Dress Shirt Styles & Fit Guide
The proper fitting dress shirt in the right color and pattern will make all the difference for casual/formal events, interviews, client meetings and any other time you would wear a dress shirt! Finding the right dress shirt starts with understanding a few of the basics:
Know your neck and sleeve size. If you don’t know this, stop into a nice department store and have someone measure you. It would be good to check one or two places to have a more accurate measurement.
The shirt neck should button just right, not too tight and not too loose. There should be just enough space for breathing room. If the neck is too big, there will be an awkward gap between your neck and the top button closure. If the neck is too tight, you won’t be able to button the shirt with a tie.
Sleeve length should be right about at the top of the hand (slightly below where the wrist meets your forearm). Don’t buy a longer sleeve size just so it can show under your suit, the suit should be tailored properly to expose a quarter inch of the dress shirt cuff.
Owning a white dress shirt and a light blue dress shirt is essential to every closet. From there, the possibilities are endless! Avoid wearing vibrant colors as your dress shirts for professional environments (referring to those typically sold as a stretch cotton from cheaper stores). The more subtle the pattern of the shirt is, the more versatility you will have with suit and tie combinations.
From a style perspective, slimmer fitting dress shirts with a spread collar is on point with the current trends. A spread collar has wider points vs a more traditional straight collar.
Dress shirts typically are not altered due to the cost of the dress shirt vs. the cost to get it altered (although they can be at the sleeves and/or width rather easily). If you’re going to spend money on a dress shirt, then to have it altered, you might as well purchase a custom dress shirt.
Custom Dress Shirt Example
The dress shirt guide below is the internet’s most comprehensive and practical guide to purchasing dress shirts. There are a lot of guides out there that spend a lot of time discussing the history of the dress shirt and what a gentleman should wear. This guide is focused on being an actual consumer and wearing a dress shirt.
The top six dress shirt brands:
Dress Shirts Recommended to Start
Start with the essentials (light blue and white) and expand from there. Keep the patterns light colored and simple (vertical and check patterns). These are the most versatile with suits and ties. If you start getting into darker patterns, keep in mind the shirts are considered more casual. Diversify your collection of dress shirts over time!
Dress Shirts Fit
Know your exact sleeve and neck measurements. A lot of dress shirts will come in split sleeve sizes (e.g. 32/33 or 34/35). If your dress shirts aren’t fitting properly it is probably because you need a specific sleeve length. Don’t waste your money on the split sleeves if they don’t fit!
Neck sizes on shirts are similar (e.g. 16/16.5). Most of our necks are only one size...it really helps to know your exact size. It is definitely better to buy your exact neck size vs. the split neck sizes.
Shirt sleeves should touch just below the wrist bone. The exact preference will of course differ from person to person. Do not get a longer sleeve length dress shirt so the shirt sleeve is exposed under your suit jacket. The sleeve should naturally show a quarter of an inch below the jacket sleeve (assuming the jacket sleeves are tailored properly). For french cuff shirts, more cuff being exposed is more often acceptable.
The button closure at the neck is one key indicator of the quality of the dress shirt. On nicer dress shirts, the button under your tie knot will lie nice and flat. This impacts the overall look of the shirt and tie, especially when wearing a suit.
The Tie Bar Shirt Example
Not paying attention to fit is a rookie mistake. Traditional fit, slim fit, and extra slim fit all fit differently and it’s important to buy the right shirt, so there isn’t a lot of extra fabric sagging around the waist. It’s not worth buying a cheap regular fit dress shirt on sale when you’re actually a slim fit. This definitely appears sloppy and unprofessional, and people do notice.
Keep in mind that the fit of the shirt will also impact that shoulders. For example, an extra slim fit dress shirt might fit around the waist really well, but the shoulders are going to be tighter. This will also cause the sleeves to ride up a lot more since the shirt will pull more from the shoulders.
Just know your size, it’s really that simple. Oh and also, button your damn buttons after you get them back from the dry cleaner. BUTTON ALL OF THEM (this is a serious pet peeve for a lot of executives and anyone with any fashion sense).
