ONCE UPON A TIME, THE AVERAGE WORKING GUY’S CLOSET CONTAINED MAYBE A DOZEN OFF-THE-RACK BUTTON-DOWN SHIRTS – ALL IN BLUE OR WHITE. BUT IN THE LAST DECADE – WITH MOSTLY POSITIVE RESULTS – MEN HAVE BECOME BRAVER, SAVVIER AND MORE DISCERNING. BRIGHT COLORS, STRIPES AND PRINTS HAVE INFILTRATED THEIR WARDROBES. SHIRTS WITH SPREAD COLLARS AND FRENCH CUFFS ARE RUBBING SHOULDERS WITH ALL-AMERICAN BROOKS BROTHERS MODELS. AS THIS SARTORIAL RENAISSANCE UNFOLDS, MEN ARE ALSO DEVELOPING AN APPRECIATION FOR THE MOST CRUCIAL PART OF SHIRT SELECTION: FIT. NO MATTER HOW MUCH A BUTTON-DOWN SHIRT COSTS, IF IT ISN’T CUT PRECISELY TO FIT THE WEARER’S BODY, IT’S A LIABILITY – WHICH MEANS THE SHIRT MAKERS ON SAVILE ROW WHO ONCE SEEMED DESTINED TO BECOME DINOSAURS NOW SEEM PROGRESSIVE. SO SEIZE THE MOMENT AND MAKE SOME ROOM IN YOUR CLOSET. START WITH THE PERFECT WHITE SHIRT – PREFERABLY A SIMPLE, CUSTOM-MADE ONE – AND GO FROM THERE.
THE PLAIN CUFF
Shirts that don’t require cuff-links should have one button at the cuff and a small “chisel” where the heel of your hand cocks back. If you want a slightly more formal style-but still no links-wear a shirt with barrel cuffs, which have two buttons and no chisel.
THE FRENCH CUFF
Some unenlightened dressers think French cuffs are stuffy. They’re not. You can wear a shirt with cuffs that fasten with links, not buttons, every day-even with jeans and a blazer. Just be sure to calibrate the formality of the hardware-silk knots are better for daytime than 14-karat gold- and never leave the cuffs unfolded and trailing out your sleeve, or you’ll look like the fourth tenor.
A collar shape-whether it’s spread, long point, or another style that flatters your face, your build, and your personal aesthetic is crucial. It can be the best argument for having your shirts custom-made.
The quality of the buttons will clue you in to the quality of the shirt. A well-made one should have thick, triple-stacked, mother-of-pearl buttons-not flimsy plastic disks that crack in half on the first trip to the dry cleaner. It should also have a gauntlet button- that’s the one between the wrist and the elbow that allows you to roll your sleeves up neatly.
Like sheets, shirts come in thread counts from low to luxuriously high. Some companies make shirts with thread counts as high as 180. But the truth is, you’re better off with good, serviceable cotton. Extremely high grades may be silkier, but they wear out faster and cost more. There are many weaves for shirts from the casual oxford and chambray to the smooth Pima and Sea Island.
Everything goes with a blue shirt. When white seems too stark, sub in one in any shade-from powdery to bright.
There’s no better way to breathe life into a gray suit than with a gingham shirt-even a black-and white one does the job.
The striped oxford is an all American classic. You can pair it with jeans or khakis-tie optional and feel free to roll up the sleeves.
The contrast collar isn’t just for bankers. Worn with a dark suit, the distinguished shirt works for any dressed-up event.
This suave, Italian-style pattern is better suited for evenings out than boardroom meetings. Just keep the number of undone buttons to a minimum.
The gray shirt is an underrated alternative to blue and white. In fact, a dove-colored one is an even better complement to navy suits.
The associations with grunge and golf have been vanquished. The new breed of plaid shirt looks well with suits and ties or just tucked into trousers.
The pencil-stripe shirt adds dimension to a suit-and-tie without overwhelming it. Just make sure the stripes are slender and the colors are coordinated.
It takes moxie to pull off a flower-print shirt. The very confident can wear oversize, brightly colored styles; the rest of us should go for something more understated.
THE PERFECT FIT
No matter what you paid for it- or how trim your torso-if your shirt doesn’t fit properly, you’re going to look like a schlump. Most men wear theirs a full half size too big. And a blousy, billowy shirt is just as unflattering as a skin-tight one. And while you may have your measurements memorized, the numbers
don’t always add up- no two manufacturers’ shirts fit exactly alike. Try a shirt on before you buy it, take an honest look at yourself in the mirror, and follow these guidelines for honing in on the perfect fit:
There’s a lot of middle ground between too loose and too tight. Find it. The shirt should be snug in the chest, but not so snug that the fabric pulls between the buttons.
Beefier guys should get a shirt with box pleats in the back-two folds between the shoulder blades- for a little more room, without extra volume. Those with slimmer builds should opt for fitted styles that contour down toward the waist. Either way, the seams of the shirt should lie on the curve of your deltoids (those are the muscles right behind your shoulders – the ones you’d work if you did push-ups).
Sit down while you’re wearing the shirt. It should skim your waist but leave just enough room to give when you’re seated (and full).
The golden rule here hasn’t changed: You should be able to comfortably fit two fingers in between your neck and the collar of the shirt when it’s buttoned.
The cuffs of the shirt should fall in the crook between the base of your thumb and your wrist.
The tails should be long enough to lie under your rear end when you’re seated. That will prevent the shirt from riding up or coming untucked. It will also give you better posture.
HOW TO BUY SHIRTS
Don’t just pick out the shirts you like – have a solid rotation in mind. If you’ve got a closet full of suits and jackets in pinstripe and plaids, make sure you have a good supply of solid-colored shirts. If you tend toward plain navy and gray suits, stock up on shirts in bright stripes and checks. Whatever your preference, work several perfectly cut white shirts into the mix.