Your guide to made to measure men’s shirts

18 minutes read

A made to measure shirt is one of the key staple items in a man’s wardrobe. We know that investing in the right shirt can be overwhelming. We’ve covered all you need to know about Savile Row tailored shirts.

We’ve created a complete tailored shirt guide to make your decision simpler by taking you through everything you need to know before buying a made to measure shirt, taking you through the fabrics that will leave you looking hot while staying cool.

How did the shirt originate?

Shirts have been created in every conceivable fabric and colour from linen to cotton, silks and lace, and have been a wardrobe staple for men across the world for thousands of years.

There is no clear, linear history of the shirt. It has existed since ancient Egyptian times in some form as an item of light upper body attire with sleeves and a collar, either with a notched neck or fastened by a vertical line of buttons or laces and worn as the first (or sometimes second) layer of clothing.

For much of its history, vests and coats hid most of a man’s shirt and were designed with decorative cuffs and collars (often detachable or pulled over the garment underneath) and were made visible according to the frilly, or not so frilly, style of the time. In the 1700s, buttons replaced laces to fasten cuff slits and cufflinks then replaced buttons in the 1800s.

By the mid-1800s, George Bryan “Beau” Brummell had transformed the revolutionary’s ‘uniform’ of a combination of a white linen shirt with muslin cravat into the outfit de rigueur for men. However, with so much fabric on display, shirts needed regular – and expensive – laundering.  The fashion became more affordable with the creation of detachable collars and cuffs that could be cleaned more often.

The shirt underwent further modifications for practicality and style until World War One when the modern shirt with a fixed collar and cuffs became commonplace. By the 1960s the popularity of waistcoats began to wane, and the first pocket appeared on shirts.

Today, Alexandra Wood offers ready-to-wear, made to measure and bespoke shirts for all occasions that blend modern styles, high quality fabrics and colour trends with classic tailoring techniques.

 

Why are tailored shirts one of the most popular items that men wear?

Aside from ensuring one doesn’t leave the house naked, shirts and their many variations allow men to dress appropriately and show their personality every day. The tailored shirt has always served as a smarter option within a man’s wardrobe and can be either dressed up or down depending on you, the wearer.

Made to measure shirts are also incredibly versatile. They can be dressed up with a suit for business or formal occasions, or dressed down for casual wear with your cuffs rolled up and be worn with a pair of chinos.

They are a catch-all wardrobe item that is suitable for any occasion and takes the guesswork out of what to wear. Essentially, if in doubt, wear a shirt.

Most importantly, they are practical and comfortable. The more fitted designs are perfect for layering underneath waistcoats, jackets or sweaters. At the same time, looser casual styles in light fabrics will keep you cool in summer.

Men’s Tailored Shirt Fabrics

What should I look for when choosing a shirt fabric?

The most critical factor in choosing a tailored shirt should be the fabric. After all, the fabric dictates how formal or casual the shirt will look, how suitable it is for different occasions and how comfortable it will be in various weather conditions.

Firstly, try to avoid fabrics that claim they are ‘easy’ or ‘non-iron’. This label is something of a marketing ploy and simply means they are easier to iron than other fabrics. They often contain polyester or synthetic blends which don’t wear well, look cheap and don’t allow your skin to breathe. Pure cotton textiles in various weaves and textures, linen and bamboo, are far better options for comfort, durability and style.

What are the different types of shirt fabrics?

At Alexandra Wood, we use the highest quality fabrics available for all of our made to measure shirts, in pure, natural fibres. Depending on the season and the collection, the fabrics we use include:

Pima Cotton (also Super Pima)

Pima or Super Pima is soft as butter and feels incredible on your skin and is considered a luxury shirt fabric and also comes in a premium version – Super Pima. This type of cotton is grown in the USA and represents 1% of cotton grown in the world.  What makes it unique is the extra-long staple fibre that gives the cotton its premium properties, strength and softness along with its colour retention, allowing the design and pattern of a shirt really pop.