Dress Shirt Style
Today’s general trend is slimmer fitting dress shirts with a spread or semi spread collar. Button down collar dress shirts should not be worn with a tie unless you’re attempting to pull off the hipster look with a casual button down shirt (it’s a good look). A button down collar was traditionally worn with ties and with blazers, but today you see more spread collars worn with blazers.
The classiest color dress shirts are white and light blue. From there, just like with suits, there are endless patterns and colors to purchase. As you build out your personal collection, don’t be shy. Get bolder with the styles, patterns and colors. Try some gingham check shirts, purple or pink dress shirts (muted tones), or a variety of others. Lighter patterns/colors will always give you more versatility with a suit and tie combination. Generally speaking, darker colors and patterns are more casual.
Be cautious about purchasing very dark colored dress shirts and/or very vibrant colored dress shirts. In a business professional office setting, these typically are not acceptable. That might also be the same individual not wearing undershirts (don't be that guy).
Since the current office environment is generally more casual, there are more instances when ties are not worn. Crew neck undershirts do not work well under dress shirts. Go with the standard white v neck undershirts.
Dress Shirt Brands
There has been a significant shift in dress shirt brands in the last decade and it is a great time to be a consumer of men’s fashion products, especially dress shirts. A dress shirt is a much simpler product than a suit. As a result, you see a lot more companies launching dress shirt brands, which has increased competition and provided a much larger selection. When I first launched this website several years ago, the only brands I mentioned were Brooks Brothers, Charles Tyrwhitt, Lands End and Paul Fredrick. There are a lot more companies to choose from now and a lot of considerations for the consumer to think about! If you’re looking for your next dress shirt, review the details below and feel free to reach out if you have any questions (click here for the contact section).
The top six dress shirt brands:
Charles Tyrwhitt dress shirts - click here for shirt link
Brooks Brothers dress shirts - click here for shirt link
The Tie Bar dress shirts - click here for shirt link
Custom dress shirts
Performance fabric dress shirts
This top six list includes brands and types of dress shirts. There is a detailed explanation for each below. The key is reading the material in the above sections and determining what size, fit, and style is best for you. When it comes to these brands, there are a lot of options available. I would recommend focusing on what your primary use of the dress shirt is going to be and what other options you want to have.
My ranking of theses dress shirts is based on my experience as a working professional and as an expert in men’s fashion (having grown my @DapperProfessional Instagram account to over 100,000 followers). Yes, I have worked with many of the brands on this list, but this is a non sponsored list and truly my opinion as a consumer.
The thorough reviews below also answers the frequently asked question about Charles Tyrwhitt dress shirts vs. Brooks Brothers dress shirts.
If you want to know when the best dress shirts are on sale, be sure to subscribe to my newsletter, The Sunday Six, on Fashion Sales Now (click here).
Charles Tyrwhitt Dress Shirt Guide
Charles Tyrwhitt has great dress shirts with the widest selection available of sizes, collars, and the slimmest off the rack dress shirt on the market. If you’re a thin athletic build and like a tighter fitting dress shirt, then Charles Tyrwhitt is the brand that I recommend most. Their slimmest fit is actually the best fitting dress shirt I own. They offer the classic fit, slim fit, extra slim fit and the super slim fit. The super slim fit is an additional sizing option they’ve added in the past couple of years to meet the market demand for even slimmer fitting dress shirts! Another major advantage to their dress shirts is the exact collar and sleeve size. This is a huge advantage if you’re like most men who do not fit the mold of the 16/16.5 neck size or 32/33 sleeve length.
Charles Tyrwhitt spread collar dress shirts look great with ties, but they can also be the best option to wear without a tie. There is the traditional mentality that a dress shirt without a tie should be a button down collar dress shirt, like the classic Brooks Brothers button down collar. However, in today’s world, it’s important to be a bit more unique. A normal collar today is similar to a spread collar several years ago and the collar is naturally becoming wider. The spread collar rests back further and will hold its shape without wearing a tie. If you wear a normal dress shirt collar without a tie, the collar starts to look flimsy and throws off the fit of the unbuttoned dress shirt. The Charles Tyrwhitt spread collar is the widest spread collar of the major brands discussed in this guide.
