How it Should Fit: The Dress Shirt

February 9th, 2015

Continuing with our “How It Should Fit” series, today we take a closer look at the dress shirt.


    The Collar

    The collar should be snug around the neck. It shouldn’t be tight or uncomfortable, but when buttoned there should be no visible gap (this kills the look of the shirt). The size of the collar cannot be altered, so make sure you buy the right size. If it shrinks a little too much in the wash and gets a little tight, you can try moving the button over 1/4″ or so, but that’s about all the wiggle room you got.

    The Shoulders

    The shoulder seams of the shirt should hit at your natural shoulder lines, not up on the collar bones (too small) or hanging down on the upper arm (too big).

    The Chest

    There should be a smooth coverage of the chest, with enough allowance that you can have a full range of motion. Too tight and the buttons will pull open, too loose and you’ll have extra fabric pooling around the armholes and upper back.

    The Stomach

    This is where a lot of shirts are too big and cause billowing around the waist. It’s a very easy alteration to have a shirt slimmed-down through the body, and you can use darts to take the excess fabric out of the back only (just don’t make the hips too small, see below).


    The Hips

    A lot of guys make the mistake of making the hips too small when they have the stomach taken-in, trying to get rid of all that extra fabric around the midsection. If the hips are too small the shirt will ride-up and gradually untuck itself as you move. There needs to be enough allowance for the shirt to fit comfortably around the hips (and seat) in order for it to stay locked in place.

    The Length

    I tuck my button-down shirts in 80% of the time, so most of my dress shirts are nice and long and hit past the seat (I hate when they come untucked). For the 20% of time that I wear an untucked button-down, I have a handful of shirts that are meant to be worn like this, and cut much shorter. Like this one by Band of Outsiders, that hits few inches past the waistband.

    The Sleeve Width

    A trim sleeve can make a world of difference. I find that this is an area that often gets overlooked; guys will have the midsection of their business shirts slimmed-down at the tailor, but forget to trim to sleeves as well. A trim upper arm can make for a much better looking shirt, just make sure it’s not so tight around the biceps that you can’t touch your shoulder.

    The Sleeve Length

    The sleeves should hit just past the wrist, at the very beginning of the hand. They should show about 1/2″ under the sleeves of the jacket, and have enough allowance that they don’t ride halfway up your forearms when you extend your arms. It’s a careful trade-off having enough room for full range of motion, while not having too much fabric “pooling” around the wrists at a resting state.

    The Cuffs

    The cuffs should be cut close to the wrists, but not snug. You may want a little more room on your watch side so the cuff doesn’t get tight or hung up (many bespoke shirts are made with a larger cuff on the watch side, for gents who wear large timepieces).


    Thanks, as always, for reading.

    Yours in style,

    Dan Trepanier


    Photography by Alex Crawford. Styling by Dan Trepanier. Modeling by Will Howe

    • Cam

      I’ve used Ratio Clothing for MTM. They did a great job, and they make their shirts at a 100 year old factory here in the US. As a result the quality is amazing!

    • Jon Yeazel

      I find that the best way to get the ideal fit around a sleeve is to measure your bicep at full flex, and then add about 1″ to that measurement. No more or less fabric than you need for comfortable movement all throughout the shirt is a pretty solid principle to stick by. I agree with Dan though that if you dart the waist, without paying the sleeve some attention, your pretty much a walking contradiction of yourself.

    • Tony Bannister

      I wish I had the money to worry about this! I just buy the closest RTW fit I can.

    • Edouardo

      A question:

      How should you determine whether or not the yoke is long enough / too long?

      For instance, I notice that on the above shirt it extends slightly past the beginning of the shoulder, but not all the way to the end of the collarbone.

    • Kolja Kassner

      Dan, thanks for another nice article. Just one question I couldn’t find an answer for anywhere online. I love wearing shirts with french cuffs. And I work most of the day at my desk, lot of time typing or writing. And in my experience french cuffs seem not to be made for this, as they come a bit large and unpractical for that. Is it a dilemma I have to live with or do you have any smart solution?

