CUSTOM SHIRT FABRICS – PATTERNS AND FORMALITY
In the last section we went over single colors and their individual uses. But many dress shirts aren't a single, solid color — they're a pattern of two or more, or in some cases a white shirt with a pattern of a single color laid on top of it.
Patterns are typically less formal than solid colors. That doesn't mean, of course, that a solid shirt in bright pink is more formal than a white one with light blue striping. But not all patterns are suited to every situation, so you'll want to know all the traditional options in men's shirting:
- Plain White – Unpatterned white is often the only acceptable option in very strict business settings. The texture and weave of the cloth itself is very important in a plain white shirt, since it's the only thing differentiating the shirt from another plain white one. Very Formal Pattern.
- Solid Colors – Solid light colors like pastels are used as slightly less formal alternatives to white in business dress. Darker or brighter solids like reds and greens are more casual. In any shade a solid is simple, assertive, and uncluttered, and is a good choice for broad men who might stretch the edges of a pattern. Somewhat Formal Pattern.
- Pinstripe – While a pinstripe shirt is usually quite formal, pinstriped shirts — because they're usually done on a very striking, dark background — tend to be much more casual. Somewhat Casual Pattern.
- Candystripe – Equally-sized alternating stripes of white and a color is called “candystripe” after the uniforms of U. S. hospital volunteers. It's a very common way to introduce a light color while remaining business-formal. The narrower the stripes the more formal the pattern. Somewhat Formal Pattern.
- Chalkstripe/Railstripe/Variegated Stripes – Broader variations on stripes done on a colored rather than white shirt can go by various names. In any case they're less formal than stripes on a white shirt, and are good choices for social/casual shirts where it's appropriate to be a bit more eye-catching. Casual Pattern.
- Microcheck – A very fine grid of horizontal and vertical lines, evenly spaced, makes microcheck. Done in a color on a white shirt it's appropriate for most business occasions, though not the most formal meetings. Somewhat Formal Pattern.
- Plaid/Tartan – Plain shirts are usually left to the realm of work shirts. It would be very unusual to have one custom-made in a fine fabric. Very Casual Pattern.
- Tattersall – A popular check pattern made of blue and green lines making a grid on a white shirt. It's been a business-casual staple for generations. Somewhat Casual Pattern.
- Figure Patterns – Printed patterns of shapes like polka dot or paisley are very casual and usually reserved for neckties, pocket squares, and other accents. That said, you can certainly have a shirt made in one of these unusual and eye-catching patterns if the tailor has the cloth and you feel the need for a flamboyant, social-wear shirt.
Choosing between these options is mostly a matter of knowing what you want the shirt for. Ask yourself these basic questions about its role in your wardrobe:
For the most formal business occasions you won't be able to wear a pattern at all — plain white is the order of the day. In slightly less formal suit-and-tie settings light candystriping, microcheck, or other subdued color-on-white patterns give you some variety while still being appropriate.
Offices and other business settings that don't require suits and ties but do require collared shirts are good places for solid pastels, larger check or stripe patterns, and other things that have some visual variety but aren't done in very bold, vibrant colors.
Social shirts can be as extravagant as you like, and are a good place to play with light-on-dark patterns like a white pinstripe on a deeply-colored shirt, or an even more unusual pattern like a paisley or many-colored variegated stripe.
What existing wardrobe pieces do you need to be able to wear your shirt with?
You should have a decent idea what you're planning on wearing your shirt with before you have it made. Matching patterns is pretty easy: your shirt should never be the same kind of pattern in the same general size/scale as your jacket and trousers (solids are an exception; there's nothing wrong with wearing multiple solids if the colors work).
Be aware that this has a direct effect on the personal value of a shirt. If you have a great shirt that only goes with one specific jacket in your closet you won't actually get to wear it all that often. That means you're getting less for your money — so decide if you really, really want the look for those few days that you'll be wearing it before plunking down the cash.
Are there patterns that won't work well with your physical shape?
Short men usually want to stay away from check and other horizontal-heavy patterns, which make them look shorter. Tall men, conversely, can look over-tall and gangly in strong vertical patterns. Men with some bulk in the midsection may not want any strong patterns in their shirts at all, since patterns stretched out of their regular shape look oddly stressed.
Theoretically any man could wear any pattern he liked. But there are certainly ones that will be more flattering for your particular body type than others, and it's worth thinking about which ones are the best before ordering an expensive custom shirt.
Figuring out what pattern is best for your new shirt is easy if you consider all three limiting factors: the social or professional use you want to get out of the shirt, your existing wardrobe and the choices that go well with it, and your physical body and any patterns that won't look as good on it.
With a pattern and a color picked out you're ready to start getting into the more technical considerations of custom fabrics, and our next section gets you started on the texture and luxury of various fabrics!