Readers have asked for a while for this post: something recommending a core, versatile shirt collection.

The idea of suggesting such ‘capsule’ collections is that they help a newcomer build a wardrobe, prioritising the things that will give them the greatest versatility with other clothing and in different situations.

Previous capsule collections on ties are here, and handkerchiefs here.

With shirts, such a collection can seem pretty straightforward. But there are a surprising number of variables, and formality drives decisions more than with other accessories.

To deal with this, I’ve listed below two separate shirt collections: one formal (for a fairly professional office) and one informal (for an informal office, or casual wear).

The reader can then pick their own capsule collection by selecting five shirts from the two lists that best suit their life and lifestyle.

 

Formal capsule collection

1. Plain-blue poplin

Poplin is the most versatile of weaves for a business shirt (detail here). Light blue is the most versatile colour (it goes with more colours and flatters more skin tones). And a plain shirt goes with the most ties, knitwear and tailoring (no clashing of patterns). This is the place to start for a business shirt, therefore. You may even want two in your collection of five.

2. A thin or pale stripe

Stripes are the easiest way to add interest to a shirt, and are usually a nicer partner for a solid tie. But keep the stripes thin or pale so that they don’t risk clashing with a tie or suit with similar density of pattern. A bengal stripe is one of the most popular and appealing choices – just keep the blue quite pale.

3. Plain white

White is always the smartest colour, and every man should have one in their wardrobe.

Smart and sombre with a dark tie with a small geometric pattern; summery with paler and brighter colours.

4. Pink

For most business environments, the first colour after blue and white is pink. Gone are the days when this was considered effeminate – today there’s greater risk of it making you look like a banker or lawyer, if you are not one. Either way, it’s great with dark ties and a beautiful partner to grey suits. Keep it a pale, though.

5. Vary the collar or cuffs

For ease and simplicity, I’d suggest having all these four shirts in the same combination of collar and cuff – say a moderate spread collar and a single cuff. Your fifth could repeat one of those, but in a different design: a plain-blue button-down perhaps, or a white shirt with a double cuff.

 

 

Informal capsule collection

1. Chambray, plain blue or white

Chambray is hard to pin down, as by definition it’s just a fabric with a coloured warp and a white weft. But it has come to mean one with slubs in the weft creating an irregular, and therefore more casual, texture. In this guise, it is the perfect bridge between formal and casual. A cotton/linen mix can often achieve the same effect.

2. Button-down oxford

A traditional oxford shirt is one step further down the formality scale. Still lovely with a blazer and flannels, but also at home with jeans. Get a thicker, traditional oxford with a rougher yarn that creates more texture, and helps it age well. Probably plain blue or a blue/white stripe, and with a button-down collar.

3. Denim

Another step down the scale is denim. A denim shirt can be worn with tailoring, but is an unusual choice. It’s partner in terms of formality is a pair of chinos or similar casual trousers: canvas, corduroy, moleskin. It can go with all of them though, and is therefore quite versatile. Just probably not with jeans.

4. Brushed cotton

A brushed-cotton or wool shirt is clearly casual, but can happily be worn under a woollen jacket. A nice variation in texture, which often makes it nicer in simple colours and patterns. A grey, a cream, a light-blue herringbone. Linen is, to a certain extent, the summer equivalent.


5. A gingham or tattersall check

In terms of variation by pattern, checks largely belong in the casual collection, with stripes in the formal one. The biggest problem with checks, though, is they come with baggage. A tattersall check might be too British rural, Madras too American preppy. There will often be one that escapes these in your eyes – and if there isn’t, add another oxford or chambray in a different colour.

Selecting five out of those 10 should give you a good capsule collection. Which would best suit your office?

Photography: Jamie Ferguson or Permanent Style, except 2 and 5 striped shirts, James Munro

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Robin

An article for the ‘masses’ .
Many, many thanks.

More of this please ….trousers ?

Casper

The links to the handkerchiefs and ties articles are swapped.

Richard Jones

Hi Simon, I only wear 4 shirts after having 5 made by Simone Abbarchi 18 months ago.

1/ plain blue linen
2/ denim
3/ pale pink
4/ plain blue long collar button down.
5/ plain white

1, 2, 3, 4 all worn Monday to Thursday.
All single cuff and all except 4 with the same moderate spread collar.
1 & 2 I wear on occasional nights out, and always take on holiday (hot or cold).
5 I’ve worn once for the Christmas party.

