A Guide to Shirt Design

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Shirt design is much more than just a collar, two cuffs and a good fit. While knowing how a shirt should fit is most important, a balanced design should never be forgotten. This is a guide to all aspects of shirt design, focusing on formal shirts (dress shirts in American English) and touching on sports and casual shirts. The kinds of shirts that James Bond wears are the primary focus of this guide. Many of the points in this article have already been covered in this blog, but all parts of a shirt and the relationships between those parts are now covered in this guide.

Contents

  1. Collar
    1. Collar Spread Width
    2. Collar Point Length
    3. Collar Height
    4. Tie Space
    5. Collar Interfacing
    6. Collar Stitching
    7. Collar Stays
    8. Special Collars
  2. Cuffs
    1. Button Cuffs
    2. Link Cuffs
    3. Convertible Cuffs
    4. Fancy Button Cuffs
    5. Cuff Depth
    6. Cuff Interfacing
    7. Cuff Stitching
  3. Shirt Front
    1. Placket
    2. Plain Front
    3. Fly Front
    4. Number of Front Buttons
    5. Shirt Pockets
    6. Dress Shirt Fronts
  4. Shirt Back
    1. Yoke
    2. Ease in the Back
    3. Back Darts
  5. Sleeves
    1. Meeting the Armhole
    2. Stitching to the Body
    3. Cuff Attachment
    4. Gauntlet
    5. Short Sleeves
  6. Shirt Hem
    1. Contoured Hem
    2. Curved Hem with Gussets
    3. Straight Hem
    4. Hem Stitching
  7. Buttons
    1. Button Sizes
    2. Button Thickness
    3. Button Materials
    4. Button and Buttonhole Stitching

1. Collar

Sean Connery’s shirt in Goldfinger, maybe made by Frank Foster, has a perfect collar

Shirt design all starts at the collar. The shirt collar is the foundation of a man’s outfit since it’s what frames the face, and it’s often what makes a first impression for the outfit as a whole because of that.

A. Collar Spread Width

Spread width, or rather the angle of the opening in the front of the collar, is the most defining aspect of a collar since its often what gives a collar its name. Spread width is often defined as the space between the collar points, but the angle of the collar’s front opening gives more of a visual identity to a collar when the space between the points can also be affected by point length and tie space.

A collar with a narrower spread (typically less than 4 inches / 10 cm on a collar with medium-length collar points) is often called a “point” or “straight” collar. A collar with a wide spread (typically more than 5 inches / 12 cm) is often called a “spread” or “cutaway” collar and may be given such monikers as the “Windsor” or “Londoner” collar. Something in between (4 to 5 inches / 10 to 12 cm) is called a “semi-spread”, “semi-cutaway”, “moderate spread” or “Kent” collar. The term “classic collar” may also apply to this type of collar, but it is often thrown around for various collar spread widths and ultimately has no meaning.

Spread width is typically chosen inversely to the width of one’s face. Typical wisdom states that narrow point collars look best on a man with a wide face and that wide spread collars look best on a man with a narrow face. This does not always hold true, and a collar that is narrow can also emphasise a round face and make it look like a balloon on a string. Moderate semi-spread collars suit most face shapes and should be the starting point for most people.

Where the collar points sit on the chest is mostly determined by spread width. This relates to the gorge on a jacket, the seam where the jacket’s collar meets the lapel. High and shallower gorges are best complemented by wider collars and lower, steeper gorges are best complemented by narrower collars. This is so the line of the collar is similar to the line of the gorge and so the collar points end up at a similar level to the notch in the lapels. Because the collar is what frames the face, the jacket should follow the shirt in this regard. In practice, there is leeway with this, but this principle tells us that Sean Connery’s wide collar in Dr. No does not go with Timothy Dalton’s late 1980s suit in Licence to Kill because the wide collar would have points that sit much higher than the low, steep gorge on the suit.

The width of a tie knot should somewhat balance the width of a collar so that the tie knot neither overpowers nor gets lost in the collar. The former is much more important than the latter since a smaller tie knot can still fit inside a wide collar, while the reverse is not true.

B. Collar Point Length

While spread width should balance the width of a man’s head inversely, point length needs to balance a man’s face in scale: larger heads need a collar with longer points while smaller heads need a collar with shorter points. 2 3/4 to 3 inches / 7 to 7 1/2 cm is the range of a standard collar point length.

Roger Moore’s Frank Foster shirt in The Spy Who Loved Me has a fashionable long collar point length for 1977

Fashion also dictates collar point length, since shorter collar points are in fashion when narrow jacket lapels and narrow ties are, and longer collar points are in fashion when everything is wider. To balance all parts of the body, the collar, lapel and tie measurements by no means need to match, but they should be similar. A 3 1/4-inch / 8-cm collar point length will dwarf 2 1/2-inch / 6-cm wide lapels and tie, but on the other hand, 2 1/2-inch / 6-cm collar points that match such narrow lapels and tie can make ones head look disproportionately large.

