Written by Tanya Zhang
The modern dress shirt serves as the foundation of menswear, namely, the suit and tie. However, dress shirts are also worn by themselves, which is why their fit is essential. We’ve all seen men wearing dress shirts that were either too big, too tight, or just right.
I want to focus on the latter, as a dress shirt that fits just right provides unparalleled appeal and comfort. My goal today is to teach you how to ensure that your dress shirt is precisely where you want it to be. So button up and join me as I show you how to achieve the perfect fit.
What Is Dress Shirt Fit and Why Does It Matter?
You’ve likely seen dress shirts in stores labeled as slim fit, classic fit, and skinny fit. The problem with these three options is that they simply aren’t enough to dress all of society. Our bodies have way too many differences that don’t adhere to three simple categories of clothing.
Sure, you might have a chest that’s similar to the next guy’s, but what about your arms, shoulder seams, neck, waist, and back? With so many values to consider, it’s important to understand what goes into getting the perfect fit.
At one time, the only way to ensure that your dress shirt fit is perfect is to have a tailor measure you and custom-make your clothing. While you certainly can still go that route if you want, the modern wonders of the internet have allowed for easier, less expensive options.
Since a dress shirt fit encompasses every part of your body that the shirt covers, you need to know what to measure and how to do it. So with that, let’s shift our focus to each area of the dress shirt.
Let’s start with the often overlooked armholes on dress shirts. Ideally, they should be as small as possible without restricting your arm movement. As such, you should be able to straighten your arms slightly. Therefore, you need to leave a little space in the armholes so that there is really no restriction when you pull it forward with the ability to move freely.
So, why is this type of fit important? If the armhole is too big, raising your arm will cause you to pull on shirt fabric around the waist, thereby untucking your shirt. If you’re wearing a jacket and decide to take it off, your dress shirt fit will look unattractive.
A simple remedy for this common problem is to make sure that you have proper armholes on your dress shirt. Still, there are other parts of the dress shirt fit that you need to account for, and in doing so, they all come together to provide the right fit.
Dress Shirt Sleeve Length
A fitted shirt has a high armhole, which allows your sleeves to taper to fit the shape of your arm without extra fabric. When closed, the cuff should reach the base of your thumb (there is some space here that allows for personal preference) for a correct sleeve length. Check out our guide on how to put on cufflinks.
On the chest, the arms should fill the sleeves of the shirt so as not to leave any excess fabric. If you have a size discrepancy caused by excess fabric on sleeves, it results in an unsightly appearance. Here's a guide on how to measure sleeve length.
Our favorite dress shirts with a correct sleeve length are from Nimble Made. This is this bestselling white dress shirt in a slim fit.
- Too Loose: The cuffs are so wide that they can easily slide over your wristwatch. What’s more, they also have enough space to place a few fingers between the fabric and your wrist. When arms rest on a flat surface (such as a table), creases or wrinkles appear in the fabric of the cuff. This means you need to use the buttons on the cuff to reduce or expand the size.
- Too Tight: You can’t take off the shirt sleeves without unbuttoning the cuffs (or snaps). The cuffs press on the skin around the wrist, making you feel as if they are squeezing your wrist. To fix this issue, you should choose a larger size.
- Just Right: The cuffs should fit snugly against the skin and leave space between the fabric and the wrist. Furthermore, the dress shirt can be easily put on and taken off without unfastening the cuffs, and there are almost no wrinkles. If you often wear a watch, it is best to adjust the cuff size to match your watch.
A tight chest width makes it difficult to move comfortably, whereas a loose chest width looks baggy and unappealing. Here's a guide on how to measure chest size properly. Remember, the key is to eliminate restriction while looking good at the same time. If you’re wearing a dress shirt, it’s safe to assume that you are in some degree of a formal setting.
As such, you want to make sure that you look your best at all times. Having a partially untucked dress shirt is not the look you’re going for.
Dress Shirt Yoke
The shoulder seam that runs between your shoulder blades is called the yoke; from one shoulder to the other. The reason this seam needs to be measured correctly is so that you have just the right amount of range for comfortable movement. Too much, and you will have a sagging yoke. Too little, and it’s hard to bend or stretch.
