Understanding Men’s Dress Shirt Sizes And How To Find Your Own

In the world of men’s fashion, it can be argued that the dress shirt is the most versatile and important piece of clothing in a man’s closet.

Understanding Men’s Dress Shirt Sizes And How To Find Your Own

Which is why it is key to get one that fits you perfectly for whatever style you are aiming for. Even if you are planning on wearing it under a suit jacket, you need to ensure that it fits well to make the look cohesive.

There are options of buying a shirt off the shelf if you don’t want one tailor made for you. Of course this doesn mean that you may have to be more lenient with your sizes.

Every store can’t cater towards all the body types, as that would be a waste of products, so they will only stock the more popular body types.

When looking at the sizes of dress shirts you may see them come in 2 forms, numerical and alpha. Below we have described the differences between these sizing forms and how to understand them.

The Difference Between Numerical And Alpha

Numerical sizing is the more exact method of the two. It will have the neck size in inches and then the sleeve length in inches on the tag. Some good manufacturers will also include the chest size.

Alpha sizing is the general sizes (small, medium and large) that you will find across most clothing. Unfortunately, these types of sizes don’t have industry standard measurements so they can vary across manufacturers.

Below are the general measurements provided by each size.

General Alpha Size Guide

  • XS – 13.5-14.5 inch collar
  • S – 14.5-15.5 inch collar
  • M – 15.5.-16.5 inch collar
  • L – 16.5-17.5 inch collar
  • XL – 17.5-18 inch collar
  • XXL – 18-18.5 inch collar

Knowing these general sizes are good for when you are buying a dress shirt but can’t try it on, for example when you are shopping online. If you are buying your clothing online, check the return policy they provide.

The only way to find your best shirt size may be through a bit of trial and error. After you find the perfect dress shirt you can buy different styles from the same place and know they will fit.

How To Measure For A Dress Shirt

While you are able to get a tailor to professionally measure you, it can be easily done at home. All you need is someone to help and a fabric tape measure.

If you do not have a fabric tape measure, you can use a piece of string and then measure the string against a ruler or tape measure.

  1. First measure the circumference of your neck base. To ensure that it is not too tight, put a finger or two between your neck and the tape measure.
  2. Next measure the length of your arm. This is where you may need a second person. Start your measurement at the center back of the neck. Lead the tape over the shoulder and then end it at the wrist, ideally where it starts to widen to your hand. For best results, bend your arm slightly when measuring down to account for mobility.
  3. After that you measure your chest. You do this measurement just under the armpits and around the chest. Hold your breath in when doing this to account for chest expansion.
  4. Finally, measure your waist. You will need to measure the narrowest part of your waist, this is typically just above the belly button.

If you measure to not a whole or half inch then round up. For example if your neck is 15.6 inches then round up to 16 inches.

How The Fit Of The Shirt Changes The Size

When looking at shirts you must not only consider the size of them, but also how that size can affect the style of the shirt. Here are 4 styles of shirt ranging from the loosest fit to the tightest. 

  • Classic – Also known as standard, this style of shirt is the most common found on the market. It offers more room and is tapered near the waist. The looser fit allows for more relaxed arm holes and fuller sleeves. This style is ideal for those with a wider chest and/or waist. It may also have a longer back tail to prevent the shirt from untucking from your pants when sitting down.
  • Modern – The modern fit is a good medium between the classic and slim styles. 
  • Slim – Made from less fabric for a more form fitting look. The armholes are placed higher in this style. A slim fit is known for contouring someone’s v-shaped waist.
  • Extra slim – As suggested by the name, this fit is designed for people who are very slender.
Understanding Men’s Dress Shirt Sizes And How To Find Your Own

Shirt Collars

The style of the collar can completely change the shirt. Some are more casual and others compliment different knots of a tie. There are many types of collars so we have curated just a few to explain what effect they can give.

  • Button Down – A non-reinforced collar, because of this the front points are prone to move. To combat this both sides of the collar adhere to the chest with buttons. Considered a more casual/sporty style since it was introduced for polo players. It is considered a faux-pas to wear a tie with this collar in Europe, however not so much in the US or Asia. 
  • English Spread – One of the most common collar styles, due to this it is popular for people to wear this type of collar without a tie. When wearing without a tie it is common practice to unbutton the top button of the shirt. This collar looks good with a Windsor knot, it is good advice to avoid skinny tie knots with this collar. 
  • Straight or Point – A traditional and versatile style of collar. It is characterized by the short distance between points. This collar is a good match for people with round faces.

Shirt Cuffs

Another way to customize a shirt is with the cuffs. The cuffs can also determine the level of formality the shirt provides. Here are a few available cuff styles.

  • Barrel – The most commonly found cuff style. Named for its barrel shape, these cuffs are fastened together around the wrist with buttons. Avoid wearing these cuffs at white or black tie events.
  • French – Square or rounded in shape and require cufflinks. The French cuff is distinct as it folds back over itself. It is common to wear these with tuxedos, but can be paired with a business suit.
  • Mitered – A more formal type of Barrel cuff. This cuff adds a bit of unique style and gives a handsome look. It is named Mitered after the 45 degree angle that is cut out by the button closure.

How To Care For A Dress Shirt

If your shirt has been tailor-made for you, it is important that it is properly taken care of. Tailor-made clothes are typically sturdier than other clothes, but that doesn’t mean you are unable to increase its life expectancy with proper care.

The easiest option for most people is to simply take them to the dry cleaners. While this will work, there are many benefits to cleaning your own shirts.

Personalized Cleaning

When cleaning your own clothes you are able to target certain areas of your clothes, for example a particularly tough stain. You can also select the detergent and softener used if you have any particular preference. 

It is important to read the label beforehand to figure out the best way to wash your shirts. If the collars of the shirt have any collar sticks they will need to be removed before washing.


When the shirts are done in the washing machine, take them out immediately and hang them up. Straighten them out by hand to decrease the amount of wrinkles. Or you can put them in the dryer at a low temperature if the material allows it.


When ironing your shirts it’s best to do so while they’re damp. Iron the shirt in the following sections for best results: collar, cuffs, sleeves, shoulder yoke, button facing side, and lastly the back side.

Joseph Pais