Everything You Need To Know About Dress Shirts

Sink Or Swim - Dress Shirt Sizing Guide - Everything you need to know      Dress Shirt Sizing Guide - Everything You Need to Know

From sophisticated professional to business casual, your dress shirt can be hidden under a suit jacket, or right out in the open. No matter the occasion, the fit and design of your choice in dress clothing will define your overall appearance- and the impact you have on the people you meet.

Dress shirts today come in a wide range of fits that are intended to make any body type look it's best. When you consider the cost of dress shirts compared to your average t-shirt- it would only make sense to use the information in this article to guide yourself towards the shirt that fits YOU best. Sorry fellas, but choosing your favorite color simply isn't enough in this situation.

As a rule, dress shirts should feel as great as they look, and it's easier than you think when you know what to look for. Use the information below to find the dress shirt that suits you best, without having to run from store to store trying to find something that will "work."

The Basics

    • There are two methods for finding your dress shirt size (1) Alpha sizing (same as T-Shirts - S, M, L, LT, XLT), and (2) numerical sizing, based on your measurements - neck, chest, arm, and waist. Which can be done easily with the various methods shown below.
    • Dress shirt cuts vary from brand to brand but as a rule there are four to choose from: (1) classic or regular fit, which have a loose fit through the torso and have a broader shoulder, (2) slim fit which are a little more snug than classic fit, (3) modern or athletic fit, which has a tapered torso from the chest down to the waist, (4) fitted, which provides an even greater tapering down from the chest down to the waist measurements.
    • Dress shirts are available in an almost unbelievable 11 different collar cuts or types, which include: (1) small button-down, (2) rolled button-downs, (3) Casual-point Collar, (4) Banded Collar, (5) Semi-Spread Collar, (6) Small-spread Collar, (7) Button Down Collar, (8) Club Collar, (9) Tall Spread Collar, (10) Cutaway Collar, (11) Point Collar. (Details for each below).
    • There are 7 types of cuffs available to choose from (1) one button, (2) two button, (3) french, (4) link, (5) convertible, (6) tab, (7) 3 link tab. (Details for each below).
    • Dress shirt pockets are used to add a little extra flare with multiple variations that can be mixed and matched rather easily, including: (1) rounded, (2)angled, (3) western flap, (4) rounded flap, (5) boxed pleated, (6) inside or inverted pleat. (Details for each below).
    • Dress shirt fabrics available vary as well, including, (1) Egyptian cotton, (2) linen, (3) herringbone, (4) seersucker, (5) royal oxford, (6) poplin, (7) Oxford cloth, (8) flannel, (9) melange, (10) end-on-end, (11) denim, (12) dobby, (13) chambray, (14) twill, (15) pinpoint Oxford, (16) broadcloth. (Details for each below).

Finding Your Dress Shirt Size

It makes sense to start with the basics, and in this case, the correct sizing is the most important aspect of finding the dress shirt that fits your shape and style the best.

In the event that you are trying to find a way to buy a dress shirt online through sites like Amazon.com, with confidence, then there are four measurements that you need to take.

    • Neck Measurement For Dress Shirts: There are a couple ways to get your neck measurement with ease. The first is to have a traditional cloth measuring tape, also known as a soft tape, or flexible measuring tape. Another method for those who may not have one of these measure tapes you can simply use a piece of string, as shown below. In both methods, the key is to make sure that you have at least a fingers width between the measuring tape (or string) and your throat.




    • Chest Measurement For Dress Shirts: For this measurement you want to find the fullest, or thickest part of your chest. Hold the measuring tool of your choice just under your arms- wrap the measuring tape around your body being sure that the tape is level/parallel to the ground. In the process, be sure to make sure the tape extends across your shoulder blades when extending across your back, preventing it from drooping down which would make for a measurement that is too long for your actual size, as shown below.