Chambray

Chambray is characterised by white threads running widthways (weft) to give it a slightly inconsistent appearance. This fabric is soft and is mainly worn in casual sense. Although, if you’re one for experimenting, chambray can work well with a cotton or cord suit, worn with or without a tie. From a simple, comfortable way to wear a shirt to a more dressier, more experimental way to wear the chambray shirt is left entirely to you as to how you prefer to wear your clothes.

Denim

Denim is made of cotton and is constructed like a twill with two different coloured threads (usually indigo and white). This means that the fabric inside is a different colour to the outside. The denim used for shirts is much softer and lighter than the version used for your favourite jeans and is perfect for winter. Denim works really well with contrasting fabrics such as a leather jacket. We tend to steer our customers away from choosing to do ‘double denim’.

Seersucker

Seersucker is recognisable by its puckered texture that promotes airflow. Seersucker is used to make light and airy summer shirts and comes in several colours, but the most popular is a blue and white stripe. Seersuckers qualities are that it is lighter than air and incredibly soft on the skin. This shirt is a great choice for a laid back weekend look or to travel or to take on holiday.

Poplin

Made from cotton, poplin is woven tightly for a smoother, crisp finish. Poplin is the most comfortable of shirt fabrics and is one of the most popular and practical of shirt fabrics. A lighter-weight, 100% cotton poplin in funky colours or patterns makes excellent casual wear shirts for summer. We advise choosing heavier-weight poplins if you’d like easier to iron shirts.

Linen

Made from the fibre of a flax plant, this loose weave fabric is synonymous with summer. It does crease easily which can be frustrating and look like you’ve spent the night in it. However, this is where linen/cotton blends are a popular choice for being able to have the cool, laid back look of linen without the overly creased look. Linen is for casual use only and is best suited for cruises or laid-back summer wear.

Oxford

This is a more substantial fabric than poplin with a subtle, dimpled texture. It is a stiffer fabric that isn’t necessarily soft on the skin, but it always looks structured and smart. A Pinpoint Oxford is made from a finer thread and a tighter weave. As it is slightly heavier, it makes for an ideal, everyday work shirt fabric. Although, personally we find it can be difficult to iron as it is a much drier cotton, making it crisp when washed and dried.

Royal Oxford

The Royal Oxford isn’t actually an Oxford at all. It has a distinctive shine and texture with a prominent weave and is mainly used for dress shirts.

Herringbone

Herringbone fabrics are made with a distinctive V-shaped weave pattern. This type of fabric tends to be weightier as the strong pattern requires more threads in the weave. It can look great but has the potential to be slightly dizzying on the eye.

Twill

Our favourite for shirts. This beautiful fabric is soft , with a subtle sheen and is made with a little diagonal weave that the eye can see. The heavier weight means it is warm, lasts a long time and is easy to wash and iron.

Cord or baby cord

Cord (or corduroy) is a soft winter fabric with raised ribs on the right (out) side of the fabric. The baby cord version is exceptionally soft and looks great with smart jeans or layered up and even worn open with a crisp white T-shirt. As with all of our items, we encourage you to experiment with your style.

Types of Fit for Men’s Shirts

What type of fit should I choose?

The fit of your made to measure shirt describes how close the fabric sits to your body. The cut of the fabric, seams and darts all contribute to the fit of the shirt. What fit you choose is entirely dependent on what makes you feel the most confident and comfortable. We run through each fit and which to choose to your personal preference:

Classic: This is a boxy fit and is likely what your father or grandfather wore to work. It allows for plenty of movement but does result in some excess fabric around the waist. It isn’t particularly flattering for leaner figures.

Regular This fit is a safe bet if you feel self-conscious in tighter styles or have a fuller figure. The regular straight up and down style allows movement but doesn’t cling to every muscle, lump or bump. It can drown exceptionally lean body types so purchase with caution.

Slim: This popular fit gives you a smart, streamlined look for work as it doesn’t leave an excess of fabric around the waistband of your trousers. Because the seams sit flush on your shoulders, your suit jacket will slip on easily. This fit does accentuate the top of the body so is best suited to men with leaner body shapes who are confident in their skin.

