How To: Pick Out a Dress Shirt


By George Manley | Nov 13th, 2008

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Dress shirts are the backbone of a good wardrobe, particularly the formal side of your wardrobe.  Building a wardrobe is all about balance and coordination; therefore, make good purchases, and buy dress shirts, which can be worn in many aspects of your life.  Dress shirts can be worn with a suit, with a tuxedo, or with casual trousers.  When picking out a dress shirt, there are a few things you need to know about yourself and your style:

1.    Your Dress Shirt Size
2.    Your budget
3.    The Dress Shirt Features (fabric, collar type, sleeve type, body style).

Dress Shirt Sizing

First of all, you need to know your dress shirt size.  I recommend you get your measurements taken by a tailor, and write them down. Most dress shirt stores will offer to take your measurements for free, and if you gain or lose more than 5 pounds, I would get your measurements taken again, as they may have changed.  Knowing your true size is important; however, different brands offer different cut/patterns, so don’t be surprised if you are not always the same size.  At least we don’t have it as bad as women, where vanity sizing causes them to have no idea what size to buy because one brand’s size 4 may be another brand’s size 8.

The three most common types of shirt sizing in America are: Exact Sizing (16×35), Average Sizing (16×35/36), and Sport Shirt Sizing (Large).  If you are buying a dress shirt to wear with a tie, I always recommend Exact Sizing, as it will have the closest fit around your neck.  The biggest difference between these size types is the fit.

Exact Sizing dress shirts are cut to fit your exact neck and sleeve size; therefore, if you are 16” around the base of your neck, and you are 35” from the middle of your back to the point where you wrist meets your thumb (with arms at your sides), then you should purchase a 16×35.  Keep in mind, particularly with 100% cotton dress shirts, there may be some shrinkage, so if you do not like the shirt snug on your neck, you may want to go up a half size to 16.5×35.

Average Sizing is exactly that…it takes the average between two sizes.  For example, if a dress shirt is 16×34/35, the sleeve on that dress shirt most likely measures 34.5” long.  The problem here is the shirt may end up being a little long or a little short.  Average sized dress shirts were created as a less expensive option for retailers because they can stock fewer shirts, which cover more body sizes; this is also why the sleeve and shirt body may be more voluminous in average size dress shirts.

Sport Shirt Sizing is alphanumeric sizing (S, M L XL, 2XL, etc).  I do not recommend you buy a dress shirt in sport shirt sizing, as it will most likely not fit you properly.  Sport shirts are also the roomiest shirts, as they are cut large to offer more mobility and to fit more body sizes within one generic size; for example, a Large (L) might fit a 16×34, 16×35, 16.5×34, and 16.5×35.

Dress Shirt Features

The second thing to consider when purchasing dress shirt are the features.  Each feature, or style preference, represents your personal taste, but also creates a different look.  The feature choices all fit into 4 categories: fabric, collar, sleeve, and body

The fabric is the most important part of the dress shirt, as it determines the overall function and appearance of the shirt.  Fabrics today range from the traditional to the outrageous, so choices can sometimes be tough; however, remember why you need the shirt, and the right choice will become more obvious.  For example, if you are looking for a dress shirt for work, think about your responsibilities on an average workday.  Are you a savage, who sweats like he works from a treadmill?  Do you constantly move around the building?  Are you an outside salesperson, who must bare the elements of nature?  Do you wear a uniform over your shirt, like an apron, a lab coat, or a leather vest?  In all of the above instances, you will want to consider the yarn type, the weave, the weight, the color, and the finish of the fabric.

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