Monday, January 10, 2011

The men dress shirt is the icon of "timeless" fashion. Other than becoming more fitted over time, the classic dress shirt has not changed a lot. It is a shirt with a collar, full-length button opening at that front, long sleeves and cuffs. Also referred as a button-down in America, or simple just a shirt in the United Kingdom. In this section we dissect the various parts of the dress shirt in more detail.

The inside of the collar is referred to as the Collar Band, and it forms the height of the collar. A different fabric may be used on the collar band to add a contrasting effect to the dress shirt. Top buttons of the placket are attached to the collar band. If the shirt is made without a collar band, and yes this can be done, it will create a long sprawling collar, not typically seen on today's men dress shirts- think of those shirts that were popular in the disco era.

A shirt collar is the piece of a dress shirt that is attached to the collar band and fits around the frame of the neck. Fine dress shirt collars are stitched around the edges to stiffen and hold the folded material in place; this stitching can be up to 1 centimeter in from the edge. Traditional high quality men dress shirts will have the top stitching a couple centimeters in from the edge, while low quality collars will often have the stitching directly on the edge. Interfacing material is used to attach the two pieces of fabric and make them stiffer. On low quality dress shirts, the interfacing will often show "bubble" marks after a few washings. The various types of collars you will find on a dress shirt are: Traditional point, curved point, round point, Buttondown and hidden Buttondown. These collars can have different point lengths or spreads to significantly alter the style.

The tip of the collar is referred to as the collar point. Often a tailor will refer to the collar point length to define the characteristic of it. On some collar points you will find collar stays on the reverse side, that maintain it's rigidness. With interfacing it is not necessarily required to have the stays, though different shirt makers prefer different ways.

A good tailor will put a lot of consideration into the space between the collar points, know as the collar spread. The reason so much consideration must be made for this is because a men dress shirt should flatter your natural body shape- so a person with a stout neck should use a collar with a narrow spread, while a person with a skinny neck should use a collar with a larger spread. By doing so, the neck will visually be enhanced by the collar, thus bringing the best out of your body.

The front center placket is the piece of material on the front of the dress shirt where the buttonholes are placed. In the past, it was a separate piece of cloth sewn to the front, but today men dress shirt makers often fold the edge of the material to form the placket. It gives the shirt a defined center and makes a clean finish where the shirt sides join to be buttoned. Most shirts have six buttons, or for taller fits, 7 buttons. Other variants of plackets are the Bluff front, Fly front and the Twin Stitching front.

The pocket on a men dress shirt is typically placed on the left chest -- or there may even be two, one on the left and one on the right chest. Traditionally, dress shirts did not have pockets, though in this day and age it is common to see shirts with a single dress shirt pocket in a business setting. Apart from its obvious purpose of holding thin items, a pocket adds character to dress shirts. Possibly, in very formal settings, it would be preferable to wear a pocketless shirt. Pockets are typically divided into three classes: regular, pleated, and flapped.

Most dress shirts are long sleeve, though in tropical climates it is acceptable to wear a short sleeve dress shirt even at the office. In a casual setting you may even consider rolling up your sleeves if you find it is too warm, keeping in mind they will be wrinkled if you unroll them after. In a more formal even you should play it safe and wear a long sleeve shirt.

The sleeve placket extends from the break in the cuff approximately 1/4 up the sleeve length. It is also known as a "gauntlet." The main purpose of the sleeve placket is to allow the sleeves to be rolled up, and it also provides a better fit around the forearm for the dress shirt. Some men dress shirts have a button on the sleeve placket, allowing the opening to be held closed.

Armscye is the armhole of a shirt. In sewing, reference to the armscye length is the total length of the hole from top to bottom. This is the part of a shirt that many find "off the shelf" dress shirts to be difficult to fit.

The most popular for of cuff is the one button round cuff, and this is what you will see most often in a business setting. The low profile style makes it the most popular cuff on traditional and modern dress shirt's. A slight variation that is also common is the two button version. This cuff may be slightly longer than the one button.

Slightly longer, and used in the most formal events, the french cuff is considered very stylish. One does need cuff links to be able to properly wear french cuffs, as they need to be secured closed. In recent years the french cuff has made a comeback to less formal settings such as the office. Before, it was reserved for use with a lounge suit or formal jacket. The design of these cuffs is that they are folded once onto themselves.

Convertible Cuffs can be worn as round cuffs or French cuffs on a dress shirt. They have buttons to secure the cuff as a button cuff would, though they also have an extra buttonhole sewn in, to allow the cuff to be folded over and used with cuff links. This makes for a versatile dress shirt.

The Yoke is the strip of material sewn across the shoulders to attach the front and back pieces of the shirt. Dress shirts normally have a one-piece yoke, though two-piece yokes can occasionally be found on traditional British dress shirts. The two-piece yoke is divided directly behind the neck, allowing the pattern to be lined up at a 90 degree angle to the pattern on the front of the shirt, while making the pattern of the yoke on the back intersect, producing a "V" shape to the dress shirt.

