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.

The three solutions that have helped me solve my little dress shirt conundrum best are Paul Fredrick, T.M. Lewin and Alara. Here’s the breakdown:

Paul FredrickPaul 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

tm-lewin-blueAs 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

Alara ShirtMy 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.

17 Comments

  1. George, I have had great success with a British brand called Charles Tyrwhitt. Now I’m a tall man with broad shoulders so I can not speak to common sizing but I hope they have what you are looking for.

    • George Reply

      Thanks, Adrian. But as I wrote in the story, Tyrwhitt is all about no-iron/easy-iron fabric, which I cannot abide. I used to be a customer, but no longer.

  2. Daniel Woren Reply

    i too have been looking for a shirt for quite some time with similar qualities. when TM Lewin was brought to my attention i quickly went to check out there collection. however i could not find any shirts that weren’t non-iron/ easy to iron. can you please provide a link for the shirt that you purchase from TM Lewin that is regular “real” cotton, because i cannot find any on their site?

  3. George, great article. Your views on no-iron are quite clear. I know this is outside the scope of a basic dress shirt article, but could you speak a little bit about other shirt fabrics pros/cons. The wide herringbone shirts strike me as looking like a seatbelt… love twill (outside of summer). Any thoughts on different fabrics or, importantly, ones to avoid?

  4. George, I’ve been reading a lot about Kamakura, being from New York, have you ever tried them out?

  5. Thanks for a great article. However–and I might be mistaken–TM Lewin shirts seem to all have easy
    -to-iron finish, do they not?

    • George Reply

      You are correct, Andy. I was led to believe otherwise until I washed them and wore them the first time. Then I read the fine print in the item description on their site. Very disappointing. I’ll be amending this post.

  6. Stephen vegh Reply

    Hi George. Ever ordered a shirt from Harvie & Hudson? If not, look into it. Great shits and quality. Mine have lasted me 7+ years.

  7. Andrew Corbett Reply

    4 December 2014

    Hi George
    have happened upon your site and love reading your opinions – so openly expressed and I find myself nodding in agreement.

    I also favour white and a range of blue slim-fit dress shirts because of the solid elegance and versatility. After a lot of searching, I have found a local brand called Boston (New Zealand actually) that gives me a perfect fit and at a good price (around USD70).

    Granted it is a cotton polyester blend but it’s a good fabric weave and I just like it. None of that “no-iron” nonsense that you rightly detest.

    I may be a little late to this post but am curious about your comment “…a 15.5″ neck and a 35″ collar…”. Did you mean a 35″ sleeve?

    Best wishes from Sydney, Australia
    Andrew

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