Super Skinny: These are a fashion look for the brave, and very toned. Like a slim fit shirt, the super skinny has two darts at the back to mould the shirt to your frame and often has a more generous amount of stretch than other fits. It isn’t for everyone but does well to highlight broad shoulders and narrow waists.

Relaxed: This fit is purely for casual use only. You’ll find this fit commonly in linen shirts for summer when you need room to breathe, and in thicker fabrics when worn over an exposed t-shirt. This style is more shapeless and won’t flatter as much as a shirt with some shape. It’s not one to choose if you are trying to appear slimmer.

Tapered: This fit bridges the gap between a regular and slim fit. The cut follows the natural decrease in width from the shoulders to the waist. It’s an excellent option for most body shapes and is more flattering than a relaxed or regular cut for larger men.

Our made to measure shirt designs create the perfect fit for you. We can make them slim fit or a little roomier, either way we always create tailored shirts which are cut to flatter with shape. You want room for movement, yet slim enough to flatter and shape your body where it makes the real difference. We use darts at the back to shape your back and slim sleeves with one pleat to remove any unnecessary fabric bunching up around your arms.

Each of our designs focus on comfort, style and fit along with impeccable fabrics that not only look good but also feel good.

Men’s Shirt Collars

Why do shirts have collars?

Collars are exposed above jackets, coats and waistcoats, and are design to protect your suit and sports jackets from sweat marks and grime. In years gone by when regular laundering was time-consuming and expensive, collars were detachable items that could be washed more regularly than the shirt’s body.

Furthermore, they also provide a layer of comfort for your skin against coarser coat and jacket fabrics.

There are many collar styles available today that define how formal or casual the shirt is and give you a chance to express your personality via patterned or coloured lining, spread and shape.

What are the different types of tailored shirt collars?

Collars come in an abundance of styles, thicknesses and heights to suit different fabrics, shirts styles and occasions.

Collars fall into three categories of thickness, or sturdiness:

  1. A firm or hard collar: This is used for more formal business occasions, black tie and weddings where a sharper look is needed, and a tie needs to be framed.
  2. A normal collar: This is ideal for men who want to balance formality and comfort. It has the feel of a soft collar but the look of a firm collar. We recommend using a collar stay for this type for when you wish to look more formal.
  3. Soft collar: This type is a little more laid back, and you’ll usually find it on casual shirts that don’t need to frame a tie and ideal if you’re a man who puts comfort over a formal look.

What collar style should I choose?

At Alexandra Wood we are always happy to advise you which collar best suits your face shape and body type, and the style of tie and tie knot you prefer.

Wing:

This is a firm, heavily starched collar with a stiff stand. The collar tips stand up and point horizontally, creating the appearance of wings. It is reserved exclusively for formal occasions with a tuxedo and bow tie. It has become less popular over the years with men opting for a more comfortable Windsor collar.

Kent (also called a point or Windsor):

The Kent is used to create a classic look (think Mad Men). As the name suggests, the collar tips are narrow, pointing downwards to create a spread around 3” apart. The Kent can lengthen a wearers face and works with a classic width tie, with wither a half or full Windsor knot.

New Kent (also called a spread):

The New Kent collar is more modern than a point collar. The collar tips point further out. As the distance between the collar points is further apart than a classic point collar, it can accommodate a wider tie knot.

London:

This collar has very narrow straight collar points. It’s quite a fashion look and can be worn with or without a very skinny tie.

Tiny:

This style has a shorter collar stand and shorter collar to create a laid back, casual look. You’ll find these in our pique shirt range.

Cutaway:

A cutaway collar is an extreme form of Kent or spread collar where the collar points finish 6 3/8” apart. It can accommodate wide ties and tie knots and makes more of a statement than a basic spread collar.

Button Down:

This style uses buttons to fasten the collar points to the shirt. It was initially used exclusively for sports shirts until the 1950s when it became popular for business and casual use.

