Accessorizing the Suit: The Perfect Shirt

Today we continue the series of posts on making a suit, any suit, into the perfectly prepared presentation of style and distinction.  From earlier posts on shoes and other leather concerns we have hopefully made a case for the importance of paying close attention to detail.  With today’s post, we will move to the next aspect and discuss the often overlooked dress shirt.

When I was working on the sales end of the fashion industry, I was constantly amazed at the variety of dress shirts that were available for my customers.  Cotton, cotton blends, rayon, viscose, linen, you name the fabric, there was a dress shirt made in it.  The same was true for colors.  Any color from the color wheel was represented in dress shirts choices.  Likewise with patterns, including stripes, micro-checks, plaids, windowpane and even tone on tone designs.  You name it, we could find it.

Now, today’s post isn’t going to spend too much time on picking the right shirt for the right look for the right. . . you get the idea.  No, today’s post is all about preparing the best image with the least effort and in the most cost effective manner possible.   That means we will work with the standard; the white shirt.

I know that many people out there will dismiss the white shirt as boring, but looked at another way, it is essential.  It is classic!  Think of every banker or business executive icon in the world and chances are, you have seen them more than once in a white shirt.  It is timeless!  Portraits of kings, rulers and barons of all sorts of business have been wearing white for centuries, why would they stop now!  It is easy!  White is white.  You won’t need to worry about clashing colors by making an ill-advised color selection if you work with white as the base of the outfit.  Any suit and any tie can work with white.

As far as fabric option, I suggest that the most classy look is a 100% cotton broadcloth.  It is a smooth finish fabric using very thin threads.  Chances are, you’ve worn one of these at some time in your life.  Broadcloth gives a more professional and polished look than oxford cloth, which is rougher and woven from thicker threads.  Also, a broadcloth shirt is more likely designed with the intention of being worn with a suit, while oxford cloth shirts are often designed to be more casual.

Collar options can vary widely, but a standard point collar is safe.  It can accommodate different tie knots easily.  Also, the standard point collar has been around for generations with very few changes, while more trendy collar styles, like narrow point and tab collars, tend to go in and out of fashion with the passing of time.  Staying with a traditional point collar can make even the least expensive suit look a little more classy.

As with the other items that have been addressed in these posts, care of your shirt is important.  If you don’t take care of it, you will replace it far more frequently.  I have some cotton broadcloth shirts in my closet that I have worn hundreds of times in the last ten years, and some of them are only now beginning to show some slight signs of wear.

What do you think about this information?  What experiences have you had with the quintessential white shirt?

-TJW-