Like most clothing fashions, dress shirt styles change with time. Closer-fitting shirts are in vogue now, but these shirts come in a variety of styles. For example, what is the difference between a slim fit and a fitted shirt?
A fitted shirt features a tighter waist than a slim-fit shirt. Slim-fit shirts hug the chest and shoulders, but they hang straight from the chest to the waist. A fitted shirt also fits closely at the chest and shoulders, but it tapers in at the waist.
If you are venturing into the world of dress shirts, you probably want to find the perfect cut for you. In this article, we will look at the most popular styles of dress shirts, analyze dress shirt sizing, and consider tips for picking the right fit for you.
Slim Fit vs Fitted Dress Shirt: What Is the Difference?
The cut of a slim fit shirt defines the lines of the body more prominently than a classic dress shirt’s loose cut and full sleeves. A slim fit shirt features slim sleeves, close-fitting shoulders, and a straight cut from the chest to the waist. Because of its close-fighting upper body, a slim fit shirt often has narrow armholes; some people find that this cut can create a baggy waist area as well.
A fitted shirt–sometimes called a tailored shirt–mimics the look of a bespoke shirt with its frame-hugging design. A fitted shirt highlights the shoulders and chest with its narrow cut. It also tapers in at the waist for an even closer cut than a slim fit shirt. Darts in the back of these shirts remove all excess fabric, creating their sleek shape.
Some sellers may use the terms slim fit and fitted interchangeably. However, typically a slim fit shirt hugs the chest and shoulders but hangs straight down to the waist, while a fitted shirt tapers in at the waist for a tight fit throughout the entire garment. Both shirts usually have more tapered sleeves than a classic-style dress shirt.
Muscle Fit vs Athletic Fit Dress Shirts
If you work out a lot, chances are you struggle with the narrow shape of most fitted dress shirts. A muscle fit dress shirt accommodates a larger upper body than a fitted cut. The stretchier fabric used to make muscle cut shirts provides a greater range of movement than many close-fitting dress shirts.
An athletic cut sits somewhere between a slim fit and a muscle fit. This cut favors athletes who don’t have the physique of bodybuilders by providing extra room in the chest and shoulders. It also uses darts to create a tapered waist for that professional, tailored look.
Again, some sellers may use these terms interchangeably. Sizing and stretchiness may vary from brand to brand, so you may need to experiment a bit to find the brand and cut that fits your particular body shape.
Generally, though, the difference between a muscle fit and an athletic fit is that a muscle fit provides room for a very muscular build in the upper body. Athletic cuts provide a tailored look for athletes who are not bodybuilders while still allowing more room in the upper body and sleeves than a fitted shirt.
Muscle and athletic cut dress shirts should not cling to the body as tightly as a muscle t-shirt. An ideal fitted shirt of any style should fit the shape of your upper body in classy, sleek lines so that the shirt looks as if it has been sewn just for you.
Dress Shirt Sizing
Selecting the correct size of shirt matters just as choosing the right cut to flatter your body type. Here’s the thing, though: shirt size descriptions vary widely. Depending on what kind of shirt you want, you may encounter two entirely different systems of measurements.
The alpha sizing system describes sizes in words instead of numbers, usually in terms of small, medium, and large. You typically see this sizing on t-shirts.
The alpha system lacks standardization. You could buy a medium-size shirt from one brand that fits you perfectly, while a medium from a competing brand hangs off you in an unflattering manner.
Numeric sizing for men’s dress shirts often employs measurements in inches, which takes some of the guesswork out of finding the right size (assuming you know how to measure yourself!).
In the US, dress shirt sizes are usually described in inches. Shirt labels provide the measurements of neck circumference in inches, followed by the measurement of the sleeve length. If a shirt label reads 14 32/33, the shirt will fit someone with a neck that measures about 14 inches around the neck and arms that fit easily in 32” sleeves.
Sizing and cut both make a big difference in how well a shirt flatters your body. For instance, a shirt sizing label may indicate that the sleeves are 33” long, but this does not describe whether the sleeves taper in at the wrist or whether or not the shoulders will bunch up on you.
After all, you could buy a slim fit shirt with the same measurements, inch-for-inch, as a classic shirt, but classic and slim fit shirts should look different; a slim fit shirt should fit closely around your wait, while a classic shirt should hang loose. If you buy a classic shirt that is the same size as the fitted shirt, you will run the risk of looking like you have stuffed yourself into a too-small shirt!
It is usually a good idea to select the style of shirt you like first. Then you can choose a size that fits your measurements within that style.
One final note about sizing: some brands give you even more specific style choices by offering shirt styles like “extra slim fit” or “super slim fit.” You probably read these terms and think, “those shirts must be smaller than a regular slim fit shirt.” Well, you’re partly correct.
An extra fitted or super fitted shirt from any brand will physically contain less fabric than a regular fitted shirt in the same size. Remember, though, that the fit is about how closely the shirt hugs your frame. Try not to confuse this with the actual size of the shirt.
