This is the second in a series of articles on how to look your best on every budget.
In the previous article about how a dress shirt should fit, I mentioned that rough sizes – S, M, L, XL – are just not granular enough for when you want to look sharp and put together. Fortunately, casual shirts don’t come with the same restriction.
Casual shirts can be worn more loosely because they are intended for more casual environments.
One important thing to remember when buying in less specific sizes like “large”, is that the size we wear is not a reflection of our maturity or standing as men. When I was a kid I couldn’t wait to wear a large because that would finally signal that I was man-sized. Now that I am, I’ve realized that sometimes I need to buy a medium because they just fit better.
If you always wear a large and it feels a little big, especially in the shoulders – try a medium. You might be surprised at how much better it looks.
In the first article I covered the often overlooked Dress Shirt, and harped on several things including tailoring, and tips for judging fit in the dressing room. Casual button downs follow a very similar pattern for fit, so many of the same themes apply. When it comes to fit, the biggest differentiator between a casual button down and a dress shirt is that the casual shirt is usually cut a bit more loosely. This happens for all sorts of reasons, but this is primarily a practical choice. You are far more likely to engage in more physical movement when wearing a casual shirt, and therefore your shirt will need to be able to move to adjust to this.
You still want to avoid excess billowing in the waist, but leave a bit more room on casual shirts. The wrinkling of the fabric will look more relaxed, and you’ll appear more laid back than someone who’s shirt is tight and starchy pressed. If you take your shirt out of the dryer when slightly damp and immediately hang it to dry, the slight wrinkling in the fabric will also add to this effect.
The shoulders are the primary area to be concerned with when trying on casual shirts.
The shoulder seams should still fit across the top of your shoulders where your clavicle meets your scapula. The waist and arms can be adjusted by a tailor, but resizing shoulder fit is often prohibitively expensive. If you get the shoulders right, you will already be ahead of 80% of guys in the US.
Although you will rarely wear a tie casually, the neck of your shirt should still fit in a similar way. Again, button the top button and put two fingers in your collar. They should just fit when laid flat against your neck, but the collar should be uncomfortably tight when your fingers are stacked.
Finally, the sleeve length should end right at the base of your hand where the palm meets the wrist. In the late spring and summer months, you will likely turn up your sleeves, but proper fitting arm length will allow you to wear your casual button downs under a sweater or unstructured blazer for a little more complex look.
The polo shirt is a classic American staple. This is not a golf shirt that most guys wear hanging loosely from their frame on weekend afternoons. This is a collared cotton shirt that, when worn correctly, says, “I’m classy, and I came to play.”
Personally, I like to wear these slightly on the tight side. The Polo custom-fit, above, runs pretty slim, so I only recommend it if you’re already in pretty decent shape. That said it’s one of the best shirts that I own. It sits trim on my waist, and stays snug through the chest and back. The sleeves hit perfectly in the middle of my biceps, and it just looks great. Even though I’ve only seriously been working out again for a few months, this shirt complements the gains that I’ve made making my back, chest and arms all look bigger.
This is exactly how clothing should work. You should look better because you are wearing them. Not just more “situation appropriate”, or “respectable”. When clothes fit – you look better when you wear them. I look better wearing this polo, and you should too.
If you don’t want to go with something quite as tight as this, make sure that the waist and chest are still snug, but not tight. A little bit of versicle folding is fine, but you don’t want to look like you’re wearing a flag with a collar.
Again, shoulders are important here – let the seams hit on the top of your shoulders, and the sleeves end at mid-bicep. This is easily the most flattering cut, and it won’t look like you’ve been swallowed up by your shirt.
Henley and T-shirt
Henleys and t-shirts also extend the same concepts. Almost nothing looks better, or is more classically American, than a white t-shirt and a pair of jeans. This look drives most of the the women that I know (including my wife) crazy.
Trim waist and chest, with a little vertical lining. If you can see your nipples in the mirror, it’s too tight. The sleeves should hug your arms, not flap around them. If the shirt has more than an inch or so of extra fabric around your arms, then it’s too big. Either try another brand, or a smaller size to reduce some of the excess.
Casual Shirts don’t have to be lazy. With a little extra attention, you’ll look great in casual environments because your clothes accentuate the good parts of your body and hide the bad.