Learning how a shirt should fit you can take surprisingly long – as most fans of bespoke try far fewer shirtmakers than they do tailors. Once learned, however, the lessons are fairly simple. They are becoming particularly clear to me as I complete my shift from Turnbull & Asser to Satriano Cinque. (Updates coming soon on the latest shirt commissions from them.)

1. It’s not about the waist

The biggest lesson is not to obsess about how a shirt fits on the waist. To a young man trying to look as sleek and athletic as possible, a closely fitted shirt is an understandable focus. Italians heavily dart their shirts to this purpose; in the past I have darted and redarted my own darts in pursuit of that same, perfect fit.


There are two reasons why this is a mistake. The first is that cotton has no natural stretch, unlike wool, so you cannot fit it as closely to the body. And of course you can’t undo a shirt when you sit down. Always try sitting and slumping in a seat when trying on a shirt: if there is any discomfort, the fit will be intolerable after a day sitting in front of a computer.



The second reason is that the fit on the waist is affected by other things. Most particularly length. Men often make the mistake of having their shirts too short, so they pull out of their trousers too easily and bunch unattractively above the waistband. This is also caused by a shirt that is too tight on the hips. If there is no spare room there, the shirt will be forced upwards, creating more bunching.

2. Focus on the collar

The most important thing to focus on is the collar. Here, millimetres make a difference. While the height of the collar should always be in proportion to your neck, most commercial shirts are too low to give the tie any space to arch outwards. Particularly English shirts.


The tie arch can be aided by having a larger tie gap, between the two sides of the collar. And of course the shape of the collar itself is subject to many permutations. Find something consistent and probably conservative, and stick with it. 

Ideally, the shape should work with and without a tie (so not collapsing underneath the jacket’s collar). If that’s not possible with your jackets and neck shape, have just two collar types: one for a tie (perhaps a medium spread) and the other for an open neck (probably a buttondown).



3. Consistent sleeves

Sleeve length is important, but the key thing is consistency. Shirt sleeves can be shortened quite easily, and more cheaply than a jacket. But only double cuffs can be lengthened, and not by very much. A quarter to an eighth of an inch is enough when your hands are at your sides; remember far more will be on display when you extend your arm.


In the end, shirts are pretty simple. If you can find a great ready-to-wear collar, all you need is for the body and sleeves to be long enough. Then buy a lot of them.
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
89 Comments
Oldest
Newest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Anonymous

This is the wisest and most useful description of how a shirt should fit I have ever read.

What are your thoughts on armholes? In my experience, although one obviously doesn’t want them oversized, a correct and comfortable fit requires them to be larger than you might expect and certainly nowhere near as high in the armpit as you would want from a good bespoke jacket.

Anonymous

any reason why you moved from T&A .. which has a great reputation? i seem to recall you used to be a fan of their shirts previously?

Andy

Anonymous

Hi Simon,
This is indeed a great and a very useful post! Thanks!
John

Anonymous

Simon,

How do you care for your Satriano Cinque shirts? Do you wash them by hand so as not to damage the buttons?

I ask because I can send my T&A shirts to be laundered but not my Napoli Su Misura shirts. The NSM shirts shrink too much and the tall buttons get damaged.

Cheers,
Scott

Le Noeud Papillon

Simon I think that the chest is also important because if its too tight you will get a skew in the buttons if you put on a slight bit of weight be it fat or muscle. And bodies can swell in summer. Agreed about collar but its also the hardest bit to get right.

Matt Spaiser

My favorite English shirtmaker is Frank Foster. It would appear that he has Italian sensibilities, with a taller collar and darted back. And I find them to be more beautifully made than Turnbull & Asser, at a much lower price. But his style overall I see as more English than Italian.

Matt Spaiser

Sure, Foster’s shirts are done by machine like most English shirts. Their old buttonhole machine makes the best machine-made buttonholes I’ve ever seen. But it’s all still machine, with no decorative handwork. The collars have no fusing. But the buttons are sewn on much better with a proper shank, unlike Turnbull & Asser’s. It just makes putting the shirt on much more enjoyable.

Craig R.

Would you say it is necessary to wash these shirts after every wear Simon, or – as long as they are not marked – are they ok for a couple of days. Perhaps leaving them to have a days rest in between each wear. Cheers CR.

t

Wouldn’t it be nice if shirtmakers added a bit of stretch to their cotton so that one can have the close fit that looks so good without the discomfort normally associated with it.

