You have invested in a smartly tailored suit or two. You have several pairs of dress shoes that look fantastic with your suits and a fully loaded tie rack. You have a closet full of bargain-bin dress shirts because who really sees the shirt? It’s mostly hidden by the jacket and tie, right?
Wrong! Quality dress shirts make or break your overall look. If the collar is too large, you’ll look as though you borrowed your dad’s old shirt. If the fabric is too thin or the stripes don’t align, your shirt will ruin the appearance of your smartly tailored trousers. You should never cut corners on your dress shirts. Read on to learn about factors you should consider when shopping for quality dress shirts.
Ideally, your shirts are custom made so that you make a suave, debonair entrance to every room. Women swoon at your feet and other men turn green with envy. In the real world, men do need to cut a few corners, but they also require the wisdom to discern which corners can be shaved a bit without affecting the entire ensemble.
If possible, get measured and fitted by a professional tailor. Many dry cleaners and department stores also offer tailoring services. Like off-the-rack suits, off-the-rack shirts rarely fit perfectly. A professional tailor can turn your not-quite-right look into a one-of-a-kind fit that will make you the talk of the town.
Alternatively, you can measure yourself with reasonable accuracy if you only need a new dress shirt, not the whole suit. Measure the circumference of your neck at your Adam’s apple since that is where your collar rests. Allow an extra quarter inch for breathing room and round that number up to the nearest half-inch. This is the neck size you need — the first of the two numbers on the package. Next, keep one arm loosely by your side. With the other hand, place the tape measure at the center of your upper back at the base of your neck and let it drape down the outside of your arm until it reaches your wrist, then round up to the nearest inch. This is the sleeve size — the second of the two numbers on the package.
The final item required to buy a reasonably fitted off-the-rack shirt is some knowledge of your shape versus the shirt's shape. The three basic cuts are classic, slim and athletic. Most men purchase the classic cut as it allows a little more breathing room around the middle. However, if you have an athletic build and would like to showcase the hours you've spent in the gym with a slightly snugger shirt, try the athletic cut. The slim fit is also a good choice if you're wanting a more fitted look, but take care that it isn't too fitted; otherwise, you risk looking like you're wearing a shirt two sizes too small.
By far, cotton is the fabric of choice for men’s dress shirts. However, remember that not all cotton is created equal. The quality of the cotton, the thickness of each strand and the woven fabric's weight each play a role in your new shirt’s fit and appearance.
Oxford cloth is one of the most common cotton shirting materials. Its tight weave creates a heavy fabric ideal for cooler temperatures. Only the threads in one direction are dyed; the threads in the other direction are left white in both solid and patterned shirts, giving Oxford cloth its distinct appearance. Soft and comfortable, the Oxford button-collared shirt should be a staple in your wardrobe.
Poplin fabric is another cotton. Like Oxford cloth, it is soft, comfortable and a little heavy for warm weather wear. Also in keeping with Oxford cloth, poplin's look relies on its unique weave. It achieves its subtle herringbone appearance with a fine thread running in one direction and a thicker thread running in the other.
Selecting a cotton/poly blend is one way to cut corners on your dress shirt that some people may not notice. Blended shirts don’t wrinkle, can be washed without shrinking and tend to have a longer closet life than their pure cotton counterparts. Unfortunately, even expensive cotton/poly blends tend to have a sheen that loudly announces they are not cotton.
One aspect of clothing that most men overlook is pattern matching. In a dress shirt, pattern matching refers to how well the various parts of the shirt match each other, not to the hideous plaid pants that you chose to wear with your striped shirt before you gained your sophisticated fashion sensibilities.
A striped shirt is a perfect example of pattern matching — just look at the pocket. If the stripes on the pocket align perfectly with the stripes on the shirt front, that is pattern matching. Remember to check several other areas that you might not see if you were wearing the shirt, but that anyone looking at you will surely notice. The sleeves should align with the yoke (the part that covers your shoulders) and the front stripes should not miss a thread of width when buttoned. Correct pattern matching is the hallmark of a well-designed dress shirt and definitely an area in which you should not cut corners.
Once you have finished checking your patterns, examine the stitching on your shirt. The more tightly woven the fabric, the denser (shorter) the stitching should be. Fine fabrics call for short, tightly packed stitches, while loose fabrics such as linens cry out for longer stitches. For most dress shirts, the seams are placed 8 mm from the fabric’s edge while extremely elegant dress shirts may move the seams much closer to the edge. The collar and the cuffs should have seams that are the same distance from the fabric’s edge.
While you are checking your collar’s stitching, there are a few other points to check — namely the points. The collar is the most visible feature of your shirt, so its points should lie at the same place on each side of your shirt. While you are examining your collar, note how its front and back are fused. High-quality dress shirts hand-sew the center piece between the front and back so that the collar holds its shape. Lower-quality shirts use a fusible (iron-on) interface between the two collar pieces. The collar will look fine for the first wear or two, but will soon wrinkle due to the nature of fusible interfacing — it is only attached to the underside collar piece, rendering that fabric heavier than the topside collar piece.
Browse high-quality dress shirts
The best way to ensure that you are not cutting corners on your dress shirts is to purchase them from a trusted source. Ike Behar has been a tailor, following in his father’s footsteps, for his entire life. Your collars will be perfect if you wear an Ike Behar patented diamond-stitched collar. The rest of your new dress shirt will match the collar’s quality and attention to detail. Regardless of the collection you choose, know that with the Ike Behar label in the collar, your new dress shirt is of the highest quality.