As work environments become increasingly casual, men are more in need of less formal shirts – usually worn without a tie, often with flannels or chinos.
It’s fairly easy to see which styles of shirt are more casual.
A French or double cuff, for instance is clearly more fiddly and formal (traditionally, because no seam is visible at the end). Single cuffs are more casual.
With collars, too, a soft, curved button-down looks more laid back than a sharp cutaway.
But fabrics can be trickier. They exist on more of a spectrum, and picking the right one is something men can get wrong.
Having dealt with fabrics for business shirts in the last article in this series, this piece will help define what makes a casual fabric, and make some recommendations.
Three things can generally make a shirt fabric more casual:
Bigger, bolder pattern
Stronger, brighter colour
Greater, thicker texture
This is generally the order of their importance, too. Strong patterns are common, even on quite smart shirts, and it’s therefore most important to realise that these make the shirt more casual.
Most shirt patterns are checks or stripes. (And most that are not will be rather casual.)
Of these, a check is more casual than a stripe (because there’s more going on, and the visual impression is more broken up).
And a bigger, more open or more widely spaced version of either is more casual.
So with stripes, a hairline or pin stripe will be barely noticeable, little more than texture compared to a plain; a bengal stripe can still be quite smart; and something like a butcher’s stripe or bigger will be very casual.
Of course, it also depends how strong and bright the colour of the stripe is, but that can be considered under the colour section further down.
With checks, a graph check is quite subtle, a gingham check less so (and borderline acceptable in a formal office) while more complicated checks like Prince of Wales or tattersall are at the casual end of the spectrum.
Shirts or shirtings companies will sometimes refer to smaller patterns as ‘casual’ and large patterns as ‘sport’.
This is cute if a little anachronistic – given no one anywhere is playing sport in fabrics like these – but it does indicate how casual the patterns are considered.
Colour is more straightforward. In the same way that a pale-blue or pale-pink shirt is more casual than a white one, so a more unusual colour like a yellow or mauve will be further along the same spectrum.
Strength matters just as much as the colour itself.
So a strong pink or blue will be more casual – and even small gradations can make a difference. (I often take a blue shirt with me to a bespoke appointment, to make sure I have a reference for picking the right one.)
There are many types of ‘denim’ fabric for shirts, usually only united by the fact that they have an indigo-type colour and a twill weave.
What makes them more casual is usually the strength of the colour or the way that colour fades, plus a little texture.
Textures are harder.
Or rather, they’re fairly easy if you see the fabric in person, and consider how much texture it has. Rather than being distracted by the names.
So for example an oxford shirt (made in a fabric with an oxford weave) is inherently casual. Both because of the texture of the weave and the shirt’s cultural associations with Ivy style.
But there is a big range of oxfords, depending on the fineness of the cotton fibre, the ply of the yarn, the weave and the finish. Some are heavy and rugged, others (such as Royal or Pinpoint oxfords) much finer.
Oxfords are still, in general and on average, more casual than poplins or twills – but the important thing is to consider the fabric on its own merits, perhaps next to a different weave.
Chambray is similar. Although defined as a plain weave with a coloured warp and a white weft, it has come to mean a shirt with some slubbiness in the white weft that gives it texture (and hence casualness).
Some chambrays are very subtle and look like a slightly irregular end-on-end. Others are thick and rugged, more similar to denims. Again, judge them independently.
Subtler weaves like end-on-end (below) or fil-a-fil also add a touch of texture (and could even be considered under the ‘stripes’ section given the nature of that texture).
Fibres and finishes
Changing the fibre mix can add a little texture – as with linens or linen/cotton mixes.
I’m a particular fan of linen/cotton in the summer, as the cotton stabilises the fabric and makes it less prone to wrinkling, yet it has the coolness and texture of the linen.
Texture can also be added through a brushed finish (brushed-cotton or flannel shirts), or washing techniques.