    • Arm Length Measurements For Dress Shirts: For this measurement you may need assistance from a friend. Place one end of the measuring tape (or string) at the center of the back of your neck. Then, run it over the top of your shoulder and down the outside of your arm, stopping at the wrist. This can be done with the string by making a mark with a felt pen or simply cutting the string at the point where it meets your wrist, as shown below.




    • Waist Measurements For Dress Shirts: Hold the measuring tape about an inch below your belly button, or at the height that you would normally wear your pants. Similar to your neck measurement, it is a good rule to keep one finger width between the measuring tape and your waist, as shown below.

And it's that simple! Now that you have your measurements, we can compare them to the chart below to see what would be the best cut and size to make you look your very best.

Men's Dress Shirt Sizing Chart Men's Dress Shirt Sizing Chart

Dress Shirt Alpha Sizing Chart Dress Shirt Alpha Sizing Chart

Choosing The Fit Of Your Dress Shirt

    • Regular or Classic Fit: This cut uses straight lines throughout the length of the shirt. Offering a wider chest and waist for the wearer. Additionally, this particular cut provides more room across the shoulders and a larger circumference in the sleeve as well. Allowing for a free flowing fit for the wearer.
    • Slim Fit: For those who experience a ballooning effect around their waistline when the shirt is tucked in, this cut would allow your dress shirt to maintain a neat and consistent appearance from top to bottom. This is done by removing some of the room from the classic cut uniformly from the shoulders down to the waistline.
    • Modern or Athletic Fit: This cut provides a distinct tapering from the shoulders down towards the waist. A common cut for those whose torso maintains a more athletic V-shape from the shoulders.
    • Fitted Cut: Similar to the modern cut this cut provides an even more drastic tapering from the shoulders down towards the waist with an additional 1-2 inches removed from the waist circumference.

Note: When shopping for any fit or cut you want to be sure that there is a long shirt-tail as it helps prevent the need to re-tuck the shirt throughout the day. A common issue for taller men in all weight ranges.

Choosing Your Dress Shirt Collar

Dress Shirt Collar Cuts or Types - Sink or Swim Dress Shirt Collar Cuts or Types - Sink or Swim

    • Small Button Down Collar: One of the more formal choices that works well in business casual and even jeans. Has a shorter blade height which is intended for a more collegiate style choice. Wear with or without a suit jacket.
    • Rolled Button Down Collar: A slightly higher blade height than that of the small button-down collar with an even more casual style with a loose and relaxed collar appearance. Used frequently with plaids and flannels.  Can be worn with a less formal jacket or blazer.
    • Casual Point Collar: No tie required here. Typically used with heavier fabrics like twill, chambray, or denim. Not typically worn with a suit jacket or blazer.
    • Banded Collar: May also be referred to as Mandarin or Nehru. This collar lacks a blade and resembles a tall hem line for a neat and "collarless" appearance. A great alternative that is usually accompanied by a suit jacket.
    • Semi-Spread Collar: Typically worn with a tie and suit jacket. Provides a crisp, clean, and professional appearance for formal occasions. Wear with or without a suit jacket.
    • Small-Spread Collar: A more elegant cut which provides a smooth and finished look that is highly versatile. Typically has pouches on the underside of the tip for collar stays, ensuring a crisp look for years to come. Wear with or without a suit jacket.
    • Button Down Collar: A medium sized blade that allows room for a tie, if so desired. Also works well in formal and informal settings, making this a versatile collar cut that works in many settings. Wear with or without a suit jacket.
    • Club Collar: This collar trades the traditional pointed collar tips with a 20th century rounded design. With a medium sized blade height it provides room for a tie, if so desired. Wear with or without a suit jacket.
    • Tall Spread Collar: By far, the most formal collar cut available. Having a high blade height that rests in an upright position which looks great with tie knots of all sizes. Wear with or without a suit jacket.
    • Cutaway Collar: A very popular collar that sports a euro design. Looks great with patterns and solid colors alike. Works equally with or without a tie. Wear with or without a suit jacket.
    • Point Collar: Branded as the "American" collar. Highly versatile with a narrower width between the collar tips. Looks great with or without a tie. This classic design works well with or without a suit jacket.