They’re all holding up well, and I should make it well into next year without making another order. I’m sure I will spend less on shirts over 3 years than my TM Lewin colleagues (who are unable to do their top button up).

Sam

Absolutely agree with Robin above – a similar piece about trousers would be most welcome! And I know you’ve done a piece before about cycling to work and would love to hear about a capsule wardrobe of trousers that would support that

Nick

Hello Simon, great article as always. What’s the difference between chambray and denim, in shirting? I’ve never been quite sure; the amount of white in the weft perhaps?
And to which mills and bunches would you recommend for some great denim cloth? My shirtmaker can’t seem to lay his hands on any. (Apart from your PS denim of which I have two lengths – and love; the fading and feathering is just starting to happen on the first of the shirts I’ve had made up – but I’m keen for something a little darker too).
Cheers,

Anonymous

Simon, what about the PS everyday denim? I found a fabric that looks similar but must be chambray since the weave is straight and, as far as I understand, the PS one, being denim, should have a twill weave.

David

Simon, have you tried Shirtonomy?

Joseph

Great post with loads of practical value, Simon. I virtually leaped with joy when you included pink in the formal shirt collection. I’ve a soft spot for that color, and believe that it could also work in the informal collection as an button-down oxford.

Will

The idea of a capsule collection of shirts seems silly to me. Of all the items in a man’s wardrobe, shirts are supposed to be the most rapidly worn out and replaced, and they have to go to the cleaner. A working man should have a dozen at the very least.

Will

Simon, to this point I’ve seen a shirt maker supply extra replacement collars and cuffs along with a bespoke shirt, to be swapped in when the originals stain or are just worn out. Seems brilliant to me, but what are your thoughts? My collars go long before anything else.

David

They don’t have to go to the cleaner Will, I wash and iron my own. Gentle cycle machine wash and tumble dry on low then iron. They last longer that way too, been doing this for at least 5 years now and the bulk of my T&A and Emma Willis shirts are in great shape, I do my bespokes this way as well! Dry clean everything as little as possible, it is hell on fabric.

Hadrianus01

As far as washing and ironing are concerned, I am completely with David. I would only like to add that in addition to avoiding the tumble dryer (don’t even think of buying one, especially if you are living on your own) you might consider spinning at 100 rpms helpful in order to limit wear and creasing.

JasonJason

Can’t go with the pink at all.
It really is the estate agent’s staple.
A grey flannel is essential in the casual section.

Sam

I personally find gentle, warmish pinks (in the direction of peach) much more wearable than the more common bluish pinks, which can be a bit harsh, even when they’re pale.

Matt

Couldn’t disagree more – pink works so well with other colours and suits so many skin tones. Apart from the lovely picture above of pink with grey flannels, there are some great pink shirts worn by Prince Charles and Sean Connery – to take two out of countless examples – which aren’t remotely reminiscent of estate agency. However, life would be terribly dull if we all had the same views.

Richard

Hi Simon
Another great article. I am with you across both the formal and informal collections, with the exception of denim. As someone approaching middle age – mid 40s – I have become quite nervous about wearing a denim shirt and looking as though I am trying to recapture my youth. However, I also see the enjoyment you find in a denim shirt and so wonder if I am looking at the wrong styles or cloths. If I may ask, how did you find a denim you loved enough to add it to the PS collection? Did you go for a lighter weight or is it about the cut? Your advice would be greatly appreciated.

Richard

Hi Simon,
Thanks for the reply.
My budget for bespoke is limited and so I tend to focus on suits and odd jackets; I have recently commissioned a cashmere odd jacket from W&S, getting ready for autumn. For shirts, I have been fortunate enough to find that Budd’s tailored range fits me very well, and so I have never felt the need to divert some of my budget towards bespoke. As you say, the RTW denim shirts I have looked at do seem much to casual for me. Hopefully you will have some of the PS denim shirts available at the next pop up shop and I might be converted.

Matt

Simon, you’ve commented before on English men’s propensity towards more striking shirts because of historic restrictions on ties to club colours. What do you think drew you towards your own rather restrained palette of shirt colours? Did you ever go in for multi-coloured stripes when you had your shirts made at T&A?

Richard T

I’m not a fan of pink, personally. I’ve always found a cream (or some version of it) shirt to be very useful. A shirt in a nice neutral shade is very flexible and goes with lots of different things. Having said that, I really struggle to find decent cream shirts that don’t simply look like a pale yellow, which I dislike.

