrel cuff.
- Single-Button Standard Cuffs: As the name implies, these cuffs come with one button.
Back pleats are often chosen for their look. But they also serve a practical purpose because the extra fabric allows for a larger range of motion.
Darts are designed to provide a fitted look at the back of the shirt, cinching the waist. Its contemporary look is perfect for the fit man looking for a flattering silhouette.
The yoke of the shirt appears at the back in the shoulder area. It comes in one-piece and split styles. Split yokes provide added interest for patterned fabrics such as stripes, which can be connected at an angle.
A dress shirt’s hem plays an important role, even though it isn’t visible. The hem can affect the way a shirt looks after it is tucked into the pants. Choose the classic hem (with shirttails) because it is designed with tucking in mind. The sides are shorter to reduce excess fabric, and the “tails” in the front and back are longer to remain tucked in. Straight hems are designed to be worn untucked for a more casual look.
A Guide to Men's Dress Shirt Cuts
The cut of your shirt determines the way it fits on your body. Even the most expensive shirt made with exceptional fabric can ruin your look if doesn’t fit well. Here’s how to choose your cut.
The Classic Fit
Best For: Men who wear traditionally cut suits.
Features: A boxy shape with a comfortable fit because of generous fabric in the sleeves and body.
Body Type: This cut flatters men with a rounder belly, but anyone can wear a classic fit dress shirt.
The Slim Fit
Best for: Men who frequently take off their jacket or don’t wear suits.
Features: A sleek fit with less fabric, featuring back darts and higher armholes to keep the shirt shaped to the body. It is intended to be form fitting, not skin tight. (If it is tight, you’ve chosen the wrong size.)
Body type: This cut flatters men who are fit or have naturally slim builds.
The Modern Fit
Best for: Men who wear suits or jacketless outfits.
Features: A comfortable and stylish cross between the classic and slim fit. It is slightly tapered for a flattering silhouette and allows for comfortable movement without being baggy.
Body type: This cut flatters almost all body shapes, though it may be too tapered for men with rounder bellies.
The Super Slim or Skinny Fit
Best for: Men who have a slimmer than average build.
Features: A slim fit all over without excess fabric, this shirt is designed to be more form-fitting than a traditional dress shirt.
Body type: This cut flatters a man with a slight frame.
How to Buy the Right Size Dress Shirt for a Man
Size is important because it affects everything from the collar to the sleeve length. Pay attention to these measuring tips and sizing suggestions when shopping for dress shirts.
How to measure: Use a tailor’s measuring tape to measure the circumference of your neck in the area where the collar sits. Note the measurement and add a quarter inch for comfort. Round up to the nearest half inch mark to find the standard off-the-rack collar size.
The perfect fit: If you can comfortably fit a single finger between the collar and your neck, the collar fits. If you can fit more than one finger, it’s too big.
How to measure: You will need assistance getting your sleeve measurement. Let your arms hang naturally at your sides. Measure from the nape of the neck to the end of your wrist. (The measurement is taken along the outside of your arm.) Round this number to the nearest inch.
The perfect fit: Shirt sleeves should never show the shape of your arms nor should they billow. You should be able to lift your arms, bend them, and cross them over your chest comfortably. For the length, your cuffs should barely graze your hand without bunching up. Make sure they peek out slightly from your suit sleeves. Your cuffs should be just slightly looser than a wristwatch.
Your shoulder seams should align with the slope of your arm, diagonally just above where your underarm sits. The armholes should never be tight, and they should allow you to move your arms without cutting into your underarms. Avoid excess fabric under the arms. Try the tuck test. If your shirt rises more than an inch when you raise your arms, or worse comes untucked, your armholes are not a good fit.
How to measure: Since there aren’t any torso measurements for off-the-rack, you’ll have to try it on. Pinch the fabric at waist level on the sides to make sure there isn’t an excess of more than 2 to 3 inches of fabric.
The perfect fit: Avoid a shirt that fits too loose or too tight. Move around to see if it feels comfortable. For length, the back tail should cover your butt, and the front tail should be the same length as the back. Tuck in your shirt and lift your arms to make sure it doesn’t come untucked.
Dress Shirt Fabrics and Weaves Every Man Should Know
When buying a dress shirt, first consider the type of fibers used to make the fabrics.