Choosing Your Dress Shirt Cuff

Dress Shirt Cuff Cuts and Styles

Dress Shirt Cuff Cuts and Styles

As you can see there are many variations available when it comes to the cut, size, and method for fastening your dress shirt cuff.  

    • One Button cuff designs are simply referring to the number of buttons that are available to fasten the cuff at the wrist. Various cuts of cuffs are available in the one button design including rounded, square, angle or mitred, and adjustable. The adjustable cut allows for an adjustable circumference at the wrist, supporting the needs of men of all sizes. Great for professional and casual occasions.
    • Two button cuffs are very similar to the one button design in that they are available in a rounded, square, and angled or mitred cuff. The adjustable cut is forfeited in this design. The difference is that there are two buttons which are laid in line with one another and fasten at the same point in circumference, meaning both buttons are used at the same time as opposed to one button designs which really have two buttons with only one being in use at a time for an adjustable circumference option. The second button can be left unfastened for a more casual and relaxed look. Great for professional and casual occasions.
    • French cuffs are used in professional and elegant settings. Typically worn with a suit jacket. The fold, or "cuff" is twice the length of standard cuffs made from a more rigid material to maintain shaped and overall appearance. Requires a separate cufflink to fasten at the wrist.
    • The link cuff is similar to the French cuff in that it requires a cufflink to be fastened at the wrist. The difference is in the more American, or traditional styles and cuts available, and a slightly less rigid material being used.
    • Convertible cuffs are the versatile because they will come with a button to fasten as well as a hidden flap that will allow the wearer to us a more decorative cufflink. Providing a design the can truly move from casual to professional at a moments notice. This design is also available in rounded, square, and angled or mitred cuts.
    • The 3 link tab, and tab cuffs are both labeled as tab because of the loop that each design uses to fasten the cuff at the wrist. As displayed in the image the loop lays on the outside of the cuff in plain view. The link tab requires a separate cufflink as shown above, and the standard tab link still uses a sewn on button for a less formal appearance acceptable in professional and casual atmospheres.

Choosing Pocket Styles

Dress Shirt Pocket Types

Dress Shirt Pocket Types

Pocket styles, much like cuffs can have a lot to do with the region of the world you are in and personal taste. The distinction being that some are clearly less formal while the majority of them are universal.

    • Rounded Pocket: This design does not have a flap and provides ample room within the pocket. Rounded designs come in small, medium, and large sizes depending on the style of the shirt. This is the traditional pick for dress shirts in both the casual and professional setting.
    • Angled Cut  Pocket: Another very common pocket design that provides less room than a rounded pocket at the bottom due to its angled v-shape. Works well in casual and professional atmospheres.
    • Western Flap Pocket: This design is considered formal within certain regions of the world such as the southwestern section of the United States. The design provides a curved v-shape flap with a button or snap fastener.
    • Rounded Flap Pocket: A more formal and universally used flap design that works well in professional and casual settings. The rounded curve of the flap will usually work best with a rounded pocket design.
    • Boxed Pleated Pocket: Typically used on khaki and denim this design works well in more formal fabrics as well. The pleat draws attention to the pocket more so than something with a smooth finish. Usually this design is accompanied by a flap with a button or snap fastener.
    • Inside Pleat Pocket:  This design turns the pleated cut design and turns it inside out to provide a sleek yet noticeable flare to the shirt pocket. Frequently available with or without a flap or fastener. Works well in formal settings, but more common in a more casual dress shirt cut and style.

Choosing The Fabric

In this next section you will find the definitive overview of various fabrics that are commonly used in dress shirts. Choosing the right fabric or material is highly important, and frequently overlooked when it comes to the overall appearance of your dress shirt.

