[This is part of a series that aims to produce a comprehensive guide to shirt fabrics, from the simplest points to the most technical. So far we have introduced the basics of selecting shirt fabric, and gone into depth on weaves and designs. Here, we lay out the best choices for one category – the business shirt]

 

Even with increasingly dressed-down work environments, most bespoke shirts are made for professional, business use.

They need to look smart therefore: crisp and sharp, and smooth without being shiny.

They will generally be in muted tones of white, blue and (occasionally) pink. Any pattern will be small and discreet.

Given they are intended for frequent use, the fabric also needs to be hard wearing. Something that can be worn once or twice a week for months without fraying, and perhaps even treated to reduce ironing.

So which fabrics meet all these criteria?


Weave structure

The default weave for a business shirt is usually poplin (above). It’s crisp and smart, and similar plain weaves like Zephir are very lightweight and breathable.

A twill will wrinkle less, however. It’s heavier than poplin, but if creasing is an issue, then it might be preferable.

Oxford fabrics are popular in the US, but in general are less professional. At the very least, the oxford should be smooth and fine – or a smarter variation on the oxford, such as pinpoint.

The least suitable fabrics are those with the most texture, such as linen or brushed cotton.


Fineness

As with suits, there is a tendency for certain, flashier businessmen to pick very fine shirt fabrics. They are rarer, more expensive, and something to talk about.

But while fabrics with such high yarn counts (140 to 300+) feel silky and nice against the skin, they do tend to crease faster.

A more normal shirting, say 2/100, will still look good, wrinkle less, and last longer. Certain English shirt makers used to refer to 100-count as the gold standard for shirts: a solid, safe investment.

If you want something a touch silkier, perhaps opt for 2/120; if a touch more hard-wearing, 2/80. It depends on the priorities.

And of course a twill in either will wrinkle less than poplin.

(The ‘2′ in 2/80, by the way, refers to the yarn being two fold or two ply, and is pretty standard on quality shirts.)


Colours and patterns

While plain-white and plain-blue shirts will always be most popular for business, how much colour and pattern is appropriate will be down to the particular office.

Plains and hairline stripes will be largely anonymous. Bolder patterns, such as a butcher’s stripe, introduce a little more character, as do colours like pink and yellow.

Checks are generally more casual than stripes. But again, depending on the office, a pink gingham check (above) might be perfectly acceptable.

As with oxford cloths in the US, it’s also worth remembering that part of this is cultural.

The British have a particular tradition for bold shirts, originating from the limitations of being only able to wear a club or regimental tie, and therefore experimenting with the fabric underneath. Even today, a pink shirt tends to be more acceptable in the UK than in the US.


Treatments

As mentioned, fabrics with lower yarn counts, and in weaves like twill, will always be harder wearing and easier to iron.

Beyond these options, shirts can also be treated with particular finishes.

Some ‘non-iron’ shirts are simply mixes of cotton and polyester. These should generally be avoided, as they tend to feel harder, are not as breathable, and hang onto odours.

Good treatments will coat a fabric, stopping the fibres absorbing water when they’re being washed (Thomas Mason’s ‘Journey’ is a good example).

This keeps the shirt fairly sleek, with some twills being OK with no ironing at all, and poplins requiring just a quick press.

The only downsides are that the fabric can feel a little dry (though that is greatly reduced in newer versions) and the treatment will eventually wash out. This tends to only be after 40 washes at a minimum, however.

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Anonymous

Thanks for all this Simon. I know far below your normal radar but would be interesting to hear your thoughts on the standard business shirt providers (TM Lewin, Charles T, Harvie & Hudson etc) where you can get a good deal and buy shirts more in bulk. Even if by word of mouth would be useful

Rabster

Would be good to hear your thoughts on Matt’s point about Harvie Hudson .
After all most of us want long lasting , good quality , well fitted work horse shirts .