What is the Best-Fitting Men’s Shirt?
Out of all these styles, which one should you choose? Every brand claims to sell the best-fitting shirts on the market. The truth of the matter is that all off-the-rack clothes are designed to fit a broad range of wearers, and therefore none of them will exactly fit your particular body.
Your best option is to select a cut that flatters you by finding out what styles best suit each kind of body type.
Are you feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the fashion vocabulary? Let’s take a quick look at some of the terms used to describe the most popular shirt styles.
- Athletic fit: Roomier in the chest and shoulders than a slim cut, with a tapered waist.
- Bespoke: Made or sewn specifically for you.
- Classic fit: The loose, somewhat boxy look of a traditional dress shirt.
- Fitted: Cut narrow in the sleeves, shoulders, and chest, with a tapered waist.
- Muscle fit: For an even bulkier physique than athletic shirts. Features room in the chest and shoulders and provides room for movement through its stretchy fabric.
- Regular fit: Another way to describe a classic, loose dress shirt.
- Slim fit: Features slim sleeves, close-fitting shoulders, and a straight cut from the chest to the waist.
- Standard fit: Another term used to indicate a classic, baggy dress shirt.
- Tailored: Usually used interchangeably with “fitted” to describe a shirt with narrow sleeves and shoulders and a tapered waist.
- Tapered: a sleeve or waist that is broader at the top and narrows at the bottom.
As you can see from the similarity of many of these terms, brands tend to use different terms to describe the same style. For example, the terms “tailored,” fitted,” and “tapered” often mean the same thing.
As a word of caution, some brands and marketers use these terms quite loosely and even mix and match them. You should always read the style description and sizing information for an item before deciding if it will fit you.
Slim vs Fitted T-Shirts
You probably find it unsurprising that t-shirts, like dress shirts, also come in a variety of cuts and styles!
The side seams of fitted t-shirts curve in at the waist and flare out at the hip to create a tighter fit. This term usually describes the cut of women’s t-shirts, while slim fit typically describes a men’s t-shirt with tighter sleeves and a narrower waist than the average t-shirt. Both fitted and slim fit t-shirts use the same technique of a curved side seam.
While undershirts of one sort or another have kept people comfortable for hundreds of years, t-shirts became popular when the navy started issuing them as undergarments for sailors stationed in the tropics pre-WWI.
In the 1950s, movie stars like James Dean launched the trend of wearing t-shirts as clothing instead of beneath another shirt. In the 1970s, technology advanced and the concept of printing designs and slogans on t-shirts became popular.
Today, of course, t-shirt graphics often indicate your attachment to a particular brand, ideal, or group. You probably tend to focus on the graphics or logo on your-shirts, but you should also pay attention to the style of the shirt itself; like dress shirts, t-shirts today come in a variety of cuts.
The classic t-shirt, sometimes called a straight or natural fit, features short sleeves, a crewneck collar, and a loose, rectangular body.
The v-neck t-shirt forms a v in the neck under your chin. V-neck shirts often (but not always) also feature a slimmer cut in the chest and waist, giving the whole shirt a more fitted look.
The scoop-neck t-shirt blends the classic crew with a v-neck, creating a loose, slightly rounded V at the neck. These casual shirts tend to be popular among teens and younger wearers.
Besides the unique neck designs made popular in various t-shirts, these popular shirts can be cut loosely, in a tapered or fitted style, or a super-stretchy muscle t-shirt style.
The straight or classic cut provides that comfy, boxy feel that allows plenty of room for movement.
Many fashion t-shirts prefer a slightly tapered cut that pulls the t-shirt closer to the body and highlights your shoulders with tighter sleeves. Women’s t-shirts with this tapered cut are usually described as fitted, while men’s t-shirts with a slight curved side seam that provides a more defined body shape are usually called slim fit.
And muscle t-shirts, of course, stretch tightly over your musculature to show off your muscles! Designers use extra stretchy fabric to keep these shirts comfortable despite the very tight cut.
Unfortunately, sellers have no universal standardization for these cuts. A brand or seller may feature a shirt claiming to be a “fitted v-neck” that fits you as tightly as a muscle t-shirt.
Which T-Shirt Should You Choose?
Just like with dress shirts, you should decide which t-shirt style shows your body to best advantage. If you enjoy bodybuilding, perhaps you like showing off your physique in a tight muscle t-shirt. If you like wearing t-shirts for puttering around the house, you may favor loose, baggy t-shirts in the traditional boxy rectangle.
Straight Fit vs Slim Fit Pants Explained
Naturally, pants also come in a variety of cuts! This quick overview will give you a general idea of the most popular cuts of dress pants.
- Cuffed: Some flat-front or pleated dress pants (styles that feature a wide, loose leg) add a touch of elegance with a cuff at the ankle.
- Flat Front: This modern style of dress pants flatters a lean build and usually features a slightly narrower leg.
- Pleated: This style favors a stockier build; the pleating adds extra fabric, creating a wide, loose pant leg.
