Think of Your Dress Shirt as Your Bulletproof Vest
It's the first thing you put on and your last line of defense. When you button it up in the morning, you should feel confident, in control, even invincible. Seriously, putting on a crisp, clean shirt that fits perfectly makes you feel like you're the boss. But here's the thing: A dress shirt is not any old shirt—there are a lot of details to get right, from the collar to the cuffs to the cut of the torso. All that said, buying the right dress shirt isn't quantum physics. You can find it at your local mall just as surely as at the fanciest, priciest, most fashionable store on Madison Avenue. You just have to understand the following principles.
- Use Your Head—Check Your Neck
Some guys just buy their shirts in small, medium, or large. No wonder they don't fit so well. You should know your measurements—neck size and arm length—and not just for the sake of it. These numbers are the key to making you look better. If your collar is so loose it hangs off your neck, or so tight it makes your face blush, you're stuck with it. So take action—get measured.
The One-Finger Rule
Make sure you can comfortably fit one finger between the collar and your neck. If two fingers fit, the collar's too big.
- Trim the Shirt Fat
You see them everywhere, guys with ballooning dress shirts so blousy they could hide a backpack under them. We at GQ are at war with this look. No matter what your shape, buy a shirt that closely fits your torso. Billowy folds don't disguise; they only amplify. • No need for all that extra fabric.
When you head to the store, ask for a slim-fit dress shirt. Everyone makes them these days, even Brooks Brothers. But understand that one label's slim-fit is different from another's. For instance, a Banana Republic slim-fit will be roomier than one by a high-fashion label like Dolce & Gabbana or Dsquared2.
• The shoulder seams should hug your own shoulders.
• Make sure the sleeves aren't too long or too short. When unbuttoned, the cuffs should reach just past your wrists.
Whether you're ripped like Taylor Lautner or built like an ordinary mortal, wear a shirt that speaks to your body.
- How One Tall, Lanky Dude Finally Got Fit
"If you're a tall guy like me (I'm talking six feet six), you know the deal: Nearly everything you try on is too damn small. I make extra-large Band of Outsiders look like it's cut for extra-large toddlers. My khakis stopped at my ankles back when "showing some ankle" looked Barnum & Bailey Bozo, not Thom Browne cool. And here's what always used to happen when I'd go buy dress shirts: To get the sleeves long enough, I'd go up-up-up in size, until the neck drooped and you could fit two of me into the torso. And then I'd buy it. I'd walk out depressed because the thing was clearly cut for John Fucking Candy. Enough! Tall dudes! There's this thing called slim-fit— and even extra-slim-fit. I recently bought a crisp white slim-fit shirt from Brooks Brothers, wore it, and immediately got compliments about my tie, my hair, my tan... Somebody asked me what gym I'd joined. There is no gym! All I did is buy a shirt that's actually cut to fit me. With all due respect to John Candy. (R.I.P.)"—Will Welch, GQ senior editor
- There Are a Zillion Collars. Ignore Them
The spread. The cutaway. The super-duper mega-point. Yeah, we get confused by collar choices, too. But really, you only need to know one: the semispread. It's not too fashion-forward, not too conservative. It works with every kind of suit, every kind of tie. You can't go wrong.
- What the Hell Is... a Straight-Point Collar?
The Straight Point
Think superminimal American style, not the oversize big-tie-knot Italian look.
The old-school all-American look. Has never gone out of style and never will.
The Semispread Perfectly balanced. Not too wide or narrow. Not too hip or square.
Got a Wall Street power suit? Pair it with a spread collar and a substantial tie.