Matt Spaiser

I have seen some stretch shirts offered by low-end companies. They are awful! There’s no reason why anyone’s shirt should fit so tightly. Shirts should not be too tight, and they should wrinkle.

Peter

Another problem with stretch cottons is that the little bit of elastane or other synthetic added an retain odour.

Eugene Freedman

One thing that moved me to MTM shirts was the fact that for my neck size 16.5 couldn’t find anything RTW that reasonably resembled a 39s body size. They were all cut for someone who is probably a 50 chest and the slim fit around 46. Plenty of collars fit perfectly, but the shoulders, chest, waist, and arms were all out of whack. MTM, while not perfect, is pretty very good and hardly more than RTW in terms of cost when you consider the fabric I choose is better as well.

Anonymous

Eugene,

I have had exactly the same problem (17″ neck,40″ chest 32″ waist). I think I have tried every RTW shirt possible, from high street to high end, and a few MTM. I the end I took a punt on a friend’s recommendation and ordered an M&S MTM shirt online. I was not confident given that you aren’t asked for that much information that this would be a successful test purchase (so much so that I phoned the customer services department twice to confirm their returns policy).

How wrong I was. The shirt fits like an absolute dream. I would heartily recommend you give them a go!

For your reference the shirt I ordered was:

Sartorial
White Twill
French Cuffs
No Monogram
Square bottom (very long)

All proportions are perfect for my size and shape.

Anonymous

I have found great difficulty finding a RTW shirt that fits well, and has a great collar shape which doesn’t fold down limp when open. I am slim with quite long arms. Tommy Hilfiger has come the closest, but the sleeves can be too short.

If you wouldn’t mind answering a related question, Simon: on all of my jackets, suit or sports, unless I wear a shirt with a wide spread collar the collar points aren’t covered by the lapel, so it looks quite silly. I have only one jacket which has a ‘V-opening’ narrow enough to work with normal pointed collar styles. What could be the issue here? Are my shoulders too broad? Many thanks.

Anonymous

Thank you for the post, I appreciate the advice. My question is about laundering/care for your shirts. I scrub the collar/cuffs, launder, and hang dry my shirts after each wearing. Nevertheless, I still find that over time, a slight ring will develop around the top of the collar. Any advice on how to best care for the shirts while avoiding this seeming inevitability?

Best,
SB

Peter

One piece of advice I once received regarding collar rings was to wash my neck very thoroughly and carefully every day.

Seems to simple but once I began doing that I found that there is much less ring.

Anonymous

When do you iron your shirts after laundering: while they’re still damp, or wait until they’re completely dry and then spray water on them?

Anonymous

Thanks for the guidance, Simon.

One more question: For odd pants (i.e., not part of a suit), is it damaging to dry-clean them often (say, once a month), or should they be sponged and pressed if possible?

Anonymous

really interesting post as always Simon.

do you (or any readers) have any experience with Smyth and Gibson shirts?

Anonymous

Hi Simon

For those of us in NY, who cant make it to naples for Satriano Cinque, do you still recommend T+A, or someone else for shirting? Thanks!

Anonymous

Simon,

Thank you for an excellent article. Point 1 in particular was most helpful as up to now I’ve been very much in the “waist obsessing” camp. The difficulty I’m encountering at the moment is that I’m a 15 ¾ collar but, being 6’3”, have difficulty finding RTW shirts with enough length in the body and sleeve. Do you have a view as to whether it is more important to focus on collar size or length when selecting a RTW or have I missed something and there is a perfect solution to my problem?

Peter

Anonymous

Do you wash your shirts at 40 degrees or 30 to be safe?

Anonymous

thanks!

Phil

I think in my opinion, like a suit , shoulder are quite important as it does make the shirt fall properly to your body. Althought it can be taken in, some people might not know where the shoulder seam should sit like a suit. Since a shirt has no shoulder pads like a jacket, the shirt just falls over the shoulder making the arm hole slanted and the sleeves falls differently than it should be intended, ie making the shirt look sloppy or very 90s!

