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Dress Shirt Basics (Part 1): Fit

February 7, 2012

Walking through a local department store several weeks ago, I happened upon an older mother diligently flipping past shirt after shirt. As I meandered past her browsing, she stopped me to ask for advice. In her hand, she held a pink dress shirt. She inquired, “I’m trying to buy a gift for my 31 year old son. Can you help me?” Her knowledge of men’s dress shirts consisted of favorite colors and patterns. First, I asked her to describe her son’s build. Large? Small? Average? Athletic? Slender? Hefty? Big neck? Long arms? His build was very close to mine. “Okay, then we need a different size than the shirt you’re holding,” I told her.

Then, I explored her understanding of her son’s style and taste along with the purpose of her gift. She wanted a dress shirt her son could wear to dress up. With that, I informed her that pink provides a certain elegance great for dressing with panache. Then, I led her through the tie section to find the perfect tie to pair with the shirt. She left with a smile.

In future articles, we will discuss the style elements. For now, I will share the same advice I shared with the gift-hunting mother. Generally, off the rack shirts will display size in one of two ways – by a general size such as large or by the neck/arm measurements. When examining a shirt for purchase, consider five areas:

1. Neck – When buttoned, you should be able to hold two fingers inside the collar. If you measure around the neck with room for two fingers, you will learn your neck size in inches. Shirts with a neck size of 15 to 15 ½ equate to medium shirts, 16 to 16 ½ equals large, and so on.

2. Waist – Make sure the shirt fits well around the waist and chest with a room to breath and no straining buttons. On the other hand, pay special attention to buying big as so many men own shirts that can literally fit a small child inside with them.

3. Arms – The shirt arms should rest just below the base of the hand and stay there when you bend your arm at the elbow. Not too long. Not too short. If you measure from the end of the shoulder (or the top of the shirt’s arm hole seam) to where it should fall, you get the arm length. Generally, you will find standard sizes between 32 and 35 inches.

4. Shoulders – The seam at the top of the arm hole should fall right above the end of the shoulder. More times than I can count, I see men with this seam 2-3 inches down the side of the arm – meaning they wear shirts too large.

5. Box pleat – Meant to widen the upper back of the shirt for those with broad shoulders. Pleats at the far ends of the shoulder also offer a variation. No pleat works well for those with a more trim upper body.

Overall, hunting down the perfect off the rack shirt can feel like searching for a red skittle in a bathtub filled with red M&Ms. To appeal to the widest possible shirt-buyer (pun intended), shirt manufacturers make the shirts for each size a little large to accommodate for everyone. This can make it difficult if you tend to possess a more fit body.

You do have another option to a mass produced shirt. If you really want to know how a shirt should fit, think about purchasing at least one tailor-made shirt. The internet offers a few great options such as Moderntailor.com and Indochino.com. Once you own one, you will compare every other shirt to it.

Final word: you look better in a properly fitted cheap shirt than you do with a too big expensive one.

© Copyright 2012 Fashion for the average man.

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. Gospel Line permalink
    April 7, 2012 10:49 pm

    Thanks for ‘liking ” my blog. Have a blessed Easter1

  2. April 20, 2012 3:17 am

    Very helpful! As a woman I have no idea how to dress a man in a shirt but this was very informative.

  3. May 13, 2012 12:46 am

    Apart from being a dedicated visual artists, I’m also a dedicated martial artist and long-distance cyclist. I cross traiin considerably for them. It’s left me with a somwhat thick neck, barrel chest, tapered waist, broad shoulders with larhe deltoids and thick upper arms. It can be a real challenge to find untailored dress shirts that fit properly.

    Having thick quads and a narrow waist also presents a problem in finding adequately fitting pants.

    • May 13, 2012 1:19 am

      Sounds like custom made clothes may be your best option. Thanks for sharing your scenario. I think more people than you know can relate.

  4. Diana permalink
    December 24, 2012 12:53 pm

    Hi~ I’m a seamstress, so enjoy stuff like this. Have been reading a lot of PG Wodehouse (Bertie + Jeeves often disagree about attire… :)) and my latest project involves hand-embroidered monogrammed handkerchiefs in a very cool 1930’s font. Was looking up ways to fold them into pocket, properly, at one point. (Also love Astaire movies for the clothes ! )
    Thanks for visiting.
    Diana

  5. December 28, 2012 8:29 pm

    Thanks for the article. I am a seamstress and have done a lot of tailoring. Thanks for these hints and secrets. I am afraid the beautiful styling, techniques and fabrics may someday be forgotten and not appreciated. How sad!!! And if men only knew how sharp they looked in a well pressed, three-piece suit, maybe “casual Friday” would become extinct.

  6. January 14, 2013 7:00 am

    Pink is a color for brave men. My last cellphone was pink. I am amused at the looks I receive when I displayed that phone, but who cares? I like pink.

  7. irishroverpei permalink
    January 30, 2013 12:09 pm

    Pink is not my colour! but I enjoyed your article on buying a dress shirt. I come from the generation that wore a shirt and tie. I recall whilst in the Navy in Hong Kong, Chinese tailors came aboard at lunch time to sell their wares. If you bought a shirt it was made to measure, they took the neck,chest arm measurements then made the shirt. Always with French cuffs. Today my cufflinks lay idle with my tie pins and such!!!

    • January 30, 2013 1:35 pm

      I avoided pink for years like you. I have come to appreciate it. Thanks for your thoughts.

  8. February 11, 2013 11:00 am

    I had no idea of the details of fitting a man’s shirt – very interesting and informative. Thanks too for visiting my blog.

  9. Simon Wells permalink
    February 16, 2013 5:26 pm

    i’m still confused as to where my shoulder ends…is it where it starts to curve down, part way along the curve, is it level with the outside of my arm, directly above my armpit? I’d really like to know as i’m sure i’ve never worn a shirt that actually fits.

    • February 16, 2013 7:57 pm

      I like the seam for the arm hole to look more like it is sitting on the top of my shoulder than hanging off the side of the shoulder. Directly over the armpit may be a little too tight.

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