The (Ever) Burning Question
If you ever attempted to start or redo your wardrobe you most likely had this question pop up. How many Shirts should a Man Own in 2020?
I talked about Suits, Shoes and Shirts before but the articles were from a more inexperienced perspective. Which is why I began rewriting these articles and updating them with my experience. I initially started with the Wardrobe Essentials Article not so long ago. Today though we are going to discuss shirts and how many you essentially need. This time however I will cover both dressier and more casual styles with the usual reasoning behind each choice.
Shall we begin?
Is There An Answer Really?
To come up with some sort of number we need to understand the situation. Everyone’s lives differ and that includes their priorities, jobs and style. A lot of jobs do not require formalwear anymore with even the most conservative banks in the USA dropping the dress code. The increasing popularity of more “Casual Style” is a major contribution to this as well.
In the end it all boils down to you and your own lifestyle. For example if you never wear dress shirts do you even need any? To be fair I would say yes. You would need 1 White Dress Shirt for those rare important occasions such as a funeral. In fact, I would say that you need 2 of them to have a backup.
So if you would ask me now what is the bare minimum for anyone regardless of their life situation I would say 2 White Dress Shirts. For anyone else that wants a capsule wardrobe with the essentials I feel like 10 is a good number.
In this article we are going to focus on the latter scenario which is about a man that cares about his appearance and wants to create an initial, curated selection of dressy and casual shirts.
Apposta Is My Reference (& Benchmark)
Before we begin I would like to disclose that I am going to use mostly my favorite shirtmaker as a reference. Back in early 2020 I worked with Apposta which is a MTM Shirt company from Italy. They sent me one shirt which is still to date my absolute favorite one (Review Here).
You could of course say that I am biased. However they impressed me so much I actually went and bought 2 shirts of my own to support them.
From November 20 there will be a 20% discount sale (Use Code NOV20) so if you are looking for a new shirt check them out. It will be valid until November 29 2020.
In the end of the article I will also mention my other favorite shirtmakers in all price tiers.
1. Two White Dress Shirts
We briefly touched upon this but now it is time to delve a little deeper. If you could only choose 1 pair of shoes that would be a black oxford. Similarly if you had to choose 1 shirt that would be a white one.
The most formal, simple yet powerful shirt a man have and should have in their wardrobe. Even if you don’t want/have to wear a shirt anywhere. There are some occasions in life where we need to look our best to pay tribute to a loved one or show respect. Whether it is your graduation, a funeral or a very important occasion you should have 2 White Dress Shirts.
The reason I say 2 is because you should always have a backup plan in life. What happens if you just have one and red wine spills on it or you rip the armhole? Panic buy at Zara? Always have a backup plan my fellow gentleman.
As for the shirts themselves they should tick off a few boxes. Choose preferably a Twill or Poplin Weave as it is formal and makes for a crisp appearance. Linen and Oxford Weaves have their uses but not here. Next we will talk about the collar style. Keep it simple here too and choose a classic business collar. I feel the white shirt is the only shirt where a button down is not suitable. I mostly loathe spread and cut-away collars but if that's your thing go for it. Lastly, make sure the shirt fits properly and you don't look like an inflatable or like you are going to burst.
- Plain White Color (consider slightly off-white if your teeth are yellowish)
- Business/Spread Collar
- 100% Cotton Material (Egyptian Cotton, Giza 45 & Giza 87 are beautiful)
- Fit is King (no baggy or overly tight)
- No Short Sleeves or Pockets (really...)
The advantage of a white shirt is that it is such a neutral color that it goes well with everything. If you are bad with matching colors this is the simplest most failsafe option for you.
2. Two Light Blue Dress Shirts
In very similar fashion I can make the second recommendation which is two different Light Blue Dress Shirts. They didn't call them white/blue collar jobs for no reason you see. An extremely versatile color that has no equal alongside the white ones, a light blue shirt is yet another failsafe.
People call them boring but when you are in a more formal or business situation I find it much more appropriate to spice things up with a tie or a pocket square rather than a bold shirt. For the man that respects himself and his peers light blue is simply one of the best. For your capsule wardrobe I would recommend One Regular with the collar of your preference (business, spread, cut-away) and one Button Down.