Dress shirts need flexibility for movement, and this is partly done by including pleats along the back. By having pleats it allows extra fabric to be on the back, so when the arms are moved around the extra fabric extends to provide freedom of movement. It is also an option to make the dress shirt without any pleats. Those that find there is too much excess fabric on the back of the shirt may prefer pleat-less. Most common pleat is a box pleat, then a knife pleat, and finally something called gatherings. Gatherings are basically many small pleats, where the fabric is slightly scrunched up between the back and yoke.

The bottom cut comes in two popular variants. Most common is the tail cut, also referred to as the round bottom. In this cut, the front and back of the shirt are longer than the sides of the shirt. This gives a front and back "tail" and curved sides, a design intended to give the shirt more style when untucked -- though the tail cut bottom can also be worn tucked in. The other variant is the square cut, and it is designed for a shirt that will be tucked in most of the time. The square cut, as its name suggests, is square/straight along the bottom.

If you have the problem of extra fabric bunching up on the back of your men dress shirt you may want to consider darts. The feature of darts is to cut a small slice of fabric off of the back and sewing it it. Dart are usually fairly visible, but those body types that find the feature compliments there body will find they are well worth it. On the other hand, most body types do not require darts, it's more suitable for those with inward arching backs and slim bodies.

Monograms add a personal touch to a men dress shirt. The traditional dress shirt had a monogram to allow it to be identified in a commercial laundry. If worn in a business or formal setting, it is recommended that a dress shirt bear a monogram that is located in a discreet location, such as the placket bottom or the cuff. A more obvious placement for a monogram, ideal for a casual dress shirt, is on the pocket. Monogram font size should be fairly small, to discreetly point out, in effect, that "this dress shirt was carefully made for the wearer."

Now that you have read this article you will have a solid understanding of the anatomy of a dress shirt. The men dress shirt is really a "time-less" piece of men fashion. It's been around for hundreds of years, and will continue to be around for a long time to come. Unlike a typical shirt, the dress shirt is designed to contour, and compliment the features of the body, and this is why it's design is so much more complex than your typical shirt.  
So, here we are with the first muslin on the coat. Now, because my big fit ‘issues’ are between my bust/shoulders/arms and this is not a tightly fitted coat, I did not bother making a full length muslin. I also chose a fabric that is heavier than muslin per se (though there are different weights of muslin and there is one which is usually used for jackets and coats and is quite heavy – I cannot buy it where I live. The only source I know of is in the Garment District in New York City) so that I get the view of the drape. As you can see from this picture (even as un-sharp as it is) is:
The good news: It fits nicely across the front; the neckline lays pretty well and with shoulder pads in it, it looks as if it will be very nice.
Bad news – the first bit: If you look at the right hand side of the picture (my left arm), you will see this really annoying piece of fabric there with a drag line that goes all the way up to the sleeve seam. Even though this is a ‘swing coat’ this means to me that there is too much fabric there. It’s just hanging there. Not a good look for me.
Bad news – the second bit: If you look at this picture (and I’m feeling pretty clever that I managed to get the shot one-handed while I had my arm out like that – but again, I’m easily pleased), you will see that I’ve got an issue here. I don’t have my arm raised much at all and already the side of the muslin is starting to creep up. That means that if I raised them more or crossed them across my bust or had a handbag on my arm, that side would raise up also – another not good look. For experienced sewists, this is called ‘the too-low armscye issue”. If you are blessed with a big bust and are choosing a size to fit that, you will absolutely end up with this problem. It is the nature of the pattern model that is used and results from the fact that you need extra fabric in the front where the breasts are…but you don’t need it at what’s called the ‘high bust’ and arm pit areas. Now, in shirts, dresses, jackets, etc. you can sometimes insert a seam or a dart or even pleats if the fabric is light enough to take care of the extra fabric..but that doesn’t help the issue under the arm, where the sleeve underarm seam and the side seams come together. That area has been placed too low on the body and the arm therefore gets trapped at the shoulder so that you can’t raise your arms or you can’t raise your arms without the whole side of the item raising up.
We need to raise that place where the seams come together and the way we do that is with what’s called an armscye adjustment (for those folks who are experienced sewists, forgive me; not everyone who reads here has a lot of mileage at the sewing machine).

In this sketch, the black line is the original pattern; the red line is the adjustment. See how it not only adds fabric up under what will be the armpit, curving up. Now, with a raglan sleeve, we are working with a different shape of sleeve and don’t have such a steep curve as you see in a set-in sleeve, but the theory is the same – we have to move the place where the sleeve meets the side seams up vertically so that this point comes closer to the armpit. This too will be achieved with a steeper curve at that area.