All Dressed Up and Somewhere to Go: Choosing the Right Dress Shirt

Being well turned out is all about the basics - get them right and the rest will follow. And perhaps the most crucial foundation of any outfit is the shirt on your back.

So, what are the essentials of a good dress shirt? It is, by definition, a garment that buttons-up with a collar, long sleeves and wrist cuffs. But, within these constraints, you should tailor the exact style and detailing to suit your build and the message you want to give out, so choose wisely!


Solid coloured shirts are wardrobe staples because they are so versatile.

  • A crisp white shirt is the ultimate fallback. Historically, this garment was considered as the only colour shirt that a real gentleman would wear, as it showed he was wealthy enough not to have to do manual work.

  • The next most popular colour is probably blue. Less labour intensive laundry-wise, it offers a more relaxed but still classic look.

  • For greater originality, pink, purple and yellow shirts have become increasingly popular in modern offices and are good ways of stamping a bit of personality onto traditional workwear.


Gingham, striped or checked shirts work well with plain suits and can bring a fresh look to formal outfits. They can also be worn with jeans for more casual occasions.


If in doubt stick with cotton, the coolest of fabrics. If your budget won’t stretch to 100% cotton, try to select a mix of no more than 50% synthetic fibres.


What style of shirt you choose should depend on your body shape and the ‘look’ you are trying to achieve. Urban hipster? You might want to go for a fitted or ‘tapered-at-the-waist’ style. Traditional? Look for a more generous cut. Whatever you decide, ensure that the shirt fits properly by following these tips:

  • Make sure that it doesn’t ‘pull’ in an unflattering way across the chest or waist.

  • If you bend your arms, the sleeves should be long enough so that the cuffs don’t ride up your arm.

  • The cuffs should be snug around the wrist so that you have to unbutton them to remove the shirt.

  • When you button the shirt at the top, you should be able to slide at least two fingers between your neck and collar.

For more information on finding the perfect fitting shirt, check out this interactive infographic.


A shirt collar is intended to frame and balance a person’s face. It also is probably the most important feature in determining the formality of a garment.

  • A standard or ‘point’ collar is cut so that the collar points are reasonably close together. This tends to draw the eye down and ‘elongate’ the face.

  • A spread collar is a more modern style. It is smaller and the collar points are further apart. It suits slim builds better than heavier frames.

  • Button down collars have small buttonholes at the very tip of each point, corresponding to a small button on each side of the shirtfront. They are more often seen on casual shirts.


As well as the collar, the cuffs are important because they are the only visible parts of the shirt when it is worn with a jacket.

  • Button cuffs are single cuffs buttoned into place. They may also have a small button on the start of the sleeve, to prevent the wrist being exposed.

  • French cuffs are a more formal option. They are double cuffs that fold back and are fastened with cufflinks or fabric knots.

Finally, make sure you check for quality - hand-sewn buttonholes, double stitched seams and mother of pearl buttons are all signs that the shirt will grace your wardrobe for many seasons to come.

Now that you’re an expert, find your perfect dress shirt here.


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