Until years ago, my dress shirts were almost exclusively from Brooks Brothers. Aside from their long (and now lost) heritage with dress shirts, they had a great fit and wonderful fabric until they went down the no-iron/wrinkle-free rabbit hole. Wrinkle-free is the crystal meth of menswear. Since my distaste for the substandard, formaldehyde-soaked, toxic, no-iron phenomenon is no secret, even earning me a quote in the Wall Street Journal, Brooks Brothers completely lost my business.
My preferred collar and cuff combination for dress shirts is a semi-spread collar with French cuffs. Same with my formal shirts. For handsome, well-made, affordable dress shirts, where to go?
In the wake of my distress about the wrinkle-free plague, I remember lamenting about the issue over lunch with my friend Kevin over at Condé Nast. “Get your ass over to Charles Tyrwhitt,” he said. “They have great shirts, great fabrics… and you can get four great shirts for 200 bucks.” Kevin was right. British shirtmaker Charles Tyrwhitt took over the lane on the highway that Brooks Brothers abandoned by making wonderful, well-made shirts with real cotton for an incredible price. While they have a lot of wrinkle-free on the menu, their selection of 100% real cotton shirts is terrific, available in a variety of patterns, weaves and colors and in three different fits: classic, slim and extra slim. (I’m 5’9” and 150 pounds, putting me comfortably in their extra slim.) They have all the good choices of collar and cuff combinations, too, whether you prefer a wide spread, semi-spread or button-down collar, barrel cuffs or French. And, yes, they’ve got that wonderful package deal of four shirts for $199.
My other favorite is Kamakura from Japan. To get right to the major appeal of the brand: the cotton is incredible. Really and truly the softest shirt I’ve ever worn. With a fit that somewhat favors a thinner form, they come in what they call a “Tokyo Fit” (narrower in the shoulders) classic or slim and a “New York Fit” (wider in the shoulders – my fit) classic or slim. Kamakura also has a wide range of fabrics, my favorite being the simple and wonderful broadcloth. Another reason Kamakura appeals to me is the unfused collar, which means that the collar has only two layers of fabric, as opposed to most dress shirts that have a fused collar, which has a heat-fused inner layer that gives the collar a permanently starched look. Depending on my mood, the occasion or what I’m wearing, I don’t always want a perfectly crisp and stiff collar. Since quality cotton dress shirts with unfused collars can be hard to find below the luxury spectrum, my Kamakura shirts provide a nice switch-up. And if you’re into the Ivy look, they’ve got you covered. Though the price point is higher than Charles Tyrwhitt ($79 per shirt), they’re still way less expensive than comparable quality from luxury shirtmakers.
When it comes to striking the balance between affordability and quality, Tyrwhitt and Kamakura do the trick for me.