There are few menswear staples that are as timeless and essential as a crisp white dress shirt. Men have been reaching for white dress shirts for as long as they’ve been wearing suits, although the clean, classic look of this garment works with just about any outfit, making it one of the best and most versatile pieces of clothing a guy can have in his wardrobe.
There’s a good chance you’re already fairly familiar with dress shirts, and you probably already have a few. There’s also a good chance, however, that there’s a lot more to a quality dress shirt than you’re aware of. Here’s a quick run-down of things to look for in your next dress shirt:
Cotton is the standard material used for dress shirting, but it’s not all made the same way. Natural shirt fabrics are generally classified according to the weave:
Synthetic materials like polyester permeate the field of men’s dress shirts today owing to their low cost, but these fabrics simply do not look, feel, or breathe as well as quality cotton, so keep it natural. You might see some shirtmakers use terms like “yarn number” (referring to the thickness of the yarn) or “ply” (meaning the number of threads comprising the yarn, e.g. “two-ply”). These aren’t necessarily indicators of quality so don’t sweat about them too much.
Dress shirts should be fairly trim. The important thing here is to avoid the big, baggy, blousy over-sized shirts many men are wearing. Also important is collar fit. There should be no visible gap between the collar and your neck, but you want to be able to comfortably insert two fingers inside the collar. If you can’t, it’s too tight.
A proper dress shirt’s size will be labeled by two numbers which indicate collar size and sleeve length – dress shirts shouldn’t be labeled with generic garment sizes like “medium.” A 15/34 shirt, for example, has a 15-inch collar circumference and a 34-inch sleeve length measured from the back of the neck down to the cuff. To suss out your ideal size, use a flexible tape measure to measure your body or find a shirt you already have that fits perfectly and measure that. And find a good tailor.
Dress shirt styles mostly boil down to the collar and cuffs. Cuffs typically come in two flavors: Barrel cuffs, which feature a button closure, and French cuffs, which are folded back on themselves and held closed with cufflinks. Collars are a bit more varied and are classified by the cut with spread, cutaway, point, tab, club, and button-down being the most common. Your collar choice depends on the ties you want to wear with your shirt and whether or not you plan to wear the dress shirt without a necktie.
It doesn’t get much more versatile than the classic spread collar for your go-to dress shirt. This style works with most neckties and knots, although a spread collar is especially well-suited for the wider Windsor and mid-sized half-Winsdor. If you only plan to have one white dress shirt in your rotation, then the versatility of the spread collar makes it a tough act to beat.
However, a spread collar is also a fine choice for going tieless, whether you’re pairing your white dress shirt with a light-colored summer suit – a perfect excuse to ditch the neckwear altogether – or wearing it with a crisp pair of chinos or jeans for a casual evening out. As one of the oldest and most respected menswear brands in the world, it’s only fitting that our top pick for a white dress shirt comes from Brooks Brothers.
This dress shirt is part of the Golden Fleece Collection, one of Brooks Brothers’ high-end lines. The cotton is woven in Italy in a durable twill that gives the shirt a thick body and a nice smooth hand.
The spread collar lends the shirt a classic English-style flair and works with just about any tie, while the double-button barrel cuffs with rounded edges offer a classic American look. The "Regent" fit is suitably slim and modern without being too fashion-forward or constricting.
Sadly, many of the garment factories in the United States and Europe have shut down, and most shirtmakers – Brooks Brothers included – now manufacture most of their stuff overseas. Golden Fleece shirts, however, are cut and stitched right in Brooks Brothers’ shirtmaking facility in Garland, North Carolina, so you’re getting old-school American craftsmanship from the old-school American menswear label.
That, in my opinion, puts this shirt above the rest and makes it more than worth the money considering it’ll be your go-to white dress shirt for decades with proper care. If you’re a “buy once, cry once” kinda guy, and you only need one solid white dress shirt in your rotation, then the Brooks Brothers Golden Fleece spread-collar is the one for you.
Pros: Fine American craftsmanship, a slim but not constricting fit, sturdy Italian-woven twill, and a classic spread collar that works with most ties and outfits
Almost all quality dress shirts are made from 100% cotton, but as men are wearing suits more, cotton/linen blends have become a popular choice of shirting material for those hot summer months. Cotton by itself is not the most breathable cloth, and while linen is very light and airy, it wrinkles about as easily as wrapping paper. A nice blended fabric, on the other hand, combines the body of cotton with the coolness of linen, presenting a near-perfect hot-weather alternative to all-cotton garments.