C. Collar Height

The height of a collar is defined by the height of the collar band and the height of the collar leaf in back. The height of a collar should follow one’s neck: a long neck needs a taller collar than a short neck needs.

Roger Moore wearing a Frank Foster shirt with a tall collar in The Man with the Golden Gun

When the collar band is made to a certain height in front, two buttons—rather than the standard one button—are needed to prevent the collar band from collapsing. The breakpoint between a one-button and two-button collar is around 1 1/2 in / 4 cm.

There should be approximately 3/16 in / 1/2 cm to 3/8 in / 1 cm difference between the height of the back of the collar and height of the back of the collar band to ensure there is enough overlap and that the collar band will not be revealed when a thick tie is worn. Too much overlap will mean that the collar will not sit comfortably at the base of the neck.

D. Tie Space

Tie space is the distance between the top of where the collar leaves meet in front. When there is tie space, the collar leaves do not meet at the top. Tie space gives a tie room to breathe and helps the tie stay in place, and without tie space the tie knot may be more likely to slip down during the day. The narrower a collar spread is the more important tie space is. A narrow collar without tie space will conceal the tie knot, and the tie knot will prevent the collar points from laying against the chest. Even on a wide cutaway collar a small bit of tie space (3/16 in / 1/2 cm) will serve a purpose. On a narrower collar spread, up to 1 in / 2 1/2 cm can be an appropriate amount of tie space.

George Lazenby’s blue shirt from Frank Foster has a point collar with a considerable amount of tie space, in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

Tie space, as much as the width of a collar, determines the size of a tie knot that a collar can withstand.

When there is tie space, the collar band should angle downward in front so that the collar band does not show above the tie knot.

E. Collar Interfacing

The interfacing in a collar is what gives a collar heft and body and allows it to stand up. English shirtmakers traditionally sew in a floating interfacing into their collars while many continental shirtmakers—but not all—fuse an interfacing to the outer layer of their collar leaves and to one or both sides of the collar band. Heavier and stiffer interfacings are used for more formal collars and softer and lighter interfacings are used for sportier collars. Some sporty collars, such as button-down collars, may be made with no interfacing at all.

Both floating and fused interfacings can make a collar either soft or stiff, it just depends on the interfacing that is used. A collar will roll more easily with a floating interfacing than it will with a fused interfacing, and for that reason a button-down collar should not be fused.

A collar with a fused interfacing is much easier to iron than a collar with a floating interfacing. With a floating interfacing the fabric can bunch up at the stitching when ironing, so it take more work to pull the collar flat.

Unlike in a jacket, fusing in a shirt is not a mark of lower quality.

The stiffness of a collar should follow the structure of the suit of jacket is is paired with. English collars have stiff interfacing, which matches the stiffness of the traditional English suits. Northern Italian shirts have stiff collars to match their built-up suits. Southern Italian shirts have soft collars, which complements their soft and light suits. The American button-down collar without an interfacing is the softest collar, and that matches up perfectly with the traditional natural-shoulder, undarted sack suit.

F. Collar Stitching

Collars have top stitching to hold all the parts of the collar together and to give it stability. This top stitching is more important in the collar has a floating interfacing than it is in a collar with a fused interfacing because the stitching secures the interfacing in place. The distance from the edge that the collar is stitched varies considerably, from along the edge to 8 mm from the edge. For the purposes of this section, stitching will be discussed in either inches or millimetres, depends on which system of measurement was used for making the shirt. This measurements are so specific that a conversion does not always work comfortably.

Edge stitching is when the collar is sewn along the edge, at either 1/16 in or 1 or 2 mm from the edge. Collar bands almost always use edge stitching, while collar leaves only use it for a certain effect. Edge stitching is often seen as the most formal type of stitching on a collar since it gives a collar a more unbroken look. Thus, this is the kind of stitching that is always used on wing collars. Many shirtmakers (particularly continental and American) prefer this kind of stitching on turn-down collars on dress shirts (tuxedo shirts) as well because of its more formal look. Edge stitching also can be used on collar on ordinary shirts too, and many prefer it because it allows collar stiffeners to extend as close as possible to the point of the collar.

My Frank Foster collar is stitched at 7 mm from the edge

More traditionally, collars are stitched away from the edge at varying amounts. This stitching frames the collar, and more visual presence is given to the collar the further from the edge the collar is stitched. American and English shirtmakers who measure in inches typically stitch collars at 1/4 in. Turnbull & Asser stitches their collars at either 1/4 in or slightly less at 3/16 in. Continental shirtmakers and some English shirtmakers use the metric system, where every millimetre variation gives a subtly different look. Kiton and Ermenegildo Zegna collars are stitched at 4 mm from the edge. Charvet, Borrelli, Isaia and Ralph Lauren Purple Label collars are stitched at 5 mm from the edge. Brioni and Tom Ford stitch their collars at 6 mm from the edge, which is just under 1/4 in and the closest metric approximation to the traditional English style. Frank Foster shirts and the ready-to-wear and special order shirts from Mason & Sons have collars stitched at 7 mm, which is a bit over 1/4 in.

