A casual shirt is a key element in any man’s wardrobe. They fill the gap perfectly between t-shirts, polos and the like, and the more formal shirts you would keep for work, weddings and dress-up events.
When paired with the right outfit and chosen in the right colour, casual shirts can look smart — perfect for business casual dress codes. But with a few buttons up, the sleeves rolled back and paired with jeans, or even shorts, they can help you look relaxed and self-assured.
Here, we’ll take you through the most frequently asked questions people have before buying a casual shirt:
What’s the difference between a casual shirt and formal shirt?
Sometimes it’s easy to tell the difference, but not always. One of the key things to look out for is the bottom hem of the shirt. Formal shirts usually have an uneven hem, purpose built to make it easier to tuck in. Casual shirts on the other hand often have a straight hem, as they are often worn untucked.
But this isn’t the case one hundred percent of the time, as there are now plenty of casual shirts with uneven bottom hems. In this case, keep your eye on the length of the shirt. A formal shirt will be much longer, with those hems often extending below to back or side pockets. With a well-fitting casual shirt, the bottom hem will ideally reach about halfway down the back pocket.
Another key difference is the collar style, as casual collars are usually nowhere nearly as stiff as those on formal shirts. Indeed, many casual shirts have button down collars (buttons on the “point” of the collar), to keep them in place. This is because casual shirts aren’t specifically designed to be worn with a tie.
We’ll go into some more detail on casual shirts and ties below, but here’s a solid piece of advice for selecting a casual shirt: When trying one on, make sure that it looks good when buttoned up all the way and with the top two buttons open. A formal shirt will billow out with the top two buttons undone and look odd, whereas a good casual shirt will look just fine like this.
How should a casual shirt fit?
A casual shirt should fit however you like. That’s why it’s casual! Whereas formal shirts these days generally come in slim or regular fit, you can feel free to go with relaxed fit or skinny fit. However, take note that if you’re wearing a casual shirt as part of a business casual outfit for the office, it’s best to steer clear of skinny or relaxed fits.
Naturally, what’ll look good on you will depend on your body type and outfit of choice, and how comfortable it makes you look and feel. We’ve said it before and will keep on saying it — comfort is one of the key elements in looking good.
Ideally though, your casual shirt should simply look like it fits you, no matter which style of fit you go for. It should extend down to just below the middle of your trouser zipper (or halfway down the back pocket). The shoulder seam should go as far as the end of your shoulder, and you should have plenty of room to move around without feeling either restricted or overwhelmed by excess material.
What can I wear with it?
For a smart, business casual look, it’s hard to beat a pair of chinos paired with a solid colour casual shirt. Avoiding a formal or business jacket, a nice blazer in a different colour from your shirt and trousers will look the part, or indeed a lightweight, knitted sweater. Finally, a pair of chukka boots or even tennis shoes round this look off in a relaxed yet smart style. We’ve gone into much more detail in another article on building a business casual outfit.
But for a much more casual, streetwear style, casual shirts look fantastic when worn with jeans or shorts, and boots or trainers. Think blue or black denim jeans, brown Chelsea or Chukka boots, and a white or blue & white striped casual untucked shirt.
And if the sun is shining, nothing’s stopping you from throwing on your casual shirt with a pair of dress shorts.
Finally, there’s the jacket to consider when buying a casual shirt. Some jackets can class badly with casual shirts, but this is usually because of the fit of the jacket more than anything else. For example, a tight-fitting bomber or denim jacket doesn’t always look so great with a button-down casual shirt, but if they’ve got a more relaxed fit, they can look great. As mentioned above, a nice blazer looks great with a casual shirt. But thankfully there’s an almost perfect solution for casual shirt and jacket combos: the shirt-jacket (or the overshirt, or even the “shacket” as some are calling them). They’re all the rage these days, and offer a lovely casual, yet practical look. Because they button down and have a decent sized collar, shirt jackets pair up very nicely with casual shirts.
Can I wear a tie with it?
While the implication of “casual” is that a tie isn’t to be worn, that doesn’t mean it can’t look good. There’s a style for everybody, and we’ve seen some great examples of casual shirt and tie combos out there.
Wearing a tie with a casual shirt really depends on the collar style. If the collar is buttoned down at the points, it’s best to avoid the tie. But if the collar is both wide, deep, and rigid enough, it can function with a tie just fine.
What’s the best fabric for a casual shirt?
Comfort. Is. Key. When buying a casual shirt, we’d recommend going with a fabric that’s light and breathable, so that you can wear it all day long without the risk of discomfort. A breathable and lightweight fabric casual shirt also allows you to wear it on hot days, while in cooler weather you can wear a sweater or jacket on top without looking too bulky.
A 100% cotton or high cotton percentage blend is a great choice here as it’s one of the most comfortable and breathable fabrics for a shirt (check out our article on why you should buy 100% cotton shirts). Otherwise, denim and flannel are great choices for casual shirts, while on summer days, linen is a supreme choice.
We trust that this article has been helpful to you, and that you now know more about what to do when buying a casual shirt. Check out our other helpful articles and style guides below, and take a wander through the Nickson Shirts collection. Also, check out our Instagram here.