Founded in 1898, T. M. Lewin is a famous English shirtmaker hailing from Jermyn Street in London, the capital of traditional menswear (sorry, Italy). With more than a century of experience, you can expect that T. M. Lewin knows a thing or two about shirting, and this crisp white cotton and linen number is the one you want to reach for when the sun comes out and it’s time to retire the twill.
M. Lewin delivers, in our opinion, a lot of value when it comes to traditional shirtmaking. And while this Jermyn Street brand may be old-school, it’s kept up with the times, offering clean-looking slim cuts that outclass the blousy, billowy shirts of past decades. The 71% cotton/29% linen fabric breathes and moves nicely. It will get more wrinkly than plain cotton, but as a well-dressed man, you surely already know your way around an iron.
The classic point collar hits the sweet spot between size and spread, allowing it to work well with most ties and tie knots. I recommend sticking with a four-in-hand or half-Windsor for this one, especially considering you’re probably not going to be wearing thick, chunky neckties in the summer heat. However, point collars like this are also great for going tieless, and the subtle light blue styling on the inside of the collar and placket looks great with a button or two undone.
This light blue accent is also present on the button threads and the lining inside the single-button cuffs, while the second forearm button lets you roll up those sleeves if you want to go for a super-casual look. Go ahead and roll ‘em. In hot weather, you want to look as good as you feel, and the T. M. Lewin cotton/linen dress shirt is just the ticket. The cut corners on the shirt’s mitered cuff do lend the shirt a bit of extra formality, however, so it pairs just as beautifully with any light-colored spring or summer suit.
Pros: Cool yet crisp cotton/linen blend fabric, a flattering slim fit, and a classic point collar that works with or without a tie
For your first white dress shirt, it’s probably best to stick with more versatile button cuffs. Nonetheless, it behooves the well-dressed man to have at least one or two French cuff shirts in his rotation, and since you’re likely to have a few white dress shirts, a high-quality double-cuffed example should be among them.
The French cuff, also called the double cuff, is cut longer than a standard barrel cuff so that it may fold back over itself. In lieu of buttons, the cuff is held together at the wrist via cufflinks. This results in a larger, more substantial cuff and a very sharp and old-school look.
Charles Tyrwhitt, like T. M. Lewin, is another famous Jermyn Street brand and one of our favorite shirtmakers. It’s not as old as some other English menswear labels but has nonetheless built a strong name for itself with its excellent (not to mention high-value) shirting options. This spread collar twill dress shirt is our pick for your first pair of French cuffs given its excellent price-to-quality ratio, especially if you’re not yet sure this style is for you and aren’t ready to drop a Benjamin or two.
French cuff shirts are generally more formal than barrel cuffs and you’re not likely to be wearing one without a jacket or suit and a tie. Studier, thicker fabrics work best for double cuffs, which explains our choice of Charles Tyrwhitt’s substantial-yet-soft twill weave for this one. A traditional shirt like this calls for a spread collar, too, as the conservative cuff style pairs best with a medium-to-wide necktie and a half-Windsor or Windsor knot.
Keep your outfit conservative with this shirt – overly colorful socks, ties, or pocket squares, as well as too many other accessories like jewelry or large watches, will leave your ensemble looking costumey and garish with French cuffs and cufflinks. “Simple and sophisticated” is the rule here: Rock the Charles Tyrwhitt double cuff shirt with a dark suit, a striped repp or solid-colored tie, and a nice pair of sleek cufflinks for a stylish yet no-nonsense business ensemble.
Pros: A substantial yet soft cotton twill, a classic and versatile spread collar, it comes with a pair of brass collar stays, and it’s an excellent value
Cons: The corporate look of French cuffs limits the possibilities of wearing this shirt without a suit or jacket
In the world of shirts, the Oxford cloth button-down (or OCBD) is the workhorse – at least that’s the case in America, where this style was first popularized around the turn of the 20th century. “Button-down” here refers not to the buttons on front of the shirt, but rather those on the collar, which is typically softer and less structured than collars found on more formal dress shirts and thus has buttons at the corners to keep it in place.
As America’s oldest menswear company, it should come as no huge shock that Brooks Brothers invented and popularized the Oxford cloth button-down shirt. Nor should it come as a surprise that our pick for an OCBD hails from this label. Most dress shirt collars feature a stiff interlining that keeps the collar rigid, but button-down collars generally lack this, instead featuring a collar that feels more like the natural fabric of the shirt and is thus softer and arguably more comfortable to wear all day long.