Review the information below and find the fabric that works best with your build, and style expectations. 

    • Egyptian Cotton: Known as a high-end choice in material its benefits come with its softness and longer than average staple length. Usually worn with higher-end suit sets in a formal setting. 
    • Linen: Ideal for warmer climates. Linens are thinner and provide a sheer look as a result of its looser weave. this fabric will wrinkle easily. For a fabric with less wrinkling a similar option would be a cotton/linen blend. 
    • Herringbone: A very popular option that provides the chevron "V" which is the origins of its name as it resembles the bones of a herring fish. Using a twill base this fabric works well in professional and casual setting alike. 
    • Seersucker: Great for warmer climates due to its "puckered" finish that creates small pathway for air to flow. Great for casual and professional settings. Commonly used in stripe designs, but available in a variety of solid colors as well.
    • Royal Oxford: Provides a distinctly bright and shiny finish appropriate for highly formal events and settings. Perfect for someone that prefers to have a shirt with a visible texture in all colors.
    • Poplin: A fabric with a thin and smooth finish. A traditionally plain weave is used with this material to create a professional finish that works well in a casual setting as well. 
    • Oxford Cloth: Uses a heavier thread in a looser weave providing a rough texture that looks great with a slight wrinkle fresh out of the dryer. Commonly used in traditional polo shirts as well. 
    • Flannel: Offers the most casual look that is preferred in winter months and/or colder climates. Made with a heavier thread that tends to have a fuzzy appearance. Requires less care than other fabrics, while providing a lasting durability.
    • Melange: A unique fabric that uses 2-3 hues of the same base color woven together for a heathered look and finish. Great for formal and informal settings. 
    • End-on-End: Provides a solid color from a distance with a distinct pattern and texture when seen up close. This is a result of its weaving pattern in which the a selected color is blended with white thread, creating a truly unique look that works well in professional and casual settings alike.
    • Denim: A twill fabric that uses a lighter thread than what would be found in jean pants. Creating a smoother finish with a soft feel. Perfect for casual occasions while also worn in more formal settings when paired with the right accessories.
    • Dobby: Comes in a wide range of thread thicknesses that are commonly woven in a textured pattern. Due to its wide range of thicknesses it works equally well in professional and casual settings.
    • Chambray: A heavier fabric that is used in more durable and work ready designs and finishes. Less appropriate for dress this fabric is used in casual shirt designs. 
    • Twill: Presented in a diagonal weave this fabric provides a subtle texture to the finish. Easier to iron, and less prone to wrinkling this fabric works well in both casual and professional settings. 
    • Pinpoint Oxford: Similar to other Oxfords with the exception that it has a thinner thread weight. Highly durable and frequently used in workwear. 
    • Broadcloth: Available in a plain, and simple weave that work for the individual that prefers as little texture as possible in their dress shirt.  Traditionally worn in professional settings this fabric transitions well into casual settings as well.

Caring For Your Dress Shirts

Caring for dress shirts varies greatly depending on the material, quality, and expectations for durability. Dress shirts will usually come with a tag that provides details for how to properly care for, however, there is no description provided for how to do it. Below you can find details about different methods for washing your dress shirts, and determine if and when you should use each method. 

Hand Washing Dress Shirts

Hand washing clothes isn't a crazy idea, and believe it or not- they'll be just as clean as washing your clothes in the washing machine, or taking them to the dry cleaner. In fact, the only downside is the time it takes to hand wash clothes versus the alternatives. 

Step 1: Clean the Container

The first step to handwashing your clothes is to clean the container that you are using to wash them in. It may seem like a pointless venture, but clothing is vulnerable to things like grease stains, or possible chemical residues from other actives that take place in the sink, or wash tub. 

Step 2:  Measure the Detergent

Once you have the container clean the next step is to measure out the detergent- about a teaspoon for a small tub. You don't want too much because in this scenario, you have to personally rinse out the excess soap. A dab will do ya, and there's really no need to use more. 