Stuart

Simon, late comment on this topic but would be interested in any guidelines of how a collar should fit in relation to neck size/height. Recently ordered a MTM shirt with 3″ points and 1 5/8″ collar band at the back to avoid collapsing under a jacket collar. This option was considered a high English spread but seems to be in line with stock T&A and Hilditch & Key collar dimensions. Any advise on fit would be much appreciated. Cheers, Stuart

Henry

I suspect the answer is no, but can shirt collars be let out? I’ve bought four shirts which are good length in the sleeve but are half an inch too short in the collar. As such, it is struggle (not to say a throttle!) to do the top button up.

The NORTH

Dear Simon,

I know that a shirt shoulder should end at ones natural shoulder. But why is this? I have had my MTM-shirts made with a slightly narrower shoulder, see this picture: http://bjarnesn.tumblr.com/post/146540345841 What do you think of the fit? One advantage is that the shoulder seam does not show when wearing sleeveless cardigans (the JS Finagon for example).

Joseph

Hi Simon, I’ve always wondered how the pinch test works for the give in a shirt. When we pinch any section horizontally, what we have is essentially two sections of the same circumference, only folded into two layers. With that in mind, does two inches of give (say, at the chest) mean the total of the two layers of a one-inch pinch, or a two-inch pinch (which totals 4 inches of the total chest measurement)?

Yours in good faith:

Joseph

Joseph

Yes Simon, the right amount of give in a shirt that gives it enough room to be worn without the buttons popping off. It just might get confusing to say that there should be, say, two inches of give for the shirt to be comfortable, and then pull together a section of the shirt to measure that. In such a state, the pulled section is actually four inches folded together into a two-inch section. Would that mean there are really four inches of give, which is rather too much for the given example? Just to clarify, the question is about whether the pulled section is to be counted for both sides, or just its singular (folded) length.

Joseph

Ha! Exactly, it’s dependent on what the speaker means, which is certainly not the same for everyone. It necessitates some clarification from both sides. Oh well, I guess there’s no absolute standard that can help get around that. The general guideline you said is rather useful, though. It’s probably what the majority use in any case. Thanks, Simon.

Anonymous

How wide do you usually have your cuffs? And do you have a wider cuff on one side for a watch?

Anonymous

Yes. I guess my question was how much more should the shirtmaker allow? I heard 7 cm but that seems a lot to me.

For those wearing larger watches, what do you think of having two buttons on the left cuff? Inelegant?

Anonymous

Could you perhaps tell me how much larger Luca Avitabile usually makes them?

Anonymous

I understand your point. However I’ve had a lot of trouble finding the sweet spot. The latest shirt I had made, they added 2.75 inches and the cuffs ended up too wide: I can slide my hand through the buttoned cuff. Another shirt ended up too tight.

Simon Hoffmann

Have you ever had the side seams taken in? Having broad shoulders/lats but comparatively small waist the billowing at the back of even somewhat slim offerings is ridiculous. Have just tried darts but the ones the tailor put in give an odd effect and also make it a bit tight around the upper back.

Henry

Hallo again Simon,

I tend to buy shirts from TM Lewin and sometimes M&S, however the constant criticism I have of them is that, for me, they are too short in the body. As a result, they always ride up over the top of my trousers resulting in a scruffy look and bare flesh.

In order to get rid of this problem, what should I do? Where can I get good quality shirts which are longer in the body? (I have a strange body shape of a long torso but average length arms and legs!) Would going to shirtmaker be worthwhil, i.e., not too expensive, or can I get something decent on the High Street? If so, where? Ta.

Henry

Thanks for your prompt reply, Simon. I live in Newcastle upon Tyne; can you recommend a shirtmaker in the north of England? I don’t get down to London very often and am not sure I can afford Jermy Street prices…ha ha! Thank you.

Daniel

Do you have any comments about how the chest should fit? In my opinion the most “critical” part of the shirt is how it drapes on the chest, where it is visible between lapels.

Bernie

Hi Simon,

I asked Ascot Chang for a lightly fused collar BD collar and it came back stiff, with no roll whatsoever. Would you recommend a sewn floating canvas unfused collar with thick interlining instead as an alternative approach to get a collar that can stand when worn open-necked yet displays a nice roll?

Bernie

Thanks Simon

Bernie

Hi Simon,

For dress shirts, should the shoulder seam end right at the shoulder bone, with the rest of the sleeve covering the deltoids comfortably? I have foward facing shoulders, so should a dress shirt shoulder seem also be curved forward?