D

I’ve been shunning cream shirts since someone (my mother…) remarked a few years ago that the one I was wearing looked like old shirt that used to be white. I thought she had a point, and still think she does. I’d be curious to know what your take is on this one, Simon.

And by the way, you promised me in a comment a couple of years ago that you’d do a piece on how you care for, iron, and fold your shirts. Hope you’ll get around to it sometime soon!

Cheers,
David

Lee

Hi Simon,
What are you’re thoughts on a sky blue pinpoint weave? Would you say it more versatile than poplin (too formal) and oxford (too casual)? I would like to find something that pairs well with mid grey flannel trousers as well as jeans.
Many thanks!

Anonymous

Good article Simon, thank you. For those starting out on building a wardrobe articles such as these are invaluable as they focus costs and build knowledge – so much money can be wasted on unwise choices in this period. I agree on the trousers suggestion. I also suggested one (in your last article) on suits; sports jackets, shoes and outerwear/coats could also follow? All would be welcome.

H

I would second the suggestions on more of these articles – they are among the ones I find more useful and accessible to all readers!

Anonymous

Real dilemma

Blue trousers. White shirt? Blue shirt? Pink shirt?

I really cant make up my mind.

Roger

Very useful article. Of course, any working professional will own and use well more than five shirts, this provides a useful baseline. And the explanations for the utility of each shirt type provide useful guidance in adjusting that baseline to suit your own particular needs. For instance, if I were arguing in court all the time, I would own a lot of white shirts, because they’re the most formal kind. But if I were a university student, I probably would have no white shirts at all but would favor shirts that can easily go with both trousers, chinos and jeans. (E.g., a blue and white bengal will look good with jeans but can also be smartened up with a navy knit tie.

I found that my own preferences have shifted over the years. I’m an American, but spent 7 years in England during my 20s, including 5 years at Oxford University. At the time, English men tended to favor much bolder patterns and brighter colors, and I was influenced quite a bit by that trend.

At the time, I didn’t have money to spend on tailored clothing, so my way of making a statement was by using colorful shirts, bold ties, cuff links, etc. But as I’ve acquired better quality suits and sports jackets, I’ve toned down the shirts and ties a lot, since I’d rather draw attention to the tailored garments than on the shirts and ties. As far as shirts go, my focus is primarily on fit. If I want to add interest, I do so with texture rather than color or pattern.

Tim

I’d like to point out that it’s “Its partner”, not “It’s partner”

Joel

Dear Simon,
thanks a lot for all those articles. I’m really happy to see this one popping now as I was planning to get a new set of shirts done in the near future, for business with a tie mostly.
I had a question regarding cuffs in that setting since you advise to get mostly simple cuffs and my initial plan was to get mostly double as I prefer how they look and feel, is there a reason not to go with those doubles and why?
Thanks

MUSA

Dear Simon
Can you illustrate us on two tone shirts . How to use….?

Svetlin

Hi Simon – where can we source casual fabrics, such as chambrey, from? From my experience, bespoke shirtmakers tend to stock up more formal fabrics.

Thank you!

Svetlin

Thank you! I’ve got both the oxford and the denim, love them both.

Dan

How much use do you get out of shirt in picture #5 the light grey stripes? Thinking about adding it but would be keen to hear the versatility

Shem

Hey Simon I have quite a bit of experience with my shirt sleeve lengths where I buy rtw and wash them before bringing them to my tailor. The sleeves are perfect and end exactly at my wristbone. However, I realise subsequent washing causes further shrinking. Also, wearing a jacket over the shirt sometimes causes the armhole of the shirt to hike up and the sleeve s go up with it. This causes the shirt sleeves to be even shorter than the jacket sleeve. I also have this experience with Mtm where the shirt sleeve length is perfect when the shirt is delivered but washing causes the shirt sleeves to be shorter than the jacket sleeve. Wondering if you experience such issues and how one should mitigate them. This can be quite frustrating especially when I see some of my favourite shirts have shrunk and they show no cuff when wearing jackets. Is it also okay to not show cuffs?

Anon

Simon,

Do you view pink shirts as more suitable for spring and summer (e.g., I won’t wear pastels like lavender, even in a subtle stripe, except in spring or summer)? It occurs to me that it might depend on the shade of pink—the colder and paler the shade and hue the better suited it is for the colder months, and the stronger and more pastel the shade and hue, the better it is for warmer months).

