Selecting Tailored Shirts and Blouses
Joyce A. Smith
Brett C. Oleson
Dress shirts for men and tailored blouses or shirts for women are basic
items in most wardrobes. Even with casual lifestyles, most men need a dress
shirt for special occasions. Women may wear tailored shirts or blouses to
work or for casual wear. Besides, a crisp tailored shirt unbuttoned at the
neck with sleeves rolled up looks great with a pair of blue jeans for
informal events. Although a tailored shirt seems very basic, a variety of
styles, fabrics and choices exists in the marketplace. Important factors to
consider when buying a tailored shirt or blouse are:
- construction or workmanship
- styling for fit, comfort and appearance
Tailored shirts are generally made from 100% cotton or blends of cotton
and polyester. Occasionally, nylon or rayon may be present. Dressy styles
for both men and women can be found in silk. Fashion may dictate the use of
linen, silk or specialty fibers, or brushed or sand-washed surface finishes.
The most basic fibers, however, are cotton and cotton/polyester blends.
Pima cotton is a very fine long staple fiber cotton. The better the
quality of cotton, the stronger the fibers, as well as the smoother and
finer the surface of the shirt. A very high quality cotton fabric will feel
almost silk-like and have a luxurious appearance.
Occasionally, the term "combed cotton" is seen on shirt labels. This
usually indicates a better quality cotton fiber. The fibers are longer and
have been "combed" or straightened, resulting in a soft luster and touch.
Cotton has many desirable qualities. It is absorbent and breathes, making
it a comfortable fiber to wear, especially during warm weather. Its major
shortcoming is that cotton wrinkles. Fine quality cotton fibers tend to
wrinkle less as well as require less ironing after laundering.
Polyester is blended with cotton in shirting fabrics to provide wrinkle
resistance. Although this is a desirable property, polyester has some
shortcomings. It does not breathe and is not absorbent, making it less
comfortable to wear. Also, polyester absorbs oily stains readily. The fiber
is very strong, but it abrades or forms pills in areas where rubbing occurs
such as the inside of collar bands or along cuffs.
Different combinations of cotton and polyester blends are sold. The
higher the percent of cotton, the more absorbent and comfortable the shirt
will be to wear. The higher the percentage of polyester, expect easier care
and wrinkle resistance, but less comfort. The shirt needs to be at least 50%
to 65% polyester to require little or no ironing. The most common blends are
65% polyester/35% cotton, 50% cotton/50% polyester, and 65% cotton/35%
Occasionally nylon, particularly in knit shirts, is available. Nylon is
similar to polyester in properties. It is both uncomfortable to wear, but
easy care. In knit construction, nylon is subject to snagging. Shirts made
from silk or linen are comfortable to wear, but usually require hand washing
or dry-cleaning and almost always require ironing for a smooth appearance.
Most tailored shirts and blouses are woven rather than knit and are made
from three basic fabrics: broadcloth, oxford cloth and cotton shirting.
Cotton broadcloth is a tightly woven plain weave fabric with a fine rib
or ridge in the crosswise direction. It has a smooth finish and gives a very
crisp look, especially when starched. Because of its tight weave, broadcloth
Oxford cloth is a basket weave with a somewhat coarser or heavier
appearance than broadcloth. Many people prefer the look of oxford which can
take on a dressy or sporty look depending upon the garments worn with it.
Oxford cloth is often found in button down collar styles. A lower twist yarn
in the crosswise direction contributes softness and comfort to oxford cloth
shirts. The fine yarns used in the lengthwise direction often wear or abrade
causing small pin holes to form in the fabric. Abrasion and the formation of
pills on collars and cuffs might be expected more in oxford cloth. However,
studies by the International Fabricare Institute show that pilling is a
greater problem in more tightly woven constructions, such as broadcloth.
Perhaps in oxford cloth, the weaker yarns actually break when abraded, while
the stronger high twist yarns used in broadcloth snag to the surface forming
pills rather than breaking off.
Basket weaves usually produce looser weaves than plain weaves. As a
result, seam slippage or the movement of yarns under stress is more likely
to occur in oxford cloth shirts than in broadcloth shirts.