I would recommend only purchasing their non iron dress shirts. They hold up great in the wash and will only require a light iron after taking them out of the dryer. I do own several of their regular dress shirts (not non iron) and they are a pain to wash, iron, or take to the dry cleaner.
Charles Tyrwhitt is the slimmest fit on the market. Their super slim fit or extra slim fit dress shirt is my top recommendation. It is significantly slimmer than the alternatives, while offering all the color combinations you could ever imagine. These extra couple inches of slimness make a huge different when you’re tucking in your shirt. If you’re wondering why your dress shirt bunches around the waist it’s because there is too much fabric and your shirt isn’t slim enough! From a comparison perspective, the Charles Tyrwhitt slim fit is comparable to The Tie Bar slim fit and Brooks Brothers Milano fit. Charles Tyrwhitt super slim fit and extra slim fit are slim beyond what other traditional brands currently offer.
The Charles Tyrwhitt dress shirts generally go on sale and you’re able to purchase them for $50 or under a shirt or in a deal, such as 3 for $99. This price is hard to beat for the quality shirt that Charles Tyrwhitt is offering. Click here to check out their selection.
I would recommend ordering a couple sizes to start to determine your exact size. Then, return the other shirts and exchange them for your correct size. Once you know your exact size you’re ready to go! Looking back on my purchases I wish I would have purchased a half size larger in the neck. I wear a 16 neck regularly and probably would order the 16.5 next time just to have a bit more breathing room.
One frustrating aspect of their dress shirts is that there is no sleeve button along the arm where most dress shirts typically have a button. The lack of button will occasionally expose your forearm (if you’re in an awkward position). This doesn’t happen too frequently though, especially if the shirt fits properly. It is also annoying when you go to roll up your sleeves since you have to roll them up higher than you normally would in order to compensate for the lack of button.
There is a constant debate of Charles Tyrwhitt dress shirts vs Brooks Brothers dress shirts. The major advantage to Charles Tyrwhitt shirts vs Brooks Brothers is the extra slim fit and super slim fit being two sizes that Brooks Brothers does not offer. The Charles Tyrwhitt spread collar is also much more on point with the current trend and wider than the Brooks Brothers spread collar.
Overall, Charles Tyrwhitt dress shirts is the brand I recommend most because of the fit, cost, and selection available online.
Brooks Brothers Dress Shirt Guide
There is nothing more iconic than the Brooks Brothers dress shirt. They have owed this market for a prestigious off the rack dress shirt for decades and other companies are slowly catching up. However, Brooks Brothers hasn’t progressed with the times as much as I wish.
The quality of the Brooks Brothers dress shirts is absolutely top notch and their non iron shirts are fantastic. I would rate the quality above most other dress shirts that I mention in this article. So why didn’t I rank the Brooks Brothers dress shirt my number one selection? Because of their lack of a very slim fit. Even their slimmest fit, Milano, is not that slim. The price, when not on sale, is also significantly higher, which I’m not sure if it can really be justified.
In an prior era when brand name meant everything, then yes, you needed to buy the iconic Brooks Brothers dress shirts. Today, brand loyalty is a totally different game than it used to be and consumers are moving to online companies to fill voids where retail giants aren’t able to be as agile. In addition to their lack of a slimmer fit dress shirt, their colors and patterns tend to be a bit more conservative.
From a design perspective, the Brooks Brothers dress shirt is unmatched. The formation of the fabric on the sleeve in the beautiful ruffling is visually appealing and their collars button seamlessly when wearing a tie. Their barrel cuff also has a much stronger ‘feel’ to them when compared to other brands. It is worth mentioning that Brooks Brothers dress shirts, similar to Charles Tyrwhitt dress shirts, do not have a button on the forearm area either (although the Brooks Brothers Factory shirts typically will).
Brooks Brothers dress shirts during their 4 for $200 deal is almost impossible to beat for the quality of the shirt. They do offer a wide variety of collar types, sizes, and fits. There is something to be said for buying and owning a Brooks Brothers dress shirt since the quality is definitely on point. When I first started working I bought Brooks Brothers dress shirts because of the name and I didn’t have a true understanding of fit at that time. As I’ve progressed through my professional career and learned a lot more about how clothes should fit, I’m not so quick to purchase a Brooks Brothers dress shirt.
