High Quality Dress Shirt Construction
For years, men in the professional world have battled with this question, what makes a high quality dress shirt? The smart ones have ultimately left it in the hands of their experienced tailor. The high-quality dress shirt should provide everything that this successful hardworking gentleman seeks: flattering fit; comfort; and longevity. To achieve these things and more, it takes several obvious and not so obvious attributes to the shirt. Some are common sewing techniques, and some are trade secrets that shall not be divulged here but rather discussed in a general sense.
Fabric and Thread Count:
Any designer, tailor, or stylist will tell you that fabric can either make or break an article of clothing – and this couldn’t be more true than with a high-quality dress shirt. A shirt of substantial quality is made of the finest Egyptian Giza cotton with a high thread count. Thread count relates to the coarseness or fineness in diameter of the yarn. A 50s, 60s, or 80s thread is coarser than a super 100s, 120s, 140s, 160s and higher. Super 300s or 330s is the finest and longest staple length we carry. How many threads you weave in a square inch or centimeter of fabric will make it denser, and heavier. Stripe and check colors will look more vivid because of more color saturation in higher thread count yarns. The threads are finer resulting in more threads per inch; this will result in less fading over years of use. Compare this to a high-resolution screen with finer pixels resulting in a much more vivid picture. The higher the thread count – with the right number of threads per inch – the softer the fabric, and typically, a better chance that the dress shirt will wear well and become even softer over time. Threads used to make up a cloth can be single, two, or three ply; or a combination of single and two ply to give it the softness, pliability and strength. Single-ply shirts are usually thinner and finer with a wonderful cooling quality, and two ply shirts a little heavier and more durable. Most high-quality dress shirts start at two-ply 80s or 100s and the luxury shirts at 120s and higher.
A collar is meant to frame the neck and enhance the overall fit of the shirt. The perfect shirt will have a proper fitting collar – which is achieved through a custom fit. Evidence of a high-quality shirt is a collar that stands firm but still has immense comfort. There are three layers to a collar – two layers of the body fabric and one layer of the interlining in the middle. Collars can be fused where the top layer is bonded to the interlining only. The other option is non-fused with a full floating canvas where the interlining is floating between the two layers of fabric. Fused collars look clean and crisp and they are easy for home and commercial laundering. Non-fused collars have a better feel with a natural roll in a button down or a Neapolitan spread collar. Additionally, non-fused collars make cleaning the collar much easier because the dirt does not get clogged in the glued layer. If you have a problem with the dreaded “ring around the collar,” which are essentially skin oil collar stains, having a non-fused collar will be advantageous.
Most ready-to-wear shirts are fused today, and it’s easy for any manufacturer to make fused collars, but it takes an experienced and trained shirt maker to make the clean looking non-fused collars with a floating canvas. You can also tell a high quality collar by checking its durability at its edges: they are sewn where the interlining is folded over at the edge giving a 3-dimensional appearance; they are thicker and heartier and very distinguishable at the seams. Only experienced shirt makers can make these collars with the seams interlining folded over; it helps with both the appearance and longevity of the collar and cuffs.
Obviously a very important aspect of a high-quality dress shirt, since it is the stitching that is holding everything together. Anything less than 21 stitches per square inch throughout the entire shirt would not be considered high-quality and ensure an elegant look with durability.
Yoke and Split Yoke:
The panel of the dress shirt just under the collar along the upper back shoulder line is called the yoke, and when it includes two separate pieces divided by a seam directly in the middle, it’s called a split yoke. A split yoke is necessary when someone’s body type calls for it: typically when someone has an uneven slope in shoulders. The yoke, irrespective of whether it is split or not, should have a nice curve along the back horizontal seam and the fabric used for this portion is cut slightly on the bias allowing for better movement in the shoulders. In the case of a dress shirt including stripes or a print, the fabric will be cut and sewn so that the stripes are perpendicular to the rest of the shirt. i.e.: If the shirt has vertical stripes, the yoke, or split yoke, will have horizontal stripes and in the split version, they will match up perfectly in the center seam.
Mother of Pearl Buttons and Shanking:
Most high-quality dress shirts include mother of pearl buttons around 3mm in size, which are attached using a clean cross stitch in high-quality 100% cotton thread. It is also important to note that many gentlemen – especially those don’t want to hassle with difficulties buttoning and unbuttoning their collar or sleeves – will opt for a light shank around the button. Shanking is extra threading wound around the base stitch under the button; causing the button to “stand up” a bit from the shirt itself providing easier access for less nimble fingers and timely shirt changes.
A button hole seems rudimentary and seemingly unnecessary to mention. However, it’s all in the details when it comes to quality, and the first sign of a poor quality shirt is threading of a button hole unraveling after the first few washings. A high-quality shirt will always have high-density button holes, which essentially include a lot more stitches than the average to ensure longevity and polished look.
Side Seams and Sleeve Seams:
The side seams of a dress shirt, as well as down the inside of the sleeves, have a distinguishable look and are finely sewn double-French seams. These seams are double stitched inside with only a visible single stich on the outside which ensures strength and sturdiness with clean finished look. They take extra time to sew and something only experienced tailors are equipped to do.
In certain cases, to achieve optimal arm movement and shirt placement while tucked in, the sleeve is sewn on separately – so instead of a fluid side seam to arm, it creates an off-set armhole seam. This is perfectly acceptable in high-quality shirts – and seemingly unnoticeable – with the benefits outweighing any presumed negative aspect by someone who is not in the know.
Cuffs are an important aspect of a high-quality dress shirt because they enhance the overall look and fit of the sleeve. They should be stiff with a sophisticated structure to them. There are three layers to a cuff – two layers of the body fabric and one layer of the interlining in the middle. Cuffs can be fused where the top layer is bonded to the interlining only. The other option is non-fused with a full floating canvas where the interlining is floating between the two layers of fabric. Fused cuffs look clean and crisp and they are easy for home and commercial laundering, however non-fused cuffs will keep their shape years longer and are easier to clean because stains and dirt do not get caught in the glued fused layer. You can also tell high quality cuffs by checking their durability at the edges: they are sewn where the interlining is folded over at the edge; they are thicker and heartier and very distinguishable at the seams.