Tips for expanding your shirt collection

Tips for expanding your shirt collection

Q. I  need to reload my shirt drawer. I’m wondering a) if there are any current or out-of-style shirts I should be on the lookout for, and b) which varieties I use with what?

A.  Working on expanding your shirt collection is a great way for a man to upgrade his wardrobe. Shirts are a focal spot that are immediately noticed. For your day in the business world, your shirt is going to frame your face. It is up front, the focus of your associates’ attention. It makes good sense to concentrate on choosing the right ones.  

The collar is where most men run into problems when buying a shirt. Any reasonable variation of the basic collars – regular (also called straight or point), button-down, and spread(including both the basic spread and the even wider-spread cutaway ) – can be worn by anyone. Two other types of traditional shirt collars (the point collar worn with a collar pin and the tab collar) that once were popular are no longer widely available; these days, they only seem to be found in custom shirts.       

Different shirt collars suit different situations. A classic straight point collar is right with all suits and sports jackets. So are those hard-to-find pin collars and tab collars. Spread collars are a variation of the straight point. Currently, the two types of spread collars are among the most widely seen shirts and are most men’s basic preferences. Although many people seem not to realize it, a button-down collar is less formal than the others. It is not quite dressy enough to wear with an elegant pin-striped or dark double-breasted suit. There are, however, well-dressed men who exhibit what I call the Eastern Seaboard syndrome. They are only comfortable in button-down shirts at all times – even with their dressiest suits. College professors, preppies, and other academics are in this group. But for many men, the only times to wear a button-down shirt are when they are dressing somewhat casually in a sports jacket or a layered sweater, and even more informally with an open-at-the-neck shirt.    

When shirt problems occur, it is because (1) the collar is too tight or too roomy, or (2) it reflects the wrong degree of formality for the suit or the occasion, or (3) it has too slick or too fashion-forward a look for your industry or your personality. The shirts you wear should reflect your individuality. 

If you often find you need to unbutton your collar for comfort at your desk, it is probably because you are wearing the wrong size collar. A huge percentage of men wear the wrong size shirts, ones that are consistently one-half to one-inch too small. They are literally a pain in the neck. Why does this happen? Because time passes and bodies change. I often hear men say, “I’ve worn a 15½/34 shirt all my life.” But the truth is they now need a size 16.

When shopping for new shirts, another choice you must make concerns cuffs. Conventional button cuffs are known as barrel cuffs. Cuffs with buttonholes and no buttons at the cuff, which require cuff links, are known as French cuffs (they are more formal and dressier than button cuffs). Both are acceptable; the choice is a matter of personal preference and matching them well with the other items you are wearing.

My strong recommendation as to what will not only make your new shirts last longer, but also look better has to do with the fabric. Your choice for business dressing and elegant social dressing is uncomplicated: choose all cotton. Pure cotton is classic, luxurious, expensive, and requires ironing. 

Men who want to dress well and look great wear all cotton shirts and find the time to locate the best laundry around. Having your shirts laundered is a business investment very much worth pursuing.

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