I have an Italian-made shirt from a brand called Poggianti that has its collar stitched 8 mm from the edge. This shirt has a sizeable two-button collar, and the stitching further from the edge is proportionate with the large scale of the collar. The distance of the stitching from the edge may take into consideration the scale of the collar.

G. Collar Stays

Collar stays, also be known as collar stiffeners or collar bones, are strips inserted into the back of a collar that give a collar a stiffer and more formal look, and they assist in keeping the points of a collar laying against the shirt. Shirts may have removable collar stays, sewn-in collar stays or no collar stays. Stays should be removed for laundering and ironing.

Collar stays from a Frank Foster shirt

Stays may be made of plastic, bone, metal or mother-of-pearl for varying degrees of stiffness. Softer and thinner collar stays, such as thin plastic stays, may allow the collar to roll while still doing their job, but they wear out quickly because they are easily bent out of shape. Rigid stays like metal have a long lifespan and give a collar a stiff look, but they can wear through the fabric of the collar with extended wear and may cause a lot of damage if left in when washing. Washing a shirt with plastic stays typically only damages the stays.

Sewn-in or permanent collar stays are either fused to the inside of the collar, attached through the edge stitching or sit inside a pocket that is sewn shut. Sewn-in collar stays are only possible on a shirt with a fused interfacing. Sewn-in collar stays are inferior to removable collar stays for a variety of reasons:

  1. Washing a shirt often bends the stays out of shape.
  2. The stays may imprint on the outside of the collar when pressing the collar.
  3. Repeated pressing will cause the shirt to wear out around the stays.
  4. If the sewn-in stay is not sitting inside a pocket, the stay may come loose and float inside the collar.

When collar stays are removable a shirt can be worn with or without stays, and the stays are replaceable if they are damaged.

Softer collar styles, such as the button-down collar or a pinned collar should not have collar stays.

H. Special Collars

There are many unique styles of collars that are variations on or stray from the simple collars that need more words other than measurements to describe them.

Daniel Craig wearing a Tom Ford shirt with an eyelet collar in Spectre

The eyelet collar, which Daniel Craig wears with his black herringbone suit in Spectre, is a point collar with eyelets in the middle of either front edge that allows a special pin to be worn that pulls the collar together and helps it sit against the chest while also framing the tie knot. This collar originated after people started pinning their ordinary point collars. The eyelet collar is usually worn with a special kind of pin that screws onto the collar. While a regular point collar can be worn with or without a tie or a pin, the eyelet collar always requires a tie and pin to be worn with it.

The tab collar, which Daniel Craig wears throughout Skyfall, is another variation on the point collar that has tabs extending from the front edges of the collar for a similar effect to a pinned collar. Like a pin, the tabs frame the tie knot while helping the collar to sit against the chest. Like the eyelet collar, a tab collar requires a tie. Tab collars may or may not be worn with collar stays, though if collar stays are worn with a tab collar they should be of the flexible sort so they do not damage the collar.

Daniel Craig wearing a tab-collar shirt in Skyfall

The button-down collar has buttonholes at the end of the collar points that attach to buttons on the chest of the shirt. Invented so collar points would not flap about during sports, the button-down is a sporty collar. The button-down buttons are typically placed higher on the chest than where the collar points would naturally sit so that the collar has a rolling effect. Button-down collars should either have a thin, floating interfacing or no interfacing at all because the collar should have a soft, casual look and the button-down buttons help the collar stand up. The button-down collar is typically a modified point collar, but wider semi-spread widths can also made a nice button-down collar. Roger Moore wears button-down collar on his sports shirts in A View to a Kill.

Roger Moore wearing a shirt with a button-down collar from Frank Foster in A View to a Kill

Hidden button-down collars have the roll and soft nature of a button-down collar but with more of the look of a point or semi-spread collar. These are usually made with loops under the collar that fasten to buttons on the chest.

While most collars have points, various types of rounded collars also exist. Spread and point collars may be made with rounded corners, but the most iconic of the rounded collars is the club collar, which is completely rounded from the top. Club collars may be worn with a pin or they may have tabs. The rounded collar is best avoided by people with a round face as it will only accentuate it.

The wing collar is a formal collar held over from an earlier era that stands up and has “wings” that fold over. Originally this collar, like many of the others mentioned here, was stiffly starched and detachable, and when attached collars had taken over for daily use the detachable wing collar fell out of favour for every mode of dress other than white tie. The wing collar was revived in the 1980s for black tie, but now it was an attached collar. Unfortunately most attached wing collars are too soft and have wings that are too small. The attached wing collar has none of the grandeur of its original ancestor and should be avoided. James Bond has avoided it but was forced to wear one as part of Felix Leiter’s wedding party in Licence to Kill.

