Selecting Tailored Shirts and Blouses : Education Fact Sheet from Ohio State
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After you finish reading the research below, you may also want to learn about dress shirt fabrics on our fashion blog.  You can also visit our dress shirts page in our fashion product influence section. 

Probably would also be a good idea to read our how to pick a proper dress shirt article.

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:

  • fiber
  • fabric
  • finishes
  • construction or workmanship
  • size
  • styling for fit, comfort and appearance
  • care
Figure 1
Conventional Stitch Chain Stitch


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.

Figure 2
Bound Placket Shirt Placket

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% polyester.

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 resists soiling.

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.

Figure 3

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 shirt labels.

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.

Figure 4
Regular Spread Button down Tab

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 of seams.

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 style.


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.

Figure 5
Convertible French Barrel

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 or loss.

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 wrinkle.

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 men.

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 yoke.

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 by brand.

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 resistance.

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 process.

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 substances.

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 Blouse

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