Shem

Hey simon, I’m currently looking at the drake’s 3 oxfords for a cheaper price deal and am considering between the pink (https://www.drakes.com/shirts/pink-oxford-regular-fit-shirt-with-button-down-collar)
and the burgundy/red ticking stripe oxford (https://www.drakes.com/shirts/red-ticking-stripe-regular-fit-shirt-with-button-down-collar). I mostly only wear grey odd trousers and am wondering if one goes better with grey trousers or do they both pair equally well?

shem

Thank you simon!

Curious. Which three would you pick?
https://www.drakes.com/shirts/3-shirt-promotion

Omri

Simon, if you were pressed to pick only four shirts out of the extended list (formal and casual) – what are the most fundamental and versatile options (let’s say the more casual formal and the more formal casual options). The first bespoke order at Turnbull and Asser is a minimum of four shirts – what should they be?

Omri

Simon,
I work in a university, so there’s a mix of formal/casual, though it tends to be on the casual side. I gave little thought to T&A’s tendencies. I’ll be in London and I never had a bespoke shirt made. I figured they are the place to go. Would you recommend a different place, or perhaps put this investment away for a later chance when I am in Napoli, for example?
For those who have no MTM/bespoke tailors, nor trunk shows around, tourism is the only option. How should one plan a short trip? I had a fantasy of ordering a first batch of shirts in-store, and ordering them via mail in later times. Is this even viable?
Thank you

Omri

Much appreciated, Simon. Thank you.

Chancellor

Hi Simon. What about T&A shirts makes them more formal? I know the T&A shirts lack the hand sewn collars that allow Italian shirts to sit better without a tie, so T&A shirts work best only with a tie. As well, the Italians do a more tailored fit through the body while T&A defaults to a boxy cut that’s best under a jacket. Is that it? Or is there more to T&A shirts which makes them formal?

I was under the impression that there’s little difference in shirt style between English and Italian makers, so either can span the formal to casual styling. It’s more the Italian construction (functional hand sewing of collar and sleeve, tailored fit) which makes it more suitable for casual wear as well as formal, while the English are good for formal only. (And given the price difference, Italian shirts are therefore much better value.)

Shem

Hi simon I’m looking to add a shirt to my wardrobe (mostly solid blue or blue university stripe) would you say a solid pink oxford or something novel like this (https://angloitalian.com/products/ocbd-shirt-reverse-stripe-blue-oxford) will be more casual/versatile?

Omri

Simon,

Do you have any thoughts about different bespoke shirt makers in London less covered in the site? For example: Sean O’flynn vs. Emma Willis.

Anonymous

Hi Simon, what are your thoughts on lavender shirts (pale ones) and one piece collar respectively?

David

Dear Simon,

I’m wondering about how different shirting fabrics comport with different styles of collar. I teach at a major US university where the level of formality in dress ranges quite a bit. In general, though, my colleagues never wear ties, so I’ll be avoiding them also. I’ve heard you say before that you prefer button down collars when going without a tie, which makes sense to me. I’m about to have some shirts made (by Simone Abbarchi) and would like to get some blue and white poplins, as you’ve suggested for the business “capsule” above. But I am wondering: is the pairing of button down collar with poplin shirt a mismatch in degrees of formality? Any advice would be much appreciated!

Best,
David

Rashdan

Hi Simon, this is yet another good article to read. And some advice from you please.
My office setting is smart casual. Hence, I can do a knitwear with trousers/jeans combination when I need to give my Oxford button downs a rest. Also, I wear white Common Projects to work everyday.

And I really admire how a shirt can accentuate a man’s physique. But I feel that a poplin with a spread collar is rather too smart with trousers and sneakers. Do you have suggestions on fabrics that look great with a spread collar but doesn’t feel too formal to wear like poplin?
P.S. I don’t do chambray, linen or denim due to preference. Thus, I need your insight on this.

Jeff

Hi Simon,

I have always preferred twill weave shirts for business to pinpoints, poplins, etc. I think they drape better, are better at resisting wrinkles, and tend to be more opaque so it’s harder to see an undershirt, or anything else, underneath them.

You put the plain blue poplin as your number 1 shirt. Do you disagree with my opinions on twill vs the other weaves? Why do you prefer a poplin to twill?

