The button-up shirt is a staple in all stylish men’s wardrobes. Its simplicity coupled with its versatility make it a foundation piece in a lean wardrobe. Despite its simplicity, the button-up shirt seem to be a source of great confusion for many men. The first source of confusion stems from its different types of classifications – and to be fair, the names of the different types of button-up shirts do seem to be used interchangeability. The second factor that confuses men is related to the fit. Simply put, the majority of men‘s shirts do not fit properly. In this article, we will focus on the second issue: we will show you how a button-up shirt should fit so that you can enhance your attributes and look sharp.
In a later article, we will thoroughly explain the differences between different types of button-up shirts but for now, a short primer will do: All “button-up shirts” are actually classified as “shirts.” A “dress shirt” is a type of button-up shirt but not all button-up shirts are dress shirts. Less formal button-up shirts are sometimes referred to as “sport-shirts” or “casual button-ups.” With that said, ALL types of button-up shirts should fit the same way on a man. For the purpose of this article, I will refer to all each type of button-up shirt simply as a “shirt.”
The problem with many of today’s shirts is they are mass-manufactured to fit the most amount of people – which means they are made to fit the average man. Unfortunately, 73.3% of men in the U.S. are either overweight or obese so the shirt made for the average man does not fit men who are not in those categories. Still, many men continue to wear these shirts because they don’t know better and as a result, they look terrible. Here is a picture a comparison of a poorly fitting shirt and a properly fitting shirt:
Notice how the shirt on the left swallows the model while making him look out of shape. The excess fabric on the waist is called “billowing” and it creates the effect of a large belly. The loose fabric around his chest hides his pecs. The low armholes and loose fitting arms hide his shoulders and arms. In contrast, the shirt on the right accentuates his V-taper and highlights his pecs, shoulders and arms.
The next two pictures are of the same man, in the first image the poorly fit shirt makes him look fat and much shorter:
The specifics of how a shirt should fit:
When the shirt is buttoned to the top, you should be able to slip your index and middle fingers between your neck and the collar without your fingers being pressed tightly against your neck. Keep in mind that if the collar fits this way before washing, the shirt collar is likely to be too small for your neck because shirt collars tend to shrink ½ inch after washing. If it fits perfectly at the store, it is too small and you will have to go up half an inch in size. A shirt that is too tight around the neck will not be wearable.
The shirt should contour your body but not be skin tight. At any point on the torso and waist, you should only be able to lightly pinch 1”-3” of fabric from the shirt. Any more than that you will end up with the dreaded “billowing” effect. Any tighter than 1” will cause discomfort and make you look like Arnold’s character in Running Man:
The shoulder seams should hug your shoulders and lay at the corner of your shoulder bone. This is the point on the shoulder that’s farthest from the middle of your chest.
Armholes that are too low will make you look like you have man-boobs but armholes too high will cause you to move like Mr. Roboto. This one is basically common sense: have your armholes as high as they can go without cutting into your armpit and causing significant constriction in your arm movement.
The sleeves should be slim to avoid billowing but shouldn’t be skin tight either. If you bend your arm and you feel like your bicep is going to burst out of your shirt, then the sleeves are likely too tight.
Here is an example of shirt sleeves that are too wide:
Here is an example of shirt sleeves with just the right amount of fabric that shows off the shape of the arms without being too tight:
As for the length of the sleeves, the cuff should end 1” past your wrist bone or where the wrist meets the palm. Ensure that there is no more than 1” of pinch-able fabric near the cuff when your arms are hanging at your sides – this little bit of extra fabric is necessary though as allows you to bend your elbow without discomfort. The cuff should be tight enough so that it doesn’t move down your palm but isn’t so tight that it causes discomfort.
For shirts meant to be tucked in (dress shirts), the length should be long enough for you to bend and move normally without it coming out of your pants. For more casual button-ups worn without tucking, it should be long enough for you to move normally without showing your stomach/underwear but not any longer than the bottom of your pant zipper.
How to get the right fit
If you have an athletic, fit, slim, or thin physique -i.e. not your average American- the only way you will get close to a correct fit is if you buy slim fit shirts and utilize the services of a tailor.
The intent of the slimmer cut shirts is to remove excess fabric. Slim-fit shirts tend to be more narrowed at the waist/chest, have higher arm holes and slimmer arms – all of which eliminates extra fabric which causes billowing.
With that said, not all slim fit shirts are created equal and many are not slim fit at all. For example, stores including the Gap, Banana Republic and Brooks Brothers have “slim fit” cut shirts but they all still have excess fabric around the key areas which creates a lot of billowing.
When buying shirts, try a few different brands and determine which one fits you the best. Even after finding the shirt that BEST fits you, depending on the size of your waist, there will still likely be billowing around the waist which means a trip to a trusted tailor is in order. For around $10-$15, the tailor can “dart” your shirt which brings in the excess fabric around the waist of the shirt and thus gives you the correct fit. In order to minimize tailor costs, I can’t stress enough the importance of finding a brand that fits you best with minimal alterations needed.
Unlike dress shirts which have neck and arm measurements, the casual button up usually goes by sizes of S, M, L etc. You still have to buy slim fit but I recommend that you size down. American clothing is plagued by vanity sizing so the size you are and think you should be is usually sized down in the label to make people feel better about themselves. You will also likely need to take these clothes to a tailor for alterations.
As you can see, proper fit is of the utmost importance when it comes to style. Now that you know how a shirt should fit on you and how easy it is to attain that fit, there is no reason for you wear another ill-fitting shirt again. So use this information and put your best foot forward and I guarantee you that you will look sharper than the majority of men out there.