When a man goes to buy a dress shirt, according to Nicholas Antongiavanni, author of “The Suit,” there are many things that can confuse him. For example, the style of the collar determines the formality of the shirt, as do the style of the cuffs. And while these rules can sometimes be bent, you must buy one that fits. It is vital to learn what dress shirt size numbers actually mean if you want to look good in your shirts.
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One of the two primary numbers you simply must know to get a good-fitting shirt is your neck size. This number is generally less than 20—unless you are extremely large, in which case you are probably having your shirts custom-made—and may be a “half-size,” such as 15 1/2. This number is the girth of your neck in inches, and is critical to a good fit when the top button is fastened. You can add a half-inch or inch to this size if you prefer a little more room.
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In order for your cuffs to hang at the proper level, you must know your correct sleeve length. You will need help to measure this. With your arm hanging at your side and your elbow slightly bent, measure from the middle of the back of your neck, over your shoulder, and down your arm and bent elbow to your wrist. Add 1 inch, then round off this number to the nearest inch; this is your correct sleeve length.
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There are three common cuts for dress shirts—full, regular, and athletic cuts—which tell how closely the shirt fits your body. While these are not technically numbers, a shirt with an athletic cut fits the most closely and may include a waist size. Simply measure your waist while wearing a shirt, using a regular tape measure. Be sure to keep a finger against your waist inside the tape; this adds a bit of space to keep the shirt from fitting too tightly.
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Some inexpensive shirts still use sizes such as “small,” “medium,” “large,” etc. Avoid these shirts if at all possible. While some companies make charts available to tell what the corresponding neck and sleeve measurements are, shirts labelled with such an inexact sizing method rarely follow the charts consistently. You will get more consistent sizing if you buy better-quality shirts which specify the size with numbers printed on the neck label.
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Dress Shirt Care
You might not think that the care of a shirt affects its size. If you buy a good-quality shirt, it should not matter; quality shirts are made from pre-shrunk cotton. However, if you cut corners and buy cheap shirts, you should be aware that they may or may not fit after they are washed.