Casual one-piece collars such as the camp collar, cuban collar or Cooper collar are worn open without ties and fold or roll over for a sporty look.

2. Cuffs

A. Button Cuffs

Cuffs that fasten with buttons are the most popular type of cuff. They may also be called barrel cuffs because they overlap and end up round like a barrel. Button cuffs fasten with one, two or three buttons and may have a straight edge, rounded corners or mitred/angle-cut corners. Because a cuff that fastens with a single button pivots on that button, rounded or mitred corners work best such a cuff because a straight edge will not stay straight without the help of multiple buttons, which lock the cuff shape in place.

Two-button mitred cuffs by Frank Foster on Roger Moore in For Your Eyes Only

B. Link Cuffs

Link cuffs are various styles of cuffs that fasten with cuff links or silk knots. These cuffs fasten in a kissing manner with the inner edge touching when they fasten.

Double cuffs, also called French cuff, are cuffs that fold over and then fasten with links. The double cuff folds to give the lightly interfaced and soft cuff more heft to support to the links. Double cuffs are more formal than button cuffs. Double cuffs may place the link holes in the centre of the folded cuff or closer to the fold of the cuff. When the link holes are in the centre of the cuff, they give the cuff a balanced look and feel. However, many shirtmakers, particularly English shirtmakers, place the link holes closer to the fold. Turnbull & Asser place their holes only 1 in / 2 1/2 cm from the fold. This better shows off the cufflinks and prevents the cuff from sliding down the hand. This cuff design will also cause the cuff to flare out behind the links, which may or not be desirable depending on personal preference.

Sean Connery wearing rounded double cuffs, maybe made by Frank Foster, in Goldfinger

The corner design of a double cuff is usually in the back of the cuff because that is where the true edge of the cuff is after it is folded. Double cuffs with a square edge are considered most formal, though mitred and rounded edges will help the cuff slide better through the sleeve. Cuffs may also have a mitred edge at the fold, though that is a more modern design.

The single link cuff is a more formal style of cuff than the double cuff. The single link cuff needs to be stiffer than the double cuff because it has only a single layer.

C. Convertible Cuffs

Convertible cuffs are single cuffs that have the option to fasten with either a button or with cuff links. This cuff is usually square in design and has a soft construction. It usually does not function well as a link cuff because it is too soft for a single cuff.

D. Fancy Button Cuffs

Numerous fancy cuff designs have made their way through the James Bond series, such as the cocktail cuff and the “Lapidus” tab cuff. The cocktail cuff—also known as the turnback cuff, Portofino cuff and Milanese cuff, amongst countless other names—is a barrel-style buttoning cuff that folds back like a double cuff. It usually fastens with two buttons to lock the shape of the cuff and support the folded shape of the cuff. The edge of a cocktail cuff should be rounded so it can slide easily through a jacket sleeve and not get stuck. There is also a variation that fastens with a single-button that has a button-down feature like a button-down collar.

Sean Connery wearing cocktail cuffs by Turnbull & Asser in Dr. No

Tab cuffs, which Frank Foster calls the “Lapidus cuff”, have a tab extension to move the pivot point of a single-button cuff. Foster uses an extra-large button on this cuff. Another style of tab cuff fastens in a kissing method and has a flap that folds over the kissing edge. There is a button on the inside to fasten the cuff in a kissing manner and a button on the outside opposite the inside button to secure the flap.

A Lapidus cuff with a tab design by Frank Foster

Other fancy styles include triangle- and crescent-shaped cuffs, and cuffs with extra-large buttons, amongst other creative designs.

E. Cuff Depth

The depth of a cuff should approximately correspond to collar point length. A 3 1/4-inch / 8-cm collar point length will not look right with a 2 1/4-inch / 6-cm cuff depth and needs a cuff of a similar depth, such a two-button or three-button cuff. Likewise a small collar needs a small one-button cuff. Link cuffs should also be scaled appropriately. Deeper cuffs typically need more buttons than shallower cuffs needs, though a large single button on a large cuff can make make it look proportionate.

F. Cuff Interfacing

Like a collar, cuffs should also have an interfacing. While collars can range from having soft to stiff interfacings, cuffs stay on the soft to medium end of interfacing weights. A stiff interfacing in a cuff may be uncomfortable. Folding cuff styles require light interfacings to allow them to fold over easily, though a medium weight interfacing in a cocktail cuff may help it to keep its shape better. Button cuffs should have light interfacings as well to make them easy to button, but a larger cuff with only one button to fasten needs a more substantial interfacing for it to keep its shape.

Many continental shirtmakers that fuse their collar use a floating interfacing in their cuffs. A floating interfacing especially helps a folding cuff perform better.

