Finding (or even making) a well-fitting shirt can be a challenge. Not only do you need to consider things like material, color, and style (will it be casual or dressy, short-sleeved or long) you also need to figure your way through the labyrinth of different fits. Athletic, classic, slim, semi-fitted, fitted… with so many different fits out there, how exactly are we meant to know which is best?
Fortunately, help is on hand. If you’re looking for some help in navigating your way through the options, you’re in the right place.
If you’ve come across a shirt pattern that describes the garment as semi-fitted, it’s helpful to understand exactly what this means. After all, you don’t want to go to all the effort of making a shirt if the end result is going to be a disappointment. Most of us understand a semi-fitted shirt will be “neat”, but just how neat? And how does a semi-fitted shirt differ from a fitted shirt?
Simply put, a semi-fitted shirt has a close fit, but with enough “ease” to allow for a comfortable fit that skims, rather than clings, to the body. Typically, a semi-fitted shirt will have around 4 inches of ease around the bust.
Semi-fitted shirts tend to be both a little more comfortable than their fitted counterparts, and a little more figure-flattering: think of it as a fit that allows for movement, accommodates a little more ‘extra padding’, but that’s still form-fitting enough to give an elegant, figure-flattering silhouette.
So, now we know what a semi-fitted shirt is, we come to the next big question… what, exactly, is a fitted shirt?
As its name suggests, a fitted shirt is…. well, fitted. Unlike semi-fitted shirts that skim the body, a fitted shirt hugs it. While a semi-fitted shirt has around 4 inches of ease around the bust, a fitted shirt has just 2.5 inches (or thereabouts).
Fitted shirts tend to have the most formal aesthetic of all the shirts. Men’s fitted shirts tend to be worn under a suit, providing a sleek look that lacks the bulk of a looser fitting garment. Women’s fitted shirts are also often worn to create a business-like look, creating a trim appearance that accentuates the shape.
Wondering what the difference between a classic shirt and a slim fit shirt is? Well, wonder no more.
In essence, a classic shirt is your bog-standard, basic shirt that’s been cut without any particular cut or tapering. The neck size will usually determine the size, and the fit will usually be cut generously at the waist with a broader chest and shoulders and lower armholes. Although it depends on the pattern, many classic shirts will feature box pleats at the base of the yoke to give an easy, free-moving fit with minimal constrictions.
Moving on to slim fit shirts, we’re looking at a body-fitting garment that gives a lean silhouette. Usually, it’s best suited to those with a slender physique. The sides of a slim fit shirt are tapered to stop the shirt spilling out at the sides when tucked into trousers (a common problem for Slim Jim’s when they wear looser fitting shirts). It’ll also often feature darts in the back to taper the shirt and allow it to “hug” the body. Compared to classic fit shirts, slim fit shirts are more tailored around the arms, while their back panels give a narrower, tighter fit to the shoulders.
If you’ve got an athletic build, shopping for dress shirts probably ranks pretty highly on your hate list. Unfortunately for the muscle men out there, most designers don’t cater to gym-bod dimensions when it comes to turning out shirts for the masses.
Classic shirts may fit the upper body, but the absence of tapering around the waist will result in a baggy, boxy look. A slim fit will give the required tapering around the waist, but its narrow shoulders will leave those with broad chests at best, uncomfortable, and at worst, with ripped elbows and a handful of popped buttons.
But before you despair, let me introduce you to the athletic fit shirt, a shirt that combines the upper body dimensions of a classic fit with the tapered waist of a slim fit. Typically, athletic fit shirts come with slightly lower armholes than a slim fit, thus allowing ease of movement. The dart at the back, meanwhile, effectively eliminates any excess fabric around the waist.
Designed to be snug-fitting, the athletic fit shirt creates a V-silhouette that shows off a sculptured body while still allowing a comfortable fit.
If you’re not quite sure if your shirt’s too big, try pinching the fabric between your thumb and finger on the side seam. If the excess fabric amounts to 3” or more, you’re looking at a shirt that’s way too large, my friend. Similarly, if you get a “muffin top” (an excess of fabric billowing at the waist) when you tuck the shirt into your pants, you may need to revisit your sizing decisions.
Sometimes, it’s not just the size of the shirt that can cause a shirt to look ill-fitting. A “boxy” cut (in other words, one where the shirt’s length isn’t in proportion to the fit, either because it’s too long and too narrow or too short and too wide) will look square and badly fitting regardless of whether it’s the right size or not.