- Slim Fit: This style can be pleated, cuffed, or flat front, but it always features narrow pant legs best suited to tall and slender men. Slim-fit pants typically have a smaller leg opening than an average straight pant as well.
- Straight Fit: These pants usually highlight a close-fitting seat and can come in a wide range of leg widths, from wide to almost slim.
- Tapered Fit: This style describes any style of pants that narrows toward the ankles. Again, this style often has a smaller leg opening intended for someone with skinny legs.
- Wide Fit: As you might expect, this cut features wide, loose pants legs and generous leg openings.
Slim fit and tapered fit sound quite similar. While they can mean the same thing, they can also describe slight differences; in jeans, for instance, a tapered fit provides a looser seat and thigh area and tightens at the calves and ankles, while a slim fit cradles the seat and thighs and provides a more fitted look all over.
A slim fit and a straight fit also share some characteristics, including a close-fitting seat and a sleek, modern style. However, straight fit pant legs tend to retain the boxy, straight leg of traditional dress pants, while slim fit pants usually have a tighter pant leg. Both of these cuts usually flatter tall, thin bodies.
Tips for Finding the Right Fit
Even if you know your body type, master your measurements, and select the style of shirt that perfectly flatters your shape, no off-the-rack shirt will fit perfectly. However, if you do the leg work and track down an almost-perfect shirt, you can usually have the shirt altered just a bit further and you will end up looking like you can afford to by bespoke clothing!
These tips will help you narrow down the search for your style.
How would you describe your body type? Are you short, stocky, slim, or muscular? These characteristics should determine what style you choose to wear. As you saw in the descriptions of different cuts of shirts, some cuts flatter certain body types. Athletic cut dress shirts look great on someone who works out all the time, but if you have a slimmer physique, you will look more stylish in a slim-fit or tapered shirt.
Another pro tip is to learn how to measure yourself so you can be sure you are buying a garment that will fit.
- Measure the circumference of your neck (rounding up to the nearest half or full inch since you don’t want your shirt to strangle you!)
- Measure your arm from the bottom of your neck to your wrist; add an inch to this number.
- Some shirts also provide a waist size; it’s a good idea to know your waist size in inches as well.
This tip may seem like common sense to you: when in doubt, try it on! Cuts vary from brand to brand. If you like a particular brand, you may want to try on a number of their shirts to determine which cut and style best suits you.
Finally, avoid the common dress shirt pitfalls. You do not want your shirt so tight that it looks like a second skin with buttons embarrassingly gapping open down your chest. Today’s styles also dictate that in trendy circles, a baggy waist is a faux pas. No matter your body shape, find a style that fits you well.
The metrics for what makes a perfectly fitted pair of pants vary from style to style, but everyone agrees on a few essentials.
First, the waist should never sag. Second, the seat should rest smoothly over your seat, without any sagging or straining. Third, the trouser break (the point at which the pant leg touches your shoe) should reach your shoe when you stand, though different styles prefer tiny variations in this length.
Again, it never hurts to try on a pair of pants and find out what a particular style looks like on you!
Common dress pant errors include too short (or too long) hems and a too-tight seat that strains against its seams and wrinkles awkwardly where it meets the thighs.
A lot goes into a well-fitted suit jacket. These quick tips can at least get you started on your quest for the perfect jacket!
Most jacket styles intend the jacket to hang to the mid-seat or around the middle of your hand when your arms hang loose at your sides. Lengths vary based on cut and style, but you don’t want your jacket to barely reach your waist!
The shoulders of your jacket should lie flat across your shoulders, without bunching up because of extraneous fabric or dragging the shoulder seam up onto your collar bones.
No matter what style of jacket you prefer, the collar should not gap or bulge at the back of your neck. You want the jacket collar to lie flat against the collar of your shirt.
If the jacket doesn’t button, you shouldn’t wear it. This bit of tough-love advice may hurt, but you should pick a jacket that flatters you instead of going for a smaller size that creases or strains when buttoned.
Finally, the jacket sleeves should fall below the top of your wrist, hitting somewhere between the top and bottom of your shirt cuff.
When buying a suit jacket or blazer, find one that fits your shoulders well. Altering the waist and sleeves of a jacket doesn’t take much work, but shoulders are difficult to alter. Though this may seem obvious to you, a tailor can alter a too-long sleeve but can make a too-short sleeve longer!
Where to Buy Dress Shirts
Most big-name brands in men’s dress wear offer a wide range of cuts and styles. Brands like Express, Brooks Brothers, Calvin Klein, and Van Heusen all offer pretty much any shirt you might want. If you prefer to support products closer to home, brands like Charles Tyrwhitt, Todd Shelton, and American Trench sell American-made clothes.
Here are a couple of sample shirts to give you an idea of what is available:
Do you feel like an expert on fitted clothing by now? Hopefully, you found some helpful tips to clarify the differences between each style and point you in the direction of the perfect cut of the shirt for your body type.
After reading about each style, what is your favorite cut of a dress shirt? Leave a comment below, or share this article if you found it interesting!