In comparison to a suit, there isn’t as much to say about identifying a quality shirt, however, you should be as discriminating about the construction of a shirt as you are of a suit. You’ll find below a couple of things that you should look out for – things that don’t make much of a difference to quality and those that do make a difference to the quality of a shirt. Let’s start with the insignificant stuff.
- Machine stitching: Some shirts, mostly down to the shirt maker, have more stitches to the inch than others. Stitches per inch are important because it can have a direct influence on the seam strength, the stitch appearance and the seam elasticity on stretch fabrics (18 per inch is a good reference point). It makes little difference to the longevity of the shirt and if looked after properly, even low-priced shirts will last you 10 years or more.
- Material: In many luxury shirts, material is what you pay for – although it’s doesn’t really matter and in terms of comfort, the benefit is little. The finer, thinner cotton that makes the fabric lighter and more delicate on your skin is what you’re usually paying for – it’s great for tropical regions like Nigeria. Lighter, thinner, finer materials give the cotton a sheen than can be showy. The point I’m trying to make here is great cotton is great cotton.
- Gussets: These are the little bits that end the side seam, stopping it coming apart. To further explain, gussets are pieces of fabric (often triangular or kite-shaped) inserted along a seam to make a garment a wee bit bigger. Usually, gussets are inserted along underarms, on sleeves and on the hems. The extra piece of fabric adds a bit of breathing room to a garment that was originally a bit too tight. Gussets also help add shape to a garment.
- Buttons: You’ve probably heard of ‘mother pearl’ buttons, they are nice, and certainly preferable to plastic; but where that mother of pearl comes from is not so important. The more expensive they are, the chunkier they are. For showmanship, this is a welcome addition.
- Removable Collar Stays: It’s a very functional feature if your shirt has a fused collar but it’s not so important. A well-constructed built in collar stay will do the job just the same.
- Pleats up the sleeve: Excess is taken in somewhere every time you attach a cuff to a sleeve (you can do this through a number of pleats) although the Neapolitans prefer the constant gathering which is more difficult, but in no way better and too effeminate for some. These pleats can be used to throw fullness in the right places like around the elbow, which requires extra room.
- Off-set side seams: Have you noticed on any of your shirts where the side seam and the sleeve seam don’t line up? That’s what an off-set side seam is – the sleeves have been turned around to change the pitch. Whichever way you look at it, it has a functional advantage and makes little difference in the overall look and comfort of the shirt.
- Fit: Which is the most important of them all.
- Good length tails: The longer length tails add to some of the extra costs you pay for a luxury shirt. In honesty, the tails of a shirt simply have to be long enough to be tucked in properly. The really long ones you’ll see on some brands help with staying tucked but do you really need all that length? Remarks from men that have adorned Qollars shirts state how much they appreciate the fact that they can wear the shirt tucked and un-tucked comfortably.
- Style: This mostly boils down to the collar length, shape and spread. It’s a case of personal preference – don’t forget that different collars fit different face and body shapes.
- General care: Care is very important – you’ll quickly spot how much care was put into the production of a shirt on close inspection. Always pay close attention to items you buy and don’t be deceived by the outward designs and aesthetics, they tend to be there to divert your attention. A lot of manufacturers take shortcuts and make up for it with the addition of things like fancy gussets in order to distract you from all the shortcuts taken elsewhere. If you’re buying a brand for the first time, there may be weaknesses in the way the shirt is sewn that you can’t easily see. For instance – the way the thread is knotted off after a button is sewn on.
- Functional hand sewing: There’s a natural roundness to both the sleeves and collars when they are attached by hand, you’ll notice how less stiff the collar will be when worn – the collar is the area that hand sewing has the biggest impact on shirts. You’ll also notice a softness to the seams, which is one of the prior things people comment on when they get a Qollars shirt. This softness is mostly due to the increased width of those seams.
- Fused/Floating Collars: Collars are one of the most fundamental aspects of a shirts construction and it’s down to personal choice as stated earlier. Soft collars don’t mean a shirt is less fancy, it’s simply a soft, more casual collar and it has its stylish value. Floating collars generally take more time to construct, and for that reason are often held up as a sign of a quality shirt. However, they can be uncomfortable when buttoned and too ready to collapse when open. A well-made fused collar will not bubble when wet, or age badly. They require collar stiffeners more compared to floating collars when worn buttoned.
The best advice I can give when buying a shirt is to buy a shirt for their fit first, then their style, then functional hand sewing. Take good care of them; don’t dry clean them or hang dry and ensure to tackle stains quickly. Stains are one of the biggest shirt killers. Stay fresh.