Some mills, for example, will wash a normal fabric with twice the amount of softener, then tumble dry it without ironing, breaking up the surface a little.
Personally, I love fabrics with more texture like this in the winter. There is little it makes sense to change in the winter for shirtings, but adding some flannels to the rotation is one of them.
They also drape better (and feel pretty much as soft) as cotton/cashmere mixes.
How can you write a piece about casual shirt fabrics and not comment on how important the weight of the fabric is?
Well, weight can definitely make a difference but it’s inconsistent. A linen shirt in sage green would be very casual, yet a white twill could be quite heavy and be very smart.
It’s certainly a factor but more with the already casual fabrics like oxfords or brushed cottons
Ok. Let’s test your theory.
Denim. Cowboy style shirt in denim vs your PS denim.
Which is more casual?
Perhaps you will now accept that weight does matter.
Weight does matter, as I said.
But it is less important than the other factors. In this example, the fact that cowboy shirt has greater texture from its wash and yarn, and the design details like pockets, poppers etc
Sorry to challenge you again, but it is the weight that makes the difference. Don’t try and blur the issue by starting to let design details creep in.
A heavy denim shirt will always be more casual than a finer one.
Most of the time, yes, as I said it is a factor, just not one of the most important or consistent ones.
I give up.
He never said weight doesn’t matter. He said it matters, but it just matters less than the other common factors that affect the formality of a shirt. You just hand picked a situation where it makes the difference and ignored the 99% of situations were the weight is irrelevant. If he sat down and wrote all the specifics or exceptions then this would be a book, not an article.
A Bengal stripe is one of the most formal shirtings in existence, so I am not sure how you can suggest that it “can still be quite smart”.
Are you sure about this?
Yes – it’s less formal and smart than any plain white, plain blue or thinner stripe.
It depends how far along the spectrum you consider something to become casual. Some mills even describe these stripes as sporty. What sits where on the spectrum, however, is the most important and objective thing
I agree with you 100%. My standard business shirts have been Bengal shirts for the last 35 years. In the 1980s, the City “uniform” was a pinstripe suit, bengal shirt, spotted tie, braces (women wear suspenders in Britain) and cap-toe Oxfords. The louche stockbrokers and Mayfair set (art dealers etc) often wore brogues and even tassled loafers.
Sadly, the enterprising spirit of 1980s individualism has been crushed. Business attire is a sad reflection of our 21st Century authoritarian culture. The corporate executives must follow the rules even when it comes to dressing. Those rules (even given in writing by UBS to its employees) are navy/grey suits, white shirts and plain ties.
Even the international political establishment (such as Blair, Cameron, Dubya Bush, Obama, Tusk…) wears the same boring outfit. We have a dictatorship of the bland and no one dares to step out of line. Oh for the days of the late Sir Nicky Fairbairn MP, a wonderful dandy, and Eric Forth MP! I’d even settle for George HW Bush’s Ivy style.
To hell with 21st century corporatism.
I wear a striped tie and a pocket square (plain white, and linen – I’m not a cad) and cufflinks to my job interviews, despite all the interwebs Linkedin “tips” (or the godawful “jobhunting [eejk] hacks”) about wearing plain ties and no pocket square, and a shirt with button cuffs.
Last time I did it, I got the job.
And if some yobboid-run firms won’t have me because I don’t dress like a 21st century desk jock, then I jolly well won’t have them either.
Someone’s got to make a stand, right here, right now.
Bravo, Kenny about the “dictatorship of the bland”. They go to Fettes and Eton, and come out the other end looking like their working-class comprehensive counterparts.
Then you have some grinning fool like Trudeau trying to gain “kudos” (God almighty) with his Disney socks.
God I hate the 21st century. (Before any of you come back with a crushing reply: we didn’t have the bubonic plage in the 1980s, and we had the full set of human rights).
I think there is a choice in between Bobby (as with most discussions online).