In comparing Brooks Brothers dress shirts vs Charles Tyrwhitt dress shirts, it comes down to how you want the shirt to fit. If you’re an athletic build and want to wear a slimmer dress shirt, then I would recommend Brooks Brothers slimmest fit, the Milano fit. I would compare this to the slim fit from Charles Tyrwhitt and the slim fit from The Tie Bar. So, if you want an very slim fit dress shirt, then you probably want to explore the Charles Tyrwhitt extra slim fit or super slim fit dress shirts. One disadvantage is the spread collar on Brooks Brothers dress shirts is not as wide as the Charles Tyrwhitt spread collar.
As an update to the Brooks Brothers spread collar mentions on their website, they are very inconsistent. I would compare some of the shirts that are labeled as spread collar to other brands’ normal collars. I will continue to provide an update if Brooks Brothers chooses to fix these inconsistencies.
The Tie Bar Dress Shirt Guide
The Tie Bar dress shirts come in at number three on my list. I will say that they are my personal favorite company. Not only is The Tie Bar Chicago based (which is wear I live), but they have continued to make a name for themselves in the men’s fashion world in the last couple of years by branching out from ties, to socks, to dress shirts and now to dress pants!
The Tie Bar is focused on bringing to market high quality products at an affordable price point. The key here is an affordable price point when not on sale! I actually don’t even think they go on sale now that I think about it. Anyway, The Tie Bar makes a fantastic dress shirt that you should seriously consider for your next purchase.
The Tie Bar offers a slim fit dress shirt and a spread collar dress shirt in a variety of sizes and colors. They do a great job of releasing dress shirts for the seasons, which is important for the consumer to realize. Yes, there are seasonal patterns and colors that The Tie Bar releases and promotes, which makes your job of just buying super easy.
The slim fit shirt from The Tie Bar is comparable in size to the Brooks Brothers Milano Fit and the Charles Tyrwhitt Slim Fit. Similar to Brooks Brothers Milano fit, The Tie Bar does NOT offer a comparable fit to Charles Tyrwhitt extra slim fit or super slim fit. Essentially if you are looking for an extra slim fit, then Charles Tyrwhitt is the best option.
The collar and sleeve sizes are definitely true to size. They offer exact sizes on the collar, but The Tie Bar does offer the standard split sleeve lengths, for example 32/33 sleeve vs. Charles Tyrwhitt shirts which would be exactly 32 or exactly 33). I wear a 33 sleeve in the Charles Tyrwhitt shirts, but the 32/33 The Tie Bar dress shirt sleeve size fits me perfectly.
The Tie Bar vs Brooks Brothers vs Charles Tyrwhitt does have the button on the sleeve that is lacking in both the Brooks Brothers and Charles Tyrwhitt shirts (I suppose it’s fancier). While it’s a pain to remember to button that button when you receive the shirt back from the dry cleaner, it is much better for rolling up your sleeves and also not exposing your forearm when you’re moving around at your desk.
I have been recommending The Tie Bar a lot to people who ask about dress shirts. They are a great value for the money and their patterns and colors are by far the most on point with current trends. My only warning is that the slimmest fit isn’t as slim as Charles Tyrwhitt. I’m hoping that The Tie Bar will release an extra slim fit dress shirt!
The spread collar dress shirts from The Tie Bar are comparable to the spread collar from Brooks Brothers. Neither of these collars are as wide of a spread collar as Charles Tyrwhitt spread collar or Charles Tyrwhitt extreme spread collar dress shirt.
Uniqlo Shirts Guide
Uniqlo offers one of the widest selection of dress and casual shirts to choose from when it comes to basic shirting, either casual or dress. The reason why Uniqlo is in my Number 4 spot is because they offer the best casual shirt for a dress down workplace. Their shirts are high quality, and whether on sale or not, the value is great! Another major advantage to Uniqlo is their physical store locations and their trim fits. They have stores located all over the US, so this makes it easy to go into the store to try them on if you’ve never ordered them before, they you should be all set to continue ordering the right size online. Their trim fit is also most similar to the Charles Tyrwhitt shirts, where it can be very slim!
