MANual of Style

Lesson 10: Shirts by Shreyas
28 January, 2010, 8:15 pm
Filed under: Casualwear | Tags: , , , , , , ,

In this unit, we’re going to break down casualwear into specific items of clothing and talk about them in some detail. Let’s start at the top, with shirts.

There are three basic types of shirts: tee shirts, collared shirts, and pullovers (sweaters and the like). Any of these shirts can be casual. There are formal versions of each as well; how do you tell the difference? In a lot of cases, the difference is what you wear them with—that is to say, you can dress the item up or down, as we discussed in the intro.


Tees are the most casual shirt, and there are a lot of different types to choose from.

The basic crew-neck is probably somewhere in everyone’s wardrobe. It’s safe and reliable. Fitted correctly, the shoulder seam should land just at the point of your shoulder and the hemline at the bend of your hip, as on the model. Be sure it’s long enough; check by trying on the shirt and raising your arms straight overhead. If it rides up and exposes your belly, it’s too short. It pays to shop around for tees with the right proportions; if you’re particularly narrow-shouldered you will need to find adequately narrow, long shirts to get the shoulder seams to fit right; a shirt that’s overly wide will make you look small-armed and boxy.

Raglans and baseball tees have a diagonal shoulder seam that ends at the collar. They put a lot of emphasis on the chest and shoulders, particularly if the sleeve color has a lot of contrast with the body color. If you’re narrow in the chest and torso, you’ll want the brighter color on the body section; if you’re wider, then go for raglans with bright sleeves and a darker body. Baseball shirts always have three-quarter length sleeves, which is great if you have nice arms, but otherwise tricky. However, raglans are also available in full- and short-sleeve versions, so experiment and see which works best for you. Note that the hem of a raglan is usually a little longer than a crewneck of similar size; this, along with the longer sleeve length, may make raglans a superior choice if you’re overweight and concerned about those particular areas.

Henleys and v-necks are designed to draw the eye up to the face, while also exposing a little bit of skin. (The one above is a pretty heavy knit, and you could conceivably treat it as a pullover, but the details at the neckline, hem, and cuffs make it an ideal example of this genre.) Henleys can read more formal than raglans and crew necks, but the V effect is nice on a casual short-sleeved tee as well. I highly recommend these for anyone with visible collarbones (girls love collarbones), but consider your chest hair when choosing a low neckline—if it’s very prominent, it’ll create a focal point that keeps the eye from going to the face. I’m not saying you should all wax your chests here, but for the more hairy among us, it’s always an option.

While we’re on the subject, I’d also like to warn you off the extremely low v-neck that goes past, say, the midpoint of the sternum. Unless you’re built like an underwear model, it looks like particularly sloppy sleepwear.

Collared Shirts

We discussed collared shirts in passing in the intro, as something that’s easy to dress up or down. Collared shirts that are inherently casual tend to have bolder patterns, decorative details, and less traditional construction. Many of them are designed for rolling the sleeves up—they have contrasting cuff linings that may match a contrast collar. (Note that the white-collared, white-cuffed pastel shirt is actually a formal item, for historical reasons. Back in the day, shirts were made with detachable collars and cuffs, and when the original parts wore out they were often replaced with white rather than attempting to match an aged fabric of unpredictable color.) Rolling up the sleeves to three-quarter length, or up to the elbow, is a common way to dress down a more formal shirt.

Layering a shirt and a tee can be an effective way of adding color and interest, but keep these things in mind: If you wear the shirt unbuttoned, it hangs straight down and does no good for your silhouette, and regardless of how you wear it, more layers add more bulk to your figure. If you’re layering, try to use a well-fitting tee made of pretty thin fabric.

Polo shirts (and their cousins, like the rugby shirt) are about as casual as tees. Because of their athletic roots, these shirts are usually cut for strong, lean figures and aren’t particularly forgiving, so wear with care.


The casual pullover—sweatshirts, hoodies, sweaters, cardigans, fleeces—should be worn with something underneath, thus the term “pullover.” Since it’s a top-layer item, you should always try these on with the appropriate kind of shirt underneath, and you might end up buying a size up from your t-shirt size when you do. That’s to be expected; pullovers need to be larger to accommodate the clothing underneath, and if they fit well they won’t make you look any bulkier.

I find that pullovers that display a lot of the lower layer, such as cardigans with low necklines, half-zip sweaters, and so on, are easier to combine with other clothes if they’re a neutral or one of the key colors of your wardrobe.

Fabric is a lot of what separates the casual pullover from the less casual. A finely knit cashmere sweater can be dressed up quite a bit more than a cable-knit fisherman’s sweater, and there’s no hope to dress up a jersey hoodie. Most solids are easier to dress up than most patterns; however, stripes and argyle are a little more formal than most patterns, especially when they’re in subtle colors.

That’s all for today. Join us on Saturday for some of my favorite shirts.


3 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Shreyas, have you talked about different kinds of collars on shirts yet? I may have missed it, and I’m curious as I’m thinking of getting a shirt made up, and trying to figure out what the wardrobe consequences of eg a button down versus a semi- or full-cutaway.

Comment by Alex F

Alex, I’m going to get there in the formalwear section, but for a starter, play around with IndiTailored's shirt builder. It has some brief but maybe useful descriptions along with helpful images to compare and contrast.

Comment by Shreyas

Thanks Shreyas!

Comment by Alex F

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