Understanding the Dress Shirt: Custom Shirt Giveaway

by Antonio on April 12, 2009 · 338 comments

in Dress & Grooming, Style


A man’s dress shirt can elegantly frame his face during a presentation and later absorb his perspiration during a tough round of questioning. It can play a supporting role by enhancing his sport jacket or it can stand alone and be the centerpiece of his outfit. The dress shirt ranges in price from the $9.99 Wal-Mart polyester special to over $600 for a name brand custom shirt. But why would you want to read an entire article about dress shirts?

Because details matter. In any given day we only speak with a small percentage of the people we see; the shirt you wear, in the absence of a jacket, is the most powerful signal you are using to non-verbally communicate with those around you. Your shirt, whether you like it or not, is speaking for you; make sure it’s saying what you intend.

What is a Dress Shirt

A proper dress shirt is a button-up shirt with a collar, long sleeves, and wrist cuffs. It is usually made from a cotton fabric woven and dyed into various, non-obtrusive patterns and colors. By altering these characteristics, a dress shirt can either send the message its wearer is ready for sport or ready to meet the president.

Dress Shirt Fit

Most men wear dress shirts that do not fit them properly. The problem is that ready made garments are made to fit many; as a result, they fit no one perfectly. We all compromise somewhere if a shirt fits us in the neck it fails us in the sleeve length; if it fits well in the sleeves, it billows out around the stomach. So the fit  I’ll describe here is generally only achievable on a custom shirt or one that’s close to fitting and then tailored by a skilled hand.

A well fitted dress shirt should first and foremost be comfortable; this is different for every man. Larger men are usually complimented by a looser fit while petite and thin men are complimented by a more form cut. In general, though, a shirt should:

  • Allow two fingers in the collar when buttoned.
  • Be tight enough around the wrist so that the cuffs must be unbuttoned to slip them off.
  • Have long enough sleeves so that you can raise your arms like wings and not pull the cuffs down the forearm; they should be short enough so that you don’t have more than 1 inch of fabric bunching near the cuff when your arms hang.
  • Shoulder points that extend to the end of the shoulder and no farther.
  • Have room in the chest and waist to pinch out 1-3 inches of fabric (depending on fit desired).

Dress Shirt Fabric

Cotton. The undisputed king of shirt fabrics, cotton has been the choice of those in the know for centuries. A finely woven cotton fabric exhibits all the properties a man could want from a garment worn close to the body, good heat & moisture conduction, durability, smoothness, and the ability to take shape when ironed.

Man-Made Fibers. Although they do not exhibit the same desirable properties as cotton, man made fibers have made a huge impact on the shirt scene due to their ability to do an acceptable job at a rock bottom price. Often wrinkle and stain resistant, these fibers have and will continue to play a major role in menswear. Although I recommend staying away from shirts with more than 50% man made fiber, for the budget minded, they may be a viable alternative.

Silk. A luxury fabric easily recognizable because of its sheen and light drape, it is not recommended for most as, the maintenance costs are high and long term durability low. But that’s just my opinion!

Dress Shirt Color


White – The most common shirt color; historically it has dominated the scene and was initially the only choice for a gentleman. The lack of color on a man’s collar and cuffs signified he did not have to do dirty work; colored shirts were looked upon with suspicion as it was assumed they were colored to hide stains. To this day, white still reigns as the most formal color, and its popularity has safely placed it among the iconic garments a man can wear. Where ever you may be, a man can safely assume a white shirt will never be out of place.

Blue – Blue’s dominance has more to do with its ability to compliment most men’s complexions rather than heritage. The popularity of blue exploded in the United States as more and more off-the-rack manufactures looked for colors and patterns that would sell. Today the color firmly holds a place as a safe alternative to white. And unfortunately, this is often the extent of the variety found in a man’s dress shirt collection.

