CHECKLIST: HOW TO BUY A DRESS SHIRT
Step 1: Figure Your Size
If you already know your dress shirt size, you can skip this step. If not, most dress shirts are sized with a neck/sleeve pair of numbers, which you can calculate this way:
- Measure the circumference of your neck. Take the measurement low on the neck, where the collar of a shirt sits, and add 1/4″ to the measurement for breathing room.
- Round your neck measurement up to the nearest half-inch. Off-the-rack shirts won't be sized any more precisely than that.
Record your collar size: __________
- Measure the sleeve length with your arm held lightly at your side. Start the tape measure at nape of the neck and measure all the way down the top/outside of the arm to the end of the wrist.
- Round your sleeve measurement to the nearest inch.
Record your sleeve size: __________
The two numbers you have recorded will be your ready-to-wear shirt size. Most are listed with the neck size first, and many give a short range of sleeve lengths, so a typical tag might read something like “15 1/2 32-33,” for a neck size of fifteen and a half inches and a sleeve length of around thirty-two or thirty-three inches.
Men buying custom shirts may want to use a more detailed measurement guide that takes waist, chest, and additional measurements into account, such as the one at A Tailored Suit.
Step 2: Identify the Shirt You Want
- Select a fabric:
Oxford — a simple, sturdy weave with light bumps in its surface
Pinpoint or royal oxford — a smoother, lighter oxford (more expensive)
Poplin — a smooth surface with a light, loose weave
Herringbone — a textured weave with distinct “V” shapes
Broadcloth — a smooth, tight, high-quality weave (often expensive)
Seersucker — light, bumpy, summer-weight cloth (casual)
There are many more dress shirt fabrics available, but these are the most common. Feel free to explore other options — these are a good starting place.
- Select a collar style
Button-down — sturdy but casual; not appropriate for business formality
Point — the basic turndown shirt collar
Spread — a wider-spread point collar, with the points more than 90 degrees apart
Club — an uncommon style of rounded collar, rather than pointed
Mandarin — a stiff collar that does not turn down
Pin — a point collar held closed by a separate metal pin; only worn with ties
Tab — a point collar held closed with tabs under the collar; only worn with ties.
- Select a cuff style
Single barrel — the most typical style, with a plain, buttoning cuff
Double French — A doubled-over style sealed with cufflinks rather than a button
Double barrel — An uncommon doubled-over style with built-in buttons
Single French — Single cuff sealed with cufflinks; rare outside of formal (tuxedo) shirts
- Select a color/pattern
o Plain white — highest standard of business formality
o White with light stripes/check — typical business formality
o Light-colored solids — relaxed business wear
o Bright solids or vivid patterns — casual/social wear only
- Select a monogram if desired/offered
The combination of fabric, collar, cuff, and color/pattern should narrow your shirt choices down nicely. You're much better-prepared for shopping if you can tell salespeople that you want “a blue-and-white striped poplin shirt with a button-down collar and normal barrel cuffs” than if you just say “I need a dress shirt.”
Step 3: Pick Your Source
- Identify the kind of tailoring and construction you want:
Bespoke (completely custom made — most expensive option)
Made-to-measure (a pre-made pattern sized specifically to you)
Ready-to-wear (pre-sized off the rack; some stores do in-house adjustments)
- Select a type of store:
Department stores (Sears, Macy's, etc. — low prices, but limited selection/quality)
Menswear chains (Men's Wearhouse, Jos. A. Banks, etc. — wider selection and better in-house service/fitting)
Independent boutiques (unique selections; tend to have better service and quality)
Bespoke tailors (custom design and construction)
Online (you send your measurements and payment; they ship you a shirt — can require several back-and-forth shipments to get fit right)
Step 4: Go Shopping
- Head to your target store or stores (see step 3)
- Identify the shirts that fit your selected description (see step 2)
- Within that selection, find the shirt that fit your measurements (step 1)
With the information in this checklist, you should be able your selection down to just a few shirts. Find the one that suits you best at the price you like — or move on, if you need to, and use the same information to shop elsewhere, until you find a purchase you like.