I’m often asked what’s so special about Italian dress shirts and why are they more expensive than regular dress shirts. I can understand why people ask. I mean isn’t a $49 shirt the same as a $199 shirt? Short answer. No, it’s not. A higher quality dress shirt is just that higher quality. And what goes into making a premium dress shirt isn’t as simple as one may think. There are so many details to consider.
A quality dress shirt should be made of a natural fiber like cotton or linen with cotton being the most popular. The best raw cotton such as Egyptian cotton makes the best yarn and the best yarn produces the best quality fabric. Then there’s the thread count which tells you how many threads were used to make the fabric. Most dress shirts range from 40-160. The higher the thread count the higher the quality. Next there’s the ply which means how many threads were twisted together to make the fabric. Two ply takes two strands, twists them together, and produces a durable fabric. Single ply uses one strand and produces a lesser quality fabric.
I also wanted to add a note about non-iron shirts. I’m often asked about this and I can tell you that a non-shirt iron is treated with chemicals and usually doesn’t feel as good or lasts as long as a higher quality shirt. And typically non-iron shirts are less expensive and therefore of lesser quality.
One way to recognize a higher quality dress shirt is also by looking at the pattern matching of a striped or checked shirt especially from the shoulder to the sleeve and on the split yoke on the back shoulders. Matching the patterns requires time and attention when assembling the shirt by the shirt maker.
A higher quality shirt will have about 8-10 stitches per centimeter whereas a lower quality shirt will have about 3-4 stitches per centimeter. A quality shirt will always have a single needle stitching which takes a little more time but creates a cleaner look. On the other hand, a low-end shirt will have double needle stitching which means you can see two rows of visible stitching.
Another indication of a premium quality shirt is if it has a split yoke. The yoke is the panel of fabric that runs across the shoulders. A “split” yoke is where the yoke is made of two different pieces of fabric. The benefit of a split yoke is it allows more range of motion. A split yoke is usually found on custom shirts or very high-end shirts.
Buttonholes & Buttons
Premium quality dress shirts will have more stitches on the buttonhole and very clean openings with no sign of fraying. Very high-end shirts will have hand-sewn buttonholes. Higher-end shirts also use mother-of-pearl buttons whereas lower-end shirts tend to use plastic buttons. Ideally the buttons should be stitched in a crisscross “X” shape which makes for a stronger button attachment.
Collars are the most noticeable feature of a dress shirt and should always look good. Collars are made from two pieces of fabric: top and bottom, with interlining in between. These pieces can either be held together by heating and gluing them (fused) or simply by sewing them together (non-fused). The interlining also comes in different weights for various degrees of softness or stiffness. Lower quality shirts have fused collars because it’s less expensive to make whereas premium quality shirts may have non-fused collars.
Collar stays are the pieces of plastic inserted into the points of the collar to keep the collar looking straight and sharp. A high quality dress shirt will come with removable collar stays. I always recommend removing the plastic collar stays and using metal collar stays like brass or stainless steel.
As you can see, I’ve only briefly touched on the main areas of shirt construction to help you discern a premium quality shirt from a lower quality shirt but one area that you shouldn’t overlook is simply style. What I mean by style is the overall look and fit of a shirt. A designer or shirt maker will always sweat the details on the style of shirt.
At Gentil Uomo we have a great selection of ready-to-wear dress shirts made in Italy but if you desire to try custom shirts take a moment and read about our Custom ‘Su Misura’ Service.
And for tips on how to take care of your shirts, visit our Style 101 section.
Alla prossima – until next time. Arrivederci.