What is a formal shirt?

The Formal Shirt

What is a formal shirt?

Daniel Craig sports a fine formal shirt

Mens formal wear has certainly evolved over the years and the formal shirt is no exception. From its original construction in a tunic style with a detachable collar and cuffs, to the contemporary turn-down collar style.

Often mistakenly called wing-tip shirts (confused with wing-tip shoes I guess), detachable wing collar shirts were favoured by barristers. However, their popularity as formalwear declined when the dinner jacket replaced the tailcoat as the norm for evening wear. And the detachable wing collar is a rarity now.

Today's shirts tend to have either a turn-down collar or a built in wing collar. Some men prefer the turn-down variety as these hide the neckband of the bow tie. Either style is acceptable today.

Formal shirts - also known as dress shirts, tuxedo shirts or dinner shirts - can be plain or pique. Pique relates to the weave of the shirt – the finer the pique the more elegant the shirt. The most popular pique weave is birdseye (or Marcella) which has a fine diamond pattern. The front panel of a dress shirt can be pleated or plain. True pleated shirts really look the part, however you can also buy shirts with the pleats woven in. These are great alternative for men who need to wear the shirts regularly, say as part of a uniform, as they are much easier to launder.

Dress Shirt Accessories 

Idris Elba rocking a self tie bow tie

Cufflinks are an essential finishing touch to mens formal wear. And studs are an optional extra. But visible buttons really are a no-no. If you don’t want to wear shirt studs, then select a formal shirt that has concealed buttons.


And of course you can't go past the bow tie. The question is pre-tied or self-tie? Purists would say self tie of course. However it really is a question of personal taste. And if you are going to stress out about tying a bow tie, then there is no reason not to opt for an adjustable pre-tied bow tie. There are some fabulous bow ties on the market. You just won't be able to rock the informally formal look.