The Formal Shirt: 5 Things You Should Know Before You Buy

Every man’s wardrobe should have a couple of formal shirts on rotation, ideally in a variety of colours for different occasions. It’s inarguable that formal dress codes are on the wane in office environments. Business casual (we’ve written a guide to business casual dress here) is overtaking at a fast pace. However, there will always be a place for this staple shirt for more formal settings.

The Importance of a Formal Shirt

Your shirt is the element of your formal outfit that pins everything else together. No matter how slick your suit jacket and trousers, it’s the shirt that subtly draws the eye and sets everything else off. 

Your shirt is also your first layer of comfort. It spends its time in constant contact with your skin. Thus, a poor choice of formal shirt will irritate you and cause discomfort. 

To help ensure that you equip yourself with the perfect formal shirt, here are 5 things to know before you buy: 

Your Measurements

When it comes to buying a formal shirt for big occasions, small, medium and large isn’t quite enough. Our bodies are so much more varied than this, and we want a formal shirt that’s going to fit just about perfectly. 

Formal shirts are measured much more accurately, down to the last quarter inch in some cases. To that end, get to know your measurements. You’ll need to know your sleeve length, collar width, waist and chest size. Luckily for you, we’ve written guides on measuring your sleeve length and getting your other key measurements before buying a formal shirt online.   

Your Preferred Formal Shirt Fit

We’ve written in much greater depth about the fit of your shirt here and here. But here are the key points regarding formal shirt fit: in this day and age, slim and regular fit shirts are the best options for a formal shirt. Whichever you choose will depend largely on a few things: Your personal taste, your body type, and the fit of the garments you’ll wear it with. 

Some people feel that slim fit shirts complement their bodies more, while others prefer the added security of a regular fit. Generally speaking, it’s slimmer men who prefer slimmer shirts, and bulkier men who prefer regular fit, but this isn’t always the case. With the right formal shirt, each is as comfortable as the other. Remember, slim fit doesn’t mean tight fit, and regular fit doesn’t mean loose fit. If a high quality formal shirt is too tight or too loose, it’s probably the wrong size, not the wrong fit.  

The Right Fabric

We mentioned above that your shirt is your first layer of comfort, so choose a fabric that’ll keep you comfortable as long as you wear it. In a world of thousands of shirt fabrics and fabric blends, it really is hard to beat a nice luxurious 100% cotton formal shirt. Cotton is super breathable and comfortable, so no matter what other garments you’re wearing, it’ll go easy on your skin and keep you at the right temperature. For a formal shirt, or any quality shirt for that matter, we’d always recommend avoiding synthetic materials such as polyester. Even a blend with cotton in relatively small amounts. These tend to chafe the skin after a while, while they’re not breathable and can look a little cheap. We’ve written about the benefits of 100% cotton shirts already, if you’d like to learn a little more. 

Collar Style

Straight point collars and cutaway collars are both suitable for formal shirts, though the former is more versatile, seen on casual and smart shirts as well as formal ones. So what’s the difference? Simply put, there’s more space between the collar tips of a cutaway collar than a straight point collar.  

A straight point collar has a slimming affect on the face and is also the more traditional collar style, plus it can be worn with or without a tie (at informal occasions). When worn with a tie, a straight point collar looks well with a four-in-hand-tie knot (check out our article on tie styles here). 

The cutaway collar offers a much wider collar shape, designed partly to show off the tie knot. It’s often seen in very formal outfits, though can work nicely with or without a tie. But when paired with one, make it a thicker, more padded Windsor Knot. 

Cufflinks or Buttons?

For a formal shirt, cufflinks are often considered a no-brainer. Granted, some cufflinks can be a little too ostentatious, but the right pair can really help elevate a shirt from good to great, giving it a much more formal tone. 

A final point, do note that since French cuffs are folded back on themselves, they’re a little more bulky and eye-catching. 

If cufflinks really aren’t your thing however, you’ll need a shirt with a barrel cuff (that’s one with buttons). Try to choose one with a more luxurious button textile, such as mother of pearl or corozo. 

We trust that now you know a little more about pairing the things you should know before buying a formal shirt. Check out our related articles and guides below, and stop by the Nickson Online Store when you’re ready to purchase your next shirt.

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