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Formal dressing is delicate business. Just focusing on dress shirts, there are so many details that it’s hard to get right, with a fabric for every occasion. There are a shirtload of fabrics and weaves which dress shirts can be made from- here are the main ones you should know.
Cotton and cotton blend
Cotton should be your go-to shirt material. The big advantage of cotton is that it’s breathable, so you won’t be dripping sweat underneath it. The fabric is soft and will sit well if it fits well. However, cotton shirts tend to wrinkle and can shrink in the wash, but that’s where cotton blends come in.
Choose polycotton, a cotton-polyester blend, and your shirt will never have to touch an iron and won’t come out of the washing machine a size smaller. Polycotton shirts tend to be cheaper, particularly those with a higher proportion of polyester, and are not as comfortable as pure cotton shirts. Polycotton shirts are low maintenance but generally not of great quality. Shirts that are more polyester than cotton should be avoided at all costs, as they are notoriously uncomfortable and look too rigid.
Twill is a diagonal weave with a slight sheen, often used for dress shirts. The textured fabric is ideal for block colored shirts. Cotton twill is appropriate for almost any situation that requires a shirt- the weave adds understated interest to your outfit. The advantages of cotton twill are that it is durable, breathable and is more detailed than a plain weave.
Oxford shirts are versatile, and can be worn in casual or formal situations. Oxford is characterised by a basket weave, is heavier than a plain weave, and can be made from a variety of materials including trusty cotton. Royal Oxford, which has a finer weave, in particular is suited to formal wear.
Broadcloth and poplin
Broadcloth and poplin are tightly woven, strong, plain weave fabrics. Poplin is typically made out of cotton. Broadcloth can be cotton, a cotton blend or that dreaded polyester. Both are suitable for the office, but not for occasions requiring a full suit.
A silk shirt is not for a regular day at the office, despite being irresistibly comfortable. Shiny and luxurious, a silk shirt would suit only the most formal of occasions. Always wear with a suit and preferably a tie, and in a block color rather than any kind of pattern. Silk shirts are typically in a plain weave.
It’s easy to get lost amongst the variety of shirt options. Keep it simple by starting off your shirt collection with pure cotton shirts, or polycotton blends if you want a lower maintenance shirt, in a plain or diagonal weave. Thread count is a good indicator of the quality of a shirt- the higher the thread count the better. Anything with a thread count of over one hundred is a good bet.
Above all, avoid polyester shirts!