What makes a dress shirt – a dress shirt?
For one thing, dress shirts are sized by collar and sleeve length, unlike sport shirts which are sized small, medium, large. Sizing a dress shirt by collar and sleeve length allows for a closer more tailored fit.
Additionally, dress shirt collars are designed and constructed to accept a necktie without bulging, puckering or lifting. Finally, the types of fabrics used are generally different leaning more to richer and more polished constructions. The diagram shows the various parts of a men’s dress shirt and we will talk a little bit about each. In some circles plackets and types of yokes are the subjects of heated debates. Hopefully, you don’t travel in those circles, so we will keep it simple.
Dress Shirt Construction
- Collar Band
A strip of fabric that forms the inner part of the collar and attaches the collar to the shirt. The top button is part of the collar band. The band’s width determines the rise or height of the collar.
See section below for discussion of styles. A good shirt collar is always stitched around the edges to stiffen and hold the folded material in place. Usually this stitching is not more than a quarter inch from the collar edge.
- Collar Point
The points should lie flat and be wrinkle and pucker free. In shirts that have them, the collar stays will be on the reverse side of the points. These will be either permanently sewn in or removable. It is advisable to remove stays before laundering. Button down collars usually do not have stays.
- Collar Spread
This varies depending on the style of collar.
- Front Center Placket
The piece of material on the front of the shirt where the buttonholes are placed. Once it was a separate piece of cloth sewn to the front, but today shirt makers fold the edge of the material to form the placket. It gives the shirt a defined center and makes a clean finish where the shirt sides join to be buttoned. Most shirts will have a six or seven button front.
Most dress shirts today have this feature, but it is absent on some designer brands.
Dress shirts come in either full sleeve or half sleeve versions. Both versions can be worn in personal and formal occasions. Even casual shirts also come with full sleeves. If you are wearing a full sleeve shirt for a formal occasion, it is smarter to avoid folding it upwards as others will find this a bit strange with the shirt and tie pair. Cuff the sleeves and focus on the tie. Many fashion arbiters insist that only the long sleeve is appropriate in a business setting, a tough sale in the warmer climates.
- Sleeve Placket
This is the open area just above the cuff. Also known as a “Gauntlet.” Many better shirts have a working button on the placket so that this gap can be closed when the shirt is worn. It originated to enable men to roll back their cuffs. It also provides a better fit around the forearm.
Dress shirts usually come in barrel cuffs, with one or two button closures, French cuffs and convertible cuffs. French cuffs fold over and require cuff links for closure. They are somewhat dressier and bulkier. A convertible cuff can either be buttoned or secured with a cuff link.
This is the strip of material sewn across the shoulders to attach the front and back pieces of the shirt. Custom shirt makers use a split, or two-piece, yoke so they can adjust each shoulder separately for a custom fit. It is also frequently found on finer quality manufactured shirts.
This allows for flexibility across the shoulders.
It should be long enough to be tucked into the pants and remain so during normal activity, but not so long as to bulk out the front of the trousers. A current style is wear the shirt un-tucked with the shirttails exposed.
Dress Shirt Fabrics
Most dress shirts are woven from three basic fabrics: broadcloth, oxford cloth and cotton.
Broadcloth is a tightly woven plain weave fabric with a fine rib or ridge in the crosswise direction. It has a smooth finish and a crisp look, especially when starched. Because of its tight weave, it resists soiling.
Oxford is a basket weave with a coarser or heavier appearance than broadcloth. It can either look dressy or casual depending on the garments worn with it. It is often used in button downs.
Cotton shirting is a group of woven fabrics that have a smooth surface. Chambray, madras, or end-on-end fabrics fit in this category.
Most dress shirts are made of all cotton or cotton and synthetic blends. The better the quality of the cotton, the stronger the fibers, as well as the smoother and finer the surface of the shirt. A very high quality cotton fabric will feel almost silk-like and have a luxurious appearance.
Cotton is absorbent and breathes, making it a comfortable fiber to wear but prone to wrinkling. Polyester is blended with cotton in shirting fabrics to provide wrinkle resistance. Polyester does not breathe, however, making it less comfortable.
In blends, the higher the percentage of cotton, the more absorbent and comfortable the shirt will be to wear. The most common blends are 65% polyester and 35% cotton, 50%/50% polyester and cotton, and 65% cotton/35% polyester.
Dress Shirt Care
Care is influenced by fiber content, fabric structure and garment finishing. Check the care label for proper care requirements.
Many people take shirts to commercial laundries. Normally, customers specify if they want no, regular or heavy starch. Be aware that starch (cotton) or sizing (polyester) is not completely removed in laundering. It will build up over a period of time and could decrease the wear life of the shirt.
Polyester/cotton blend shirts and 100 % cotton shirts with wrinkle resistant finishes are now commonly available. These shirts can be laundered at home with little or no need for ironing.