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How to Choose a Proper Dress Shirt

Photo by Christian Lunde on Unsplash

A great dress shirt is not only an essential wardrobe piece, but will also instantly set you apart with stylish elegance. Unfortunately, many men don’t know how to select a proper dress shirt. Instead they wear the nicest shirt they have, even though it may not have the features of an actual dress shirt. Learn the characteristics of a fine dress shirt and then wear yours with handsome conviction.

Narrowing Your Options

These days many men, and even lots of men’s clothing retailers, call any shirt that buttons down the front a “button down” shirt. They should instead refer to this style as “button up.” Traditionally, a “button down” means a shirt with a collar that buttons down. So if you’re looking for a dress shirt and ask for a “button down” don’t buy one that has buttons on the collar. Technically speaking that’s a more informal design. You’ll also find button-front shirts in very beautiful fabrics that have a chest pocket. But any shirt with a chest pocket is also too informal to qualify as a dress shirt.

What Defines the Dress Shirt

Excellent dress shirts won’t be made of any synthetic fabric, but will be comprised of fine, smoothly woven, lightweight cotton.

The shirt should fit trimly, but should never be so tight that it constricts your movement or shows horizontal stretch lines. Look for a shirt that skims your silhouette. When you button the top button to wear a tie, you should be able to slip two fingers between the buttoned collar and your neck−otherwise it’s too snug.

A high-quality dress shirt may have a placket or panel of cloth where the buttons are. You can also find dress shirts with no placket, for a flatter and more minimal look that looks very elegant. Those that have a flap of material to conceal the buttons, sometimes behind pleats or ruffles, are made exclusively for formal, black-tie tuxedo attire. 

Other Outstanding Features

The best dress shirts will have mother of pearl buttons, removable collar stays that keep the collar straight and stiff, and a longer tail−since dress shirts should be worn tucked-in. French cuffs, which must be worn with cufflinks, aren’t mandatory−but they do add a stylishly unmistakable flair. If you’re choosing the most formal dress shirt to wear with a tuxedo, the wing-tip collar is an impressive option. The collar has two wings in front, folded almost like origami. They sit discreetly behind a bowtie.

Get a Visual Reference Point

To familiarize yourself with the look of a great dress shirt, check those that are sold by Brooks Brothers, such as their Golden Fleece Regent model. Many other brands sell gorgeous dress shirts, so this isn’t a marketing recommendation. But Brooks Brothers is a classic label, so looking at pictures of their dressiest shirts will give you a reliable idea of how your dress shirts should be constructed, wherever you buy them.

A visual reference is a quick, easy way to see what a genuine dress shirt looks like. It can also inspire you by giving you a better idea of how good you’ll look wearing a finely-tailored classic dress shirt.

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