Philip

Key point is that T M Lewin in particular gets the collars and cuffs right with proper ‘fullness’ at a near department store price point. Don’t underestimate how important this is to looking right – most shirts fail you here.

Philip

Structure. Shirts from the original Jermyn Street makers (even those that are now mail order companies with a retail presence) have a ‘fullness’ or ‘plumpness’ to the collar which I just don’t see in shirts from elsewhere. There appear to be two components, the first is use of a thick soft interlining and the second it seems is tension on the yarn used to sew the collar stitch line as the effect is that the stitching seems indented into the softness of the collar, giving it a ‘full’ look. To me this is the hallmark of a Jermyn St shirt and a ‘proper’ collar. I have looked at shirts made elsewhere and the collars are thin with the stitching on the surface. To me they just don’t look ‘right’.

Philip

The T&A factory footage here is worth watching – key point: “collars are an art” , and that is exactly it. Jermyn Street collar seems very difficult to reproduce.
https://youtu.be/FSw8cznC788?t=213
Note how they are using what I would call ‘jigs’. I would guess that T.M Lewin shirts are no longer made by “little old ladies in Leigh on Sea” as they once were, but maybe the jigs and some of the expertise were transferable to wherever they are now made.

Matt

Harvie & Hudson offer slightly better quality than the ‘4 shirts for £100’ brigade (Lewin, Tyrwhitt, H&C). However, the down-sides are that they’re slightly more expensive, offer fewer shirts with a button cuff and usually require some form of alteration to accommodate for their overly-generous cut (admittedly, the last two are entirely subjective and may be viewed as positives by podgy cuff-link obsessives!)

Scott

Excellent information, thank you. As an aside, I would encourage your readers to consider adding pink shirts, solid and pattern, to their wardrobe. The color works well with just about any skin tone and they will get compliments, mostly from women.

Graham

Thank you for this Simon.

Any thoughts on summer versus winter materials? I currently work in New York and whilst offices are, of course, air-conditioned the commute can be hellishly warm. Would a linen-cotton mix be an improvement on pure cotton?

patrick

hi Mr. Simon,

for a summer wedding outfit. what kind of shirt complement a dark brown suit? and also what kind of shoes? the wedding will still be held indoor, but with a more casual setting.

KYRILL BUSKIRK

Will you please identify the make and style number of all the fabrics in the photo for this article; they are all fantastic.

Neil

Hi Simon,
Slightly geeky question, but is there ever a need to fuss over collar stiffeners with business shirts?
I have a large collection of these from both RTW and bespoke makers (mostly plastic) that I throw in a pot after each day – but there is a range in flexibility.
I normally just pick out two of the same each morning but wondering if it’s best to use the more rigid stiffeners for business shirts??

Matt S

I’m curious to how you’d place off-white, cream or ecru shirts these days. Most ready-to-wear shirtmakers on Jermyn Street stock those alongside white and blue. Are they outdated now?

Titus

As an Englishman living in the US for the past six years, I agree with the sentiment on US shirt culture and Oxford cloths. I have tried to purchase the best quality American cotton and manufactured Oxford cloths and although the body of the shirts hold their shape reasonably well, the collars lack the structure and shape in contrast to other weaves.

Mike

Well that’s the point of a classic such as the Brooks Brothers oxford cloth button down – much of the appeal is in the soft roll of the collar. Whether it should be worn with a suit and tie is a matter of taste (as Simon said pinpoint oxford being the more acceptable), but among the preppy set it’s a go to; sort of the “I’d rather be at the country club” mindset of Vineyard Vines’ ties or loafers worn with a suit.

Harry of Monmouth

Dark Brown suit with white shirt !
Firstly dark brown, as a wedding suit , YOUR GETTING MARRIED, not attending the Cheltenham Festival. !!! If you insist in inflicting your partner with brown, cream shirt, soft gold tie

KK

Hi Simon, do you have a preference for Thomas Mason fabrics or are there additional suppliers you like. Best KK

SMA

Hi Simon,

I’ve been looking for non-wrinkle / non-iron shirts for a while. The best I found are Eton (twill fabric). Do you have any thoughts on that and recommendations for others?