Uniqlo dress shirts are probably not your best option if you’re wearing ties a lot. They are however a great choice to wear if you’re not wearing ties, but still want a slim fitting dress shirt. They do offer a blend of materials, so be sure to stick with the cotton if you want the shirt to have the more traditional look and feel.
Uniqlo casual shirts are a great all around option. They are great for a casual office environment, a casual Friday, or even just to wear on the weekends! I am often wearing a Uniqlo casual shirt on the weekends.
As a reminder, the casual dress shirting that I’m referring to is a button down collar dress shirt that will sit perfectly without wearing a tie. The difference between the Uniqlo dress shirt and one you might pick up in Macy’s is that they are much more modern. Even if you wear the dress shirt without a tie, it is going to look a lot nicer than a traditional dress shirt without a tie.
Uniqlo will run sales often, so I would recommend checking their website frequently!
Custom Dress Shirts Guide
Custom dress shirts are taking the Number 5 spot on my list, and there are a lot of options out there now. Indochino, Tailor Store, and Pacific Issues, to name a few, all offer custom shirts. I would highly recommend a custom dress shirt for a very specific dress shirt consumer. If you have a unique body type or work in a formal environment, I would recommend exploring custom shirt options.
Of all the custom dress shirt company brand's that are available I typically prefer Tailor Store. I have worked with them for a couple of years and can speak to their quality and customer service. Also, for the price you are getting a really good value. In fact, be sure to check out their $29.00 trial offer I just posted about.
If you have a unique body type (e.g. super thick shoulders and a thin waist, large stomach and smaller shoulders, extra tall, or some combination, etc.) then you should not buy another shirt off the rack from this moment forward. My assumption is you’re paying between $50 to $100 per shirt and if you’re doing that, you’re wasting your money because you can purchase custom dress shirts for about the same price.
Another reason to go custom is if you work in a very formal environment because you want it to fit exactly right. You don’t want any extra shirting hanging out from the sides when it’s tucked in, but you don’t want it to be too slim where the buttons pull apart when you sit down.
Let me warn you, the custom dress shirt process can take time and a lot of back and forth with whichever company you choose to work with. However, once you get the sizing right, you’re going to be set. It’s generally very easy to make minor tweaks along the way once the overall fit is determined. Custom shirt companies offer endless options for sizing, colors, and patterns as well.
In ordering a custom shirt, I would recommend following the company’s specific measuring instructions. Make sure you read the starting point and ending point of the measurement exactly and follow their recommendations. Most companies will have fantastic customer service options and great return/remake policies. If you’re having issues, be sure to reach out to them instead of just wishing for something different.
If you have an average body type then you might just want to stick with one of the off the rack companies discussed above. The advantage is that they have already perfected their sizing and if you’re able to fit into one of their many options, you’re going to be better off and able to save money. For the average consumer who thinks that they want a custom shirt, I often recommend Charles Tyrwhitt shirts and suggest they order their extra slim fit or super slim fit. Most of the time someone wants a custom shirt is because they want it to be slimmer. Well, Charles Tyrwhitt shirts make the slimmest super slim fit shirt and it’s going to be half the price, so I would recommend starting there.
I am an advocate of custom dress shirts for the right reasons. Just understand that it’s going to take time and you’re going to have to put some effort into the process in order to yield the results you’re probably looking for. Alternatively, you could find someone locally to make you a custom dress shirt and pay double the cost.
Online custom dress shirt options offer great quality custom dress shirts, but they will certainly be produced overseas. If you go to a local tailor who does custom clothing, they will most likely be double the price. There is also a chance that the local tailor who charges double just works with the overseas factories and send them your measurements. If you’re going to a local tailor and you’re paying a premium, then I would confirm the shirt is handmade in the US.
Performance Fabric Dress Shirts Guide
Performance fabric dress shirts seem to be all the rage right now from smaller companies that are releasing dress shirts. I’ve been able to test of a few of these (e.g. Mizzen + Main) and find them to be great in the right situations.