Other Colors – Pink, gold, lavender, off-white, forest green, and even red, just a few of the multitude of colors available to the man who is willing to walk a different path. Whether these colors dominate the dress shirt, or highlight the pattern woven into it, they can compliment every complexion out there. And with less than 10% of the shirt wearing population even dabbling into these shades, the man who masters wearing them can easily set himself apart in a room of like dressed men.



Solid – The simplest and most formal pattern, yet the most versatile. A solid shirt’s defers attention away from the color (unless it is gaudy) and instead helps a man better display the style and fit of his garment. And solid doesn’t always mean solid; different weaves can slyly give the impression of monotony from a distance only to reveal their true nature up close. A solid white poplin fabric has a very different look and feel from a solid white twill or herringbone.

Stripe – Most of us can’t go wrong with a classic blue on white, but consider adding certain accent colors such as red or pink to liven up the hues in the face. This pattern looks especially good with a solid colored suit.

Check – Historically the purpose of the check was to signify a wearer’s background. Today, most men are intimidated to wear such a pattern with a suit as they think it will appear overpowering.  It won’t, as long as you remember not to mix like patterns; a checked shirt with a solid suit and striped tie are a great combination. However, it is the least formal pattern and should be worn carefully in business on the US East Coast and abroad.

Dress Shirt Style

The Shirt Collar

The purpose of a shirt collar is to properly balance and frame a man’s face. It’s the most visible part of a shirt when wearing a jacket and because of it’s proximity to the face, plays a very large role in determining the formality and use of the shirt. For this article we will only talk about turndown collars and its two major variants, the point and spread.

collar-straight-pointPoint Collars – The most common collar style seen in the US is the point collar; found on 95% of off-the-rack dress shirts, it is cut so that the collar points are reasonably close together with the collar angle being at or less than 60 degrees. The advantage of this collar style is that longer, more closely set points tend to draw the eye down which elongates the face. Unfortunately, most off-the-rack point collars seek the middle ground and do not have a small enough angle or long enough points to reap the full rewards of this effect.

collar-spreadSpread Collars – The second style is the spread or “cutaway” collar. These collars have the points “cut away” thus the name, revealing more of the upper shirt area; typically we see these collars with angles greater than 90 degrees. Spread collars are excellent for the gentleman with a medium to long shaped face, as they do the opposite of the point and spread out a man’s features.

Shirt Cuffs

Besides the collar, the shirt’s cuffs are the only visible parts of a shirt when a jacket is worn; they are divided into two types, button (casual to formal) and French (formal).


Button Cuffs – Button cuffs are single cuffs which wrap around the arm and are buttoned into place. These are the cuffs most commonly found on ready made shirts. Button cuffs may have a single button or may be adjustable, with two buttons side-by-side. Some have two buttonholes and two vertical buttons- a more formal option often called the “barrel cuff.” Button cuffs may also have a small button on the sleeve, between the cuff and the end of the cuff opening, intended to prevent the area from opening and exposing the gentleman’s wrist.


French Cuffs – French cuffs are the most formal option, yet are perfectly appropriate for daily wear in many industries such as finance. The French cuff is a double cuff, folded back and fastened with cufflinks to create a distinctive and distinguished appearance. Cufflinks must always be worn – though there are more subtle options available, such as fabric knots – so the gentleman must be prepared to keep a reasonable selection on hand.

Dress Shirt Buttons


Most buttons today are made of plastic, a suitable material for the job asit is inexpensive 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 eloquent alternative to plastic is Mother of Pearl. Not actually pearl, these buttons are made from shell and are so hard that they can break needles. They are only found on higher end clothing today because of their cost and tendency to disintegrate over time when exposed to harsh detergents.

Closing Comments

This article could go on; we didn’t even get into monograms, pockets, split yokes, the placket, gussets, pattern matching, collar stays, and back style. For those interested in more, please visit A Tailored Suit’s Style Guide or the resources we listed in The Art of Manliness’s best online style links.

Matching a Tie With Your Dress Shirt

Matching your dress shirt with a tie and suit can be tricky business. Here’s a guide on how to match your tie with a dress shirt and suit.