The bland corporatism is mostly men in poor quality, poorly fitted undone suits with no tie.
It is perfectly possible to look elegant, well put together and even traditional in a great but subtle suit, shirt and tie.
And for most people, particularly the young, they are more likely to get jobs they want if they dress that way.
Wow. Quite a tirade….
A casual shirt with flannels?
Not sure I get that I’m afraid.
Casual with jeans, chinos, cords, moleskins yes, but flannels?
Or are you including the brushed cotton tattersalls shirts my Dad wore with flannels and a burgundy v neck in the 60’s?
Ha! You joke, but it will come around again fast.
Yes, I mean a denim.shirt, for example, with flannels. Nothing like a flannel trouser for bridging smart and casual
And yet so hard to find ready to wear at a price for the masses.
As only the wealthy can afford the top Italian and British brands, the masses should have affordable RTW options. Charles Tyrwhitt’s multi-buy shirt offer is one possibility. Bengal stripe, gingham, checks and oxford cloths are generally available. For the price, the shirts are ideal for someone on a low to average salary. Style need not, and should not, be expensive.
Agree – and if those shirts are well fitted, they could do very well. Taste and fit are the starting points
Charles Tyrwhitt offers four fits and several sleeve lengths so most men should be able to buy tasteful shirts that fit well. My brother-in-law and I buy the tattersalls – quality cloth, classic patterns and ludicrously cheap in the sales. You don’t need thick MOP buttons for country sports. The customer service, in-store or by phone, is very good too.
I think there are plenty of options when it comes to shirts, ok options when it comes to fully smart trousers/suits (worsted wool) or casual (chinos, jumpers etc). Its the middle ground that I always struggle to find like flannel or cavalry twill trousers and decent sports jackets. The former rarely exist and the later tend to be much worse quality in comparison to the similarly priced smart/formal jackets
Completely agree, difficult to find a mid point and have to end up spending oodles at drakes and trunk
I recommend Hackett Personal tailoring. They have some very nice Flannels in a range of grey and blue (and others).
I’ve just purchased a pair of MTM 13oz flannels in mid-light grey with side adjusters and 2″ turn ups (very much ala Crompton) and cut fairly slim to be casual. Lovely and around £300 (just over) in the sale.
Appreciate that’s a lot in absolute terms, but if anyone wants access to flannel (at a greater weight – Hackett and RL have RTW flannel but its generally far thinner) I think its a good option.
For those looking for a mid-price pair of RTW grey flannels (a struggle I know all too well), Hackett has a great pair on offer in its A/W collection this year. Just under £200 I think.
I couldn’t quite see them given the glare they give off! Quite a sheen if you ask me….
For cheap cavalry twill trousers (100% wool) and flannels, try James Meade and Peter Christian (£75). They are priced from £75 to £85 respectively, good value compared to around £150 to £300 in Jermyn Street and Mayfair. There are introductory discounts if you sign up for newsletters. Americans will benefit from the devaluation of Sterling too.
Another really nice article, thank you.
What do you think about short vs long sleeves in more casual shirts?
Thanks in advance.
In general, I prefer long sleeves, rolled up if needed. Short sleeves in the summer only and in a much more casual shirt, eg a camp-collar one
Great article – I was looking at shirts a few days ago wondering at names for the differing guages in stripe, check etc. I do agree that weight is a vital component in formality (perhaps one of the most) but so obvious in its matter-of-factness to almost require no commentary. I do agree with Bobby however; perhaps it’s age but the 80’s witnessed a re- birth in men’s style. Gone were the flares and earth colours of the 70’s and in its place came sharp, well tailored menswear in classical cuts, colours and patterns. They set the tone for menswear for the following decades until now. Today’s fashion suggests the party is over – with a decade of austerity perhaps it is – but in depression era Britain our grandfathers dressed with a sense of style seldom repeated. Perhaps it is ‘street style’ – the generic, badly mixed elements of urban, military, sport and fast fashion that at once looks like nothing and everything in clothing history. This casualisation of dress places a downward pressure on style so much so that to be well dressed (to dress with thought and taste) is now – despite clear interest and support – almost out of step. Eating recently in a well known (tourist-filled) London dining room, scanning across I was the only one wearing a jacket and not a tie in sight (apart from the waiting staff)…
Simon when I wear a casual shirt I can never decide if I should just leave the top button undone, or if it’s okay to leave the one below it undone also.