G. Cuff Stitching

Cuff stitching should match the collar stitching for a balanced design. Turnbull & Asser sometimes stitches the cuff 1/16 in / 1 mm closer or further from the edge than they stitch the collar, but the effect is similar. Edge stitching on a collar with 1/4 in / 6 mm stitching on the cuff, or vice-versa, would create a disharmony. Turnbull & Asser matches the stitching at the base of their cuff to the 3/8 in stitching at the attachment of the sleeve to the body.

3. Shirt Front

A. Placket

A placket is the folded over cloth on the top of the front of a shirt that houses the buttonholes. The placket reinforces the front of the shirt where it buttons and gives it stability. It also makes the front of a shirt look symmetrical by matching the folded opening edge of the shirt with a folded edge on the other side of the placket. The width of a placket typically varies from 1 in / 2 1/2 cm to 1 1/2 in / 4 cm. Most plackets are a simple two or three layers of folded cloth, but Turnbull & Asser uses a light fusible in their placket to give it more stability.

A Turnbull & Asser placket on Sean Connery’s dress shirt in Thunderball

Plackets may be stitched from the edges in a manner that matches the collar and cuff stitching, or they may be stitched further from the edges to match the attachment at the sleeve. Turnbull & Asser stitches their plackets at 3/8″ from the edges, which matches the sleeve attachment stitching. Tom Ford stitches their plackets at 7 mm from the edges, which is 1 mm further from the edges than they stitch their collars and cuffs but has a similar look. Frank Foster stitch their placket at 1 1/2 cm from the edges, which allows the placket to flare out at the sides.

Matching the placket stitching to the collar and cuffs is a simple way to connect the pieces of the shirt together, but such a placket lacks focus. When the placket is stitched further from the edges than the collar and cuffs are, it gives a stronger focal point to the front of the shirt, drawing attention closer to the centre of the shirt. When the stitching on the placket intersects with the fastened buttons, it visually holds the shirt together more and prevents the buttons from appearing to be floating in the middle of the placket.

B. Plain Front

The plain front, also called a French front, has no folded placket, just cloth folded under the front. On the most elegant examples the buttonholes hold together the folded layers without any stitching for a clean and seamless look. Other shirts will have stitching at the folded edge, the same distance from the edge as the collar. Other examples will have a line of stitching opposite the buttons to hold the folded cloth in place. Only buttonholes are necessary to hold the front together, but stitching will make the front robust at the expense of a cleaner look.

Pierce Brosnan’s Turnbull & Asser dress shirt in Tomorrow Never Dies has a plain front in the sense of not having a placket, but it has a marcella bib on the front

When there is no stitching on the front of a plain-front shirt and an asymmetrical tie knot is used with the knot pointing to the wearer’s right, the opening and buttons on the shirt will be covered and the shirt will look seamless.

Because of its clean look, the plain front is thought to be more formal than a placket front. It is commonly found on dress shirts with a marcella bib, a very formal shirt style. However, plain fronts are also used on casual shirts and plackets can be used on shirts worn for black tie.

C. Fly Front

A fly front has covered buttons, but there are many different ways a fly front can be executed. The basic fly front has the cloth folded thrice under the front to create a strip to house the buttonholes, and this fold unfortunately is held in place by a visible line of stitching about an 1 1/4 inches / 3 cm from the edge.

Die Another Day Dinner Suit
Pierce Brosnan’s dress shirt from Turnbull & Asser in Die Another Day has a fly front without visible stitching

Other methods of creating a fly front involve folding a placket on top of the shirt to conceal the buttons. Some shirts may fold the front edge over the top to create two layers of fabric to support the buttonholes, and then another two folds go back over the top to cover the buttons. A hidden stitch may be used under the top two folds to secure the buttonhole placket. Another method starts with folding the front over the top and then back and underneath to create a fly with the access to the buttons from the left side. The last fold along with the front of the shirt are the two layers that the buttons are sewn through. This type of fly front is more difficult to button.

Neither of the previous two methods involve any visible stitching on the front since stitching can be hidden under the fold, but the buttonholes alone along with some fusing can also keep the front together. The lack of stitching on the top of these plackets makes them visually appealing for black tie, but they may be difficult to press. One of these two methods is what Turnbull & Asser used to create the fly front on Pierce Brosnan’s dress shirt in Die Another Day.

Daniel Craig wears a Turnbull & Asser dress shirt with a fly front in Casino Royale

On Daniel Craig’s fly front dress shirt from Turnbull & Asser in Casino Royale and Roger Moore’s shirts from Frank Foster in Live and Let Die, a placket is folded and stitched together just like a normal buttonhole placket but without the buttonholes. Then a separate piece of cloth is sewn underneath the body with a line of stitching hidden under the left flap of the top placket. Roger Moore’s top placket has one line of stitching down the centre of the placket to give it focus to make up for the lack of buttons.