- Natural fabrics, such as cotton, breathe well and look attractive appearance. However, cotton tends to easily wrinkle and cost more. It may also become compromised during the laundering process.
- Synthetic/blends come in many combinations, which makes it difficult to accurately compare to cotton. Generally speaking, they are less expensive and wrinkle resistant. Synthetic/blends tend to be less breathable, which can make them uncomfortable. They are often easier to launder but can be damaged from the heat of an iron.
The style of a fabric depends on the weave. All weaves are available in both cotton and blends. Some of the most common and attractive options include:
- Oxford: It is soft and comfortable despite being the coarsest fabric used for dress shirts. Oxford tends to be more casual and is often used for a button-down collar shirt. They have a two-tone look as white thread goes in one direction while the other direction is dyed, giving the shirts a basket weave, textured appearance. If you want less texture, choose a pinpoint Oxford.
- Poplin: Similar to Oxford, but it has a smoother finish. It combines a fine yarn with a thick one in the weave. Poplin is more commonly used for casual shirts and found in patterns as the fabric takes well to colors.
- Twill: It is a textured fabric with a shimmery weave that is more formal. Twill also comes in a herringbone weave, adding depth.
- Broadcloth: Densely packed but similar to Poplin, broadcloth has a more formal in appearance. It is often used for patterns and is also available in end-on-end broadcloth that interweaves threads of alternating colors. It leaves a very subtle texture.
- End-On-End: As mentioned above, end-to-end creates a very subtle texture. In this case, it has a subtle “check.” It can sometimes be two colors or have a stripe.
- Formal Fabrics: A true formal shirt is made of 100% white cotton providing a rich texture to the weave.
Signs of a High-Quality Men's Dress Shirt or Undershirt
Any high-quality piece of clothing is distinguished by the fabric and tailoring. Here’s what to look for in a top-notch dress shirt:
- Pattern Matching: A well-made shirt features skilled pattern matching from shoulder to sleeve, in split yokes, sleeve to sleeve plackets, and shirt fronts or plackets. Pockets and side seams appear seamless.
- Consistent Pattern Development: In a nutshell, this term means every shirt purchased from a single label fits the same. The label, or clothing manufacturer, maintains proper patterns for consistency.
- High-Density Stitching: Well-made fabrics have consistent, tightly woven stitches to ensure durability and elegance.
- Single Needle Stitching: Quality shirts are finished with single-needle stitching for a clean, elegant look. It also ensures less wrinkling after washes.
- Refined Collar: Two layers of fabric are usually used in hand with an interlining for collars that can be fused or unfused. Pick a shirt with an unfused collar, which means it is stitched instead of glued. Also look for symmetry on the collar points, so they sit evenly when worn.
- Well-Sewn Sleeves: Quality sleeves are sewn on at the end of tailoring, not in one swoop with the sides. Look under the arm and make sure the sleeve seams don’t align with the side seams. Many people mistake this for an error, but it actually shows the sleeves were sewn on separately.
- Mother of Pearl Buttons: Buttons add an important detail and aesthetic appeal. Mother-of-pearl buttons are the hallmark of quality. Look for luster.
- Clean Buttonholes: Quality buttonholes are “clean” and free of loose or shredded threads. Clean holes mean they are sewn after the holes are cut. Look for a horizontal buttonhole at the bottom to allow for slight movement when you sit.
For undershirts, look at the following features:
- Neckline: Look for a symmetrical neckline that is evenly stitched with no folds. A crew neck should be perfectly rounded while V-necks should come to a precise point in the center of the chest without signs of folds or wrinkling.
- Durability: Cotton or micro modal fabrics are durable enough to be repeatedly washed while maintaining their shape. Choose a micro modal undershirt if you tend to sweat since the fabric is 50% more absorbent.
- Spandex: Spandex provides stretch and a comfortable, snug fit.
- Odor Fighting: Undershirts should keep you cool and dry while combating odor. Undershirts bound with silver stay fresher and also help regulate your body temperature.
- Wicking: Undershirts should have wicking abilities to keep dampness from reaching your skin as well as your clothes.
We encourage you to refer to this guide when choosing the perfect dress shirt for any occasion. Pairing the right Ejis sweat proof undershirt with your dress shirts can improve your look while extending the life of your clothes.