Tab collar:

The tab collar is designed to showcase a tie. It features a small strip of fabric with a press stud that brings the collar points together. The tie then sits prominently above this strip. The tab does reduce the space between the collar points so wear a narrow tie and knot with this collar.

Penny (also called a Club):

The penny collar’s softer, rounded lines give it a youthful, relaxed look so is often found on casual shirts. Best worn without a tie, it works well on soft, thick fabrics.

Hidden buttons:

Hidden buttons are a more subtle option than a button-down as the buttonholes are hidden on the collar’s underside. You get the benefits of a fixed collar with the button-less collar style’s more formal appearance.

Pinned:

A pinned collar is a dressy option with a small round hole on either side of the collar to hold a decorative collar pin. The pin is passed under the tie knot to hold the collar together and push the tie knot forward.

Nehru collar:

The Nehru collar was inspired by, and named after, the former Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s clothing. The collar stands straight up from your shirt or jacket but does not have leaves. It has slightly rounded edges which don’t quite meet in the middle.

Grandad:

A casual collar, the grandad is smaller than a Nehru collar and has a collar stand that sits flat at the base of your neck.

What is a collar stand, and why is the height of the stand significant?

The ‘stand’ is the band of fabric that supports the collar to help it ‘stand up’. The ‘leaf’ is the fabric that falls from the stand, the shape of which determines the style of the collar.

The stand’s height measures how high the shirt collar sits on your neck from the where it folds into the leaf to the point. The taller the collar stand, the more formal the shirt, and the stiffer the collar will be.

Why do I need to wear collar stays?

Collar stays prevent your shirt collar from drooping and the collar points from curling and allow your made to measure shirt look far sharper. Our preference is our own magnetic, aluminium collar stays.

They are strips made of plastic, wood or metal that are rounded at one end and pointed at the other and sit in a specially designed pocket under your collar.  The lighter-weight plastic versions are often sewn in; however, they aren’t firm and eventually damage the points when the shirt is ironed.

Removable collar stays are by far the best, particularly ones that use a magnet on the stay’s underside to keep your collar crisp and straight.

We believe that collar stays are an important way to care for your tailored shirts and show the world that you know how to dress. They elevate your look from “thrown together” to “thoughtfully designed”.

Men’s Shirt Cuffs & Sleeve Details

What type of cuff design should I choose?

There are many different cuffs types, but we find that the following three styles offer enough style combinations and flexibility for even the most particular client.

Single cuff

The single, or button cuff is the most common and versatile cuff and can have between 1 and 3 buttons.  You can style the two edges that face  in three different ways:

  • Straight: as the name suggests the two sides of the cuff meet to create a seamless line around the wrist.
  • Bevelled: straight bevels at the top corner of both cuff edges create a triangular notch when the cuff is closed.
  • Curved: the top corners of both cuff edges are curved to create a soft look with a shallow notch between the edges.

How tight the fit is will determine whether you can fit a watch underneath your shirt and still be able to pull your shirt sleeve back to see the time. Cuff tightness is purely a personal preference but one that you definitely need to consider.

Double cuff

The double, or ‘French’ cuff is a dressy option best reserved for formal business meetings or evening events. The large, stiff cuff folds over to hide the bottom seam closest to the sleeve. The two inside edges of the cuff are pressed together and secured using cufflinks.

The double cuff has faded in popularity for business wear, despite a revival around the time Mad Men aired and isn’t as flexible stylistically as a single cuff. However, if you love adding personality to your outfits using cufflinks and want to show off a sharp suit, a double cuff is ideal.

Just like the single cuff, there are a few key variations to the top edge of the double cuff:

  • Straight: as the name suggests the two sides of the cuff meet to create a seamless line around the wrist.
  • Bevelled: bevels at the top corner of both cuff edges create a triangular notch when the cuff is closed.
  • Curved: the top corners of both cuff edges are curved to create a soft look

Vienna (convertible) cuff

This style gives you the best of both worlds. It features a single cuff design with square corners that folds back so you can wear cufflinks or buttons, depending on the occasion.  They are less common in ready-to-wear styles, but they are worth considering if you have a custom shirt made.