The Contest

The Art of Manliness and A Tailored Suit have teamed up to give one lucky reader a hand-made custom dress shirt valued at $149. To enter you need to leave a comment describing your ideal dress shirt and specify 1) your fabric choice (include a reference #), 2 ) collar style, 3) cuff type,  and 4)breast pocket style. This information can readily be found within A Tailored Suit’s online Build Your Garment tool.  All comments must be submitted by Friday, April 17 at 10PM CST. The winner will be announced on Saturday, April 18, 2009.

Written by
Antonio Centeno & the Team at A Tailored Suit

301 Tom April 16, 2009 at 3:12 pm

Color: #4-6-79
Collar: Regular Business Collar
Cuff: Two Button Cut Corner Cuff
Pocket: Diamond Cut Pocket

302 Brent April 16, 2009 at 3:47 pm

My ideal shirt would be one that fits. My neck is 17″ and waist is 34″. Off the rack, if the shirt fits my neck the body is way too large. If it fits my body the top button will not button. Even Brooks Brothers “slim fit” is like wearing a sail.

Fabric 4-6-64
Collar Straight Point
Cuff Two Button Cut Corner
Pocket Rounded, left breast

303 Jonathan Foster April 16, 2009 at 4:35 pm

Fabric 4-6-36
Collar Classic Button Down
Cuff Contour French
No Pocket

304 Alexandre de Verteuil April 16, 2009 at 4:39 pm

Fun contest! I like to dream. If I am going to have a custom made dress shirt, it’s might as well be versatile : I’ll go for a regular fit, light 100% cotton white shirt. Medium spread collar, left rounded pocket, two button corner cuffs, panel front style and center box pleat back. This draw is open to canadians eh?

305 Ed April 16, 2009 at 5:15 pm

I need a classic white dress shirt that’ll look just as great with my black suit as it will with my favorite jeans. As an athletic guy, it’s always tough finding a perfect fit.

Fabric: #4-3-1
Collar: straight point
Cuff: one-button, rounded edge
Pocket: square pocket

306 Wade April 16, 2009 at 5:40 pm

Choice of fabric: #4-2-5 Gray
Medium spread collar
Square edge French Cuff
Square cut pocket (left side)

I think this shirt would look good with a wide range of business and casual attire.

307 Vincent C April 16, 2009 at 6:24 pm

Wooh! This sounds really interesting, I never knew there were so many design options for dress shirts!

From what they have, the combo I like best is:
ID# 4-6-66
Classic Spread Collar
Contoured French Cuff
No Pocket
Panel Front Style
Side Pleats

308 Matt April 16, 2009 at 7:11 pm

I would love to have a tailored shirt!

Regular Business Collar
One button rounded
No pocket
Plain back

309 Kirk April 16, 2009 at 7:46 pm

Although I was just a lowly clerk I fantasized about the day when I’d have enough f-you money to buy a dress shirt with my initials on the sleeve of a white dress shirt that had french cuffs adorned with sophisticated cuff links. The tabbed collar would accent my tie which just so happened to compliment the pocket square I had recently received from my future wife as a gift for landing a major deal. I dreamed of a time that when I’d put on my cotton dress shirt I wouldn’t have a bunch of extra shirt hanging about my midsection making me look heavier than I actually was. Maybe, if I worked hard enough, I could eventually have a closet full of these shirts in various styles all tailored to fit. Right now all I wanted was one.

310 Wes April 16, 2009 at 8:33 pm

Basic white # 4-6-64
Point collars
button cuffs

311 Chris Panzero April 16, 2009 at 8:35 pm

Good thoughts, and quite convenient, as I will be in need of a good fitted shirt soon for my job search. If nothing else, I now know EXACTLY what I need to get a quality dress shirt. Thanks!