      • AdamE

        I have most of my MTM shirts made with convertible cuffs. They have a button and can easily function as a regular button cuff shirt, but can also be worn with cufflinks. There are some occasions where I pull out the straight up French cuff shirts, but for those in between cases, the convertible cuff can be a good bridge option, and a bit more functional at the office….

    • JoeFromTexas

      I’m curious what goes into picking whether your “dress” shirt has a pocket or not. I find the utility of a pocket on an everday shirt indispensable. However I think a pocket looks jarring on a shirt formal enough to have french cuffs. While I’m not baller enough to wear french cuffs to the work place, there are probably some who do (lawyers maybe?). I think there is a continuum with formal at one end and business on the other (rather than casual, since we’re talking about “dress” shirts). I wonder how this distinction has played out historically in traditional dress?

    • Taylor Huston

      My main problem is due to my height, 5’4″, but wide build (150lbs, mostly muscle) and huge neck (16:) NOTHING fits me right. I usually get a small just because of length issues, and have to deal with not being able to button the top button and wear a tie. Express fitted shirts seem to fit me the best. I’e been thinking of stepping up to a medium trim fit (their skinniest fit) and just having the sleeves shortened and the waist taken in a little.

    • cam

      for those considering new shirts, i have to chime in and highly, highly recommend only buying dress shirts that are custom made. by the time you purchase an otr shirt and have it tailored, it wouldn’t have been much more to go custom. plus, the tailored otr piece will still never be quite right imo. i went custom a few years ago and its probably the best decision i ever made with dress shirts. for years, i wasted money with otr and wish i would’ve went custom much sooner. for those thinking it may be outside your budget, trust me, its much better to have 2-3 custom vs 5-6 otr. again, just my opinion but think its worth the mention.

      • Juan Zara

        This. It doesn’t even have to be bespoke, MTM will be a huge step-up as well, and in today’s world, even online MTM works perfectly well (in my experience.)

        I have ordered 3 shirts from Luxire recently, fully customized down to the length of the collar (collar roll is a big deal to me as I mostly wear BDs,) and I hardly ever wear anything else now. I have yet to see an off-the-rack shirt with a button-down collar this great. Only vintage Brooks Brothers is on-par, in my opinion.

        I’ve also heard great things about Proper Cloth.

      • tommyjohn_45

        What do you guys typically pay for your MTM’s? I think your point is valid for many people, however, some (like myself), fit OTR quite well and only have to pay an additional $10 for bringing the arms and waist in.

        • Juan Zara

          Luxire has great shirts that start at just $59 (roughly €50), although some can go up to $200 (mainly Thomas Mason fabrics if I remember correctly.) It all depends on the fabric you choose.
          A shirt made of 3-4 oz 200/2 Albini cotton goes for $150 (roughly €125) at both Luxire and Proper Cloth, which is a great deal, if you ask me.

          • tommyjohn_45

            Not bad at all.. Good to know, thanks.

          • Gazman

            Luxire have a difficult returns/remake policy compared to just about every other online MTM shop.

        • Rob

          I use Charles Tyrwhitt or TM Lewin in the UK, they have so many ‘special offers’ that shirts are usually £20-£30, which is fairly affordable. I recommend to everyone getting a sewing machine (perhaps for free off an old relative) and learning how to take in one’s own shirts. Much cheaper than getting it done at a shop, sort of less hassle once you know what you’re doing, and much more gratifying!

          • AFH

            I agree the low-end Jermyn Street crew knock out some pretty great VFM, with many a fit and sleeve length option (most offer further sleeve alteration at a reasonable rate). For most people, these are fine.

        • Blake

          Expect 95 to 150 average. 5 good mtm’s will outweigh all your other dress shirts to the point you might start purging stuff you used to consider good. Set goal to buy one every 1 to 2 months. I use proper cloth. First shirt goes to dialing in perfect fit. After that it’s off to the races.

    • Miguel

      I’ve found many shirts that are my size and are slim fit, fit me well in all those areas except the sleeves, the width is too big, I guess my tailor is getting more money out of my pocket.

      • tommyjohn_45

        Yeah… OTR sleeves are ridiculous. The only time I’ve found some that fit well in a mid-range price point was a Zara slim fit. 99% of the time I need the arms taken in though, and I’m not a small man by any means.

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