A dress shirt is a staple in every man’s wardrobe. But whether it’s your first or fifth, you’ll want to be looking on point when wearing it. So, here is your ultimate guide on the best men’s dress shirts, covering fit to outfit combinations. You’ll no longer have to question your dress shirt knowledge.
Dress shirts are a necessity in any man’s wardrobe. They’re needed for a number of occasions, and once you have a few, or even just one, you’re set for any special event. But it can be hard to decipher a casual shirt from a dress shirt. And there are a wide range of options besides your standard classic white shirt.
There’s a variety of fits, cuts, colours, prints, cuff and collar choices, additions, new trend formal shirts, and the list goes on. It can all get a bit confusing with such a variety of options. But with this guide, you’ll be able to find the best dress shirt no problem, look slick in it, and best of all, you’ll have purchased an item that’ll last you months.
Best Dress Shirts
Depending on your shape, height and income, different kinds of dress shirts will suit you better than others. As a general rule it’s best to go for shirts that are made up of at least 80% cotton, but go for 100% if you can. Cotton allows your body to breathe more than made man fibres such as polyester and nylon. Whether you’re going for a smart or casual look, a long sleeved dress shirt accompanied with huge sweat marks isn’t going to add much appeal.
If you’re looking for a casual dress shirt, try picking one in a less conventional short sleeved design, or go for a intricate pattern or colour. You can also choose a dress shirt with something subtly different, such as a more pronounced collar, which will draw it back from the more formal look, but still look sleek and put together.
How To Wear a Dress Shirt
There are actually numerous ways that you can pull off a dress shirt, from casual looks to more formal styles. With the various colour combinations to choose from, dress shirts can actually end up being one of the most versatile pieces in your wardrobe. This is once you know how to pull it off though. In order to wear a dress shirt you should first decide what look you want to go for, whether it’s classic and in a simple white, or bolder and in a more stand out colour.
Best Light Blue Dress Shirt
This isn’t a typical colour you’d go for when thinking of a dress shirt, but it can look great when styled right. Combining it with a dark navy suit leaves the whole blue look feeling anything but blue. Colour co-ordinating it shows you’ve put the time and effort in. You could even go all out with a blue tie, or opt for a different shade to break up the look. Team with some dark brown or light brown loafers, and you’re good to go.
Best White Dress Shirt
The most classic of all coloured shirts, this bad boy can be paired with literally anything. But keep the white shirt classic and pair it with a crisp black suit for the ultimate smart and formal look. If you want to add a pop of colour, whack on a bright tie or pocket square. You’ve also got the option of a variety of coloured footwear, so opt for burgundy to mix things up, or a black or brown to continue the classic style.
Best Light Pink Dress Shirt
Many have shied away from this feminine colour for too long. It adds a great edge to your formal look and can look quite masculine. Teamed with a dark navy slim fit suit, this duo will have you looking slick. The shirt will add a pop of colour, and you could mix it up further with a coloured tie. Stick with brown shoes when combining with a light pink shirt due to the suit colours it matches with. It’ll clash with burgundy and a black shoe will dull the whole look down.
There are a few fit styles for men, ranging from slim to regular. This is based on your preference. If you are of a larger build, a regular fit is the better choice as it won’t cling to your body. Whereas, if you have a slimmer frame, or want to show off your hard work at the gym, opt for slim fit which is a tighter fit all over, allowing you to see the shape of your torso.
The fit of the best dress shirts are your choice, and can make or break your look. If you pick carefully, you’ll look slick and that’s what’ll make it one of the best.
The best men’s dress shirts fit comfortably around the chest, under the armpits, and across the upper back, giving you a full range of motion. A fitted shirt will feel snug, but not too tight. Your chest should “fill out” the shirt in a way where your body shape is seen under the fabric.
As for shoulders, the seam where the sleeve attaches to the body of a fitted dress shirt, should touch close to the top of your shoulders.
You should be able to button the collar easily, with room for two fingers to fit—any more and it’s too loose, any less and it’s too tight.
Types of Formal Shirts
There are several types of formal shirts to choose from, ranging in colour to how it’s made. There are also specific features which you can add from button stitching to the type of collar. It can get a bit overwhelming and confusing when it comes to formal shirt types, but here we’ve laid it all out for you so you don’t have to worry about the nitty gritty bits.
