Dress shirts are play an essential role in any man’s wardrobe.
They are used for every single formal occasion, be it the good times of a wedding, the anxious times of a job interview, and the sad times of a funeral – a dress shirt must be worn.
While the dress shirt is essentially the cog in the wheel of your essential wardrobe, do you understand the different types and styles of dress shirts and what purposes they serve?
If not, this guide will give you a quick break down of the different types of dress shirts in order to lead you on your way to looking your absolute best no matter the occasion.
Let’s Start With The Top: What’s The Deal With Dress Shirt Collars?
Typically there are about 8 primary collar types.
One of the most recognizable collar types is the forward point collar type, of which gained much of its popularity in World War I as it was standard issue then.
Prior to that, the dominate collar type that was used was a detachable collar, of which is no longer used by men today (thank goodness!).
When wearing a forward pointed dress shirt like the one pictured above, its always best to make sure that you wear a tie with this type of collar as versatility is limited (I will touch on this more in a minute).
This type of collar is best served when a man has a slightly wider face and neck as the narrow forward point tends to help elongate and draw in the viewers eye.
An alternative to the narrow forward pointed collar is one that has a wider spread.
Here is an example of a dress shirt with a slightly wider spread:
Conversely to the narrow forward point, this type of collar works great for men who have a slimmer narrower profile in both the face and neck areas.
It will help flatten out your overall appearance when you use a collar that has a bit more of a medium spread to it.
Here’s the kicker:
When deciding on the spread length of the collar, its important to also note the type of tie knot that goes along with it.
For the narrow forward point, you are going to want to go with a single windsor or similar smaller knot as it won’t overpower the collar area.
On the other hand, with the medium spread collar, you want to make sure that you use a double windsor or similar knot like the one seen in the picture above.
That’s not all of course!
If you are like me and like to wear dress shirts both with and without a tie, your often times better on going with a shirt that has a bit more of a spread as it increases your versatility.
You see, when wearing a narrow forward point collar without a tie, the collar is going to look often times too long and, well, pointy.
Therefore, if you must wear a dress shirt with a narrow collar, make sure you have a suit jacket to go along with it as you can use it to tuck away your collar from being unruly.
Why Are Men Always Wearing A White or Blue Dress Shirts?
Really, go into any office and there is a sea of men wearing either white or blue dress shirts!
Simply put, white dress shirts are always going to be the go-to color for any man’s wardrobe.
Being neutral, a white dress shirt simply works for any occasion and will be by and far the safest bet possible for any man.
If you are putting together your first ever suit, get a white shirt. As you gradually add to your collection over the years, you can expand into other color variances that work the best for you.
Another popular color, of course, is blue.
Like the classic white blue works great for a wide variety of men who have differing complexions.
When shopping at many of the popular men’s fashion boutique stores, you will notice that many of the shirts come in differing shades of blue and, of course, patterns (I will touch on patterns in the next section), giving you a wide variety within the blue spectrum to choose from.
If you are brave enough to step out of the barrier of either wearing blue or white, you can really set yourself apart from others be it in an office environment, interview, etc.
When going to a suit shop, never shy away of asking for help when it comes to color. The folks that work at these places for the most part will be able to guide you in the right direction.
Do Patterns Really Matter At All When It Comes To Dress Shirts Vs. Suits?
Yes, patterns can help liven up just about any dress shirt.
So long as you are wearing a solid colored suit jacket and pants, a pattern shirt is a fun way to add a bit more life into your selection.
When it comes to dress shirts you have three basic patterns:
A solid color is by and far always going to be either your safest or boldest bet. The safest of course would be going with a white or pale blue shirt.
On the flipside to that aggressive colors like green, purple, salmon, can be great hits, or enormous failures if you mix it up with the wrong colored suit.
It’s always best to refer to the color wheel when trying to find complimentary colors that will work well with the look you are going for:
So if you are wearing a blue suit, don’t wear black or dark navy blue as it will look one-note and frankly not well.
Personally a favorite, checkered dress shirts are a bit more on the casual side and lend themselves well to being pretty versatile for both casual and formal occasions (given your formal occasion is still a bit more laid back).
Check shirts can look great with and without a tie. However, a general rule of thumb if you do wear a tie with a checkered shirt is that you have a much smaller check pattern on the shirt and a much larger check pattern on your tie.
Stripped dress shirts will look good on most men, especially those even on the shorter end. Stripes help elongate your profile giving you the appearance of looking a bit taller.
In addition to wearing a classic stripe shirt, if you can have a sprinkling in of accent colors, it can give a nice little pop of color to a fairly conservative suit.
Should You Get Your Dress Shirt Tailored?
Yes, yes, and yes!
Any shirt off the rack will only look so good for you.
Even the highest quality of dress shirts should be tailored. There are a few reasons for this.
Every guys body is unique, some have larger chests while others have larger midsections, or our shoulders might be built differently as well.
That’s all great, but when any design house makes a shirt and has it neatly stacked within the store, that shirt was designed to fit as many men as possible given the constraints of both the neck and arm length.
Therefore when ordering a shirt online or picking up one in the store, one of the very first stops you should be making isn’t the dry cleaner but the tailor (to note: some men’s shops do offer on-site tailoring, however, usually it’s at a premium).
When you get your shirt tailored every section of the shirt will be able to fit perfectly, so when you pick it up, it will look even better than when you initially purchased it in the store.
Why Fabric Can Be Well Worth The Investment
First time picking out a dress shirt? One of the best fabrics to go for if you are a beginner is cotton.
You see cotton, is a breathable fabric that also feels great on your skin given how smooth it also is.
Also cotton will wear on for a long time and takes quite a bit before it gets damaged. Even the morning coffee spilling on it might ruin your day, but likely not the shirt.
A fabric you may want to steer clear of is any sort of man-made materials like nylon or polyester. This can be for a few reasons.
Unlike cotton, man-made fabrics can feel abrasive and even worse, suffocating.
Being that they don’t often have the breathability of cotton, fabrics like polyester can cause many men to sweat instantaneously giving way to embarrassing underarm sweat marks.
In addition to having poor breathability, materials like nylon often times stretch and have elastic properties. These are not the trademark signs of a good suit
Lastly, you might also see dress shirts come in silk.
Unless you are going for an 80s drug dealer look, it’s probably best to steer clear of silk, especially if you are just starting to get into dressing more professional.
Silk has a higher long term maintenance cost (in terms of dry cleaning prices) and generally will wear out much quicker than its cotton counterpart.
Breaking Down What You Learned On The Different Types of Dress Shirts
As you can see dress shirts come with differing collars, materials, colors, etc.
But when breaking everything down, your best bet in most cases is to have a white cotton shirt.
Make sure you tailor it upon purchasing, and lastly, depending if you go with a narrow or wider collar, make sure you tie your tie appropriately to give yourself a balanced look.
Shawn Burns is the founder and senior editor of Tools of Men. He started this site with the goal of teaching men proper grooming habits and sensible style. Shawn’s expertise includes in-depth product reviews and how-to articles. Shawn was recently featured in the Wall Street Journal for his expertise.