Contrary to quite a lot of advice out there, the only shirt a man needs isn’t an Oxford Cloth Button Down. OCBDs are marketed as versatile. What the marketers mean by that is that OCBDs are more casual than dress shirts (also known as business shirts but not to be confused with evening wear) and can be therefore worn in casual situations.
However, OCBDs aren’t as versatile as dress shirts because they can’t be dressed-up as easily as dress shirts can be dressed down. Dress shirts look great in formal and business environments as well as in any more relaxed setting. They can be paired with jeans, trousers, and shorts.
As they’re more versatile, it surely makes sense to only buy dress shirts. If you decide not to go bespoke, there are some great retailers selling formal shirts at good prices. TM Lewin do some sharp styles as does Thomas Pink and Hawes & Curtis.
Selecting your dress shirt
The collar should be loose enough that you can push a finger between your neck and the collar without strain but not so loose that there’s a visible gap between the fully-buttoned-up collar. The degree of the cutaway is largely your choice.
In terms of fit, choose the most fitted your body shape can get away with. If you are lean, then very fitted. If you are heavier, then less fitted but still as close to the body as you can get it without looking like you’re stretching the fabric. You’re aiming to minimise the billowing cloth. We don’t want excess shirt.
The length of the shirt sleeve is very important. It is another indicator of a good fit. Try on shirts in the shop. Stand upright with your arms by your side and the end of the sleeve cuff should not extend longer than your wrist. Any longer and the shirt does not fit you properly. It won’t look good. Strive to get sleeves that are the correct length.
The cuff should be double-cuffs or French-cuffs. These are more elegant than single-cuffs and just as practical. They can be rolled to the sleeve with ease and look great rolled or cuffed. We will go into more details about cuff-links in later posts.
Colours and patterns
We recommend you have at least 5 dress shirts in your wardrobe. One for each day. The ideal would be 10. That means you can rotate them, which will allow them to last longer.
The basic colours to go for are white, light-blue, and light-pink. Get at least one in each colour as a block colour. i.e plain white, plain light-blue and plain light-pink. Then look to subtle verticle stripes in these colours. i.e. white with light-blue stripes and white with light-pink stripes.
We’re looking for a luxury feel. That can only come from 100% cotton and a particular type of weave. This will make it harder to iron, but that’s a small price to pay for a better-looking and better-feeling shirt. We recommend twill (a fine one) and poplin. Check out this link from Proper Cloth for more detail on dress shirt fabrics.
No breast-pocket and never short-sleeves.
Check out these great examples from TM Lewin:
What To Wear Your Dress Shirt With
If you are wearing a tie, try understated ties such as knitted ties in a dark colour, such as navy, bottle-green, purple.
If dressed-down, then try with skinny/slim jeans and either brown or tan lace-ups or loafers.