In some of our previous articles, we discuss many aspects of suits, tuxedos, dress codes, weddings, proper and casual business attire, accessories, and the best pieces of clothing to wear in formal settings. And while the tailored fit of a custom suit, tuxedo, or other ensemble is important in pulling off your best possible look in order to project sophistication, professionalism, and debonair finesse, the shirt you're wearing underneath your jacket can be just as vital. Considering the physical placement of a shirt, it is more or less the centerpiece of your outfit, and given the way in which human visual acuity functions, your shirt is likely the first article of clothing someone else will notice about you.
Many people purchasing suits and tuxedos for the first time automatically assume that any old dress shirt will do just fine with whatever outfit or jacket they choose. This is, of course, far from accurate. If you are well versed in dress codes and formalities, you have likely come across someone wearing a button-down collar with a tuxedo, or a wedding guest rocking a necktie with a wingtip collar. Out of politeness, no one will say anything about these things, but they will be chuckling to themselves, as these fashion transgressions can look quite out of place. But if you are the type of person who is not so familiar with the unspoken rules of proper attire, fear not, as we will be able to give you a thorough rundown of the different shirt styles, which ones pair best with different suits, and how to keep yourself looking professional, dapper, and fabulous for any event. As Enzo Custom offers a wide variety of dress shirts with different colors, front pleats, and collars, you'll be able to keep a wardrobe that is prepared to take on the world all by itself.
Types Of Dress Shirts
The easiest and most efficient way to divide dress shirts into categories is by the shirt collar. When it comes to shirt collars, there are more or less four distinct styles: forward-point, spread, band, and wing-tipped (or wingtip). Wingtip and band collars are usually considered to be the most recognizable, while forward-point and spread collars are more similar to each other and therefore harder to tell apart.
"So what really is the difference between the latter two?" you might be asking yourself. Well, forward-point collars have the collar points—or tips—pointed to the ground, while spread collars have tips that point away from each other in a more outward fashion. The difference is a subtle yet important one, and we will go into this in more detail as we examine different style guidelines for each shirt with different collar types. The subtleties and nuances between spread and forward-point collars can make or break an outfit depending on the level of formality of an event and even the color and structure of the suit itself.
Shirts can also be categorized by the bib, or the part of the shirt that covers the chest and surrounds the placket. This bib may be pleated, flat, ruffled, or indistinguishable from the material that comprises the rest of the shirt; in the latter case, a shirt like this would be considered to have no bib at all, as the material throughout the entire shirt is congruent. The presence of a bib is most common in black-tie and other formal settings where a tuxedo is expected, particularly on white shirts with a wingtip collar. This extra layer prevents other people from being able to see through the shirt, as the material on the back and the sleeves tends to be very thin. Shirts without bibs are far more common and versatile, and considering the variations between color choices, collars, cuffs, plackets, and tailored cuts, the design combinations are truly endless.
Shirts with a wingtip collar are generally worn only with a tuxedo. The bib can be pleated, flat, or ruffled, but as we mentioned earlier, ruffled shirts haven't been the norm for a while. These shirts—when paired with a tuxedo as they almost always are—should be worn with a bow tie made from silk, as that is the standard for a tuxedo. Considering the structure of a wingtip collar, it is best to only wear self-tie bow ties, as any hooks, zippers, or other fastening devices will be clearly visible, even with a jacket. Of course the general rule to follow is to always wear a self-tie bow tie when you need this particular piece of formal wear, and there are very few exceptions to this. A self-tie bow tie will always make you look better than a pre-tied one will, no matter what style of shirt you're wearing at the time. Two more things that we cannot stress enough are that a necktie is never to be worn with a wingtip collar, and that a bow tie should always rest in front of—not underneath or behind—a wingtip collar. Shirts with wingtip collars normally require cufflinks and studs, and the studs in the placket should usually match the cufflinks that hold the French cuffs together.
For all intents and purposes, shirts with a forward-point collar are going to be the most common not only for suits but also for everyday casual wear. These shirts generally do not have a bib (unless they were specifically meant to be worn with a tuxedo), come equipped with buttons sewn into the placket and cuffs, and can be paired with nearly any suit or worn by themselves. The collars may be button-down or require collar stays to keep the structure of the collar rigid and symmetrical throughout the day. Forward-point collars that require stays are considered more formal than button-down varieties. As far as neckwear goes, forward-point collars favor the necktie, although bow ties are occasionally worn with this type of collar. One rule to always be aware of is that bow ties or tuxedos should never be worn with button-down collars, and even wearing neckties or suits with this type of collar is sometimes considered too informal.
