Letters of Life

Responding with Style #2: What to Look For in a Man’s Dress Shirt

In the days of the aérogramme and the Filofax, the men’s department in stores of yesteryear would have made today’s young adult male cry. Dour, safe offerings in white, off white, baby blue. The most daring thing would be pin stripes. Of course there were checks, but these would be of the rustic, Howdy-Doody genre.

Yes, we have no bananas today!

Today, the men’s standalone stores are enough to make a woman cry. With envy. There’s TopMan, Raoul, Hugo Boss, Zegna and Dunhill at the top of the heap. At Zara Men’s, I lingered over the charcoal sweaters emblazoned with royal crests and wondered why there were no significant others in Zara Women’s. The men’s retro tees looked even more ’80s hence more cool, than those in my size.

I think some men are actually afraid of what they’ll find in the stores today. It’s an urban jungle of bold message tees, brash graphics, funky houndstooth and argyle patterns, demanding muscle tees and slim-fit polo tees.

So they retreat to the quiet oases of Bossini, Giordano, Marks and Spencer’s, and British India. Here are the classic white shirts, the blue/white stripes of varying widths, the baby pink Oxford button-down. The man is at rest. No, he’s asleep.

In a recent jaunt with a brother to look for wellcut shirts, I walked into British shirtmaker TM Lewin. To my delight, I found shelves piled high with candy-striped shirts in silky non-iron cotton, tiny houndstooth, elegant glenplaid in pastel colours, purple stripes, it was a sweet shop of a shirt shop.

Blue Gingham Check

So as not to frighten you, let’s start with conservative patterns. If you like checks, consider small ones like this blue gingham. Yeah, it’s Dorothy in the land of Oz, but the tiny checks are elegant and will save you from any Wicked Witches you might encounter during the course of work.

Hurray for Houndstooth!

This has got to be my absolute favourite. First of all, a good lilac shade is hard to find in a men’s shirt. So when you find it, try it. Second, the dogtooths weave is fairly hard to find also. Therefore, a lilac shade of houndstooth is a keeper.  Obviously, the tie in the picture is a clincher too.

What does this stripe below remind you of?

A graphic quality about these stripes

Too bold? Despite references to the local coffeeshop uncle’s pajama pants, you’ve got to consider this stripe. It’s bold, but not crass. The colour combination is classic navy, pastel blue, and white.

Women like this kind of stripe. If they find it on a man, they’re going to give him a second look. It is a stripe which calls for confidence and a sartorial sense of humour. What is that? Wear this kind of stripe and you’ll understand. It’s all about attitude. Which you already have inside. It just has to come out.

Some points to consider:
1. There are stripes, and there are stripes. In getting something tried and tested, go for something with a bit of a twist.

Purple tonal stripe

2. Bright colour is something you should not be afraid of wearing. You *can* carry it off. No, it’s not just for the under-30s. You will notice that men in their 50s and older who wear bright colours actually look younger.

Contrary to popular opinion, you don’t have to be extroverted to wear it. It means you have facets people haven’t guessed at and you’re using colour to clue them into the fact. Or not.

Aqua blue two-column block stripe

3. Texture is everything. If you get a plain white shirt, get one in a special weave, like a herringbone pattern, or a houndstooth weave.

4. Prints are fun. Flowers are tricky for a guy to carry off. One needs height or build, and lots of attitude. I think these are beautiful. Do you?

Blue-grey floral print

Admittedly, I’ve chosen to highlight those mostly in blues and greys. It’s hard to get a guy into a red/orange shirt, much less a fuschia one.

A clever mix of dots, stripes, and blocks.

This last example might look a bit rich, it’s true. But consider wearing it with bermudas, and best of all, jeans. The dressier the shirt, the better a casual pant equalizes the look.

Blue-grey tulip print

What’s your experience buying men’s shirts? Is it a case of getting the basics? If shirts were an extension of who you are, would you still be a blue/white stripe? Or something else?


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