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Men’s Shirt Buying Guide


A sleeve too short or a fit too loose? Here are a few tips to buy that well-fitted shirt.

A well-fitted shirt is the most basic and important weapon in a man’s sartorial arsenal. A clean and crisp shirt that fits perfectly makes you feel in control, like a boss. Plenty of tiny details — right from collar to hem — go into making a great-fitting shirt. However, buying the right shirt isn’t rocket science. You can find it at economical retail outlets as well as at high-end designer boutiques. Here is a handy buying guide that explains everything you need to know to find your perfect shirt.

FIT AND STYLE

Some men overlook the fit and just buy their shirts in small, medium, large or extra-large sizes. Ignoring the fit will only result in baggy folds and creases that look tacky. No matter what the body shape is, one must buy a shirt that fits their body closely. The three basic fits are regular, tapered and slim. The regular fit usually falls straight with added pleats at the back for extra comfort. The tapered fit is more modern and appealing, with narrow body and sleeves, and no back pleats. The slim fit quite literally moulds with your body contours, with added darts at the back for a defined waistline.

COLLAR
There are several collar styles like cutaway, forward-point, button-down and spread. Yes, collars can be confusing too. However, the one collar style that you need to remember is semi-spread collars, which work with both formal and casual attire. Semi-spread collars are versatile and work with every kind of suit and tie. A well-fitted collar will leave room for a finger to comfortably fit between your neck and the collar. Anything too tight will make you uncomfortable, while loose collars will constantly stoop with movements.

CUFF
Go with the classic single cuff in either rounded or angled edges for a daytime look. Double cuff, also known as the French cuff, traditionally found on dress shirts, is ideal for formal occasions. The position of the cuff is key in determining the fit of the sleeves. The cuffs should ideally cover the hinge bone of your wrists, so that they peep out about half an inch past the sleeves of your jacket. Anything longer will make you look like a child wearing his father’s shirt.

FABRIC

Shirt fabrics, also known as ‘shirtings’, come in a variety of weaves. Choose the fabric depending on the style and occasion.

COTTON: Cotton, the undisputed king of shirt fabrics, exhibits a variety of properties like durability, moisture absorbance, smoothness and iron-friendliness.

However, cotton itself comes in a variety of weaves that decide the weight and the drape of the fabric, which is crucial in determining the quality and functionality of the shirt. All cotton shirts have poplin weave, unless otherwise stated. Poplin is a soft and comfortable lightweight fabric that bears a smooth texture. Broadcloth is a close cousin that tends to be coarser and slightly heavier than poplin. Oxford cloth is a more casual and coarser shirting fabric which, however, doesn’t compromise on comfort or softness. Soft and breathable lightweight cotton fabrics like poplin and broadcloth are an ideal choice for warm sunny days, while heavier ones like oxford can be a great alternative for winters.

Formal shirts use the pique weaving style, which boasts a rich woven texture. Traditionally, pique cotton is considered to be the only shirting fabric that’s appropriate to be worn with a black or white tie.

LINEN: Linen is a natural substitute for cotton during hot Indian summers. It’s not only an ideal warm weather fabric, but has a naturally relaxed look and is the epitome of effortless cool. Unlike cotton, linen can absorb moisture without feeling unpleasantly damp. However, linen does comes with a drawback of creasing easily.

SILK: This opulent fabric has a light drape and striking lustre. However, the high maintenance cost and poor long-term durability makes silk quite an unfavourable shirting fabric preference.

TEXTURED WEAVES: Textured weaves like twill, herringbone, gabardine, denim and houndstooth are usually heavier than the regular plain weave fabrics, making them a perfect go-to fabric in colder months. Those men who despise ironing their shirt can take note that these fabrics do not wrinkle easily and recover from creases quite well.

POLY-BLEND: Polyester blends have made a remarkable impact on men’s work-wear category, given their desirable properties like wrinkle and stain resistance, easy maintenance and throwaway cost. However, poly-blend fabrics are not very breathable, highly vulnerable to heat damage from iron and can never radiate the sophistication that natural fibres exhibit. Poly-blends can be a feasible alternative for the budget-minded.

PATTERNS

Once you identify the basics of how a shirt should fit, and narrow down to the right fabric, you can get creative by playing with the patterns. Prints and cut-and-sew shirts are still ruling the trend books. Thanks to the normcore style revolution, right now, we’re big into washed and printed denim shirts that add a stylish and trendy punch to your wardrobe. The key to building a versatile wardrobe is to strike a balance between trend-driven pieces and classic essentials. Solid shirts are the most versatile, and yet formal and classic at heart. A solid twill or herringbone shirt has a very different visual appeal from that of a solid poplin shirt. Break free from the monotony and make an impression with solid shirts by sporting textured weaves that strike a smart and urbane note. Stripes are yet another popular pattern frequently incorporated in the men’s work-wear department. Wear stripes that are narrow in width for a modern and sleek look. Getting lively and adding a hint of accent colours, such as pink or lime, can look stunning, especially when teamed with a charcoal suit. The revival of 70s fashion has propelled the popularity of gingham and plaid shirts in recent years. Plaids work perfectly for both formal and casual occasions, as long as you remember to mix the pattern with solids or stripes. A plaid shirt, worn with a solid suit and striped tie, is a safe combination that won’t let you down.

The words first appeared in my article for The Hindu Metroplus on 9th October 2015

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