We have shared about suits, blazers, sport jackets, and even dress shoes in the past. But without the shirt, these tailored garments are essentially meaningless. You can mix and match, or remove any garment, and it’s still pretty much acceptable. Remove your tie and keep your collar open? People might think you’re simply kicking off your shoes at the end of the day. Remove your jacket, keeping only your shirt and tie? Sure, you’re probably in the comfort of your own office, with your jacket hanging up somewhere nearby. But wearing just your jacket without a shirt, and your tie around your bare neck? Hmm… Now that’s a little too difficult to fathom.
The Essential Layer In Layering Your Attire
The modern shirt evolved from what was essentially undergarment of the past. Back in the day, the only acceptable “outerwear” was the garment that evolved into the modern day jacket. Hence, the “shirt” was not something that you’d expose when you’re with polite company. But over time, what was then the outerwear, the jacket, evolved into the outer-outerwear. And the layer beneath it, the shirt, took its place as the outerwear. By then, it was no longer impolite to remove your jacket in the presence of company.
And as the shirt evolved, it also became the piece of garment to denote the formality of the overall outfit. Just by changing your shirt, whilst keeping your jacket the same, you can fine-tune the formality that you project too.
The Different Levels Of Formality In Menswear
Whilst not exactly clearcut, there is a somewhat subtle differentiation when it comes to term “menswear”. Take note that the term “menswear” here also includes women’s business attire too. So let’s try to quantify the subtle nuances of classic menswear :-
|Formality Level||Types Of Base Attire|
|#1||Business Formal (Conservative Dark Suit)|
|#2||Business Semi-Formal (More “Lively” Suit)|
|#3||Business Informal (Blazer Combo)|
|#4||Business Casual (Sport Jacket Combo)|
|#5||Casual (Casual Jacket Combo)|
Think of the suits/jackets combo as the foundation of one’s attire. Then the shirt is the concrete that holds the foundation structure altogether. And on top of that is where you add on other accessories like neckwear, pocket squares, timepieces, jewellery, etc.
Different Classes Of Shirt
Many people won’t bat an eyelid about the type of shirt you wear, as long as you wear one. But the type of shirt that you wear can make or break your overall outfit. So understanding the different classes of shirt, and how to match them is of great importance. It’ll really help you to take charge of the personal brand image that you want to project. So here are some of the different classes of shirt, in descending order of formality :-
(1) The Classic Solid White
The solid white shirt is the staple shirt in classic menswear. It’s dressy enough to wear for formality levels #1 through #4. If you’re not sure how formal the event you’re attending, just wear a white shirt. You’re unlikely to go wrong.
Of course, even within the realm of solid white shirts, there’ll always be subtle differences between them. The rule of thumb is that textured weave is less dressy than plain weave. And larger texture is less dressy than finer texture. In short, the less visible texture it has, the dressier it is.
(2) The Classic Solid Light Blue
Occupying the second spot, right after the solid white shirt is the solid light blue shirt. This is dressy enough to wear for formality levels between #2 and #4. Similarly to the solid white shirt, the solid light blue shirt is almost as universal as the former too.
Also similar with the solid white counterpart, the solid light blue shirt also comes in variations of texture too. Likewise, the less pronounced the textured weave is, the dressier the overall shirt is.
(3) Solid Pastel (Other Than Light Blue)
The solid pastel coloured shirt is pretty much on par with the solid light blue shirt. For some unknown reason, light blue is historically “dressier” than other pastel colours. There really isn’t any other tangible reasons for this. Just like the solid light blue brethren, pastel colours are also dressy enough for formality levels between #2 and #4.
Pink, lavender, cream, pale green, beige, even light grey, as long as it’s pastel, they’re equally dressy. But if you want to move up a step in formality, pick solid light blue.
(4) Stripe Patterned
Next down the formality scale is stripes (usually vertical). Depending on the base colour, and how bold the stripes are, it’s suitable for formality levels between #2 and #4. The rule of thumb is that white base with fine stripes is the most formal of the lot. Then comes the pastel coloured base with fine stripes. The bolder the stripes, the more casual it’ll appear.
When you have medium to dark coloured base, you knock it down the formality levels between #3 and #5. Darker base colours with bold stripes, you go even further down the formality levels, this time between #4 and #5.
(5) Check Patterned
Similarly to stripes, white or pastel base with fine checks is suitable for formality levels between #3 and #4. But darker base and/or bolder checks, and you knock it down to formality levels between #4 and #5.
If you have very bold or multiple coloured checks (e.g. Madras check or Tartan plaid), keep it strictly to #5 only. These are “fun” patterns, and are not business appropriate.
(6) Contrasting Collared Shirt
Usually contrasting collar shirts come with plain white collar (sometimes cuffs too) and some sort of coloured or striped bodies. The dissimilar collar hails from the days of detachable collars, which are usually solid white. Depending on the body colour/pattern, it can be suitable for formality levels between #2 and #4.
The formality is based on the body colour/pattern as mentioned above. Only that it’s always one notch above the latter. Nobody really knows why, but this is the accepted norm.
(7) Textured Shirt
Up until now we’re referring only to “standard” business shirtings (cotton or cotton-mix fabric). When we go beyond this “standard” shirtings, the formality level drops pretty drastically. Highly textured fabrics like linen, chambray and corduroy are inherently casual in nature. They’re only suitable for formality levels between #4 and #5.
Want to express that you’re attending a function for pleasure and not business? Then this is the best choice to express your identity and mood.
(8) Non-Shirt Alternatives
Non-shirt alternatives refer to garments made of knitted fabrics instead of woven shirtings. These cover everything of t-shirt derivatives, like polo-shirts, mock-necks, roll-necks, jumpers, etc.
Whilst solid coloured garments made of finer knitted fabric are suitable for formality level #4, this is usually the exception. The safest bet is to limit these garments only for formality level #5.
Planning Your Outfit Around The Formality
Most people have shirts to cover both extreme ends of the spectrum. However, not many have shirts to evenly populate across the entire spectrum. So if you want to project your personal brand as one who’s well-versed in all occasions, plan your wardrobe accordingly. Having at least one type of garment for each level of formality will stretch your image projection far and wide. The trick is simply not to have too many pieces of any type of shirt. Have one or two of each type, and populate them across the entire formality spectrum.
Do You Have A Shirt For Every Occasion?
What about you? Do you have a shirt for every occasion? If not, do you need help with building your wardrobe? Perhaps you already have too many articles for too few formality levels? In any way, reach out to Solarex Imaging to discuss your personal branding objectives. And no, you don’t need to hire them to get their opinions. So don’t worry too much, and reach out to them right now. In the meantime, leave a comment below, and share with us if you have suitable shirts for each formality level.