Formal Shirts

Written by Jeremy Horelick
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Formal shirts used to be the defining trait of "serious" office places, the reassurance that senior law partners and chief operating officers needed that they hadn't somehow ended up in a San Francisco or East Village loft space. Well before the dot-com era ushered new standards of dress into the workplace, most men in offices wore formal shirts every day, including "casual" Fridays. Nowadays, however, it seems a button-down-collar shirt, be it of twill, linen, denim, cotton, what have you, is all it takes to define an office as "formal."

Traditionalists take heart--there are still bastions of formality in the work world, places where formal shirts are at home side by side with starched collars, double-breasted suits, silk squares, and cuff links. The problem is, as the last of the ancien regime fades into its "golden years," it's being replaced by young ones who hardly know gingham from gingko. Hence, they can't be expected to turn a discriminating eye to their duds, which are meant solely to cover their nakedness, not uphold the tenets of haute couture or even mere tradition.

What To Look for in Formal Shirts

Outstanding formal shirts are characterized by single-needle construction, lock-stitched tailoring, and other markers of high quality. Fabrics are 100-percent pure, not blended, and may include, among others, silk, linen, or cotton. Tuxedo dress shirts are typically white pique fabric that may or may not come with French cuffs, though the more traditional shirts tend to have them. Either way, they ought to feature "spread" collars that accommodate the band for a bow tie, should the occasion call for one.

Some formal shirts will come with studs and cuff links as part of the package, but more discerning shoppers may opt to buy these accessories a la carte. It's not uncommon to find cuff links, tie bars, and other extras that cost more (and are made with higher quality) than factory-issued dress shirts that are mass-produced for standard body sizes. Since there is no such thing as a generic body size or style, it's foolish to think that any off-the-rack formal shirt could vie with a hand-tailored design cut expressly to the customer's dimensions.

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