Following our “Anatomy of a quality shirt” article, here are a few basic and timeless rules to know and follow for the best shirt fit.
Most of these rules are not inspired by high-level sartorial culture, but simply based on common sense and observation. Respecting them, including in the fitting room, will ensure that the shirt you purchase fits you, which in turn will ensure that you keep it for a long time (provided quality is there, of course).
There are four basic rules. They pertain to:
- Sleeve length
- Shirt cuff/jacket sleeve contact
- Shirt collar/jacket lapel contact
- Shirt collar/necktie contact
Wearing a shirt with sleeves that are too short or too long is a fundamental mistake that is absolutely essential to avoid. Spending all day tucking in shirt cuffs that peek too far out of jacket sleeves, or constantly pulling on them to expose them is a – common – beginner mistake that considerably spoils your style. A shirt that is too short, for instance, can make a suit appear too big, even if it is not.
Rule 1: When trying on a shirt, keep your arms bent and don’t leave them hanging on the sides of the body.
Rule 2: If a shirt you try on has the perfect sleeve length, don’t buy it! ALWAYS buy it slightly larger: regardless of fabric quality, it will always shrink after a few washes.
It goes without saying that short sleeve shirts cannot be worn under a suit. This is non negotiable, regardless of the weather. If you own one, give it to your 12-year-old son; he will make good use of them.
Here again the rule is simple and timeless: the shirt cuff must be at least 3/4 cm (up to 3 cm maximum for French cuffs) longer than the jacket sleeve.
Apparently insignificant, this rule (very often broken, including by very public figures) is indeed quite important, especially for shorter men. An invisible shirt cuff, tucked under the sleeve of a jacket that extends to the middle of the hand (as seen on half the gents who flood the Esplanade de la Défense* in the morning) is a visual disaster that shortens the hands and makes the culprit of this basic mistake appear even shorter.
Rule 1: The jacket lapel must never reach as high as the shirt collar, which must ALWAYS remain visible.
Rule 2: The jacket lapel must always cover (even barely) the tips of the shirt collar. If it doesn’t, the cut of the shirt doesn’t suit you.
Rule 1: The tips of the collar must ALWAYS touch the shirt (even when you turn your head).
Rule 2: The necktie must never stick out from under the back of the collar and the knot should fill the triangle formed by the tips of the collar as best as possible.
As you can see, this is only common sense; but PERFECTLY abiding by these non-negotiable rules will keep you from making fundamental mistakes and on your way to finding your very own style.
Photos taken from B. Roetzel’s book “Gentleman” (editions Könemann).* The Esplanade de la Défense is a major business district in Paris.