What is the proper form here please?
It’s quite subjective, but in terms of lines it nearly always looks better to leave two undone. And if you have the shirts made bespoke, you can always move that button up slightly to split the difference.
Hey Guys can we lighten up a bit please?
These aren’t nuclear disarmament negotiations, or even Brexit. We each have opinions that should be respected, even if some do not agree with them. Style is personal and whilst we all like to think we are sartorial masters the truth is we just dress for ourselves as part of the way we project ourselves to the world. So we each make our own style rules and also our own style prejudices: That’s what it’s about. This site is a great source of info, guidance, inspiration and even challenges; but it really isn’t a dictatorship. We read pieces and make our own decisions – I see items on here that I do not like or would not do. The rules we love to discuss really only came about because someone with influence broke existing ones and it stuck: The Tuxedo, the bottom waistcoat button thing, brown suede shoes with suits, and so on. We all have opinions and they can be challenged, we know that, but please don’t feel obliged to disabuse anyone of views that are simply different. Here endeth the lesson.
Style is serious business, and there’s nothing to lighten up about. Social behaviour is largely driven by aesthetic norms. Take streetwear. A big chunk of it copies the clothes worn by prisoners (especially in the US) – baggy low-slung trousers, flip-flops on white socks, etc. It was adopted as an aesthetic norm. Next thing you know, people are behaving like hoodlums and criminals. Fascism started as an aesthetic movement. So did youth culture.
The debate about style is not some harmless light conversation among mates. The 21st century has gone to hell in a handbasket, and it’s only 18 years in. The rise of the iGent is much darker than it seems. It has deep links to the feminisation of society and the crisis of masculinity. The very fact that websites about style are followed by thousands is proof of the crisis.
Thanks Bobby, but let’s leave this discussion there please. I don’t want to get into whether clothing trends are causing fascism.
To be clear: that means I won’t publish any more comments along these lines if they’re submitted.
Well said, Nigel C.
With regards to the issue of undoing one or two buttons on an open-necked shirt, I vacillate between the two. Bill Nighy insists that there is never a reason to undo anything other than the collar button…..
How do you keep the air in your wardrobe fresh and prevent the clothes from smelling ‘stored’?
I have two wardrobes – one for things in regular use, where as a result this isn’t really a problem
The other is seasonal storage, and there everything has been put away cleaned and in garment bags, so it never really smells musty
This is very interesting. How do you keep your clothes stored? Would you mind doing an article on the matter?
Here apparently you’re keeping seasonal storage in clothes bags. How do you deal with pants there? For instance, my tuxedo, I can’t store the pants hanging in any cloth bag I own without having to fold the pant in 2 over a hanger, because none of the bags is long enough.
Sure. Yes, all the trousers would be folded in two
I have a query about stripes. Since it’s a little hard to tell the scale of the stripes in the image above, how would you define the difference between a bengal stripe and a butcher’s stripe? For that matter, what’s the difference between a candy stripe, a dress stripe and a bengal stripe? Definitions seem to vary somewhat looking at shirts available online.
Good point. I’ve never measured them, but then the shirts in those stripes don’t vary that much – a bengal stripe from one brand doesn’t vary much from another, so you don’t have to worry there.
A candy stripe is broader, more similar to a butchers stripe. Dress stripe is not a phrase I’ve seen, at least among European brands.
would you wear linen-shirts (e.g. with button-down collars) in winter combined with pullovers or cardigans? Or is linen a summer fabric, which looks out of place combined like this?