Cotton shirting is a group of woven fabrics that provide a smooth
surface. Chambray, madras, or end-on-end fabrics fit this category. These
fabrics normally have fairly "even" construction, meaning that they have a
similar number of threads in the lengthwise (warp) and crosswise (filling)
directions. Chambray is a fabric that has colored lengthwise or warp yarns
and white crosswise yarns. Madras will use sets of colored yarns in the warp
and white yarns in the filling to give a striped appearance. End-on-end has
white and colored threads woven alternately in both the lengthwise and
crosswise directions. It gives a frosted look to pastel colored shirts.
A finish is a treatment applied to the fabric which enhances the
performance of the shirt fabric. Here are a few common finishes found on
Mercerization is a process used on cotton which increases luster,
strength and enhances ability to take dyes. Mercerization also increases
absorbency and therefore wearing comfort.
SanforizationTM is a shrink resistant finish. Fabrics which are
SanforizedTM will shrink less than one percent.
Permanent Press finishes provide wrinkle resistance. These fabrics
require little or no ironing after machine washing and tumble drying.
Wrinkle resistant finishes are particularly important on 100% cotton shirts
since they are most likely to wrinkle during laundering. Wrinkle resistant
finishes usually cause some loss of strength. Easy care properties outweigh
fabric strength in most purchase decisions.
Another method of obtaining wrinkle resistance is blending cotton with
polyester. The blended fabric will be less absorbent and less comfortable to
wear than 100% cotton.
Occasionally, shirts will have a soil release finish which helps fabric
release oily soils during laundering. The finish doesn't make a fabric soil
or stain resistant, but allows for more thorough and complete cleaning of
the fiber during laundering. Soil release finishes are more important on
polyester/cotton blend fabric than on 100% cotton since polyester quickly
soaks up oily stains. Quality garments exhibit good workmanship. Check the
construction of shirts before buying. Overall, look for smooth, even
stitching. Stitches should be small with no loose threads and no puckering
Check seams for use of chain stitching. This looks like a conventional
seam on one side and a heavier multi-thread seam on the other (Figure 1).
Chain stitches usually indicate lower quality garments. More desirable are
conventional seams double-stitched for durability.
Quality shirts are on grain and balanced, or even on both sides. If the
shirt is made from plaid fabric, the plaids should match at sides, center
front, pockets and collar fronts. Sleeves should be set in the body of the
garment at an angle with the straight grain going along the fold from the
shoulder to the cuff. Sleeves which are off grain will not lie smooth after
laundering, but rather twist or ripple. Sleeves should be pleated into the
cuff rather than gathered.
Note design of the cuff placket. It should be six inches long for ease of
movement and comfort during wear as well as ease of ironing. A shirt style
placket usually indicates better quality as does an extra button in the
placket opening. However, bound plackets may be used to reduce puckering in
fiber blends (Figure 2).
Collar appearance is critical since this is an area seen first by most
people. Collar points should be even, flat and wrinkle free with no puckers.
Check for collar stays (except for button down collars) to hold collars
smooth. Stays made from plastic should be removed before pressing to prevent
melting or ridges from forming.
Check buttons and buttonholes carefully. Buttons should be smooth, of
uniform thickness, with four holes and securely stitched in place. No
chipping, discoloring or dulling should be evident. Buttonholes should have
close, secure stitching with backstitching or bar tacks at the end. They
should be big enough to button easily but not so large that they become
unbuttoned with a little stress. Check, too, that buttonholes are on grain
and centered on the shirt placket.
Pockets should be on grain, even, have no loose threads and plaids should
be matched. Check for reinforcement at points of strain. Also, hems should
be smooth, even with absence of rippling or puckers.
Overall, a smooth look and durable construction are important. Also
critical is a well-fitting, comfortable garment in an appropriate size and
An appropriately sized tailored shirt will provide a good, comfortable
fit. Tailored shirts may be purchased in either short or long sleeves. When
purchasing a short sleeve shirt, a measurement is taken around the neck at
the base of the Adam's apple. The neck measurement corresponds to the
measurement found in the collar of the tailored shirt. A typical collar
measurement would be 14, 14-1/2 or 15. When measuring the neck, if the
measurement does not fall on the full or half number, such as 14 or 14-1/2,
always go up to the next larger number. For example, if the neck measurement
was 14-1/4, the correct shirt size to purchase would be 14-1/2.