Pretty much all men’s clothing brands offer some variety of OCBD, but it only seems proper that we give the nod to Brooks Brothers, the pioneer of this style, for this one. A number of quality factors put this example well ahead of the competition, too. It’s made right here in the United States of American-grown Supima cotton, it boasts genuine mother of pearl buttons, and the styling is spot on with its slimmer Regent fit and subtle rolled (not folded) collar.
The Oxford cloth button-down is a fairly casual style, and some menswear experts assert that it’s not even a true “dress shirt.” That may be true, honestly, but unless you’re working on Wall Street or in the London banking district, you’re probably okay to wear your OCBD to work. The flip side of that coin is that this shirt looks great with just about any casual outfit. Feel free to wear it with any sharp pair of chinos or indigo jeans – tucked in, of course, with a nice leather belt – and roll the sleeves if you want.
For business wear, the Oxford cloth button-down will work well with most suits, but avoid jackets with wide lapels (which should not be an issue as most suitmakers today have ditched this dated style). I also recommend sticking with a slim-to-medium tie, perhaps a nice silk or cotton knit to complement the OCBD’s more casual look, with a classic four-in-hand knot instead of a bulkier Windsor or half-Windsor that may clash with the softer button-down collar.
Pros: Made in America of U.S.-grown cotton, excellent attention to detail, a slim fit with a nicely rolled button-down collar, and a great casual style that suits almost any outfit
You’ve probably noticed by now that, unlike those polyester department store monstrosities, good traditionally-made dress shirts can get expensive. Price is an easier pill to swallow when you understand that a quality garment can remain in your wardrobe for decades, but if you’re on a budget, or if you just want a less expensive “backup shirt” in your corner, then there are some more affordable options out there.
Thankfully, men aren’t restricted to department stores anymore. The internet has seen the rise of a ton of great menswear brands that make it much easier to avoid the baggy polyester pitfalls of yesteryear. Since its founding in 2004, The Tie Bar has become one of our favorite brands for well-made, low-cost neckties, but this relatively young startup now offers a myriad of other menswear staples as well. Not the least of these is its wide lineup of dress shirts.
Our pick for a good budget-friendly white dress shirt is The Tie Bar’s pinpoint offering. Pinpoint is a smooth, relatively lightweight Oxford-like weave with a pleasant hand, making this shirt a highly versatile choice for year-round wear. The style is as classic as it gets, too, with a standard point collar that works with just about any tie and one that can easily be worn tieless in more casual settings.
At $55, it’s is an excellent value for an all-cotton dress shirt and even features a couple nice little touches for the price, such as plastic collar stays and mitered cuffs (which are clipped at the corners) for a smart look. The Tie Bar website also suggests accessories to match with your shirt, and at these prices, you might as well grab a couple ties and pocket squares while you’re at it.
Pros: The all-cotton pinpoint is comfortable and wearable year-round, it’s an excellent value for a traditionally-made dress shirt, includes plastic collar stays, and the point collar is the most versatile style you can get
Dress shirts require proper care like all quality garments. Launder dress shirts in cold water and then tumble dry, hanging them up to air dry if they’re a bit damp. Heat causes cotton to shrink which is a particular problem with dress shirts due to their specific sizing.
Shrinkage does weird things to collars, too, due to the interlined construction. There’s no shortage of online reviews where guys washed their dress shirts like T-shirts and caused them to shrink and warp, erroneously blaming the garment for their mistake.
Invest in decent hangers if you store shirts in your closet. Plastic hangers are okay, but avoid wire hangers altogether. Even better is aromatic cedar wood, which absorbs ambient moisture and keeps things fresh. Folding your shirts and placing them in a drawer is fine, too, and putting some cedar blocks in there will have the same effect. Finally, learn how to properly iron your dress shirts so they’ll always look and feel as crisp as they did when they were new.
The fundamentals of men’s style are all about classic design, and it doesn’t get more classic than a dark brown Oxford dress shoe. The Allen Edmonds Park Avenue is an all-time favorite and our top pick due to its timeless style, quality full-grain leather, durable Goodyear welted construction, and American-made pedigree.
You should also consider the Charles Tyrwhitt Hallworthy Derby Shoes, the Jack Erwin Ellis Chelsea boots, the Grenson Dylan wingtip shoes, and the Loake 1880 Cannon monk strap shoes.
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No suit is complete without a great necktie. For your staple tie, it’s hard to beat black, and this luxurious silk tie from Turnbull and Asser hits every mark. Its high-quality bias-cut Italian silk looks wonderful, drapes beautifully, and works with any type of knot.
You'll also love the Brooks Brothers silk repp tie, the Charles Tyrwhitt knit tie, the Bonobos linen tie, and the American Trench wool tie.
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