Ah, the humble shirt. For many, a shirt has the impact to make or break an outfit. There’s fit to consider, of course, but it’s also the way in which one wears the shirt. Are you going formal? Informal? Relaxed? A shirt, more often than not, dictates the tone of your overall outfit. For better or for worse.
The best way to think of a shirt is as a blank canvas for the rest of your outfit. It shouldn’t compete with your accessories (okay, we make an exception for Hawaiian shirts) and it shouldn’t confuse the occasion. You wouldn’t wear a tanktop to a summer wedding, now would you?
There are a few staple shirt styles that every guy should own. I broke it down from least to most formal, with a few suggestions to spruce up your closet a bit.
Least Formal: The Plain White Tee
Nothing, and I mean nothing, beats throwing on a white t-shirt and a pair of jeans and walking out the door. I feel a bit badass when I’m most casual, with no layers to hide behind and trying my best to channel James Dean while I’m at it. A plain white tee has the appeal of allowing you to have a bit of a uniform and keeping it simple.
Some guys may be a bit self-conscious in this simplicity, opting for more layers to hide any midsection weight. But, trust me: if you find the proper fit for your body, you’ll look great no matter your size. For a t-shirt, try to aim for a slightly fitted silhouette that tapers toward the belly and gives a little more room in the chest. This will trick the eye into thinking there’s a defined pectoral, giving you the appearance of a slimmer stomach. And as a bonus when you’re looking to spruce things up, a plain white t-shirt is just about the best option for laying one can have.
Buck Mason Slub Curved Hem Tee
The reason that Buck Mason’s shirts remain at the top of most menswear lists is because they are just the best. This one is no exception. What I first noticed about this tee is that it has sizes for short, standard, and tall – giving options more in-line with a suit jacket than a simple t-shirt. Secondly, the weight of the shirt and soft tailoring gives a subtle drape on the torso and will compliment many body types. And with prewash finish, it’s as comfortable as some of your favorite second-hand tees that you sleep in.
Uniqlo Supima Cotton Crew Neck Short Sleeve T-Shirt
We’re big fans of Uniqlo’s simple, everyday basics (they topped our list of best plain t-shirts last year, too). The Supima cotton t-shirt adds a slightly relaxed taper on the shoulders and hemline, making for a more comfortable fit all around. The Supima cotton gives this a higher quality feel that betrays its price point of about $20.
Semi-Formal: The Polo
If you can get away with a polo, do it. Minimal thinking is involved when styling one and you can look sharp in any semi-formal occasion. Pair a polo with nice slacks or your choice of Levi’s and you’re set for that work-to-happy-hour pipeline any day of the week.
For me, I want my polo to speak a little, since I’m most likely not accessorizing or I’m in the office when I wear one. That means I like going for a bit of pattern or textural differences. This season, inspired by the movie The Talented Mr. Ripley, I’m opting for more sweater-style polos. They seem to dress any outfit up while still being a tad bit cheeky. I think Dickie Greenleaf would approve these picks.
Dandy Del Mar’s Sebastian Shirt
Dandy Del Mar knows how to add refinement to hot weather options, and the Sebastian Shirt is no different. A buttonless polo, the Sebastian is made from cotton with the heft of a sweater but still remains breathable. Navy has versatility, but any of the colors are decorated with retro geometric patterns and a comfortable tailored fit around the shoulders and waistline.
Abercrombie Men’s Geometric Button-Through Sweater Polo
Abercrombie has evolved with design changes that feel more connected to the current menswear zeitgeist. This polo feels more Positano than it does preppy, and I’m grateful for that. Able to button (or unbutton) all the way up, you can pair with a shirt underneath and slacks for a dinner or keep it open and slip on some shorts for lounging poolside. Price $70.
Semi-Formal: The Linen Shirt
Often forgotten, but always appreciated for those converts who are in the know, a linen shirt has become a category unto itself. A Trojan horse of sorts, it has all the dressings and tailoring of a more formal shirt, but the fabric belies how casual it can be. I usually go for a size larger in linen shirts to give it a Parisian nonchalance, but you do you.
The secret to dressing up a linen shirt is all about the structure of the pants. You want a wider leg chino that has some room in the leg and seat, so you can have all the trimmings of a more formal look, but done in a way that shows you’re not taking it too seriously, either.
Road to Nowhere Monty Mandarin
It’s easy to see why Road to Nowhere’s linen collection is gaining attention. Dedicated to sustainable linen with an emphasis on timeless design for any vacation planned, the Monty Mandarin is just the sort of shirt I want to throw on before heading out without a second thought.
Alex Crane Playa Shirt
Alex Crane was the brand that converted me to linen. With an entire collection dedicated to the summertime fabric, it’s hard to not find something to love. My favorite is the classic Playa shirt. It’s got a nice loose taper around the midsection and, being made from French linen, a bit of weight to it that’s comfortable to put on throughout the in-between seasonal months.
Formal: The Oxford
Consider the Oxford: A smart option for most events, the heavier fabric, buttoned-up collar, and forgiving silhouette all make this a great option for most guys. I’m partial to the Oxford as it gives me the ability to dress up a bit without feeling too dressed up.
Because an Oxford isn’t the most formal kind of dress shirt out there, you’re able to take liberties with how you style it. Opt for a darker denim if you’re going with jeans, while deciding whether you should tuck or untuck based on the occasion. Alternatively, a pair of fitted pants and some dress shoes is always a safe bet.
Le Alfré’s ‘Le Original’ Contrast Oxford Shirt
A newer brand on the map, Le Alfré already has a fan base around it, and it’s no wonder why. The Le Original Oxford is a small capsule of what I expect to come from the brand. With a comfortable fit and attention to detail, this Oxford is one to keep in your closet. The contrasting collar and series of colors (green, blue, pink, and gray) show that this is a modern take on the beloved classic — and it’s done right.
J. Crew Broken-In Organic Cotton Oxford Shirt
It’s easy to see why J. Crew’s shirts remain perennial favorites for many guys. It’s been pre-treated to give it a comfortable feel, instantly making it one you’ll throw on to grab a late brunch or a trip to the newsstand on the weekends.