To tuck or not to tuck; that is the ultimate question when it comes to men’s dress shirts. You would think that guys don’t need to be told when to tuck in their shirts, but you would be surprised. We have seen many a man walking around in a billowy, untucked shirt that looks like a circus tent draped around them.
Moreover, there are a lot of men who just don’t know how to tuck in their shirts correctly. They have no system so they spend a lot of time adjusting and retucking their shirt through the day. There are also some times where a guy is tucking a shirt that is clearly meant to be untucked.
So we put together this comprehensive article on tucking in shirts. We will cover the anatomy of great-looking slim dress shirts that can be untucked, what kinds of shirts need to be tucked in, and techniques for making sure your tucked shirts stay put all day without the need for readjusting.
Should I Tuck My Shirt In or Not?
As a very general rule of thumb, you can tell whether your shirt is supposed to be tucked in by looking at the hem. Is the hem of a shirt even or does it change shape around the sides of the shirt? If the shirt has an even hem, then you can be pretty sure it was made to be worn untucked.
If the shirt is uneven around the hem or has tails, then it most likely is designed to be worn tucked in at the waist. This is a general rule of thumb though and whether you should tuck in a shirt can depend on several parts of the shirt. However, you can always shop for dress shirts which look and work great both ways.
First, let’s talk about important parts of shirt anatomy. The design of these parts can tell you whether a shirt will look good tucked in or not.
The hem is the bottom line of the shirt that sits around your zipper and pocket line when worn. The shape and size of the hem can give clues as to whether it’s meant to be worn tucked or untucked. If the hem is even around the sides and a consistent shape, then it most likely is meant to be worn untucked. You can also tell if it’s meant to be untucked if there are small slits near the sides of your hips. These slits are meant to give the shirt some flexibility when you bend over or sit down.
Alternatively, if the hem is uneven and not straight, or it has a longer tail than the front, then it most likely is meant to be tucked in. You can get away wearing an uneven hem untucked, but the shirt needs to be the right size. If it’s too long it will just look billowy and oversized. If it’s too short, it will look disproportionate. This is especially important if you like athletic fit dress shirts.
The placket of a shirt is the line where the buttons and buttonholes are placed. In general, this part of the shirt is made with multiple layers of fabric. The placket starts at the neckline and continues down the shirt to the bottom of the hem. Plackets that do not have this double-layered design and instead have a simple folded edge are called French plackets.
In general, if a shirt has a thick and rigid placket, then it is most likely meant to be tucked in. This is most obviously seen with the thick placket that is found on most types of classic-style dress shirts.
The straight lines give a nice, put-together look and the line naturally fits the symmetry of tucking your shirt in. In contrast, if a shirt has French plackets, then it probably is meant to be worn untucked. It is important to realize that some styles of dress shirts have a French placket and are still meant to be tucked in.
A pleat is a section of clothing where the fabric is folded back on itself and tightened, The purpose of pleats is to give clothing shape. The most common place for shirts to have pleats is right around the shoulder blades and back, which is often called the yoke of the shirt. There are two major kinds of pleat designs: rear side and box pleats. Rear side pleats are situated right below the shoulders on either side and provide a bit more flexibility.
The center box pleat features two pleats right in the center of your shoulder blades, which creates a rectangular strip down the center of the shirt. This pleat also extends the range of motion for the shirt. In general, if a shirt has rear side pleats or center box pleats, then it most likely is designed to be tucked in. The placement of the pleats is meant to create a more tapered shape when the shirt is tucked in around the waist. These two types of pleats are usually considered more formal and are common options for suits and cocktail attire.
In contrast, shirts with no back pleats can either be tucked in or not tucked in. It depends on the exact style of the shirt. There are some fitted dress shirts with no back pleats that should be tucked in and more casual shirts with no back pleats that do not need to be tucked in. If the shirt does not have pleats, then check the hem and placket for clues on whether to tuck it in as it could go either way.
You can also tell whether a shirt is meant to be tucked in based on the material that it is made out of. Thicker, more durable materials such as denim, wools, or flannel button-downs are typically not meant to be tucked in as the fabric can bunch and wrinkle easily or it does not flex as easily. In contrast, a material like broadcloth or cotton poplin is a sign that a shirt needs to be tucked in.
Broadcloth is an unbalanced plain-weave fabric and has a characteristic weight and luster to it. Broadcloth has a velvety texture so it is often used for dress shirts and suits.
Poplin is another common material used for shirts that need to be tucked in. Poplin is a smooth weave fabric that has a soft, crisp texture that makes it lightweight and breathable. Poplin handles being tucked in well because it is lightweight, flexible, and can be ironed to get a very clean, crisp look.
What Kinds of Shirts Need to Be Tucked In?
Here is a quick list of the kinds of shirts that generally need to be tucked in:
And here are other shirts that generally do not need to be tucked in:
- Polo shirts (can go either way)
- Rugby shirts
- Short-sleeved button ups
- Undershirts (unless wearing with dress shirt)
- Sleeveless shirts
- Breton tops
These are all just guidelines and do not need to be followed in every circumstance. Sometimes it will be appropriate to tuck a t-shirt in, depending on what you are wearing with it. Other times flannel can be worn untucked, depending on the quality of the flannel.
Other Factors for Tucking In
Aside from shirt anatomy and the type of shirt, here are some more clues that a shirt needs to be tucked in.
Shirt length is a clear indicator of whether a shirt needs to be tucked in. If a shirt does not go past your belt, then it is just too short in general. If the shirt falls below your crotch, then it is definitely too long to wear untucked.