There are two sets of numbers used when purchasing men's long sleeve
tailored shirts. The numbers are collar size and sleeve length. The collar
size is measured in the same manner as the short sleeve shirt. The sleeve
length is measured from the center of the back, across the shoulder, over
the elbow to the wrist (Figure 3). The sleeve measurement is usually denoted
as 32-33 or 34-35. This means the length of the arm sleeve will be 32 to 33
inches long. When wearing a long sleeve shirt with a sport coat or jacket,
the sleeve on the shirt should show about 1/2 inch.
Men who are especially short, tall, or large may find better fitting
shirts in stores for clothing designed for special builds. For example,
stores for short men feature shirts with shorter sleeve lengths and collars
slightly narrower than the average. The shirts for large men would be cut
fuller or longer depending on the body build. Some men may prefer to shop at
these stores, however, prices may be somewhat higher.
Women's shirts usually follow misses sizing (for example, 8, 10, 14) or
are sold by bust size (for example, 32, 34, 36). Initially, it is a good
idea to try on a blouse or shirt to determine fit. Collar and sleeve sizes
are graded to the overall size. Women with extra long arms or a long torso
might want to experiment with different brands to find a good fit.
Many women prefer to wear men's shirts. Women who decide to wear men's
dress shirts will find the collar to be slightly larger in relation to the
body of the shirt. This is a personal preference, however.
Styling for Fit, Comfort and Appearance
When purchasing a tailored shirt, neck size and sleeve length should not
be the only determinants of a good fit. It is important to look at other
areas of the shirt to insure a good fit while still being comfortable. Four
critical areas to examine when purchasing a shirt are: 1) collar, 2)
sleeves, 3) shoulders, and 4) torso.
Most visible of all four areas is the collar. A collar that is too tight
around the neck will pull and wrinkle. However, if the collar is too loose,
the shirt will look messy. A collar measured correctly will allow for some
ease, but still have a close fit. If a button-down collar wrinkles when worn
with a tie, the collar is also too tight. Not only is it important to watch
for wrinkles in the collar, but the collar points should be evenly
distributed. In order to maintain a smooth, well-fitting collar, an
individual's collar size should be checked every year because of weight gain
When selecting men's shirts, collar style as well as size are
considerations. Length of neck and shape of face are factors when choosing
the appropriate style. The four basic types of collars are: regular, spread,
button down, and tab (Figure 4). The regular standard collar has medium
length points and a medium spread. Most men find this style satisfactory.
The spread collar has a medium spread but shorter points. It is a better
choice for men with a short neck. Longer points may tend to roll and
The button down collar is sometimes considered softer or more casual but
is commonly used for business dress. It is satisfactory for most men,
however, long points can accentuate a long thin face and may tend to curl or
roll on a man with a short neck.
Tab collars are less common but preferred by some men. They feature a
snap fastener and give a trim neat look. Tab collars compliment men with
long, lean necks and faces. They are less comfortable and pleasing on men
with heavy short necks. Related to the tab collar is the tabless collar.
This has a similar, neat, trim, shaped appearance but uses collar pins
rather than a self tab. Some shirts feature sewn eyelets for the collar pin.
A good men's store will help customers select an appropriate style collar
for face, neck, and general build. Get to know salespersons in mens apparel
stores. They can be very helpful in selecting becoming styles.
Sleeves should be large and/or long enough to allow comfort in a full
range of motion. If arms are extremely broad or muscular, more fullness will
need to be built into the sleeve. On a long sleeve shirt, never settle for
shirt sleeves that are too short. Remember, the sleeve should not extend
more than 1/2 inch below the jacket sleeve.
Long sleeve shirts feature three primary types of cuffs (Figure 5). The
barrel cuff is the most common and generally has a one-button or two-button
closure. This style fits closest to the wrist and is the preferred style for
business wear. French cuffs fold back and require cuff links for closure.
