The shirt is an everyday article of clothing, worn with everything from suits to sweaters or a pair of classic dark denim. If you look a little closer at this wardrobe staple, you’ll find differences that will tell whether it’s suitable for that smart or slightly more casual occasion. And to help you decipher when and how to wear the various different styles of shirt, we’ve pulled together this guide on the anatomy of a shirt.
One of the more noticeable details on your smart shirt, your choice of collar can speak volumes.
A classic point collar is a time honoured, versatile option, that’s popular because it is understated, smart and suits all face shapes.
Next up, there’s the spread and cutaway collars. In the simplest terms, a spread collar has points that finish wider apart than a classic point collar. Alternatively speaking, this means there’s a wider angle in-between the two points. A cutaway collar is an even more extreme version of this. Often considered slightly more formal than a classic point collar, these collars really suit men with thin and long faces.
The button-down collar is conventionally thought of as less formal. Traditionally a sports collar, the button-down would never have been worn with a suit (dress down Friday is more within its remit) in the past. Times change, however, and it is now considered acceptable to wear a button-down collar at formal occasions. Team with a knitted tie and perhaps leave the suit jacket at home.
The tab collar is much more elusive and less common than its other collar counterparts. Falling in and out of fashion since the 1920s, it’s popular with those who are after a vintage twist to their formal look. The tab fastens right under the tie knot, which holds the tie right up to the top of the collar. This keeps it looking neat all day long. The tab collar works well with a skinny tie and a modish skinny suit. A similar effect can be achieved with a collar bar too.
The most formal collar type is the wing collar. It’s traditionally part of your black tie dress code and would be worn exclusively with a tuxedo or a morning coat and a bow tie. Not one to wear to the office, this shirt should be saved for special occasions.
As with the collar, there are many varieties of shirt cuff too. Let’s focus on 3 of the most popular for now.
The most universal cuff is the barrel cuff which you’ll find on most ‘off the shelf’ shirts. It’s great for the office and business wear because it’s understated and won’t break any of the rules for formal dressing. You get barrel cuffs with one, two or even three buttons (one is the most common on a formal shirt). The cuff can be cut straight, gently rounded at the edge or even mitred to create some additional angles.
Next up is the French cuff which is also known as a double cuff. The material is twice as long as a barrel cuff and folds back on itself before you press the inner facing surfaces together and fasten with a cufflink. Cufflinks are obligatory with a French cuff, anything else is considered sloppy and most certainly not ‘edgy’ and cool.
Finally, there’s the cocktail cuff. You may also have heard it being called the turn back cuff, James Bond cuff, Portofino cuff, Milanese cuff, Neapolitan cuff or a British cuff. The cocktail cuff is similar to the French cuff in that it also turns back on itself. You do not require cufflinks as the cuff is stiff and won’t flop around and is fastened by two buttons traditionally.
When it comes to pleats, it’s down to personal preference and the level of formality you’re after. The function of the pleat is to give you some excess material to help increase your comfortable range of movement at the shoulders and back. The down side is that this also adds some volume of material to the waist too. This doesn’t help achieve the slim fit which is right on trend at the moment.
A box pleat is the least formal option and is usually found on shirts with a button-down collar. They’re often also found on many ‘off the shelf’ dress shirts (but not ours).
Secondly, you have side pleats which can also be known as knife pleats. These are often preferred over a box pleat for formal dress as they don’t create the same amount of excess fabric at the waist. Avoid knife pleats if you have broad but slightly sloping shoulders as they won’t sit properly.
An inverted back pleat is also know as a scissor pleat. Its function is much the same as the box pleat, just inverted. The scissor pleat is more scarce than the box pleat but still considered fairly informal. It looks great on a smart-casual shirt like a denim or a chambray that can be used to dress down a suit.
A great deal of people prefer not to have any pleats at all on their dress shirt. If the shoulders and arm holes fit well there is little need. Having no pleats also means that you don’t have the extra inches of fabric around the rest of the torso. It’s also not really the done thing to have darts in a shirt with pleats.
If you’re after a slim, sleek silhouette then no pleats and a pair of neat darts to sculpt the shirt is preferable. We offer this style of shirt across most of our smart range.
The placket also comes in a choice of designs available. The most familiar is the conventional placket which is found on most ‘off the shelf’ shirts. It gives the shirt a symmetrical aesthetic and is traditional British business and formal dress.
The French placket has the fabric folded over inwards so that the stitches don’t show on the front of the shirt. It’s considered more modern and is much more minimalist and popular in the rest of Europe. However, it is becoming much more popular in the UK too.
The Fly Front placket has a flap of material which conceals the shirt buttons underneath. It’s your go-to placket style when you have a black tie dress code or an occasion that calls for a tuxedo.
Finally, a contrast placket is most often a conventional placket which is made in a contrast colour to the rest of the shirt. Compliment this style with a contrast collar or even contrast cuffs.
For more inspiration on how to dress formal, check out our article on how to pick the perfect shirt and tie combination too.