Color: #4-6-88 Blue

Straight Point Collar
Two Button Rounded Edge Cuff
No Front Pocket
Regular Front
Centered Box Pleat Back
No Monogram
Regular Fit

Neck: 14.75
Full Chest: 38.5
Full Shoulder: 21.0
Right Sleeve: 24.5
Left Sleeve: 25.0
Bicep: 13.25
Wrist: 6.25
Stomach: 35.5

Normal Stance
Normal Shoulder Slope
Fit Chest
Normal Stomach
Normal Seat

312 Norm April 16, 2009 at 8:54 pm

A good shirt should just fit, and not feel constrictive. I have so many that find their way to goodwill because the fit is uncomfortable.

1) #4-6-67

2 ) Regular Business Collar

3) Rounded Edge French Cuff

4) No pocket

313 Gregg April 16, 2009 at 9:18 pm

Fabric – #4-2-88
Collar: Classic Spread Collar
Cuff -Square edge French cuff
Breast Pocket – none

314 Sacco April 16, 2009 at 9:40 pm

Fabric – #4-6-39
Collar: Classic Spread Collar
Cuff -Square edge French cuff
Breast Pocket – none

315 Michael April 17, 2009 at 1:22 am

Fabric: #4-1-41
Collar: Classic Spread Collar
Cuff: Button Cuffs
Pocket: non

Thanks for the contest guys! You rock!

316 Joe Day April 17, 2009 at 7:11 am

Fabric #4-6-33
Collar – Point Collar
French Cuff
No Breast Pocket

great contest.

317 Jeremy McBane April 17, 2009 at 7:34 am

Great contest! Thanks AoM and ATS. And good luck to the other contestants.

1) fabric choice – 4-8-61 (Poplin, blue and white checks.)
2) collar style – classic spread
3) cuff type – square edge French
4) breast pocket style – none

Front Shirt Style – regular
Back Shirt Style – side pleats
Overall Shirt Fit – Form
Monogram – (classy!) “mod” on the right cuff, yellow color, block font style

Related to the “Role of Seasons” in the ATS Style Guide, I recommend the book “Color for Men”. I got a used copy for a few bucks in Amazon. It goes into detail as far as helping you determine which of the 4 seasons you are. Also has pretty good general advise for dressing your best, depending on your face shape, body type, and so forth.

318 Andrew Yeung April 17, 2009 at 7:55 am

i’d shoot for the basic look!

Fabric: #4-3-1 White
Regular Business Collar
Square Edge French Cuff
No Breast Pocket
Panel Front Shirt Style
Plain Back
Form Fitting

319 Jim April 17, 2009 at 8:27 am

Thanks for all you guys do,

For the give-a-way the “skin” measurements are,
15 1/2″ neck
39 1/2″ full chest
20” full shoulder width
27 1/2″ right arm
28” left arm
13″ bicep
7 1/2″ wrist
35” waist/stomach

320 Jim April 17, 2009 at 8:32 am

sorry, I forgot to put in a few things

cotton fabric
#4-6-64 color
French cuff
and a point collar

321 Don April 17, 2009 at 8:40 am

I am looking for a wild dress shirt with a white collar, white french cuffs, and a white front panels in order to look like I am in uniform during formal functions and then show some attitude later on.

322 Josh April 17, 2009 at 11:20 am

1. #4-2-2
2. Medium Spread Collar
3. One Button Cut Corner Cuff
4. No Pocket
5. Regular Front Style
6. Side Pleats (Back)
7. No Monogram
8. Regular Fit –

323 Eli Van Zoeren April 17, 2009 at 11:39 am

I like the blue and black pinstripes: #4-6-4
Medium spread collar
One-button cut corner
No pocket


324 Hayden April 17, 2009 at 11:57 am

My perfect dress shirt would be in cotton fabric, white small check on a blue background (ID# 4-6-69), with a straight point collar, contoured French cuff, and no front pocket. I think the results would be beautiful.

325 Alex April 17, 2009 at 12:11 pm

Colored checks for casual outdoors or matched with a blazer for work.