D. Number of Front Buttons

Most shirts have either six or seven buttons on the front, with the number of buttons and the spacing between the buttons varied for different heights. Turnbull & Asser uses six buttons and places their top button 3 in / 7 1/2 cm from the bottom of the collar while Frank Foster uses seven buttons and places their top button 1 3/4 in / 4.5 cm from the bottom of the collar. The higher top button helps a collar to stand up better when the collar is worn open.

Pierce Brosnan wears a Turnbull & Asser shirt in The World Is Not Enough

The bottom button placement is important as well. A bottom button that is too high will cause the shirt to become untucked, while a bottom button that is too low will feel constricting and will not allow the bottom of the shirt to spread apart when sitting down. Bottom buttons have been placed lower in recent years so that a shirt will stay tucked in and not spread open when worn with trendy low-rise trousers.

E. Shirt Pockets

Breast pockets are not common on James Bond’s shirts, but they are popular. On a dressier shirt, there may be one pocket on the left, and it should be open and not have a flap. The pocket shape may have a triangle-pointed bottom, or it may match the shape of a rounded or mitred cuff. Sportier shirts may have a flap and/or button on the pocket, and they may have a pocket on both sides of the chest. Shirts with double cuffs are too formal for a pocket.

Roger Moore’s casual shirt from Frank Foster in For Your Eyes Only has a breast pocket

E. Dress Shirt Fronts

Various options exist for the front of a dress (Tuxedo) shirt to set it apart from an ordinary shirt. Pleats of all sizes, pin-tucks that are small pleats sewn down, pique marcella bibs and ruffles are all common variations on the dress shirt front.

Sean Connery wears a pleated-front dress shirt (possibly from Frank Foster) in Goldfinger

On a pleated shirt, the placket should be stitched the same distance from the edge as the width of a pleat to make the placket and pleats seamlessly blend with each other. A placket that is stitched 1/4 in from the edge looks jarring with 3/8 in or 1/2 in pleats. A fly front placket without stitching can also work well with a pleated front.

4. Shirt Back

A. Yoke

The yoke are the pieces of fabric in the back of the shirt over the shoulders. The yoke is two layers of fabric (often fused together), and it may be a single piece or split down the middle. The advantage of a split yoke over a single piece is that it can take into account different shoulder slopes on a custom-made shirt.

Split yokes may be cut on the bias for visual effect with stripes and checks. Because only the outer piece of the yoke is cut on the bias and not the inner piece, and the pieces are often fused together, there will be no stretch advantage to a yoke cut on the bias.

B. Ease in the Back

Beneath the yoke it is common to find the back piece eased in with pleats over the shoulders or a box pleat or inverted box pleat in the centre back. Pleats at the shoulders allow the shirt to expand when the arms are moved forward. Box pleats give fullness to the back with little practical purpose and just result in a back with a lot of visual fullness. Sometimes fullness in the back may be gathered across the bottom of the yoke for a very subtle, even spread.

Sean Connery’s silk shirt from Turnbull & Asser in From Russia with Love has pleats and darts in the back

With today’s slim trend, shirts commonly do not have this ease in the back. With a well-cut shirt, the ease is not always necessary.

C. Back Darts

Daniel Craig’s shirt from Tom Ford in Quantum of Solace has a darted back

Darts have been a common part of James Bond’s shirts ever since the 1960s. Today, darts are more than ever placed in the back of a shirt to give the shirt a closer fit through the waist. The placement of the darts in the back can give a different effect. When darts are further to the sides they take in more from the sides of the shirt and assist the suppression at the side seams. Only so much shape can be achieved by the side seams alone. When the darts are closer to the centre of the back they take in more from the small of the back.

5. Sleeves

A. Meeting the Armhole

The sleeve has a complicated relationship with the armhole of the body, and this is as much a matter of fit as it is design. The sleeve must be wide enough so that the elbow can bend without causing stress on the sleeve. The armhole must be large enough so that it does not rub under the armpit, but it can’t be so large that the arm is swimming in it. Armholes that are too large will also cause the sleeve to be shortened by a jacket armhole pushing it up.

The sleeves on Roger Moore’s Frank Foster shirt in The Man with the Golden Gun are perfectly designed

A sleeve of any width can fit into an armhole of any size, it just depends on the angle they meet at. If the sleeve is too narrow and the armhole is too large, the sleeve will meet the armhole at a dramatic downward angle that will impede mobility of the arm. If the sleeve meets the armhole at too much of an upward angle, the sleeve will not drape well. Ideally, the sleeve should meet the armhole at a slight downward angle from the shoulder line.

B. Stitching to the Body

Sleeves have reinforced stitching at the shoulder. On Turnbull & Asser shirts this stitching is 3/8 in from the top of the sleeve and matches the stitching from the placket edges. New & Lingwood stitch both their placket and their sleeves at 1 cm. On Frank Foster shirts this stitching is 1 cm from the top of the sleeve, which is between their collar stitching and placket stitching.

