I thought I’d write a little about shirts today. Then it struck me, I don’t really have much actual knowledge about shirts. I don’t know all the technical words a tailor or stylist would use, or have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the minutiae of The Shirt. I do know mostly what I like and how I use shirts though, so lets see how far that gets us.
As I’ve mentioned previously, I don’t work in an environment where I wear a suit. In fact, I’d be the odd one out if I did. Hence I only really have a single multi-piece garment that could be described as a suit, my Grandfathers old 3-piece that was tailor-made for him in 1945. I’ll write more about that one some other time. It’s important to know where I’m coming from though. If you’re looking for tips on buying a business shirt to wear with your well-tailored suit, you’re in the wrong place, I have nothing at all to offer you, sorry.
Now, for me shirts are a major part of being well dressed. You might argue that a polo neck could work, and I’d grant you that maybe it would, but you’ve a limited scope for varying your outfit. Wooly jumpers, t-shirts, hoodies etc., it’s going to be the rare example that makes you look anything less than casually or even poorly attired. So a shirt is the way to go, and it doesn’t have to be that hard to do it reasonably right.
For starters, if you’re just wearing a shirt, you are free to select almost anything. Flannel or cotton? Stripes, checks of plain? It’s an opportunity to express what you like, use it. You’ll find that some colours just work better with your complexion and hair colour, but don’t be afraid to try things out. Older men tend to get a bit stuck in their ways, and when shopping, isn’t it just that much easier to buy something almost the same as what you already have and like? Snap out of it! Find a shop that you are reasonably comfortable with, and try on a stack of shirts. It’s strange to contemplate the boredom of standing outside a dressing room, yet find that once you’re the one trying stuff on, it’s not really that bad. You might like to bring someone along as an independent advisor, be it your significant other or a friend with a decent eye for style.
Once you have a feeling for what you’re after, try it on. And here is where a lot of guys get it really wrong. And the more heavy-set they are, the more likely they are to go straight into the Fatshirt Trap. You’re not really that happy with your pudgy, middle-aged body? Been piling on the fat, especially around the tummy? The natural inclination is to get a nice tent-like shirt that will cover it up. Just for a moment think how overweight women often dress, in oversize flowing garments. Makes them look slim and well-dressed, right? Well, no. It makes them look like overweight women in oversize garments, and that’s what you’ll look like as well. Instead, get a shirt that’s the right size, that fits your body, and it will make you look much better. Now, I realise it’s hard to dress up a beer belly to look good, but that is something you could work on a bit. Losing weight these days isn’t difficult, if you want to do it, and it will benefit you in more ways than looking good. I’m rambling here, let’s get back to the shirts.
So, get it fitting right is a good starting point. As for stripes, if you’re a skinny guy and would like to look a little wider, try horizontal stripes. If you’re a big guy and would like to appear a little slimmer, go for vertical stripes. If you’re really well proportioned or have buckets of self-confidence, wear exactly what you like best. And that’s really all there is, unless you become a shirt-nerd. And if you’ve read this far, you’re probably more interested in the topic than most of the guys that haven’t even found their way here.
I tend to class shirts in 2 ways, the first is for shirts that will be worn on their own, the second for shirts that will take second-stage to a cardigan or a waistcoat. What do I mean by this? Well, if I’m wearing a shirt with a waistcoat, the shirt is not the primary garment, but it should support the waistcoat, either by not stealing the limelight, or by supporting it. By stealing the limelight I mean that you should not wear a garish or wildly contrasting shirt, this will just make you look confused and ill-dressed. By supporting it I mean that the colour of the shirt should work with either the colour of a single-coloured waistcoat, or match one of the hues in a multi-colour one. If in doubt though, you can always get away with wearing a white or light-grey shirt. I’ve lost count of the number of times people have asked me if I’ve dressed for a special occasion, merely due to me wearing a white shirt. Then again, maybe this is only something that happens in the casual circles I move in.
OK, so that was shirts that don’t make much of a fuss, so what are the other type? These are the shirts that make a statement, that hold some interest, that are different. You might immediately think they would be loud shirts, lots of colour or patterns, but you’d not really be on the level with me there. Sure, I’ll wear a checked shirt, goes well with a pair of jeans, it’s easy enough to find shirts with a pleasing blend of colours, and I’ll almost certainly look better than all the guys not wearing shirts. What I prefer though is a shirt that has something more about it, and this is where we get into shirt-nerdism, and pretend for a moment that it’s a real word. Think of a shirt, it’s got buttons, cuffs, a collar, arms, and maybe pockets. Not much scope for variation there, is there? Well, yes, if you’re a bit obsessive, there are many, many variations on each of these points, and I’d like to use a few examples to illustrate this. This is by no means an exhaustive list, merely a few examples to waken the interest in shirt details.
First out, a quite traditional chambray shirt by Universal Works. This has a collar that I would consider to be very much regular issue, nothing to comment on. The pockets, however, are unusual in their more work wear orientated style. Chambray is a type of linen cloth, which also makes it a bit different from a regular cotton shirt. A good example of a shirt that could have been totally ordinary, but where details make it different.
Second, an example by new boys Mamnick. For many casual observers, a white cotton shirt. Look closer at the collar though and we see it’s a button-down, which in itself isn’t very unusual, but the style of the collar is not the regular pointy type. Now, I know I’m short-changing Mamnick by only mentioning the collar here, as their shirts are positively heaving with nice little details. If you like your shirts that way, have a closer look at their offerings.
Third, one of two examples by SEH Kelly. What we see here is their twist on collars and buttoning, what they call the Kelly collar. Not a shirt that works with open buttons, but a very elegant detail indeed, with the small extra loops that keep the collar nicely tucked into place. The same detail is reused to good effect on the cuffs as well.
Fourth, again by SEH Kelly. This is one of my personal favourites, and a shirt I wore a lot this past winter. The collar is again quite traditional and not the reason for inclusion here. The special feature is that it is made from warm Lancastrian cotton corduroy. This makes it really nice and warm, plus it looks very good. It also has a half-hidden placket (this means you can only see the top half of the buttons) and raglan sleeves (this means that it doesn’t have the traditional shoulders, but rather that the sleeves start at the collar).
I think this is enough for now, I’ll revisit the topic soon. Let me know in the comment field if you’d like to hear more about shirt from a guy that really doesn’t know much about them!