What should I know about sleeves?

You probably haven’t considered your sleeves’ design, but it is a feature worth some consideration as they can completely change the overall aesthetic of your tailored shirt.

Armholes:

The position of your sleeves relative to your body is an important comfort factor. Too low and the bottom of your shirt will rise when you lift up your arms. Too high, and the shirt will be restrictive and tight under the arms.

Pleats:

Tailors use pleats to taper the fabric from the sleeve into the cuff, so you don’t have a balloon of material around your arms, but still have room to move.

Single pleats

These aren’t common but look clean and work well for men with thin to average builds who prefer a slimmer cut. We use this style on our ready to wear shirts to offer a clean, crisp look.

Double pleats

Double pleats are the most common design and give the wearer ample movement without looking baggy.

The Back of a Man’s Shirt

Why are darts placed at the back of a man’s shirt?

Back darts are two straight seams placed on either side of the back of a dress shirt. They may start at the yoke or run from near the shirt’s hem up to the armholes.

Darts give shape to a shirt to flatters the body and provide the wearer with a better fit, particularly around the waist.

Slim and super skinny fit shirts usually have darts; however, some men choose to buy a classic-fit shirt and have them added.

Our made to measure shirts offer a combination of shaping in the seams and back darts to create a cut that flatters all body shapes.

What are back pleats?

Back pleats in the shirt’s centre make it easy for the wearer to move his arms without vast amounts of loose fabric.

What is a shirt yoke?

The yoke is a horizontal piece of fabric that sits on the shoulders between the shirt’s body and the collar.

The yoke can be made of a single piece of fabric (a one-piece yoke) or made of two fabric pieces sewn together with a vertical seam in the centre of the shirt (a split yoke).

Split yokes are harder to create but give the wearer more comfort and stretch.  High quality woven cotton fabrics don’t offer much leeway horizontally or vertically but will stretch diagonally. Using a split yoke, the tailor can rotate the pieces of cloth diagonally and sew them together to give the shirt some stretch across the shoulders. The fabric for a single yoke isn’t turned, so it’s far less comfortable when you are driving, tying your shoes or picking something up off the floor.

Why do you need different types of shirt hems?

Shirt hems are another good indicator of whether the shirt is for casual, business or formal wear, and whether or not you should tuck it in. You’ll need to look out for the following features:

Tails

Tails describe the rounded hems that finish lower than the side seams. If a shirt has tails, you must be tucked it in.

Gussets

The gusset on a shirt is a small piece of triangular fabric sewn at the highest point between the two shirt seams near the hem. Not all shirts will have them, but they provide re-enforcement to the shirt’s hem to make it more durable. They are also a great way to add some personality to straight-hemmed shirts by using contrasting or patterned fabrics.

Side seam vents

In place of gussets, the shirt hem may have vents – or reinforced slits in the side seams – to prevent the shirt from pulling when you tuck it in.

What different types of shirt hems are there?

Classic or rounded hem

As the name suggests, this hem has softly rounded towards the seams and can feature a gusset.

The back and front hems are longer than the sides to make it easier to keep the shirt tucked in. Many ready-to-wear brands are shortening rounded hems on dress shirts to save fabric. This increases the likelihood that your shirt will become untucked during the day and makes you look slovenly. With a tailored shirt, the joy is that you have your shirt made to your exact specification.

Straight hem

You’ll mostly find straight hems on more casual shirts which are worn un-tucked. Should you try to tuck this style in, you’ll find it rises out of your trousers very quickly. Be aware of the shirt’s length if choose a straight hem – too short and you’ll look out of proportion, too long, and it will look like you forgot to tuck it in.

Polo Hem

A polo hem is straight on both the front and back; however, the back tail is one inch longer than the front. This hem has vents (reinforced slits) in the seams, rather than a gusset.

What length shirt should I buy?

Together with the hem style, the shirt’s length helps you determine whether or not you need to tuck it in, and whether you should wear it with trousers, shorts or both.