- The Style Guy
Glenn O'Brien insists that white is always right
I have a veritable Pantone book of colored shirts, but it wouldn't bother me to give them all up for the Don Draper white shirt that virtually every businessman wore daily until the late '60s. Nothing looks dressier or richer than a crisp, immaculate, high-thread-count, perfectly fit white shirt. And nothing sets off a tan better. Or a dark suit. You can always supply color with a tie or cuff links, but that white makes you look brilliant. And white won't clash with anything else you put on. My grandmother insisted that a gentleman wears white shirts at night (if he has time to change), and she had a point. My favorite is a placket-front French-cuff shirt from Charvet. It works with a tie, but take away the tie and you have a perfectly smooth and clean look. It also doubles nicely with a tux and eliminates the need for studs.
- There's Nothing Buttoned-Up About a Button-Down
Thom Browne explains how he reinvented the oxford by messing with it
"I've been wearing a white oxford shirt for as long as I can remember. I wear one every day; they're timeless. I like how utilitarian and comfortable they are. When I started my line, I wanted guys to see that not everything being so perfect was what was interesting to me. And that's the beauty of the Cambridge oxford fabric that I use—it's in how it looks when it's naturally washed. When pressed, it kind of takes away its personality. Stylewise, I never button the collars. It's just my thing. But it's not a rule. I'm against rules."
- Male-Pattern Boldness
Wear a dress shirt that stands on its own
Now that you understand the fundamentals of how a shirt should fit, you can start getting creative and playing with patterns. Right now we're big into gingham and plaid dress shirts. They add instant punch to your work wardrobe while remaining classic at heart. In the fall and winter months, we prefer richer, more muted tones—the kind that go great with a dark business suit and strike a smart, urbane note. And when the temperature rises, your color palette should, too. Have some fun and reach for a lime green, pink, or lavender gingham. Live a little.
- Surefire Tip: Real Men Wear Pink
"We've been putting the pink shirt in the magazine for years now, because we really believe that it's as much a staple as the white dress shirt. Guys might think, 'Oh, I can't wear pink,' but it all depends on what kind of pink you wear. You don't want a bubble-gum hot pink; you want a light pink that's more a pale shade of rose. Wear it with a simple dark tie and that color flatters everyone's skin, whether it's the middle of August or the dead of winter."—Jim Moore, GQ creative director
- It's All in the Wrist
In praise of the unbuttoned cuff
How you wear your shirt can be as defining as the shirt itself. This may mean leaving the collar of your oxford unbuttoned (as so many well-dressed Italian businessmen like to do). Or it may mean doing something as seemingly insignificant as leaving your cuffs undone. It says, "I'm not some buttoned-down middle-management lackey" (or at least that's what we like to tell ourselves). Really, it makes you feel more relaxed while still looking sharp.
Of course, it needs to be done correctly. The sleeves of your shirt should fit just right— the cuffs should hit the hinges of your wrists so they poke out about half an inch past the sleeves of your jacket. If they run halfway down your thumbs when unbuttoned, you'll look like a little kid wearing one of his father's dress shirts. And no offense to Dad, but that's not the look you want.
- Four Hundred Bucks for a Dress Shirt?! Si, Certo!
A custom-made addict justifies the price tag
"The best shirts have some handwork on them, because handwork changes the shirt and the fit completely. A handmade stitch is more elastic, because there's space between the stitches; using a machine is like gluing the fabric. The machine makes the shirt not move at all, but when it's stitched by hand it's like a glove, and once you start wearing it, it molds to the shape of your body. You'll laugh—I've been wearing custom shirts since I was a little kid. Which is a good and a bad thing, because now I'm spoiled. My mom washed them by hand and pressed them by hand. She still does it for my father; my father doesn't let anybody touch his shirts but her. She hangs them for an entire day in the sun, and in the evening she goes into her pressing room and presses them by hand. When my wife saw that, she said: 'Don't think I'm going to do this for you. Ever.' But she told me that after we got married."—Giuseppe de Corato, owner, de Corato, N.Y.C.