I don’t think it looks out of place, no. Most underwear and bedding was linen at one point, in any season
Have you any experience of Cellulare/ Artex? If so, would you class these fabrics as casual?
Yes, but I haven’t tried them myself no
The “sport shirt” nomenclature used to drive me crazy. My dad would say, “that’s not a dress shirt, it’s a sport shirt,” and I’d have no idea what sports he thought I might play in the thing.
Recently I looked it up and learned the history: once upon a time, people of a certain class typically spent their days off at sporting events. The sports were often polo, or horse racing, or maybe cricket or car racing. But they were big events, full of fanfare and gambling and picnics, and men brought wives / families / dates in tow. And they dressed up—or in their eyes, dressed down. They were expected to be sartorially put-together, but in a more casual vein than their weekday business dress.
So we’ve inherited the odd label of sportswear. I think your descriptions of cute and anachronistic are right on.
Speaking of linen/cotton blends, could you tell where to find such a jacket-weight fabric: 300 to 400g (or heavier)?
I’ve a fantastic beige, linen/cotton RTW jacket that i’d like to replicate in bespoke. However, despite seeing many linen/cotton garments, I’ve not seen it offered as a fabric by any of the usual merchants (other than mixed with wool).
Yes, there aren’t many – it’s usually a wool mix. The new Anglo-Italian bunch has some though I think
From which merchant is this bunch please?
They are their own merchant now…. Check out their website
Recently, I was preparing to buy a new shirt for my younger brother. This is the first time I bought a shirt for my younger brother. He is a college student. I do n’t know if this suits him. I hope you can help me see it. Thank you.
I’m afraid I’m not sure I can help much – that’s not the kind of style or quality I would normally cover. Sorry
What brands can you recommend for casual summer/linen shirts?
Luca Faloni ones are good, and Drake’s for a more Ivy look
Would you say that a linen cotton mix shirt could be as versatile and casual as an oxford button down?
I wouldn’t wear it with jeans perhaps, it’s not quite as casual as that. But it is does also extend more into the formal end of the spectrum than an oxford does
Thanks for the suggestions!
I thought linen cotton mix shirts looked the same as chambray and therefore could easily be worn at least with dark wash denim.
Would you not even advice wearing it with dark wash denim?
I wouldn’t say so, myself, I’d go for just linen
Is fill-a-fill casual fabric and is it wearable with jeans?
It depends on the fibre, but usually no it’s too smart
Hi simon i live in a humid country and generally sweat a lot into my shirts. Becuse of thst i dont have any white shirts at all for the past 4 years or so as they tend to turn yellow in the collar very quickly. Im howver thinking of getting one as i think white is an essential colour in the wadrobe. Am eyeing a pinpoint oxford from drakes as im told it is like broadcloth. Im wondering if yoi hsve experience with pinpoint oxfords and of they are ok to be be worn with more casual stuff like armoury army chinos which is often my default trouser. I only occasionally wear tailored trousers
I think it might be a little smart as a material Shem. A normal, less fine oxford would probably be better
If you could opine then which of these two shirts is more casual;
1) Oxford button down or 2) Linen shirt.
They’re pretty similar Ayush, I’d vary really depending on season and style
So in your opinion a linen shirt is as casual as Oxford and could be a good substitute to it in summer?
Yes. Some linens are finer and more dressy, some more casual. But overall, linen can certainly work that way
Just found myself a dark navy cotton shirt in marks and spencers which looks beautiful.
I remember you mentioned about your apprehension for navy oxford shirt in one of your answers saying that it will look better in linen and i just want to get a clarification that whether you are saying that a dark shirt in cotton material doesn’t look good or is it just in oxford weave?
I think hard in most cottons, but can still look good. At the least, it’s nowhere near as versatile as you’d expect, given it’s navy