As mentioned before, tuck in any shirt that has tails. For a shirt to tuck in neatly, the hem should sit at the point where your thighs meet your buttocks, or slightly below.

If you want to wear a shirt untucked, and don’t want to look like you’ve paired a business shirt with your favourite jeans, the hem should sit on your hip, or midway down your fly.

When shirts come to the mid-hip you can pair them with tailored shorts, but any longer and the look simply doesn’t work.

Stitching & Detailing on Men’s Shirts

Why are stitching design and density important for men’s shirts?

Why use stitching at all? The stitching you see around the edges of the fabric is for both reinforcement and decoration. The stitching you see on the outside of a shirt: strengthens the seams; smooths the appearance of the seams; and protects fabrics that have stretch to them.

Stitching density refers to the width of the stitches on visible seams. Generally, the higher the density (or smaller the stitch’s size), the higher the quality of the garment. Fine stitches strengthen the garment and help it keep its shape. We believe that 1mm stitching makes all the difference and use it for formal and business shirts for a minimal, effortless look. Wider stitches, usually 5mm, are more appropriate for casual shirts with chunkier fabrics.

The distance that the line of stitching sits from the edge of the fabric is also a design choice which can determine how casual or formal the shirt is.  Most business shirts have a margin of 8mm, while dress shirts are likely to have 1mm or 2mm stitches to create a more elegant look.

When looking at the stitching on a shirt with patterned fabric, pay attention to ensure that the pattern matches up across the seams so that your eye isn’t distracted.

Should I have my initials monogrammed on my shirt?

Men originally had their initials embroidered on their tailored shirts as an identifier when large groups of shirts were washed together at a laundry.

Most men don’t have to worry about having their laundry going missing so monogramming is no longer a practical consideration. However, some men like to have their initials discreetly embroidered on the placket at the very bottom of the shirt. In contrast, others want to make a statement by having their initials prominently on the cuffs or breast pocket.

What’s important to understand is that this type of detailing is purely for stylistic preference, doesn’t indicate the quality of a shirt.

Why do some shirts have contrasting prints or colours on the trims?

Using contrasting prints or colours for trims on the collar, cuffs, or placket is a great way to show your personality without committing to a brighter colour or pattern. It works particularly well if you don’t plan on wearing a jacket.

You’ll find contrasting trims on ready-to-wear shirts, but if you have a specific idea in mind, made-to-measure is the way to go.

Should I opt for natural or plastic buttons?

Traditionally, dress shirts featured real mother-of-pearl buttons; however, these are expensive, so many shirts use plastic unless specified and you pay a little more.

You’ll often find summer shirts with buttons made of wood or coconut shell, and winter shirts with metal buttons.

At Alexandra Wood, we use only natural buttons, including mother of pearl.

Why does the last buttonhole on a shirt run horizontally?

You might have noticed this little quirk on the bottom of your shirts. A horizontal buttonhole is known as the tension button where the angle is opposite to the buttons above. This helpful invention stops the shirt from pulling due to our bodies twisting as we walk, which can destroy the fabric.

This buttonhole is often created with a contrasting thread, but can’t see it once the shirt is tucked in.

You may also see this on the top buttonhole for the same reason, but to prevent stress on the fabric when turning your head and wearing a tie.

Why do some shirts have pockets?

The trend of placing a pocket on the front of the shirt originated in America. Historically, pockets indicated a more casual shirt style but became popular to store pens, calculators and other tools while working.

While they may be practical for manual jobs, when you have pockets on business shirts, they tend to attract leaky pens so are best avoided. It should go without saying that they definitely aren’t suitable for formal shirts.  They can, however, add flair to casual denim shirts if done well. For us at Alexandra Wood- we’re not keen and are all about clean lines and a flattering cut.

How to choose a made to measure shirt

If you’re a standard shape and find that ‘off the peg’ shirts tend to fit you well then ready-to-wear is an excellent option. However, for the most part we’ve found that this isn’t the case. From slim to larger men, the shirt seems to be the trickiest item to buy for men.

Discover more about tailored shirts here at Alexandra Wood.

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