Fabric #4-6-1
Regular business collar
Two button square-edge cuff
Square pocket

326 Jerrod April 17, 2009 at 12:24 pm

Ideal Shirt:

1. Cotton #4-6-73 Blue
2. Straight Point Collar
3. One Button Square Edge Cuff
4.Square-cut pocket – Left side

327 ouredman April 17, 2009 at 12:26 pm

My shirt –

#4-6-47 Multicolor (cotton); straight point, 1 button cut corner cuff, and diamond-cut pocket on left

328 David April 17, 2009 at 12:45 pm

Ideal Shirt:

1) 4-6-69 Blue
2) Straight Point Collar
3) One Button Rounded Edge Cuff
4) Square pocket

329 Marc April 17, 2009 at 1:43 pm

My ideal shirt:

Slim Fit
Reference #4-6-68 (the light blue herringbone)
2 Button cut-corner cuff
Medium spread collar
No pocket

330 Mike Cavanaugh April 17, 2009 at 2:33 pm

My ideal shirt would be a bit classy but versatile:

1) Solid White Herringbone ID# 4-6-64
2) Classic Spread Colar
3) One button square edge barrel cuff
4) No breast pocket

Thanks for all the gentlemanly advice.

331 Jim N April 17, 2009 at 2:36 pm

My ideal dress shirt:

1. Fabric ID# 4-6-48
2. Straight Point Collar
3. Contoured French Cuff
4. No Pocket

I can only imagine the feeling and confidence of sporting a perfectly fit shirt. I have never owned a custom tailored shirt. Reading your article was eye opening and inspiring as usual. I wait with fingers crossed.

332 Martin Schwartz April 17, 2009 at 4:06 pm

White #4-1-1
Narrow straight point collar
square edge french cuff
no pocket
panel front
center box pleat
regular fit
1 important thing if this is really a custom shirt: the collar must fit to hide a long neck so that, when I’m wearing the shirt, the back of the collar is displayed properly.
And, no matter what, a white shirt calls for a light grey undershirt ,invisible under the shirt, unlike a white shirt, which usually “shines” through.

333 Joshua April 17, 2009 at 4:33 pm

For me, the classic look can’t be beat. Fashion trends come and go, but the classics endure forever. Also, my sense of dress clothing is deeply ingrained from watching the Bond films too many times growing up. So, keeping that in mind, my ideal dress shirt would be:

Fabric #4-2-2 Blue
Classic spread collar
2-Button, square-edge cuff (since I don’t see my preferred cuff)
No Pocket!
Panel Front
Side Pleats
A fit somewhere between form and regular.

334 Daniel Rosenthal April 17, 2009 at 4:50 pm

1. Fabric #4-6-30
2. Straight Point Collar
3. One Button Cut Corner Cuff
4. No breast pocket

Awesome giveaway…
thanks guys

335 jeff April 17, 2009 at 5:21 pm

Fabric: 4-2-1
Collar: Medium Spread
Cuff: Square Edge French
Pocket: None

336 Jason April 17, 2009 at 5:25 pm

Just lost 30 pounds, so it would be awesome to wear a dress shirt that finally fits properly! Here are my specs:
Fabric: 4-6-25
Collar: business point
Square french cuff
Diamond cut pocket

I love this blog!

337 Allen Lightfoot April 17, 2009 at 6:36 pm

Great article, I just finished Life’s little Instruction book, and one of the things it said was to own a tailor made shirt, so I would like to own at least one shirt that was made for me and me only.

Fabric: ID# 4-6-47
Medium spread collar
One button rounded edge cuff
No pocket.

338 Have Pack, Will Travel April 17, 2009 at 7:00 pm

I’ve been dying to get a custom tailored shirt and suit for a while. Just need to come up with some extra money to SUIT UP!

Thanks for setting up this contest. Here’s my entry.

Fabric: #4-6-62
Medium Spread Collar
Contoured French Cuff
Contoured French Cuff

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