Borrelli uses a hidden hand stitch at 1 cm from the edge here instead of the usual machine stitch. This gives the shirt a cleaner look.

C. Cuff Attachment

The shirt sleeve needs to be wider at the end than the diameter of the cuff is so that the elbow has enough room to bend. Because the sleeve is wider than the cuff, the fullness of the cuff needs to be eased into the cuff. This is most often done with pleats. Narrower sleeves will have one pleat on either side of the opening or two pleats on one side of the opening while wider sleeves will have two pleats on either side.

Roger Moore wears a dress shirt from Frank Foster shirred sleeves at the cuffs in Octopussy

The traditional English method is to have the fullness of the sleeve gathered evenly around the cuff so that the sleeve elegantly puffs out from the sleeve. Another method is to gather the excess sleeve all in one place.

D. Gauntlet

The gauntlet is the vent and placket in the sleeve at the cuff opening. The gauntlet exists to assist in getting one’s hand through the sleeve and to open the cuff flat enough to iron it. Gauntlets range from 4 1/2 in / 11 1/2 cm to 5 1/2 in / 14 cm long. There may or may not be a button in the middle of the gauntlet to keep it from opening, but the presence of a gauntlet button has no bearing on the quality of a shirt.

The button-side of the gauntlet is folded over when the shirt has a kissing-style cuff so that the gauntlet does not twist.

E. Short Sleeves

Roger Moore’s yellow shirt from Frank Foster in For Your Eyes Only has cuffed short sleeves

Also known as half sleeves, short sleeves may be as short as mid-bicep and as long as the elbow. Short sleeves are for casual shirts only. They may have a turned-up cuffed hem.

6. Shirt Hem

A. Contoured Hem

The typical shirt hem is curved like a sine wave with the sides of the shirt higher than the front and back. This design is meant to be tucked, but it’s popular now to wear this style of hem untucked.

B. Curved Hem with Gussets

Many high-end shirts are designed with the front and back of shirt extending downward and curving outward as they split apart at the side seam. Where the front and back split from each other there is often a gusset to reinforce this point. This type of shirt is always worn tucked.

The hexagonal gusset
The hem and gusset on a Turnbull & Asser shirt

C. Straight Hem

The hem of a shirt may also be straight with vents at the sides. All of these hem styles are higher at the sides than at the front so that the shirt may be long enough stay tucked but can spread apart when sitting. The vents in the straight hem achieve this. Straight hems are typically designed to wear untucked on casual shirts, but Frank Foster uses a straight hem with vents at the sides on his formal shirts. The vents at the sides of Foster’s shirts are 4 1/4 in / 11 cm deep.

The straight hem and vent on a Frank Foster shirt

D. Hem Stitching

The hem of most shirts is folded under and stitched about 1/8 in / 2 mm from the edge. A curved seam cannot be folded much, otherwise the fabric would bunch. Frank Foster’s straight hem has a larger seam sewn at 1 1/4 in / 3 cm from the edge to give it more heft, which is possible because the hem is straight.

7. Buttons

A. Button Sizes

The buttons down the front of a shirt are the most visible buttons on a shirt, unless one is wearing a tie. 18L (approximately 7/16 in / 11 mm) buttons are the standard size.

A front button on a Frank Foster shirt

A collar fastens with a 16L (approximately 3/8 in / 11 mm) button, which is slightly smaller than the main shirt buttons. Button-down buttons are smaller at 14L (approximately 3/8 in / 9 mm) or 12L (approximately 5/16 in / 8 mm). This smaller size may also be used for one or both buttons that fasten a two-button collar.

Cuff buttons typically match the buttons on the front of the shirt at 18L. For extra-large buttons on a cuff, 25L (5/8 in / approximately 16 mm) may be used, which matches the size of the buttons on a jacket sleeve.

Buttons on the sleeve gauntlet are the same size as buttons the button-down buttons on a button-down collar at either 14L or 12L.

B. Button Thickness

Though thick buttons are popular today, particularly on Italian shirts, the thickness of a button is not a sign of quality. Turnbull & Asser and Frank Foster use the thin button that are typical of English shirtmakers, at 2 mm thick, and these are of the highest quality. Anthony Sinclair shirts have slightly thicker 2 1/2 mm buttons. Borrelli famously uses chunky 4 mm-thick buttons.

Thin buttons are necessary on a shirt with a fly front so that the front stays flat.

C. Button Materials

While white or clear plastic is the standard material for buttons, quality shirtmakers use natural materials. Mother-of-pearl or other shells are commonly used for buttons. White or off-white shell is most traditional, and darker-coloured shell buttons are commonly used for more fashion-forward shirts.

D. Button and Buttonhole Stitching

Buttonhole stitching traditionally matches the colour of the shirt. Many shirtmakers use white stitching when there is white in the body of a coloured shirt, such as in semi-solids, checks and stripes. Fashionable shirts today may have more adventurous stitching colours.