Bernie

Thanks for the guidance.

Is your ideal shirt silhouette a clean, slim, yet comfortable fit? So the first priority is to make sure there is no pulling in the shoulders, chest, and back due to tightness and that there is also no excess fabric (likely in the back and sleeves). Like you said, cotton really has no stretch so we need enough fabric for comfort while maintaining a slim shape. I recall in your most recent Solito post that the jacket sleeves started out in a medium width but was gradually tapered down towards the wrist. Do you ask for that same gradual taper for your shirt sleeves?

Bernie

I recall you talking about that on your B&Tailor post regarding sleeve width. I completely agree. Huge point of bespoke is creating the ideal silhouette.

Thibault

Dear Simon, can you point out how long sleeves should be (is there a rule of thumb, regardless of wearing it with or without a jacket)?
And how much space should there be between the sleeve cuff and your wrist (not hugging your wrists)?

Anonymous

Hi Simon,

How should I wash my wool cotton (55%/45%) mix tattersall shirt? My shirt maker would pre-shrunk it before cutting it. But as a conservative advice from them , It will still shrinks. Should I wash it by washing machine?
Thanks.

John

Hi Simon,

I’d like to ask you for an advice about collar fit or probably its proper construction.

I have several shirts from a local bespoke maker. Given my longer neck I prefer a higher collar (4 cm high collar band in back). When I button up such a high collar and turn my head sideways, I’m pulling a collar with it so also the cloth beneath, so there is felt tension and cloth gathering below a collar in back.

It seems logical to me that there should be no solution for this except for a lower collar (because the base of neck is not turning so much as the middle part when turning the head, hence no pulling and less or no tension and cloth gathering). My collars are in no way too tight, so the problem is not there.

I just want to ask you if you have any experience with this and if a bespoke shirt maker should be able to find a solution for this, or if it just a logical thing as I write.

Thank you very much.
J.

Julian

Hi Simon,

I’m looking for some new dress shirts for work. My workplace is pretty casual, no suit & no tie. What kind of collars should I be looking for besides button down? Would a semi spread look weird unbuttoned without a tie & suit?And for button down collar, what’s a good collar point length?

Julian

Thanks. And for a (more vertical) spread collar (to be worn without tie & suit), what do you think is a good spread and point length?

Chris

Hi Simon
I was exploring your site for a bit of guidance on the shoulders on shirts – I’ve experimented now with several of your suggestions, notably luca, and Simone A, as well as trying MTM from drakes and a bespoke shirt at Cad and the dandy.
From my experience Simone has the best fit, luca (surprisingly) the worst. However luca has hands down the most flattering shoulders in my opinion . I notice on your PS oxfords, you have the same on the shoulders.. it’s almost like a blazers roping at the edge, that slightly extends the shoulder in a very pleasing way. Luca is the only of these makers to include this.
I wonder if you could perhaps elaborate on what this is called , and perhaps how I could find it or request it on other shirts ?
Thankyou Simon!

Jon

Dear Simon,

Thanks for your insights, as ever. I have a question about the distance between shoulder seams. I have heard it said that a narrow yoke will restrict the range of comfortable motion in a shirt. Makes sense, but what is the margin of error? How far below one’s nominal seam-to-seam shoulder measurement might this be a problem?

For context, I am considering a Drake’s OCBD at my nominal collar size (15.5″)…
https://www.drakes.com/shirts/button-down-shirts/white-oxford-regular-fit-shirt-with-button-down-collar
…but the shoulder-to-shoulder distance (17.6″) might be a tad narrow for me. Many of my existing shirts are more like 18.5″, though some of my casual (polo) shirts, for which I am less concerned about fit, are about 18″ across.

Being conscious about clothing that fits too snugly for my personal taste, I strongly doubt I’ve ever owned a shirt that is narrower than my actual shoulder width, hence my uncertainty. Though I imagine the cut of the shirt plays a strong role – perhaps there is no one-line answer to all this.

Your thoughts are very welcome.

Kind regards,
Jonathan

Jonathan Stevenson

Hi Simon,

Many thanks. Indeed, no substitute for trying something on.

I find it all too easy to get hooked on half an inch here or there. But it’s funny how sometimes it seems to make no real difference. It really is as much an art as a science.

With regards,
Jon