This is the most important factor when buying your dress shirt. The more money you have for it, you’ll be able to add additions and make it more personalised. But there are also many options for those buying it ready made on a budget. It’s just looking around for the best style that suits you.
- Bespoke– You design the shirt entirely, from the colour, fabric, right to the stitching. It can also be personalised.
- Made to Measure– You choose the fabric and other details such as the buttons, but the tailor will already have the shape so it will just be measured to your body.
- Ready to Wear– This is when you will buy the shirt from a shop or online. These can be altered by a tailor if you want it more fitted, such as the sleeve length, the only thing that can’t be altered is the collar.
The most important thing to remember is that you’re able to tell the quality of a man’s dress shirt from the stitching around the collar. For example, a pleated shoulder would be hand finished or the shirt could be hand stitched. You can also tell from the fabric. So if you have a big budget, then splash out. But there are great quality high street equivalents.
- Point Collar– This is the most common style. The forward or straight point collar is cut using straight lines and with a relatively small spread. Better suited to a wide face.
- Spread Collar– Also known as the Windsor collar, it comes in various widths and angles, revealing more of the upper shirt or tie. Better suited to those with a thin face and neck.
- Button-Down Collar– The button-down collar attaches the collar corners to the shirt.
- Removable Collar– These make it easier to iron the shirt and keep it clean, as the neck is the one place that sweat and grim can build up, so it can also become very discoloured.
- Button Cuff– The button cuff is the traditional and most popular cuff type. Consisting of a single cuff that wraps around the wrist and buttons into place, this functional option can offer square, round or angled corners and some versions provide an additional adjacent button for adjustment.
- Cocktail or Turn Back Cuff– The cocktail cuff is basically a double length two-button barrel cuff, this then folds back on itself, while the corners are usually rounded to avoid any snagging in the jacket sleeve.
- French Cuff– This classic dress shirt cuff folds back around the wrist and is fastened by cufflinks rather than buttons.
Most buttons are made of plastic, as it’s cheap and fairly strong. However, if a low quality resin is used, the base of your buttons will crack, and they may break within a year. An alternative to plastic is Mother of Pearl. It isn’t actually pearl, but are made from shell. They will last longer and they’re incredibly strong. However, they’re expensive.
Another point to consider with the buttons is the stitching. A lily stitch is a specific type of hand stitch that is used to attach the button to the shirt, making it last longer. This is mostly used with mother of pearl buttons. Standard buttons are shank stitched as it is cheaper but will still last.
Stitching & Panelling
These are extra additions to the best dress shirts to make them even better. When having a bespoke shirt, or a luxurious ready to wear piece, you’re able to choose AMF stitching along the shoulders, hand pleated shoulder, as well as the added bib.
With or Without a Pocket
A dress shirt with or without a pocket is entirely your personal preference. A dress shirt pocket is functional as you’re able to put in a handkerchief or pocket square. And, they can easily be hid under your suit jacket.
If you’d prefer dress shirts without pockets, then a slim fit shirt is a great choice, as the pocket won’t get in the way of showing off your physique. You’ll be able to make more use out of a dress shirt without a pocket, as it has a younger vibe and can be worn to more events, even casually.
Formal Shirt Colours
You can opt for a plain basic colour to keep a classic look, or mix things up with dress shirt patterns. But it’s best to keep the print simple otherwise you’ll look like Ace Ventura. If you are after a dress shirt with patterns, go for a pinstripe or gingham to keep it low key and formal. They’re a new trend formal shirt, so you’ll be able to look fresh. Here are the best formal shirt colours for men:
- Light Blue
- Pale Pink
The colour wheel consists of 12 main colours, ranging from red to yellow. These can also be referred to as hues. If you add white or black to these then they will change in hue yet again; for example black and white makes grey.
By making these combinations, you can pretty much come up with any colour you want. But what’s really important, is how close or far away the colours are, as this is what makes them easy or difficult to co-ordinate.
- Similar colours are next to each other. For example blue and purple-blue are easy to co-ordinate. When colours are close to each other in the wheel, they will match.
- Complementary colours are opposite from each other in the wheel. For example blue and orange. These colours are the hardest to pair together. Even though they ‘complement’ each other, combining them can be difficult.