They both present a really easy option to dress down in more casual environments but can also support the most formal of suits barring black. There will be those keyboard warriors that will chastise you and say that you shouldn't wear ties with Button Downs. Just ignore them and wear them as you wish in a nice tasteful way. When it comes to the weave I would once again choose only Poplin or Twill Cotton personally to keep the structure of my outfits. I would also stick with plain solid colors as I will include patterns and other materials later on. Color wise you are aiming for the lighter side of the color spectrum focusing on light blue, sky blue and powder blue.
- Plain Solid Color (light blue, sky blue, powder blue)
- At least one Button Down
- 100% Cotton (just like the white one)
- Focus on Fit (always!)
There is merit to having an OCBD (Oxford Cloth Button Down) depending on where you work or if you wear them outside casually. Nothing Wrong with that but for me these and the next one make for the backbone of your dressier wardrobe. For those that like my personal shirt from the intro the fabric code is "St.James_100".
3. One Light Pink Dress Shirt
Did you know that initially pink was a masculine color? However during the last century people began using blue and pink to distinguish easily between baby boys and girls respectively. So pink has a certain stigma of being a more feminine color.
Let them say what they want. Because whenever you wear this color you will exhume confidence and people will admire you for being bold or comfortable with who you are. Pretty much everything that we said above applies to these ones. Extremely versatile and a great match with most colors. Stick with lighter shades of pink and a nice collar you like as well as the two weaves we love.
Once again I recommend a solid color with no patterns or those dreadful Winchester contrasting collars. I just don't like them just like I don't like tomatoes.
- Plain Solid Color (light pink, baby pink, powder pink)
- Collar of your choice (Classic, Spread, Button Down)
- 100% Cotton
- Focus on Fit
Nice. This concludes what I would call business shirts. One can argue that you can also add a striped shirt to the mix but in order to consider them dressy the stripes have to be thin.
4. One Linen Shirt
Let's break away from the businessy aspect for a moment. Love it or hate it, Linen is one of the best fabrics for summer just like any open-weave cloth. If you live in an environment where you get sweaty just thinking about flannel this is your savior.
Made from the flax plant, Linen is a wrinkly adorable material that is very cool and a great way to look dapper even in the summer months. Currently my only linen shirt has a Zephyr Weave and a gorgeous bold turquoise color. You can Read my Review Here!
In fact this is the time to get creative with vibrant colors. Funky shades of Blue and Dark Green are my personal favorites actually and super easy to use with chinos, shorts or denim. The whole love/hate relationship with linen stems from the fact that it wrinkles a lot. But that's what makes it charming really and once you accept that you will begin appreciating the fabric.
- Any Color & Pattern (Keep it tasteful though!)
- Collar of your choice (I feel Button Downs work really well)
- 100% Linen
- Focus on Fit (I will keep saying that!)
Now if you really really hate how linen wrinkles you can certainly consider a nice cotton/linen blend which gives it a little more structural integrity and less wrinkles. If you feel adventurous I guess you can even go for a mandarin band collar for a more Asian suave look.
5. One Denim Shirt
The more my test evolves, the more I find myself drawn to a nice denim shirt. While not obsessed with denim and selvedge jeans I think a denim shirt should be in every man's wardrobe. An absolutely smashing look when done right and sartorially excellent. The fact that it is mostly blue makes it already very versatile while the texture provides some much needed character.
Combine these with the fact that we live in a more casual society now and you can wear them with a lot of suits. A phenomenal contrast to a Solaro Suit or a more flannel type for example. My vision of the perfect Denim shirt is the perfect shade of blue with a Button Down Collar. Mmmm spicy!
I will not really give a summary since here it becomes a matter of personal taste however make sure the clothes fit! Which is why I love Made to Measure especially if you have a more special body type or issue.
Pockets are never something I consider since I am not so familiar with casual style. However it is something you could potentially consider in these types of shirts. Personally I also dislike things without functions and you won't find me putting a pen in there.
Back when I visited Russia a girl I used to date asked me "How are you always so soft?". I giggled and as a matter of fact I wore my green flannel shirt that day. Good insulation, cozy feeling and nice texture make it a main stay in your wardrobe.
Now I recommend two because I live in an environment where it is rather cold for 7-8 months every year. Yes, welcome to Sweden. But having two gives you the flexibility to have fun with patterns, colors but also have a second option. These are quite interchangeable with the rest and the weather conditions in your city. I feel two is the sweet spot.
7. Two Patterned/Adventurous Shirts
Instead of splitting this section into two I will instead keep it as one sub-category. In my opinion one of the extra shirts you should have should be a striped cotton shirt.