The sweet spot for an untucked shirt is below your belt but above the bottom of your zipper. Either way, pay attention to the hem of the shirt or more clues on whether it needs to be tucked in. Some shirts like a Guayabera shirt are designed to hang a little bit lower without being tucked in so make sure you understand the style of the shirt. Here's a full guide on how a dress shirt should fit.
Chest and Waist
Most casual shirts are not tapered at the waist and have a relatively straight fit through the entire vertical length. So if a shirt is not tapered around the waist, then it most likely is not meant to wear tucked in. However, shirts that are narrower around the waist than the chest are usually meant to be tucked in to accentuate the upper body. Either way, the shirt should fit snugly around the chest without being too tight and pulling too close to the skin.
Simply put, you should not keep your shirt untucked for formal events unless it is a special form shirt that is specifically made to be worn untucked, like the Guayabera shirt. If the dress code is formal or semi-formal, then that shirt needs to stay tucked in the entire time. So for example, if you are at a wedding, the dress code will almost always require a tucked-in shirt, no exceptions.
How to Tuck in a Shirt
Even if you know you are supposed to have your shirt tucked in, it’s not much good if you don’t have a good system for tucking in your shirt and making sure it stays there.
This method is the most common and surefire way to make sure that your shirt stays tucked in for the long haul through the day. The method is simple and involves hiding excess fabric that might balloon around your waist. First, grab the shirt by the edges and pull it out so it is taut around your midsection. Then, crease and fold the fabric back in on itself, creating a small fold. Then tuck the shirt in, making sure the fold lines up with your hips. The crease is hidden by the curve of your hips so it gives the shirt a tapered look that slims your waist.
The military tuck is especially useful if you have a dress shirt that might be a little bit too big around the waist. The fold and tuck method hides the extra fabric while still giving you plenty of space to move around. It also matches well with shirts that have a box pleat around the back because they help create a distinct triangular shape to your back. The only downside of this method is that it can come out through the day and you might need to periodically readjust it.
The underwear tuck is another common shirt tucking method that allows you to wear an undershirt without that annoying bunching that can happen when you tuck in the top layer. With the underwear tuck, you tuck the undershirt into your underwear first then tuck your shirt into your trousers like normal. This method will keep your undershirt smooth and remove any visible lines. The cleaner separation of fabrics will help you avoid that annoying muffin-top appearance that can happen when
The underwear tuck also reduces the friction between the shirt layers, which gives you more freedom and flexibility to move around.
The classic method of tucking your shirt is to just unzip your pants, put the tails in, then zip your pants back up. This method works best when you have a form-fitting shirt with no pleats around the back. It allows the shirt to sit naturally around your body and produces relatively little bunching or folds. The main problem with this kind of tuck though is that unless the shirt is fairly fitted, then there might be some extra fabric you will have to deal with. In those cases, your best option is to opt for the military tuck to hide that extra fabric. If you try this method with a shirt that opens out at the waist, then you will get some weird bunching and that dreaded ballooning effect.
This method requires an extra accessory so it might not be an option for everyone, but a decent pair of shirt stays can solve your shirt tucking woes. Shirt stays attach to your socks and hem of your shirt, pulling it down to make sure it stays tucked in no matter how you move. Shirt Stays are usually made from a stretchy elastic material with metal clips on the sides.
The downside to shirt stays is that not everyone has them and some people might find them uncomfortable to wear for extended periods of time. Also, the metal pincers and pulling action can stretch your socks out of shape if they are not thick enough. However, they do an excellent job of keeping your shirt tucked in no matter what position you find yourself resting in.
High Rise Pants
Another way of ensuring that your shirt stays tucked in is by wearing a pair of high rise pants. These kinds of pants come up above your hips and sit higher on your waist. Shirts can be tucked deeper in pants, making sure that they do not slip out when you move around. Be careful with high rise pants though as if your shirt is still too big, then it can accentuate any ballooning from excess fabric.
Shirt Tuck FAQ
- When should I tuck my shirt in?
- If your shirt has a straight hem that is even around the length then odds are it’s meant to be worn untucked. This includes styles like t-shirts, short-sleeve button-ups, sleeveless shirts, Breton tops, and other casual shirts. Shirts that have an uneven hem or long tails need to be tucked in.
- How long should a shirt be to wear untucked?
- If you decide to wear your shirt untucked, then it needs to be sitting between your belt and below your crotch. Any lower and you will start to lose the profile of your legs. Any shorter and your stomach might be exposed every time you reach up.
- Can I wear a shirt untucked in formal settings?
- In almost all cases, no, wearing a shirt untucked at a formal occasion is a no-go. Of course, there are exceptions depending on the specific event or other special rules of dress, but in general, you should keep your shirt tucked in for formal events.
- What is the most effective tucking method?
- In our opinion, the best tucking method for everyday wear is the military tuck. It holds well and reduces ballooning around the waist while keeping your profile slim.
- Do I absolutely have to tuck a shirt in?
- Even if your shirt is designed to be worn tucked in, that doesn’t mean you have to. It’s not like the fashion police will arrest you or anything. Depending on your style keeping an uneven hemmed shirt untucked could complement a look. It all comes down to creativity and expressing your personal style.
So there you have it, the basics of tucking in shirts. You would be surprised how many guys don’t know these simple rules about tucking shirts in and how many bad looks it has caused. When the question is whether you should tuck in your shirt or not, the answer depends on the kind of shirt and the formality of the event. If the shirt has an uneven hem, then tuck it in. If it's uneven, leave it out. And if the event is supposed to be formal, you should keep the shirt tucked in, pending special exceptions. At the end of the day though, you should do whatever feels most natural with the outfit you are wearing.