Here’s my conundrum: my preferred basic, essential dress shirt is a solid white or solid pale blue slim-fit shirt with a 3″ semi-spread collar, French cuffs, a 15.5″ neck and a 35″ collar in regular cotton poplin for under $80 or so.
One would think that such a shirt would be easy to find. Basic and uncomplicated, right? Au contraire, mon frere. There are a lot of shirtmakers that meet some of those simple requirements, but very few that meet all of them, without going made-to-measure (which typically jacks the price well above $100). The trickiest and most elusive items on my list of requirements are the French cuffs and the real cotton, as opposed to more popular barrel cuffs and the wrinkle-free Frankenstein cotton that has ruined dress shirts for any man of discernment. And I like solid poplin. Not twill. Not herringbone. Not textured. I need my basics in plain… solid… understated poplin, which is apparently reaching for the stars these days.
As I said, some brands come close, but get no cigar from my wallet. J.Crew’s shirts have skinny collars and only come in S/M/L/XL; Ledbury is sometimes close, but never has exactly what I need when I peruse their site; Charles Tyrwhitt has gone completely wrinkle-free and “easy-iron” in the poplin/spread-collar/slim-fit/French-cuff department, as has the once dependable Brooks Brothers. It’s as if every shirtmaker seems to be falling over themselves trying reinvent what was already perfect, trying to dazzle us with limitless combinations of stripes, patterns and gingham galore. Other options for the plain poplin are prohibitively expensive or custom, which I don’t require when it comes to dress shirts.
Paul Fredrick has a terrific white poplin slim-fit dress shirt. I get my semi-spread collar (which they call a “Windsor” collar) and my French cuffs. Three of their “Imperial 100s” cotton dress shirts can be had for a cool $139. Though they come in a solid blue in addition to the white, their blue is a tad dark – like the shade of a policeman’s shirt – and not the super pale blue that I prefer. So I just get my solid whites here. www.paulfredrick.com
As for that super pale blue that I prefer, a reader of mine suggested I look into British shirtmaker T.M. Lewin. Though they didn’t seem to be able to scratch my white poplin itch with my must-list, I was delighted to see everything I was looking for in a pale blue: slim-fit, semi-spread collar (which they call “classic”) and French cuffs in the perfect light blue poplin. Their deal is 4 shirts for $160, which is fabulous. The only drawback was that the closest sleeve length to my measurement was 36″, but they offer to customize the length to my 35″ measurement for $15 per shirt. Still fabulous. www.tmlewin.com
My third favorite solid dress shirt for the price comes from Alara Shirt. In their collection of solid white slim-fits is a shirt in what they call a “micro-cord” Egyptian cotton. It’s sturdy but ultra-light and breathable, making it wonderful for super hot summer days. While it comes with my coveted French cuffs, it’s only available with a cutaway collar (which they call a “Euro” collar), which makes for a fine occasional switcheroo from my usual. They run a more than fair $59 each. alarashirt.com
If there are others that meet my fabric/pattern/fit/collar/cuff requirements within my price range, they have yet to come onto my radar. I don’t want to discredit the fine work other brands are doing with patterns and textures, but too many of them have abandoned simple, basic essentials in favor of attention-grabbing technicolor and 3-D with a fervor that seems almost desperate. For now, I’m glad to know that the brands who get my money have me covered – literally – in the understated fashion I prefer.