First off, a performance fabric dress shirt will not (at least for now) replace the classic cotton dress shirt. I don’t see this happening in any professional setting any time in the near future. Performance fabric dress shirts can look great and appear wrinkleless, but at the end of the day it’s not a ‘crisp, freshly pressed, dress shirt’.
Contrary to most performance fabric dress shirts that I'm writing about in this section here, Twillory offers a performance shirt under their Endurance line that I have and will continue to wear for client meetings. This is NOT the case for many performance dress shirts on the market, but Twillory got the fabric blend dead on. The Endurance shirts are some of my favorite shirts that I own right now. I have even worn them under sweaters when I'm going out to dinner at night since they are so comfortable.
Back to the regular performance fabric dress shirts from most other brands, they are a great alternative for someone working in a casual setting who wants to step up their wardrobe without coming off as too stiff. They have sizing options similar to a classic dress shirt, but they often might run Small, Medium, Large, and Extra Large. This will give you a lot less control over the fit. As a counterpoint though, these newer companies are all about fit and their slim fits in the Small, Medium, Large and Extra Large sizes fit a lot better than other traditional dress shirt companies. There are, however, performance fabrics that have more size ranges available. It’s just about finding the right one for you.
I’ve gotten a lot of wear out of my performance fit dress shirts, but I generally wear them with the sleeves rolled up and the collar wide open. Another consideration for these types of shirts is they often don’t work as well with ties as the traditional dress shirt. If you’re wearing ties a lot then I would recommend primarily purchasing from the above companies.
As a dress shirt alternative for the dressier environment or to step up your casual dress shirt game, these performance blend fabrics can be a great option.
Twillory takes the top spot in the honorable mentions category and this is well-deserved for a newer brand. I mentioned them in the performance dress shirt category, but really all of their shirts are awesome. They are using high end fabrics, releasing on-trend shirts and offering a variety of fits, patterns and collar types. Twillory will likely make it into the top category if they continue on their current trajectory!
Nordstrom Dress shirts can be a great choice if you’re in a pinch, especially when they are on sale at Nordstrom Rack. Nordstrom brand dress shirts generally go on sale for under $50 and the selection is mediocre. Their trim fit dress shirt fits most similar to Brooks Brothers Milano fit, Charles Tyrwhitt slim fit, and The Tie Bar slim fit.
If you’re purchasing Nordstrom brand dress shirts at a Nordstrom store and at full price, you are likely overpaying (i.e. I am specifically referring to the Nordstrom brand dress shirts since they have their own label). The quality and fit is strong, but I would recommend one of the above mentioned brands that you can continuously order more shirts from.
T.M. Lewin is a similar brand to Charles Tyrwhitt. I personally feel like they are not as big of a brand and they don’t have the same physical presence in the United States as Charles Tyrwhitt, which is clearly building a marketing strategy. I’m sure they offer great dress shirts and perhaps in the future I’ll build out this honorable mention further, but I included them in my Honorable Mentions for being so similar to Charles Tyrwhitt, which is my Number 1 shirt brand.
Dress Shirt Guide Conclusion
The top six dress shirts:
Charles Tyrwhitt dress shirts - click here for shirt link
Brooks Brothers dress shirts - click here for shirt link
The Tie Bar dress shirts - click here for shirt link
Custom dress shirts
Performance fabric dress shirts
My top six dress shirts all have their place in the ranking for specific reasons. Ultimately, purchasing a dress shirt will come down to personal preference based on how you want your dress shirt to fit. A good option is to buy several shirts, try them on, then return the ones you don’t like. Purchase them from multiple companies in a variety of sizes to find the dress shirt you like best. You can also try them on at home one after the next so it makes the comparison process much easier.
Let’s start a dialogue below. I’m really curious to start a two way communication. Please understand that this is not a sartorial review of what shirts you should be wearing. This is also not a history lesson on dress shirts. This is the internet’s most comprehensive, practical guide to wearing dress shirts based on what I view as the best brands out there today.
Check out the About Me section for more details about Dapper Professional.