Jeff

It’s definitely heavier, and despite living in Texas where it is hot, it doesn’t bother me at all. I guess I’m one of those people that runs cold, skinny arms and legs. I’m also the guy that wears an 11 oz serge twill 3 piece year round too though. I’ve tried to like poplin, but despite paying for “better quality” (I.e. higher priced) poplin shirts, the properties that I don’t like about it are the same.

Anonymous

I recently acquired a mid blue denim shirt but in dress shirt details so no pocket / contrast stitching etc and found it quite difficult to style with. It is a bit too dark to pair with navy suit and found it looks a bit “cheap” when combines with dark jeans. Do you mind giving me some suggestions?

Anonymous

Along this line, would you say the PS lightweight denim and everyday denim are the same shade? Or is one different than the other.

Anonymous

Would black jeans / drawstring black linen pants work just as well?

Anonymous

Does it matter what type of single cuff one chooses (barrel/mitered/square with one or two buttons) or is it just a matter of taste?

Harry

Hi Simon,

I have a collar related question. I’m looking to have a couple of Oxford shirts made up and I’ve generally followed your advice and gone for button downs for my less formal shirts – worn without tie the high collar looks great given I’m quite tall with long neck.

Having said that I think having 5 button down informal oxford style shirts might be overkill – on a sliding scale of formality are there other types of collar you’d go for – my work shirts are all cutaway but would like something that stands up as much as possible.

Any recommendations on collar types to go for with an informal Oxford that aren’t button downs? I just don’t know what to ask for

Thanks as always

Jonny

Hi Simon,

Wasn’t sure which article to post this under, but figured this is a good one. How do you feel about button down collars on poplin/broadcloth shirts that wouldn’t be worn with a tie? Looking more at something like a light blue/white bengal stripe for spring/summer. I figure plain white poplin may be a bit of a formality clash but the stripe could work?

Anonymous

What is your opinion on (very) pale purple dress shirts?

Anonymous

How versatile are poplin shirts? I’d think that a relatively casual poplin (patterned, button-down-collar) might go with a relatively refined chino.

anon

Many thanks! Too smart even for linen, for a somewhat casual office environment (for example, linen trousers and a sports coat in spring/summer)? I know you’ve recommended cotton/linen mixed shirts for pairing with linen suits, but I’m trying to figure out just how much leeway there is in terms of the formality scale.

Anonymous

Do you prefer poplin or twill for your regular business shirts, Simon?

Is a twill shirt like the ones of Eton (signature twill shirts) wearable in the summer?

Thanks.

Chris

Hi Simon,

I’m thinking of ordering a few check shirts from Luca for more casual, family, things (once the world is back to normal) – I often feel as though my oxfords are about over the top for family meals etc. I wondered if you felt there were better materials for this type of shirt, and weather a button down is the right choice?

Thanks as always

Dash Riprock

I like the nice high button downs should get a nice big roll..much prefer white or pearl buttons.for me Dean Martin wore the best ones. In the 60s they where much easier to find. Now they are mostly musical
Comedy versions.

Anonymous

I would like to know how many cm (min to max) are usually added to the body measurements of chest, waist and hips to get the proper shirt measurements? That would be quite useful to know for MTM and when you spot a nice RTW shirt.

Do your shirt measurements vary between casual and dress shirts?

Jonathan

Hi Simon,

I have a question about the shrinkage of Oxford cloth, having just bought a new shirt in it from a good maker.

I have heard it said that cotton has a nominal shrinkage ‘potential’ of around 5%, and how it is laundered (water temperature, mainly) determines how quickly, or even whether at all, that is reached.

Now, for a full shirt, I imagine that different parts shrink in different ways, depending on the exact weave, the construction and stitching between pieces, etc.

May I ask your experience with Oxford cloth shirts?

Should I expect the main measurements – chest, waist, sleeve and so on – of my new shirt, as yet unlaundered, all to shrink by about this amount? (I might add: the care tag suggests a 30-degree, delicate cycle.)

As it is, the shirt fits well and I worry that undue shrinkage could compromise that.

Thanks as always,
Jonathan

Jonathan

Thank you, Simon. That helps.

The shirt is somewhat slubby in feel, but cleaner in look. My instinct is that it’ll go by less than 5% overall. I will just have to wash it (at 30…) and see.

Are there any makers who pre-shrink (wash) their cloth?

Jonathan

Jonathan

They have confirmed: indeed about 5%.

Thanks for the help.

Jonathan