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How to Read Dress Shirt Sizes

Reading men's dress shirt sizes can feel like trying to read a different language if you don’t know what you’re doing. So many men go through life never really knowing what their size is or what all those numbers mean. As a result, many people don’t wear the correct size dress shirt and either end up with shirts that are too tight or too baggy. The good news is that reading dress shirt sizes doesn’t have to be impossible! With a little bit of studying on your end, you can become an expert in dress shirt sizes and learn how to find shirts that fit you like a glove!


Dress Shirt Fits

Before we get started on dress shirt sizes, in order to make sure that you look your absolute best you need to make sure that you are educated on dress shirt fits as well. Dress shirt fit is another element of dress shirts that confuses a lot of people. Many people don’t know the differences between the fits and just pick random things without even paying attention to the fit! This is a huge mistake because the fit of a dress shirt is just as important as its size. Even if you have the right size, if you have the wrong fit the shirt might not look very good on you. 

There are three main types of dress shirt fits:

  • Classic fit: The classic (sometimes referred to as traditional) fit for dress shirts is exactly what it sounds like – classic. This fit was designed for the time when men would always wear jackets or blazers with their dress shirts and never without. Therefore, this fit is a little baggier in the arms and stomach area since those parts weren’t meant to be shown! This is a great fit if you are planning on wearing your dress shirt with a jacket, if you have a bigger build and prefer big & tall fits, or if you want to have more room to move around in your dress shirt. 
  • Contemporary fit: The contemporary (or tailored) fit for dress shirts is a more contemporary twist on the classic fit. This is a very versatile fit that works for a lot of body shapes and functions. Since it is slightly slimmer than the classic fit, it can look good with or without a jacket. It gives you a little bit of room to move and breathe and is the perfect fit for people with an average build. 
  • Slim fit: The slim fit for dress shirts is the tightest fit that is designed specifically to be worn without a jacket. This fit creates a really clean and modern look but can be a little bit restrictive since it is tighter. It also might not look the best on you if you aren’t particularly slim yourself. 

While all of these fits are great for different people and different occasions, it might be a good idea to have a combination of them in your closet so that you can switch it up depending on how much you will need to move, how formal you are trying to be, and if you are wearing a jacket or not. Overall, you need to shop for dress shirts with a particular fit in mind before you look for the right size.


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How to Read Dress Shirt Sizes

Now that you know how to find the right fit it’s time to move on to the next step of finding a perfect dress shirt: reading the sizes. If looking at a dress shirt size tag makes you scratch your head in confusion because of all the different numbers – you’re in the right place. We are here to help you understand it all. 

Most dress shirt sizes involve two different numbers, sometimes three. The first number that you are going to see relates to your neck size. The second number that you are going to see is related to the sleeve length. Occasionally you will see a third number that relates to chest or waistline size depending on where you’re shopping. Another thing that you need to look out for are dress shirts that don’t necessarily include obvious numbers but instead go by basic sizes. When you run into this, you need to take careful note of the size chart to see if you need to buy a small, medium, large, or x-large based on your measurements. 

How to Measure Yourself for a Dress Shirt

Hopefully by now you know what you are looking at when you see a dress shirt whether it’s “slim fit – 15 32/33” or “classic fit 17 34/35.” However, those numbers mean nothing if you don’t know your own measurements! The good news is that you are more than capable of completing this last step to finding the perfect dress shirt by finding your measurements.

For this you can do one of two things: you can go to a menswear store or a tailor and have them measure you there or you can do it yourself at home, although you probably need the assistance of a friend or partner if you are going to do it at home. 

If you are a simple guy and are a big fan of DIY, then you will need a cloth measuring tape to make sure that you get the most accurate body measurements. The tape measure from your toolbox probably won’t work very well for this but you can often find cloth measuring tapes in sewing kits.

The first measurement that you are going to take is your neck measurement. This directly correlates to the collar size of the dress shirt. Here are some tips to get the best neck measurement:

  • Start by standing up straight but relaxed
  • Place the measuring tape right below your Adam’s apple and wrap it relatively loosely around the base of your neck. 
  • Place one finger beneath the measuring tape if you want to allow for a bit of extra room and avoid the potential of a tight collar
  • Take a note of the number that you get when both sides of the tape meet

The second measurement that you are going to take is your sleeve measurement. This one is a little bit more complicated than the neck measurement and you might need an assistant to help you out. 

  • Have your assistant hold the beginning of the measuring tape at the center of the base of your neck
  • Stick your arm out and slightly bend it at your side
  • Allow the measuring tape to run along the top of your arm and down your forearm to your wrist
  • Take a note of the number where the measuring tape reaches just past your wrist where your shirt sleeve would naturally fall

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Things to Remember

With all this information, you should now be able to read dress shirt sizes like a pro and be well on your way to finding a dress shirt that fits you like a glove! Here are some additional final tips to make sure that you get the best shirt possible:

  • When measuring, it’s a good idea to round up to the next inch to make sure that you will have enough room in your shirt to move around
  • When measuring, it’s also a good idea to physically take notes of the numbers that you get once you get them. Your phone is a perfect place to do this so that you always have access to this information and won’t lose it
  • If you find the amount of shirts in a store super overwhelming, consider shopping online instead since you will be able to easily filter through dress shirt choices and pick your size that way instead of physically searching through tons of different options

Don’t be discouraged if you don’t find the right size at first. Consider your options and the resources available to help you find the perfect fit for the perfect dress shirt!

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