Shoulder Seams & Back
The seam between the sleeve and the body of the dress shirt fit should reach the upper shoulder area. Here's our guide on how to measure shoulder width. Brands that produce mass selections tend to cut their shirts too large, which they do to ensure that they can accommodate more people. The problem with this practice, however, is that you often see seams slip down the arms.
If the shoulder seam reaches the neck area, it means the shirt is too tight. This problem is often due to the shape of the armholes.
Neck and Collar - How tight should a dress shirt collar be?
When you lay the shirt flat, the neck circumference measures in inches, from the buttonhole to the button. This range of measurement is usually 14 to 18 inches. When you have the right measurement, the dress shirt collar fit should be easy to close, leaving room for two fingers. If you can fit any more fingers, the neck is too loose. If you can’t fit at least two fingers, the neck is too tight. This is how tight should a dress shirt collar be.
With that said, you can get away with having an imperfect collar size if you don’t plan on buttoning the top button. The neck and dress shirt collar fit is really only of absolute import if you wear a tie or bowtie.
To ensure that you buy a shirt with the kind of dress shirt collar fit you need, I recommend that you measure your actual neck size. To do this, simply use a fabric tape measure while standing in front of a mirror.
So let’s say your neck measured 16 inches around. Your first inclination is likely to buy a shirt with a 16-inch collar, right? It certainly makes sense, but oftentimes, you will end up with a collar that’s too tight. Why is that? Well, most clothing manufacturers tend to make their collars a bit larger than what they say.
For instance, I found 16-inch collars to often come out to 17 inches; 18-inch collars were 19 inches, and so on. Granted, this isn’t always the case. But it’s happened to me enough that I buy a size larger as a precaution if I am unable to physically measure the collar in-store.
Worst-case scenario, you can always measure the collar as I described above when you get home. If it’s bigger than what you need, you can always return the shirt and buy the proper size.
If this is all too much to figure out, Nimble Made is a slim fit dress shirt brand that measures their sizes using height and weight. Check out their fit guide to find your perfect slim fit and this guide on how to iron a dress shirt.
The chest should taper down to the waist on men’s dress shirts. Moreover, it should follow the contours of your body, leaving a clear line between the shirt and the pants. As a result, you won’t see any excess fabric when tucked into the shirt and pants. This is a full comprehensive guide on how to measure waist.
A comfortable-fitting shirt usually has two vertical darts on the lower portion of the back, allowing the shirt to taper near the waist.
Proper Dress Shirt Length
The hem of the shirt should be long enough to be comfortable inside and out. There are two ways to find this: The first way is to check when your shirt is both buttoned and untucked. A separate guide here on the best untucked dress shirts. The tail of your dress shirt should be just behind the back pocket of your pants.
The second method to judge whether your proper dress shirt length is appropriate is to tuck in your shirt. Upon raising your arms over your head, check to see whether the tail is popping out of your pants. If so, your shirt may be a bit short.
Let’s take a moment to look at some ways to tell if you have the right length.
- Too Short: When untucked, the bottom of the dress shirt barely covers your belt. When it’s tucked in, some parts of the hem are still exposed and may loosen when you move or bend your body. If this is the case, it’s time to start looking for a bigger size.
- Too Long: The tail of the shirt is long enough to cover or go past the crotch area. When it’s tucked in, you really have no other option but to tuck the excess fabric between your legs to avoid bunching. Go down a size or two for a closer match to your body or find shirts that fit shorter men better. Alternatively, you can have a tailor shorten the tail for an exact fit.
- Perfect: A proper dress shirt fit ends just a few inches below your belt line so that the shirt stays tucked in if you raise your arms. If your shirt is untucked, the hem should only cover your belt and no farther.
Waist and Chest
Most men have a different chest and waist circumference. Let’s assume for a moment that my chest measures 46 inches and my waist is 34 inches. That’s an 8-inch difference, which, in the world of menswear, is referred to as an 8-inch drop.
A proper dress shirt cut to this measurement is likely to look just right on you. Unfortunately, you can’t say the same for something you bought off the rack. If you want to reduce and gain the perfect fit, a tailor can use darts in the back. In doing so, the chest will remain intact without unwanted reduction.
