How A Dress Shirt Should Fit

How A Dress Shirt Should Fit 2017-09-03T21:37:26+00:00

pink measuring tape around white dress shirtEven if you’re a man who doesn’t wear a suit everyday, you still probably wear a dress shirt (or something in that style) more often than not. Being so ubiquitous, shirts give us ample opportunity to look fantastic in our day-to-day lives. If they don’t fit well, though, you’ll look schlubby.

There are many parts to a shirt that we sometimes don’t even think about, so read on for a primer on what everything is supposed to look like.

If you’d like to know how the other elements of a suit should fit, we have separate pages for jackets, waistcoats, and trousers.

How Should Dress Shirts Fit?

Here’s a quick bulleted list on proper shirt fit:

  • Body is snug but not tight with a tapered waist
  • Two fingers fit between collar and neck
  • Sleeves end at break of the wrist
  • Shoulder seams sync with your shoulders
  • Cuffs are neither cinched at the wrist nor do they fall past it

Let’s show you an overview of the various elements of a properly-fitted dress shirt, then we’ll dive into the individual sections below.

Correct Shirt fit Infographic

Correct shirt sleeve and collar graphic

We’ll address all of these elements individually below, going from top to bottom.

Correct Shirt Collar Fit

RTW shirts often come with a collar and cuff measurement. Collars typically run from as small as 14″ up to about 18″ for many brands, though exceptions to that rule occur.

Graphic of how shirt collars should fit

A collar that’s too loose will make you look like goose-necked. You can see in the graphic above that the “too loose” guy has a bunch of space between his neck and the collar of the shirt.

A too-tight collar is even worse; it will literally choke you and turn your face red. It’s both unsightly and uncomfortable.

You should be able to comfortably fit a finger or two between the collar and your neck when it’s buttoned up completely. Don’t deprive yourself of the literal breathing room that you need, but don’t get a collar so big that you can get a fist in there.

A Note On Collar Points

dress shirt collar point

The length of your collar points is also important. The “points” are the part of the collar that surrounds the collar button on either side, and the length should be proportional to your size, particularly that of your head. The average collar point is 2.5″-3″.

Keep in mind that a rule of thumb is for the tips of the collar points to be covered by your jacket lapels when worn together. If the points are too short to do this, you will throw off one of the minor details that make for an excellent suit presentation.

As for button-down collars, the points should be long enough to give you what’s referred to as a “roll.” Unlike a roll in a jacket collar, a shirt collar roll is a good thing and it can only be achieved with points long enough to give you such a roll.

How Shirt Shoulders Should Fit

Graphic showing proper fitted shirt shoulders

Like a jacket, the shoulder lines of a shirt should sync up with your own shoulders. There is often an independent piece of fabric that stretches the width of your back across the shoulder blades called the yoke. It should extend no further than your shoulders.

If it does, you’ll have a shirt that’s drop shoulder, or where the shoulder seam is positioned on the upper arm rather than the shoulder. This looks droopy.

Correct Body Fit & Shirt Length

How a shirt should fit graphics

The shirt’s body should be as slim as comfortably possible.

Some men prefer shirts that are a bit roomier, and this is fine so long as we don’t wear a garment that makes you look like the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man when it’s windy outside.

How the back of a shirt fits

Conversely, slim is in, but if buttons are pulling and you feel that you have to hold off on your next meal then you need to try the next size up.

Note that a proper fit is not skin tight. There’s room for movement, but the shape is still there. Much of fit preference will be dependent on your body type. If you don’t know yours, our guide will quickly and easily help you determine it.

If the shirt needs to be taken in, your tailor can put darts in it for some shape. This is easy to do and most tailors should be able to perform this alteration with no problem. Shirts cannot be let out due to their lack of extra fabric. Our tailoring guide has more information on shirt alterations.

A shirt’s length (often referred to as its “tail”) will vary depending on its end use and maker. Classic dress shirts are cut on the longer side so that they stay tucked more easily throughout the day. Other makers cut their shirts a bit shorter so that they can be worn untucked and not look like dresses.

Our preference is for a somewhat shorter shirt as it allows for maximum versatility.

Proper Shirt Sleeve Length

Correct shirt sleeve length graphic

There is little in this world that looks sloppier than sleeves that are too long. A rule of thumb is very simple: shirtsleeves stop at the break of your wrist and no further.

We will repeat this because it bears repeating: Shirt sleeves stop at the break of your wrist and no further. 

Keep in mind that sleeve length is not all in the sleeve itself. The slope of your shoulder(s) will also affect how sleeves hang on you. Look at the picture below:

Pink Dress Shirt Front and Back

As you can see, Mike’s right shoulder hangs quite a bit lower than his left one (a common irregularity), but his sleeves appear to be the same length based on where they hit his wrist. As this is a custom shirt, his shoulder slopes were taken into account while getting measured. Separate sleeve length measurements for both right and left arms are also done.

Now, this is not all an issue of length, per se. You should have a bit of extra fabric in your sleeve to accommodate the natural movement of your arms, so how do you achieve this without a sleeve that hangs past your knuckles? With proper cuff size!

Cuff Size

Correct barrel cuff shirt fit graphic

First things first: note that French cuffs will feel a bit different on the wrist than barrel (regular) cuffs. They generally tend to fit a bit larger.

Proper French cuff fit graphic

Cuff size is almost always overlooked when deciding whether or not a shirt fits. For RTW shirts, there are generally two buttons and you select which one you’d like for either a looser or tighter fit. In a pinch, your tailor can measure your wrist and move the buttons to accommodate the best fit possible.

Custom shirts, on the other hand, will have individual measurements for each cuff, typically to accommodate your wristwatch. This is a surefire way to ensure a great fit all around, but should you ever get shirts made, make sure that this measurement is taken.

Parting Thoughts

Your shirt’s fit is incredibly important. Getting a perfect fit means either going with custom shirts or getting your RTW ones altered.

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