- Contrasting colours have three colours between them in the wheel. For example blue, red and yellow. The best way to pair these together, is to make sure one of the colours is a darker tone. If they are both vivid colours they will compete with the eye too much.
Shirt & Suit Combinations
The suit entirely depends on the colour of the shirt. You want the shirt and suit combination to match, as you’ll want to look your best. Wearing clashing shades will be the last thing you want, as you’ll look clownish. Here are the best shirt and suit basic colour combinations.
I think you can’t go wrong with a classic white shirt and black blazer combo, paired with a thin black tie. This instantly gives the look a more cool, modern feel to it.
– Lauren Groves, Freelance Stylist
Shirt & Tie Combinations
The tie will also need to be matched based on the shirt. With neutral colours such as white and grey, anything goes with this shirt and tie combination, due it’s ability to match with everything. However, pale pink, light blue and gingham will need a little more thought, as it’s easy to get it wrong. The size and width of the tie is entirely based on preference, so it’s up to you. Here are the best shirt and tie combinations.
Shirt & Shoe Combinations
You’ll want to keep the footwear as formal as the shirt, so opt for shoes such as brogues or loafers. Also stick to neutral shades in order to make the most of them, as they’re more likely to go with more of your outfits. They’ll be the final addition to your formal look.
There are other shoe colour options, ranging from white to red, so if you want to add more character to your look, then team your look with these. Just remember to look at the colour wheel to make sure they match, otherwise you’ll look like a clown.
- Shrinkage- The shirt will shrink by about 5% after its first wash, so don’t get it too tight.
- Try to opt for 100% cotton if you can, or Egyptian cotton, as it lasts longer and wears better.
- If it’s your first shirt, go for white or light blue as they’re the easiest to style.
Further Reading: History
Shirts first appeared in European dress in the 17th Century as a kind of underwear, designed to protect expensive waistcoats and frock coats from sweat and soil. But by the early 19th Century, shirts had gained their own importance as garments. The emphasis placed by Beau Brummell on wearing clean perfectly styled linen, brought the shirt into increased prominence as an essential male garment.
Even up to the beginning of the 20th Century, the white shirt was considered to be the symbol of a gentleman. But in order for shirts to look clean, particularly the collar, a man would have to have enough money for them to be washed frequently.
Shirts made to be worn with formal attire were traditionally cut with a stiff wing collar in the late 19th Century, and that style remained standard until after WW1. The Duke of Windsor developed the move to a pleated, front formal shirt with a turned-down collar in the 1920s. The Duke explained to his shirt maker that he wanted a softer alternative to the stiff-winged collar shirt. The pleated front of the dress shirt is designed not to extend below the waist, so that the front will not bulge forward when the wearer sits down.
By the late 1960s there was a trend in evening shirts toward more ornate styles. Almost feminine dress shirts, with huge ruffles, horizontal pleats, embroidery, and lace all featuring. They were finished off with mandarin collars and came in a variety of new colours. This trend carried on until the 1970s, but this died out by the early 2000s, and most men have reverted to the more traditional styles in white fabrics. The dress shirt is still now one of the most defining pieces of formal shirt types and attire.
The trajectory of the shirt is interesting. It’s gone from underwear to a staple of smart men’s attire. For a long time it was underneath a linen, compared to fabrics that were worn on top. But now it’s a staple of men’s wardrobes for both formal and casual occasions.
– Amber Butchart, Fashion Historian
Best Dress Shirts for Men
- Experiment with colour i.e. blue, pink, grey and black.
- Make sure that it fits you correctly as an ill fitting shirt can ruin an outfit.
- Stick with classic shapes as trends come and go.
On That Note
The dress shirt is a necessity in every man’s wardrobe, and a great fit into everyone’s look. Styled right, and you can look a million pounds. And with such a wide range of features to pick and choose over, you’ll never run out of options or choices. You’ll have a collection in no time.
These are just a few points to look out for when choosing your shirt in order to make it as personalised as possible, allowing you to show your character. Mix things up with a pinstripe or gingham shirt, or keep it classic with white or pale blue. And don’t be afraid of pink. These handy tips will keep you looking fresh, and your formal look on point. And there you have the best dress shirts for men.
Feature image from Pinterest