They are somewhat dresser and bulkier. If the sleeve is slightly long, the
french cuffs held in place by cuff links may be more comfortable for some
Finally, a convertible cuff is found occasionally. As the name implies,
this cuff can be buttoned or used with a cuff link closure. Some barrel type
cuffs that require cuff links can be purchased. These are rare, however.
To fit a wide variety of shoulders, a shirt yoke is used to correct the
problem. A shirt yoke is cut for shoulders that taper two inches from the
bottom of the neck to the edge of the shoulder. A standard shirt yoke is
made of double thick fabric to prevent strain. Individuals who know what
type of shoulder line they have can choose between a tapered or squared
An individual with sloping shoulders would find a better fit with a
tapered yoke. A tapered yoke allows for a greater descending shoulder line
from the neck.
Individuals with a fairly level shoulder line across the back should
purchase a square yoked shirt. Square yokes usually are custom made, but
some fashion designers cut a yoke which is more squared than tapered.
Fitting the torso of an individual is accomplished by a combination of
comfort and appearance. When fitting the torso, avoid any pulling or
constriction around the stomach or chest. It is equally important to avoid
bunching up or baggy surplus fabric at the waistline. A trim, slightly loose
line wears best and will in turn be most comfortable.
Men's shirts usually come in two basic cuts, tapered or fitted and full
cut. Men with a slim build may prefer the trimmer, fitted style; whereas the
fuller cut would be a better choice for men who are stocky or have a larger
build. Women's tailored blouses have a basic straight cut. Ease may differ
When fully dressed, shirttails should be long enough to be tucked into
dress pants. The standard men's shirt features a six- button front including
the collar button. Most custom made and some moderately priced shirts have a
seven-button front. Men who are tall or have a larger build may want to look
for this feature. Otherwise, an extra button could be sewn on about 3 inches
below the waistband.
Care is influenced by fiber content, fabric structure, and garment
finishing. Check the care label for proper care and consider care
requirements of the product when purchasing.
Many people take shirts to commercial laundries for cleaning. Laundries
charge by the shirt and can return shirts either folded or on hangers.
Normally, customers specify if they want no, regular or heavy starch
depending on personal preference. Be aware that starch (used for cotton) or
sizing (used for polyester) is not completely removed in laundering. It will
build up over a period of time and could decrease wear life of the shirt.
Starch and sizing do give shirts a crisp appearance and provide some soil
Polyester/cotton blend shirts and 100% cotton shirts with wrinkle
resistant finishes are commonly available. These shirts can be laundered at
home with little or no need for ironing. As a result, most people prefer the
convenience and cost savings of home laundering.
To extend the wear life of tailored shirts and blouses and keep them
looking their best, here are a few tips to follow. Launder shirts
frequently, especially polyester blends and garments that might be affected
by deodorants or anti-perspirants. Polyester absorbs oily soils readily but
does not like to give them up. Yellowing can occur over time if soils are
not completely removed. Also, white shirts may grey over time if laundry
detergents build up, so thorough rinsing is important during the laundry
Anti-perspirants and deodorants as well as perspiration, itself, weaken
cotton fibers. Fabrics may turn yellow in affected areas and may actually
become brittle and tear. Launder garments soon after wearing to remove these
When laundering shirts or tailored blouses at home, read labels
carefully, especially if garments will be bleached. Chlorine bleaches cause
yellowing of white shirts that have optimal brighteners put on them to keep
them looking white. Also, finishes on interfacings and some permanent press
finishes are "chlorine-retentive" and cause similar yellowing. This problem
usually cannot be reversed.
Abrasion or rubbing occurs during wear. This is most noticeable at
collars and cuffs, especially on the wrist where the watch is worn. Pilling
is the formation of little fiber "pills" or fiber ends on the fabric
surface. Detergents are now available that virtually "eat," "digest" or
"remove" cotton pills. These detergents have a cotton symbol on the
container. If used regularly, shirts should retain a more pleasing
appearance, even with extended wear.
Shop carefully when looking for a tailored blouse or shirt. Consider
factors affecting quality, durability and care, but also remember appearance
and comfort. Clothing we do not feel good in, often hangs in the closet and
is not worn.
Also see Selecting