The art of the shirt pocket

The art of the shirt pocket

Q. Do breast pockets distinguish the quality of a shirt? When I’m buying shirts for work I’m always thrown by which have pockets and which don’t, and worry if there is a reason or function for some dress shirts to have a breast pocket and others do not? And if so, should I only wear one with jackets and suits?

A. Oddly enough, whether you are wearing a dress shirt with or without a single chest pocket is not very likely to be noticed by anyone other than yourself. It is more a matter of personal preference and taste than you might think.

Historically, the more dressy the shirt, the more likely it was to have no pocket. This was probably the case because a man who was elegantly dressed for a social event was not expected to be conducting any sort of business that would require his carrying a writing instrument. Therefore, formalwear shirts designed to go with either ultra-formal white tie and tails or the not-quite-so-formal black-tie attire have never had a pocket. And, among non-formalwear shirts, the dressier French cuff models were often purposely made with no pocket for a simple clean look, which increases the formality and elegance of the shirt and also accentuates its trim fit.

Nowadays, however, a French cuff shirt that is made without a pocket is likely to be merely a matter of style preference. Shirts with a pocket have a more casual and sporty look. They are perfect for occasions and working surroundings where you want an easy and less stiff style. The next step down in formality, button-cuff business shirts, almost always have a pocket.

While most of today’s shirts have a pocket, the vast majority of men never use the pocket – so why choose that shirt? With a wide variety of styles available, it is a detail that many men happen to like. On the other hand, a pocketless shirt does have one advantage: it eliminates the possible mistake of placing anything in it that bulges or just might look clunky.

To repeat, most often the difference depends upon whether the shirt has French cuffs (usually with no pocket) or button cuffs (usually with a chest pocket); you need not worry that one or the other is read as inappropriate. Rather than concern yourself about whether a shirt should or should not have a pocket, your time would be better spent focusing on what fabrics, colors, or styles to choose. There are many companies out there that make beautiful shirts, offering you a variety of wonderful options. Since the shirt is usually the lightest item in your outfit, it may be the first element that others notice. Take your time choosing one that brings you compliments and sets you apart from the crowd

Regarding pockets, one rule is ironclad: a shirt that has two breast pockets is definitely a sport shirt and not a dress shirt; it can be worn anytime you want a casual shirt. That means, you can wear it with informal khakis, jeans, shorts, etc. And, just as with short-sleeved shirts, it is never worn with a necktie. So, if a shirt has two pockets, do not wear it with a suit, a blazer, or a sport coat. But whether it has one pocket or none does not affect whether or not it is appropriate to be worn with jackets or suits.

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