Thanks.

Ned Brown, Charleston SC

The French prefer solid white. New York and Wash DC business people tend towards solid white and blue with occasional stripes. UK businessmen the most adventuresome with colours and patterns.

Anonymous

Re. oxford cloth there is a crisper finer version called royal oxford which makes for an excellent business shirt with a slightly heavier weight (than poplin) for winter. Pinpoint, end-on-end and particularly herringbone are also worthy of consideration. My favourite, especially for summer, is a lightweight marcella or pique cloth. For SMA…Eton are good but I found that the collars wear more quickly than other options – you could also try Olymp or Eterna for cotton non-iron/easy wear shirts.

Baer

I do beg to differ on cream shirtings. These are really a much more attractive, and in my entirely subjective opinion, more stylish option than plain white. White can make many of us pale people look even more grey and ashen. It is also rather old school IBM or “salary man” from Japan. This is why serious English shirt makers like Budd or Emma Willis tend to stock cream not only in cotton but in silk. Cream is more subtle, less “managerial” and goes better with both city suits and tweeds. I appreciate that de gustibus non est disputandem.

Rob

Hi Simon,

I didn’t realise that treated shirts were available in good quality fabrics, I always assumed they had some man-made fibres in them. I will have to take a closer at the Thomas Mason journey fabrics next time Luca is in town, as someone who travels a lot, reducing creasing is a major benefit. I don’t suppose there are any stain resistant coatings available (travelling a lot to hot countries tends to wear shirts pretty quickly)?

Explaining cloth still remains one of the missing pieces of the whole bespoke industry to me and I really appreciate your efforts. Unless one has the time and inclination to go around the various cloth merchants or mills, or attends the trade shows I think it is impossible to get this info comprehensively though a tailor – a get little bits of information on the cloths they have discovered but never the full picture. Your efforts are incredibly helpful.

Best
Rob

John

Apologies for being slightly off topic…

Any chance you could do a piece on hand-washing shirts at home and more importantly, a high level guide to ironing formal shirts at home? I really enjoy the process and it works pretty well for me but I can’t find a PStyle level guide on it anywhere. Do you have any insight into what the pros in Napoli do with their shirts at home? What would Fiorenzo Auricchio do? Thanks.

John

Can’t wait! Outside of dogs on Instagram you remain just about as good as the internet gets.

Anonymous

What brand and model of iron and ironing board do you use?

Bernie Leung

Hi Simon,

As we are going into colder weather, what are your thoughts on warmer business dress shirt fabrics?

Would you be able to pull off a plain, light blue or white flannel dress shirt as a substitute for poplin?

Bernie Leung

I see – thanks for sharing.

Best,
Bernie

John

Hi Simon,

Long time reader, first time poster. I have two questions for you regarding shirt cloth if I may:
1, I have always tried to have the whitest shirts possible, because a QC I once worked with (who unfortunately passed away) had such impressively white shirts, and I have wanted to emulate him. However, despite my efforts (soaking, Napisan, etc) I have not quite satiated my standards… any thoughts on the ultimate white shirt?
2, I live in australia, and plainly have to deal with some pretty extreme temperatures from time to time. I’ve noticed that some shirts will show up sweat much worse than others – any thoughts as to why? I only have poplin business shirts, so presume it is more to do with the quality of the different shirts?

Many thanks for your superb site

Lorenzo

Hi Simon, in a MTM shirt is possible also personalised the lenght of the collar or is in standard size?

Anonymous

Does it make a big difference or is it just marginal whether one wears a twill or a popelin shirt in summer assuming both have the same fineness?

Paul M

Thank you Simon. Would you say oxford fabrics crease more/less compared to a poplin or twill with the same fineness?