Briefly mentioned before, it does warrant its own paragraph as it can break the monotonous cycle of plain shirts. Depending on how you will use them a really nice Bengal or regular striped shirt is excellent. I specifically like the ones with lighter shades of blue stripes but some might enjoy even pink ones. Vertical stripes can also make you appear taller and sometimes thinner. What a win-win!
I actually enjoyed the traveller striped shirts from Suitsupply but they seem to lack breathability for me. An old sales rep ravaged my last beautiful Egyptian Cotton shirt from Suitsupply so it is something I intend to replace.
On the topic of patterns there is nothing wrong with a nice Prince of Wales pattern. The abbreviation is often PoW but it just sounds Prisoner of War to me. Am I feeling ok doctor?
Lastly I believe every man should have in their wardrobe a non-conventional color shirt. A light brown twill shirt is extremely underrated, while an ivory shirt is unique but not too tacky. Why not a nice jade or gorgeous teal color? It shows you have taste and care about your image.
You get the idea! Nail the basics, get creative with the more casual ones and adapt your wardrobe and the numbers to your lifestyle.
Which Shirts To Avoid
I am not going to dive deep into shirts with floral patterns or other fancy ones. They do have their own place and at the right moment on the right person can look great. However there is one culprit that you should avoid at all costs in my opinion...
The All Black
Let me put it bluntly. If you go for a full black look with a black suit, black shirt and black tie you will look ridiculous. The only person that looks actually cool doing this is John Wick. Unless you are going to a Halloween party for the love of baby Jesus avoid this.
What is this obsession men have with black and the monochrome look? Do you want to fade into obscurity or the background at night? You can argue it looks fine on celebrities but we are not them.
Who am I to judge? I guess you are right but ask any rational, fashionable man or woman what they think about this and share it with me.
There is no real answer to the question "How Many Dress Shirts Should A Man Have?". Does this defeat this article as a whole? Absolutely not.
It serves as a tool where one can mix and match things based on their lifestyle and work situation. You don't wear formal clothes? Buy two decent white shirts and fill the rest of your wardrobe with your heart's desires. Do you wear suits sparsely? Get a white and two blues and you are set.
A larger number of shirts also allows you to prolong the life of your garments. Treat them with care, wash them often (preferably at a professional) and rotate them. Aiming for a number of 10-12 shirts is a great way to ensure your capsule wardrobe is complete and ready for eventual additions and experimenting.
As aforementioned I used my favorite shirtmaker Apposta for my demonstrations. This however doesn't mean that everyone will be happy with them or MTM in general. So here is a list of a few companies I believe offer good value or quality (or not!):
- T.M. Lewin: Super budget combo deals with average itchy fabrics and expensive shipping. Bought 4, one came with stains. Returned them all.
- Charles Tyrwhitt: Budget brand with decent fabrics. Better experience than T.M. Lewin. Great for those starting or on a limited budget
- Spier & Mackay: Good bang for buck especially on sale on the $40-60 range. Avoid if you live outside North America due to taxes, shipping costs and slow transport.
- Suitsupply: A bit overpriced ($80-100) and slim but pretty ok shirts. Their wrinkle free traveller ones are durable and save you the hassle of ironing.
- ETON: Swedish Premium Brand with great shirts. Expensive but if you look for good RTW they produce great ones around $150-200.
- Proper Cloth: MTM Shirts with fantastic reputation. Worth checking!
- Edward Sexton: From RTW to Bespoke for about $260
- Turnbull & Asser: Quintessentially British High End starting around $300
Of course there are tons of them ranging from J. Crew and Brooks Brothers to local shops and artisans. Support whoever gives you the best fit, value and emotional response.
And that's it for another lengthy guide that I enjoyed writing very much. While writing this "How Many Shirts Should A Man Have" Article I thought that a nice article would be about the different types of weaves on shirts. The "Types of Shoe Leather" Article is extremely popular so why not! I will put it in the queue then.
There you have it! My advice is get the basics, make sure they fit and get the best quality you can afford. Anywhere between 8-12 dress shirts should be more than enough to get you started. In the meantime I do have a lot of article ideas on the pipelines and some extremely interesting interviews coming up. Very excited about the upcoming Septieme Largeur & George Lyon Shoes Review.
As always, if you are new and enjoy the content make sure to check out previous articles and Subscribe! It really helps me keep going!
Thank you for reading,