How tight a shirt should fit is, of course, a matter of preference… at least to a degree. If you want to keep things looking sleek and stylish, however, there’s a couple of pointers worth bearing in mind.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty, one quick thing to note. Fit guidelines apply regardless of your size or shape. Just because you’re on the larger size, it doesn’t mean you should be concealing yourself under a baggy, ill-fitting shirt, not unless you want to look both disheveled and a lot larger than you actually are.
Equally, skinny-minnies or gym bods shouldn’t flaunt the rules and adopt skintight shirts: if the shirt’s tight enough to show the line between your pecs, you’ve gone too far.
For the ideal shirt fit, aim for the following:
Ideally, a shirt should be trim fitting, meaning not so tight as to show your belly button outline, but not so loose as give you a muffin top when you tuck it into pants. Pinch the fabric in the middle of the shirt’s side seam between your thumb and finger: if you can pinch more than 3”, the shirt’s too loose. If you can’t even pull together 1.5”, it’s too tight.
Unless you’re happy to deprive your hands of blood, keep the clearance between your cuffs and wrist to around 1-1.5”.
Sleeves should look fitted but have enough ease to allow natural movement: if you can pinch around 1″ to 1.5” extra fabric at the bicep, it’s ideal.
To ensure a tailored fit (and avoid the dreaded “boxy” look), shoulder seams should fall to the edge of the shoulder bone. If they’re falling to the shoulder muscles instead, the shirt’s too big.
It may sound strange, but armhole placement can make a huge difference to how well a shirt fits. To judge if the armholes are in the right place for your body type, pop the shirt on and raise your arms to the side. If the shirt raises by more than an inch, you need higher armholes.
Even on a properly fitting shirt, buttons may pull when you move. If, on the other hand, they’re causing your shirt to pucker even when you’re standing still, you may need to opt for a larger size.
If your shirt’s too big but you don’t have the time to get it tailored, there’s a few last-minute solutions that can work wonders at improving its appearance.
If you’ve bought, made, or been gifted a really nice shirt, discovering it’s way too long can be a bitter pill to swallow. Fortunately, all’s not lost. Before you consign the shirt to the trash, try making a few minor adjustments… you’ll be surprised at just how easy it is.
What You’ll Need:
Place the overlong shirt on a flat surface and overlay it with the well-fitting shirt. Ensure the shoulders and sides are aligned.
Take your measuring tape and measure the difference in length between the two shirts. Measurements should be taken on both the side and in the middle.
Unbutton the shirt and fold a hem along the middle and sides to the same measurement that you took in the last step (for example, if you measured the shirt as being 2.5” too long, this should be how much you hem it by).
Pin the hem and iron to “set”.
Starting a few inches in from the side of the shirt, start sewing the hem into place. Once you’ve finished the entire hem, trim the thread. Repeat the process, only this time, feed the shirt into the machine from the opposite direction you went the first time.
Remove the pins before trimming any excess fabric from the hem to finish.
Shirt makers have an unfortunate habit of thinking everyone comes in identikit sizes. Unless you’re built to the same dimensions as their mannequins, there’s a good chance you’ve come across at least a few shirts with knee-dusting sleeves.
Fortunately, there’s a myriad of ways you can adjust a sleeve with just a few nifty rolls… and best of all, you don’t need a sewing machine to do it.
Before you get rolling, take a moment to figure out just how long the sleeves should actually be. Start by popping the shirt on with the cuffs unbuttoned. Stand straight, arms to your sides. Ideally, the sleeves should just brush the edge of the back of your hand. If they’re covering your hands completely, try one of these neat little solutions.
The Faux French Cuff
For extra-long sleeves, the Faux French Cuff makes a great option. Simply roll up your sleeves once before buttoning in reverse. If you like, you can add some cufflinks to keep the roll in place.
The Italian Roll
For a bit of classic Italian elegance, try the Italian roll. Unbutton the cuff and remove any gauntlet buttons from the sleeve. Fold the cuff inside out and keep tugging until the sleeve length is just a little longer than your desired look. Fold the bottom of the sleeve (which should still be inside out at this point) so that it creates a band beneath the cuff. Adjust for comfort.
The Classic Roll
Simply unbutton the cuffs and fold the end of the sleeve over several times until you get to the elbow.