Step 3: Check the Water Temperature 

When you are hand washing your dress shirt, unless stated otherwise on the tag, you want to use water that is around 80-90 degrees Fahrenheit. It won't so hot that it burns you hands, but it will be warm enough to break up soiled dirt and the invisible remnants of body sweat that ultimately lead to pit stains. 

Step 4: Soak the Dress Shirt

When you first place the shirt in the tub of warm water, and just the right amount of detergent, be sure to let it sit in there a little while. Hand washing clothing isn't about just getting the clothes wet, it's a matter of making sure you let the dirt and dried body sweat break down and make their way out of the material.

Let it soak a while and swish it around a bit before really giving it a scrub. Just like a normal washing machine does after it fills with water.  No need to scrub as you will likely stretch the fabric and create an uneven fit throughout the shirt. 

Step 5: Drain and Rinse

This is the fund part. The only thing that will stretch the fabric more than scrubbing it aggressively is to wring it out. Once the soak has completed, lift the shirt from the water and refill the wash tub with clean, cool water. Put the shirt back in and swish it around a bit- then repeat until you don't see suds in the water anymore. 

Step 6: Drying

If the material is something light like a linen, then it can be appropriate to hang the shirt on a padded hanger. You want to prevent direct contact with a metal hanger as you will certainly get rust stains on the shoulders. 

For heavier fabrics the concern with hanging it up at all is that it will stretch, and become deformed at the shoulders. In this case you want to be sure to lay the shirt on a dry towel that will not bleed colors into the fabric. Basically, you don't want to use a bright red towel on a white shirt- unless of course you're looking to have a pink shirt. 

After you have the shirt layed out flat on a absorbent towel you can roll it up and let the towel soak up as much moisture as possible. You may need  second towel for this process. Once most of the water has been soaked up, lay it the shirt on a flat surface and allow time to dry the rest of the way., flipping the shirt from time to time to allow for quicker drying. 

Machine Washing

Again, the first step is reading the care tag. If it says "dry clean" or "dry clean only" then that is likely the best route to go for getting your shirt clean without destroying the fabric. 

Step 1: Loading the Washing Machine

Pretreat the shirt for stains in the common areas, like armpits, the collar, and on any stains if necessary. Then wash at a temperature that matches the suggested care tag's instructions. If you're washing the item with multiple other items, sorting is necessary.

Dress shirts aren't cheap, and they are susceptable to color bleading from other darker items that may be in the same load of laundry. Be sure to sort the lights from the darks before loading the machine and you dress shirts will last much longer. 

A useful trick is to button the top button, and pop the collar up before washing. This will prevent breaking down the collar and add to the longevity of the shirt. 

Step 2: Drying Your Dress Shirts

Once the machine has finished its cycle your shirts will be fresh and clean. When it comes to dress shirts being washed in a modern washing machine you should be able to remove them and find most items to be all but dry. Which means we can skip the towel technique from the hand washing section. 

Lay your shirts out on a flat surface to dry, but only after doing a little prep work to eliminate some of the wrinkling. As you remove the shirts from the washing machine it is important to grab them by the shoulders and and snap them out like a towel until the fabric is untangled, and mostly flat. 

When you lay it out flat be sure to straighten out the cuffs, and fold the collar as you would when you wear it. This will help with the amount of ironing required, and add to the life of the collar and cuffs as well. 

Flip occasionally until dry. 

Dry Cleaning

The classic method for getting dress shirts clean is to take them to the dry cleaners. This method is very effective at getting the clothes clean, and even more effective at extending the life of the material by keeping the color fresh and vibrant and the material unstretched. 

However, there is a caveat here, and that's the extra planning, time and money involved with dry cleaning. It cost more than using detergent, and you have to drive to a special location to drop off your garments, and to pick them up. It doesn't sound like much, but can become a daunting task week after week. 


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