"The shirt is the piece of clothing that is closest to your body; it needs to
act almost like your second skin and cotton performs this function the best,"
says Alan Flusser, author of Clothes and the Man. For such an important companion, you want to be sure that it is
enhancing your professional image. Gone are the days when blue and discreet
stripes were the only shirt options for the businessman. Today there are many
choices in fabric, styles and colors; selecting carefully will ensure both
professionalism and comfort.
Let's examine the fabric, color, collar, cuffs and fit--all elements that
should be considered when purchasing a shirt.
Fine-quality dress shirts are made of 100 percent cotton. Cotton "breathes" and
absorbs moisture which allows the body to cool itself. Another option is cotton
blends that are at least 60 percent cotton. Depending on the weave and the
finish, the fabric makes the shirt formal or casual. The two basic weaves are
the broadcloth which is smooth and has a silky finish appropriate for a
dress shirt and the oxford which has a rougher finish and is used in a
button-down style. Wearing an oxford shirt with a navy striped or solid suit
sends a mixed signal--the suit is formal and the shirt is more casual. The
oxford shirt, however, is a good complement to a blazer or sport coat.
Pinpoint oxford is similar to oxford but is made from a much finer yarn; it
is more tightly woven which gives the fabric a smoother, silkier and, hence,
more formal look. It falls in between the broadcloth and the oxford in terms of
dressiness. End-on-end is in a similar category as the pinpoint; one
weave runs white threads in one direction and blue or pink in the other. The
best fabrics on the market are the Egyptian and Sea Island
cottons, which are finer, tighter and feel like silk to the touch.
Tone-on-tone is a design that uses two or more tones of the same color
giving the fabric a shiny effect; it is used for very formal shirts.
As opposed to several years ago, today you have more options
for shirt colors. Colored shirts make you look more approachable and can be used
to create a different look appropriate to any occasion. When the pastel shade
looks almost white with just a tint of color, it makes the shirt more formal.
White and soft white shirts will give you a more formal look.
Changing your pure white shirt for a French blue or a deep gray will tone down the power look
of your dark navy suit, making you more approachable. The darker the color of your shirt, the less formal it
becomes. If you wear sport coats and blazers to work, or you work in a creative
field, you will have more freedom
to experiment with colors; try deep mauve, purple, deep green and deep burgundy.
There are options besides solid shirts. We invite our seminar participants to
"Go ahead--dare to be striped." Remember that stripes on a white background are more
formal, such as a white shirt with burgundy or navy stripes. White stripes on a
color background are less formal, such as a blue shirt with white or gray
Since the shirt is the closest clothing item to your face, it
must complement your physical proportions. You want to look for balance. For
example, if your face is broad and your neck is thick, a tiny collar will look
out of balance. At the same time, a shirt with long points will overwhelm a
small man with delicate features. There are two details to consider when
selecting the right collar style: the spread relates to the distance
between the points of the collar which can be narrow, medium or wide; and the
points length which can be short, average or long. For balance,
follow this chart to select the best shirt collar for your face shape.
average to slightly short collar
average to slightly wide spread
Avoid: long points
- standard collar
- average to slightly long collar
- average to slightly narrow spread
- tab collar
- pin collar
Avoid: wide and short collars
Inverted Triangle or Diamond
- standard collar
- slightly short collar
- average to slightly spread collar
Avoid: long points, a pin collar and button-down
Oval or Oblong
- standard collar
- slightly wide spread
- short length
Avoid: long points and a round collar
Round slightly wide spread
- slightly short collars
Avoid: round collars, narrow spreads and long
There should be a balance between the shirt collar and the tie. For a
standard collar and a button-down collar, the half-Windsor knot or the four-in
hand are the preferred choice. The tab collar needs a tighter four-in hand knot
and a wide spread collar looks balanced with a half-or full-Windsor knot. With
the new woven tie fabrics, the four-in-hand knot is the most recommended for all
When choosing a shirt, it
is very important that it fit right. A study conducted by Cornell University
found that nearly 70 percent of businessmen were wearing their collars too
tight. The reality is that shirts shrink and necks thicken. When buttoned, the
collar should be loose enough to comfortably insert one finger between your neck
and the collar. If you can't do this, not only will you be uncomfortable but
your tie won't sit properly and the points of the shirt will not lay correctly.
On the other hand, if the shirt is too large, it is equally unprofessional. If
you have a problem with your neck size, consider investing in custom-made
shirts. It would be a wise choice since the shirt is framing your face.
A note on quality: a fine collar is always stitched around the edges to
stiffen and hold the folded material in place. The stitches should be in a
single row and not more than one-quarter inch from the collar edge. The finer
the shirt, the finer the stitching.
Shirt cuffs are another element to consider when selecting
shirts. The two basic styles are the single or barrel cuff, with one or two
buttons, and the double or French cuff. French cuffs are dressier and the
required cuff links let you express your personality. For the most elegant look,
select simple, small-sized gold or silver, mother-of-pearl or matte finish stone
like onyx. If you choose metal it should match the metal of your watch:
silver-toned with a silver watch and gold-toned with a gold watch. If you don't
want the added investment of cuff links, try a pair of simple, colorful silk
Also remember that your cuff should extend one-fourth inch below the jacket
if you wear a single cuff and one-half inch below for double cuffs. Showing no
cuff or wearing short sleeves with suits is not acceptable, regardless of the
weather. The "guayavera," worn on many islands, is the only short-sleeve
overshirt that is appropriate for social and public functions if worn by the
local businessmen. Otherwise, even in the islands, your regular long-sleeve
shirt is the required business look.
More and more men are having their ready-to-wear shirts
monogrammed with two or three initials. Keep your monogram as understated as
possible. A monogram on the collar or the cuff invites too much attention. If
the shirt has a pocket, center your initials on it; If the shirt lacks a pocket,
as many custom-made shirts do, have the monogram placed approximately five or
six inches up from the waist, centered on the left side of the shirt. And please
use your own initials, not the shirt designer's; after all you own the shirt,