Men’s Dress Shirt Essentials Comprehensive basics, from fabric weave to collars to cuffs
You’ve heard “No shoes, no shirt, no service.” But there’s so much more to it than just wearing a shirt.
Details, from fabric weave to button materials to whether there’s a seam running down your yoke, say a lot about your style and where you’re going. A solid presentation will guarantee that others serve you looks–good ones, admiring ones.
So here’s the consummate guide to men’s dress shirts:
Dress Shirt Essentials: Fabric and Weave
Broadcloth is a tightly woven fabric with very little sheen or texture. The fabric is thin, smooth, and can be slightly transparent at times. Broadcloth is a more delicate, formal material, and it is prone to wrinkling.
Twills are recognizable by their diagonal weave. This fabric is softer and more drapable than broadcloth or pinpoint, and it has more shine. Twills can range from very fine texture to larger twills.
Twills with very tight weaves and high thread counts are sometimes mistaken for silk. While twill is not as “crisp” as broadcloth, it’s easier to iron and more resistant to wrinkles.
Oxford cloth is made of a slightly heavier thread and a looser basket weave. It’s often rougher in texture than broadcloth or twill, but it’s more durable than most fabrics. Oxford cloth is more casual, as it was originally developed as sportswear. Many polos are made of Oxford cloth, but this material is not always considered appropriate for formal wear.
Pinpoint uses the same basket weave pattern as the Oxford cloth, but with a finer yarn and a tighter weave. This makes the fabric more formal than the Oxford but less formal than broadcloth or twill. Pinpoints are slightly heavier than broadcloths and naturally less transparent.
Chambray is a plain weave fabric, like broadcloth. It’s made with heavier yarn for a more relaxed, workwear appeal. A characteristic of chambray is that it has white threads running width-wise through its weave. These white threads are often woven with another color so that the shirt appears solid from afar but more textured when observed up close.
Like chambray, denim is made with a colored yarn and a white yarn. But denim has a twill weave instead of a plain weave. You’ll typically notice a lighter color on the underside of denim, while chambray is identical on both sides. Denim fabric is heavier, more rugged, and more casual. While a higher thread count denim with a tighter weave makes it more formal, the denim shirt is definitely not a formalwear item.
Microfiber is a fine synthetic fiber whose diameter is less than ten micrometers. That’s thinner than silk thread, which is already one-fifth the diameter of a human hair. Microfiber has elastic and moisture wicking properties, so it’s the shirt of choice if you need to move around a lot.
Jacquard cloth has a raised pattern that’s woven into the fabric. These patterns can take any form, but popular jacquard prints include damask, floral, and geometrics. A jacquard weave is created through a loom process, wherein the loom raises each warp thread independently of the other threads. Jacquard shirts are often more stretchable than traditional broadcloth, twill, or pinpoint shirts.
Herringbone is a type of weave with a distinctive V-shaped pattern. It’s usually found in twill fabric. Herringbone weave has a break at reversal resembling a broken zigzag. This pattern gets its name because its weave looks like the skeleton of a herring fish.
Brushed / Flannel
Brushed fabric is a soft-woven cloth, typically made of cotton, that is then swept to be made fuzzy. This casual shirt fabric is drapable and good for insulation, and it’s often constructed with a thicker weave.
Seersucker is a lightweight cotton fabric that is striped and puckered. It is woven in a way that some threads bunch together to form a wrinkled, bumpy appearance in places. This allows the fabric to tent away from the skin when worn, which allows for heat to escape and for air to circulate. Seersucker is the perfect summer fabric.
Dress Shirt Essentials: Anatomy
Collars are the part of a shirt that frames or fastens around the neck. Unlike lapels, which are folded from the same fabric as the main body, collars are separate pieces of fabric that are sewn onto a shirt.
Collars are one of the most noticeable elements of shirt style, along with the cloth material. They define the formality of a shirt and whether you need to wear a tie, or what type of tie to wear. There are six main types of shirt collars: straight, button down, spread, cutaway, club, and tab.
Cuffs are at the ends of the shirt sleeves. They are created by splitting the sleeve along one edge and then fastening it to fit more snugly around the wrist.
Button cuffs, also called barrel cuffs, have buttonholes. They are meant to be buttoned, of course.
Link cuffs have buttonholes on both sides. These cuffs are meant to be closed with cufflinks or silk knots. They are commonly fastened in “kissing” style, where the insides of both ends are pressed together.
French cuffs, or double cuffs, are twice the length of a regular cuff, and they are folded back so that the cuff becomes two layers. These cuffs are then secured with a cufflink.
Convertible cuffs may be closed with buttons or with cufflinks.
Most buttons today are made of plastic, which is inexpensive and fairly strong. But a low-quality resin base can crack, leaving your buttons broken within a year.
Mother of Pearl is the more luxurious alternative to plastic. These buttons are not actual pearl, but they are made from extremely hard shells that are so solid they can break needles. Mother of Pearl buttons are only on higher-end shirts now, since they are expensive to produce, and they tend to disintegrate when exposed to harsh detergents.
The yoke is the panel of fabric on your upper back that is shaped to fit around the neck and shoulders. A one-piece yoke is made from a single piece of fabric, while a split yoke is split down the middle and sewn together.
Some will argue that split yokes fit better since each side can be tailored separately to fit a person’s asymmetrical shoulders. It’s also argued that a split yoke shirt is more expensive because it takes more time and fabric to produce. Most shirts, however, have unsplit yokes.
The placket of a shirt is the front strip where the buttons run down. Because a shirt’s opening experiences the most contact, with buttoning and unbuttoning, plackets reinforce this area. There are a few different placket styles:
An American placket is a visible strip made from sewing down folded fabric, or sometimes attaching a separate piece of fabric. The stitches are visible.
A French front is made by folding fabric inward to be sewn. Buttons run down the shirt, but no stitches are visible. French fronts are considered more formal.
A covered front is the most formal option. Only the top button at the collar remains visible, while all other buttons are hidden beneath an extra layer of fabric.
And there you have it. We’ve covered all your bases for dress shirts, from makeup to style. Pumped to dress yourself now? Feel free to check out our new line of men’s dress shirts.
Read next: A Visual Guide to Shirt Collars
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