Button stitching may match either the buttonhole stitching or the buttons. Most buttons on men’s shirts have four holes, which means they may be stitched in any number of manners. The most traditional method is crossing stitches in an “X” pattern. Machines will often sewn on buttons in a parallel pattern, often with one stitch crossing over that looks like a “Z” up close. Some Italian shirtmakers will stitch their buttons in a crows-foot pattern.

Frank Foster uses two-hole buttons on some of their shirts, which are also acceptable on men’s shirts.

Measurements that are provided in both inches and centimetres are rounded conversions

18 COMMENTS

  1. I noticed the photo in the man with the golden gun when you commented that sir rogers Moores sleeves were right. I’m curious where should your trousers sit. I’m 6,1 and I’m having a bit of trouble when my trousers should sit.

    • Yeah I’ve never liked that silk shirt in FRWL. It seems pointless to have rear darts in a shirt which remains as loose as that. For the same reason I hate open rear box pleats. They make the shirt looser round the middle than round the chest and shoulders, which is fine if you have a pear-shaped torso, but pointless if not, it just contributes to that unsightly looseness around the waistband.

      • That sounds logical but I think the FRWL shirt looks fine. Shirts that are too narrow at the waist look uncomfortable.

  2. I understand that the looser fit of Connery’s T&A shirts is acceptable, but I don’t think it’s a flattering look on him – or any man. Indeed, it’s a look that can be easily obtained in an off-the-rack shirt, so why bother with bespoke?

    For my money Foster’s shirts, with their much neater fit (including the dress shirt Connery wears at the beginning of Goldfinger), are far more flattering. It’s also a versatile fit. Lazenby, Moore, and our very own Mr. Spaiser have drastically different physiques, yet each look elegant in their Frank Foster shirts. To me, Foster’s fit is the ideal to which I aspire.

    • I wholeheartedly agree. A good dress shirt is the one thing I haven’t splashed out on yet. I have a very thin neck so OTR shirts are simply not an option, their sizes don’t go nearly low enough. No matter how hard I look I keep coming back to look at Frank Foster. His business is the only bespoke shirtmaker that is both affordable and truly beautiful in their design, fit, and function. But London is simply too far to travel from Australia for it to be worth it.

    • I agree that shirts this loose are not a good look on anyone, but it’s one of those things that’s subject to a lot of debate and the traditionalists will definitely fight us on it! The possibly-Frank Foster shirts are definitely a better fit on him. The funny thing is that T&A actually brought in his shirts slightly for FRWL to better match the closer fit of his Sinclair suits from the same movie. I think by then they had given up the function of having a loose jacket to not “imprint” his PPK for the form of one that fits better.

      However, I disagree that a looser fitting bespoke shirt is completely worthless. Things like collar proportions and spread, shoulder slope and width, cuff size, neck forward or back, uneven arm lengths, etc. are definitely adjusted for the wearer. The darts also served the function of making it a bit more proportionate for his chest to waist drop. An off the rack T&A would have been acceptable, but not looked as good on him in my opinion.

      Worth noting I fitted someone for a MTM shirt and gave him allowances on the larger end — about 7″ at chest and waist. This is because he was 6’7 with a 53″ chest and 39″ waist! Otherwise, not a very difficult guy to fit. Came in, tried it on, it was perfect. Proportion is always key.

  3. Mr. Spaiser,
    I’m speaking to a different cutter and I was told that turnbull and asser does not fuse their shirt collars. That being said, I went to a tailor shop here and asked if they could replicate one of the bespoke shirts my tailor in california made me. Since the collar is on the taller side, they told me they cannot sew the interfacing and instead it would have to be fused.

    Your article clearly states fusing is not the mark of lower quality. That being said do you think I should go back then?

    p.s. I’m Still In The islands.

    • That is correct that Turnbull & Asser uses a sewn interfacing, as has been mentioned on this site in various places. No traditional English shirtmaker fuses their collars. A sewn interfacing can certainly be done with a taller collar, and I have plenty of shirts with tall, non-fused collars. They may not be using a stiff enough interfacing. For a tall collar to stand up, it needs a certain stiffness, but many think of non-fused interfacings as being soft. There’s nothing wrong with a fused interfacing if you want that, but if you want a non-fused interfacing it is possible.

  4. Matt , l wear Braces with all my trousers , but my shirts always have a breast pocket ( except the detachable collar shirts which l wear to court ). I have been told that it is a Faux Pas to wear Shirts with Breast pockets if one wears braces. Is this true ? And if so , why ?

    • If you’re wearing braces, you can’t use the shirt pocket, and the pocket looks awkward under braces. Shirt pockets are for casual shirts, while people typically wear braces for more formal wear. Shirt pockets should not be worn with a jacket since you have plenty of pockets in your jackets, and a pocket peeking out from under the jacket looks awkward.

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