This is a common practice that allows guys to achieve a comfortable, good-looking fit without having to spend a fortune on alterations.
Just remember, you can’t add fabric, but you can reduce it. For this reason, it’s best to buy a dress shirt with the proper chest and yoke. The waist may or may not be too wide. But if it is, it can be reduced quite easily and affordably.
Types of Dress Shirt Fit
All right, let’s talk fits. There are a few different types you’ll see in stores if you’re buying off-the-rack dress shirts. The most popular fit at present seems to be the slim fit. Depending on your body type, however, this might not be the best fit for you.
As such, you want to look into the remaining types of fit, which include the classic fit, the skinny fit, and the modern fit. I’ll discuss each type in greater detail below, so you’ll know what to expect from them.
As popular as they are right now, most slim-fit dress shirts can be uncomfortable if you're wearing the wrong size. The same is typically true for jeans, polo shirts, and dress pants. This is because the areas that you need proper tailoring are too tight to be worn without restriction.
When you bend or stretch, fabric pulls in places that you don’t want it pulling. Unless your body type is truly slim, I recommend that you avoid a slim-fit dress shirt and shoot for something a bit bigger.
You’ll find that these dress shirts have darts in the back to achieve their slim fit. This isn’t always advantageous, however, especially if you have a belly. You’re likely to have a bunch of unsightly wrinkles if your body type isn’t on the super-slim side.
However, if you are looking for a great slim fitted dress shirt, check out Nimble Made. They have an unique Actually Slim Fit that is the best slim fit we've seen.
Classic is your more traditional fit and is very spacious. It usually has large sleeves, large armholes, and plenty of fabric on the chest, waist, and hips. In the past, the classic version was popular for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it was great for manufacturers because it makes the body suitable for all types of people, whether thin, medium, or tall.
And secondly, shirts were seen as just another undergarment back in the day. As such, its fit didn’t really matter to people because it wasn’t often visible.
This tight-fitting model is especially popular with younger men, as they typically prefer very slim styles. Plus, the skinny fit appears to be the going trend presently, whether it’s this fit or the slim fit. I stand by my opinion on the slim fit, and that includes the skinny fit, too.
Neither are very flattering and look very unappealing on the wrong body. If you have a really thin body type, then by all means, go for it. You’re going to look great in skinny or slim-fit dress shirts. But anyone else outside of the thin category should steer clear
Since the slim fit is not suitable for many body types, the newer modern fit – which lies between the classic and slim fits – gives you the best of both worlds. From the armholes and sleeves to the chest and waist, every part of this dress shirt offers more space without causing discomfort and restraint.
And while there is indeed roomier fabric to live in, it never feels like there’s too much of it. The end result is a fine example of a well-thought-out addition to the various fits available to men.
What fit is best for you? Now that you know what to look for and where, you should have a much easier time choosing the right fit for your body type. Admittedly, I had to try out a few off the rack before landing on the best fit for me. With that said, I was still able to get a pretty nice fit that way.
But unless you plan on using an online tailoring service, be prepared for some trial and error. Even still, you’re going to enjoy a much nicer fit now that you understand what all of the different fit types mean. I hope you've enjoyed this guide on how should a button up shirt fit.
Frequently asked questions about how should a dress shirt fit
How do you know if a dress shirt fits properly?
A properly fitting dress shirt should have a comfortable and tailored fit, with no excess fabric or tightness across the chest, shoulders, and waist.
How do you know if a dress shirt is too big?
A dress shirt is likely too big if there is excessive fabric bunching or sagging around the chest, waist, and shoulders, and if the collar feels loose or creates noticeable gaps.
How far should a dress shirt hang?
A dress shirt should ideally hang to about mid to lower zipper level or just below the waistline, providing enough coverage without extending too far below the hips.
Where should dress shirt sleeves hit?
Dress shirt sleeves should hit at the base of the wrist bone or just slightly above it when the arms are hanging down by the sides, allowing for a slight break and the option to reveal a small portion of the cuff when wearing a jacket.