- Wrinkles Look Good on a Man
Steven Alan on how washed-and-worn became the new pressed-and-starched
"I opened my store in SoHo selling other people's clothes—mostly women's brands, in fact. But around '99, I happened to have this little space above my shop, about the size of a kitchen, so I thought, Maybe I'll put some men's stuff there. I couldn't really find what I wanted, though. All the American shirts fit me like a dress, and the European ones I liked were overpriced and often overstyled. So I decided I'd make them on my own—ones that were fitted, but not too fitted. And then, the collars are smaller and less stiff than you're used to. I'm really particular about the type of cottons I get as well: nothing too silky, nothing made for bedsheets. Since I've started making these, a lot of people have shared my enthusiasm for washed, casual shirting. Guys are just a lot more comfortable now."
- Style Police: Go Tuck Yourself
Okay, here's the deal: Letting your dress shirt hang out doesn't make you look younger or thinner. It makes you look like you're wearing a muumuu. Traditional dress shirts aren't meant to be untucked; they're cut long so they remain in your pants. Tucking in your shirt won't kill you, it'll just make you look better.
- The Smallest Weapons in Your Toolbox
They keep your collar standing at attention. Stays should come out before your shirts get laundered and go back in when the shirts return clean. Keep one set on your dresser and one in your Dopp kit.
Shout Advanced Ultra Gel
We all get it: that sweat stain on the inside collar. Brush this stuff over the stain before you toss your shirts in the laundry to kill the yellow.
- Iron, Man!
Because doing it yourself means doing it better
"Imagine the coin you'd save if you didn't take a single dress shirt to the cleaner's for a year. Even a conservative estimate—setting the price at three bucks a shirt and assuming four shirts a week—amounts to roughly $600 in savings. That's enough to relieve a struggling electronics chain of a plasma or snag a round-trip ticket to Caracas. But money alone isn't reason enough to take on all those shirts yourself. The real reason you should be washing and ironing your shirts is that they're your shirts. And who's going to look after them better than you?
You're the one who's going to remember to spray the collar with stain remover; you're the one who's going to know precisely where that droplet of vinaigrette landed on your new French-blue shirt. And though you are a mere amateur and your dry cleaner does this professionally, he probably does it with a machine and for 3,000 other guys in your town with shirts that look a lot like yours. Has your washing machine ever lost your favorite shirt?
Here's how I do it: Rather than throw the shirts in the dryer, I iron them straightaway, damp. This alleviates the need for a spray bottle or pressing the steam button. But be warned: Ironing isn't for pansies, and you might well build up a distinctly unfeminine sweat. So feel free to crack a beer and toast the fact that you won't be running to the dry cleaner tomorrow."—Mark Healy, GQ editor
- How to Iron Your Shirt in Four Quick Steps
1. Fit your shirt, back side facing up, over the rectangular end of your board (not the pointy end). Moisten the shirt with a water-filled spray bottle if it's not damp.
2. Finish ironing the back and flip the shirt over to the front. Pull the shirt down so the shoulder seam lies flat on the board and iron out the wrinkles. Repeat on the other shoulder.
3. Take the shirt off the board, flip the collar up, and lay it down so the back of the collar faces up. Spray and iron. Then fold a crease in the collar and iron it in.
4. Lay a sleeve lengthwise on the board and, pulling it taut from the cuff with one hand, iron it with the other. Keep it rotating so you don't iron a crease into it—your sleeve shouldn't look 2-D. Then open the cuff and lay it flat so the inside faces up. Iron. Repeat with the other cuff
The Cheat Sheet
• Know what size shirt you wear. Get measured.
• Always buy a fitted dress shirt—even if you're not model skinny.
• When in doubt, go with a semispread collar. It works with everything.
• Unbutton and unpress your oxford—it's cooler that way.
• Inject some personality into your workwear—try a plaid or gingham dress shirt. And pair either one with a dark tie.
• Be a man: Wear a pink dress shirt to the office.
• Get some attitude: Unbutton your shirt cuffs.
• Don't settle for a limp collar. Use stays.
• Learn to wash and iron your own shirts. You'll save cash and ensure quality care.