Forward-point collars generally have two variants: straight-point collars and button-down collars, as we mentioned above. Straight-point collars are pretty much universal in office settings, some formal events, and even certain casual endeavors. These collars are the more formal of the two. A necktie worn with a straight-point-collar shirt really has the potential to bring out your personal sense of style, and this can be done with or without a suit. Shirts with straight-point collars are by far the most versatile under the forward-point umbrella, as well as out of all the different shirt styles. A well-cut shirt of this type will look great on you no matter where you are. A white, pastel, or light blue will let your confidence shine through at the beach or at the office.
Button-down collars are less formal and more exclusive to shirts sold in America. While neckties can still accompany them, most people prefer to wear button-down collars without any neckwear. The collar points can either be long or short depending on one's own personal style preference, and a cotton dress shirt of this variety will be ideal for casual days at the office or informal evening gatherings. As another general rule, people tend to shy away from button-down collars when wearing a suit, but it would be perfectly acceptable for informal gatherings to wear one with a sport coat.
Spread collars are quite similar to their forward-point cousins, but the end points of the collar are faced in a more outward direction rather than pointing to the ground. In most cases shirts with these collars are considered more formal than forward-point ones. The collar's particular layout is ideal for neckties sporting the traditional Windsor knot and pair nicely with British- and Italian-style suits.
Semi-spread collars are not really much different, except that they seem to fall halfway between forward-point collars and the full spread style. In general, shirts with these collars are acceptable at all but the most formal events, and while most people wouldn't really be able to tell the difference between a normal spread and semi-spread, there is a measurable variation that should be considered if an event you are attending is more on the formal side.
If you want a dress shirt that is even more effective at showing off a prominent tie knot, you may want to consider something with a cutaway collar. This collar is similar to a standard spread, with the key difference being that a cutaway has an even wider spread. It is best to pair these dress shirts with a necktie, but some people still opt to proudly wear the collar by itself. The extra sharpness this collar provides is very subtle, but everyone will take notice if it's paired with a finely crafted custom suit.
While club collars are considered even more casual than button-down ones, we'll still give them an honorable mention. These are never worn with suits or neckwear, and this collar type is far more appropriate on the golf course than it is in the boardroom. In any event, shirts with a club collar can still look great for casual gatherings during the day.
There is some debate over whether or not a band collar can really be called a collar at all, as a shirt with a band collar is designed more like a T-shirt that buttons. A shirt of this type is considered informal, but some men have been known to wear one with a suit, so long as the shirt is fabricated from a material that is dressy enough. This is certainly considered a trendier look and is harder to pull off effectively, but a shirt with a band collar can pair nicely with a sport coat or a pastel suit that one could wear during the summer months. Common sense would also tell us that any sort of tie would look ridiculous with a band collar, but as we've seen our fair share of fashion faux pas given our collective years of experience, we will once again remind you of the obvious: Shirts with band collars require that you forego the neckwear altogether.
French cuffs are most often associated with shirts designed specifically for the tuxedo. However, this feature also makes appearances in shirt styles meant for suits from time to time. As most dress shirts have traditional button cuffs, shirts designed for tuxedos have French cuffs, or cuffs that are linked with separate pieces—or cufflinks—and protrude outwards rather than fold over each other. This is considered more formal than the button cuff, and this style variant serves as a formal option that pairs well with suits, especially those of the custom variety. Your choice in cufflinks for this type of dress shirt are pretty much infinite, and this extra piece of your ensemble can really allow you to show off your personal sense of style more so than what you could with a traditional button cuff that comes standard on most dress shirts directly off the rack. Dress shirts with French cuffs and a forward-point or spread collar can add a great deal of versatility to your wardrobe, as they can be used for both suits and tuxedos; you can even replace the buttons on the placket with studs to match your set of cufflinks for an even more formal appearance.
Many dress shirts come with no pockets, but there are also plenty of shirts with each collar type that are equipped with one or two breast pockets; in some rare cases, there may be more. The general rule to keep in mind about shirt pockets is that the fewer pockets there are on a shirt, the more formal it will be. Tuxedo shirts with wingtip collars, for example, have no front pockets at all. Some shirts with forward-point button-down collars have one on each side. Any pocket flaps also indicate that the shirt is intended for casual settings. So if you need a shirt to match your suit, it is best to opt for something with no pockets or one pocket, and certainly nothing with any pocket flaps.
While we are best known for our suits, tuxedos, and accessories, we also have a wide variety of custom dress shirts to choose from. If you want to get even more specific with your personal style, you can use our custom shirt builder to pick out your colors, collars, and cuffs to maximize and complement the overall aesthetic of your matching suit. If you feel more comfortable picking out your shirts and getting your measurements done in person, don't hesitate to visit one of our physical showroom locations where an Enzo Custom expert clothier will be happy to assist you.